With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month we thought it only fitting to bring awareness to this disease while learning more about it ourselves. Meet our very first SFG Honoree: Lauren Beard! Lauren and I connected on Facebook about four years ago while we were looking for potential roommates in Los Angeles. Ultimately, our timing was off but we still wanted to meet up when she made the move and we became fast friends! We both cheered in college – she was a University of Florida, Gator and I was a University of Oregon, Duck so we knew we’d have a lot in common. (Ironically, we’re both dating Alabama boys now…Roll Tide). I gave her the nickname “Ace” because that’s what she was to me, my Ace! I always knew I could count on her. She was adventurous, positive, fun and we just had the best time together. In 2011, we caravanned out to Arizona together to watch the Oregon vs. Auburn National Championship. We may or may not have ran out of gas a couple miles from the stadium, but that’s neither here nor there…
Please read Lauren’s story and learn how breast cancer has affected her life.
Converted to an Alabama fan (sometimes) by her boyfriend and ex-football player, Colin Peek.
1. Who are you?
My name is Lauren Beard. I own an Experiential Marketing agency and live in Atlanta, GA.
2. What did you know about breast cancer?
Not a whole lot, really. It happened to be my sorority’s philanthropy in college so I was passionate about raising money for it, but it never hit home. I knew it was serious, but it felt more like a disease that I may watch my friend’s moms deal with, but that I wouldn’t have to worry about for decades.
3. How did you find out you had breast cancer?
I do CrossFit and felt an annoying pain in my left breast when I did exercises like burpees and push-ups. I went and got a breast exam, but was told that my breasts were just dense due to my young age so I had nothing to worry about. After about a month of still feeling it, I went back to the doctor again and asked for another breast exam. This time, the nurse refused to do a breast exam because I was “too young and didn’t have a family history”. Thankfully, I also received a tetanus shot that day in which I had an allergic reaction to. This sent me to another doctor who finally took me seriously when I mentioned this unrelated breast pain. She gave me an order for an ultrasound even though she was sure it was just a cyst. The ultrasound looked suspicious so they ordered a biopsy but they were still 99% sure it was nothing. The next morning I received the call that nobody wants to hear: “You have cancer”. The doctors were floored and I was just in shock. I think I blacked out when I heard that word!
4. Finding out at 25, you’re so young. What made you persistent with doctors to check?
You know your body better than anyone else and you have to be your own best advocate. I have been very active and healthy my entire life, so I feel I know my body pretty well. Typically after one doctor telling me everything was fine, I would’ve believed them and moved on, but this time I felt something wasn’t right. I’ll have to give God the credit there for keeping that nagging feeling inside me. It’s scary thinking that I would’ve been 15 years out from a yearly mammogram. It would’ve been a different ball game had I waited. I feel so incredibly blessed to have found it early.
5. What has been the hardest thing about battling cancer?
The hardest thing has been some natural insecurities and not being able to push myself as hard as I normally do. The insecurities stem from the fact that I just turned 26 and am going through (hopefully temporary) menopause and just a lot of other changes, physically and mentally. It’s bizarre to be going through hot flashes at the same time as my mother! Plus talk about water weight. My weight has fluctuated 15 pounds through chemo, which is a lot on my usual 110 lb frame! As I mentioned, I’m very active in CrossFit and your workouts are measured on speed. One of the toughest things is going from finishing first almost every workout to finishing 10-20 minutes after everyone else and knowing that you’re pushing yourself harder than you ever have. Every round of chemo, I take 4 days off and then I’m back at it. But with every round, my lungs fail me more when I come back. However, I know that it’s a big deal for a lot of women going through chemotherapy to even go on a walk so I feel so blessed to be able to even do CrossFit. It’s not a race for me anymore, but just an accomplishment to finish the workout. It makes you so thankful for the little things you never thought about before.
Lauren’s Egg Retrieval Surgery. Morning of Round 1!
Hugging her Dad after competing “Grace” – her Mom couldn’t watch.
6. What do you want people to know about breast cancer?
That it can happen at any age, regardless of family history. Not a single person in my extended family has had breast or ovarian cancer, yet I ended up having the BRCA gene which passed through the men. I’ve met way too many women my age battling this disease. The great thing about breast cancer is that so much research has been poured into it that it’s a fairly easy fix as long as it is caught before it’s spread to other organs. Early detection is everything when it comes to breast cancer, so self breast exams are crucial!
7. Here at SFG we love all things beauty and fashion so I can only imagine not only being faced with this scary disease, but also the potential of losing your hair. (As vain as that may sound…) What are you doing that has kept your gorgeous locks in tact?
The first thing I asked when my oncologist called to tell me that it was aggressive and I needed chemo was “Am I going to lose my hair?!”. He said yes, but being the competitive woman that I am, I asked him what the odds were because I felt like I could beat them. He said 100% so that sort of dashed those hopes. However, he mentioned Cold Caps and encouraged me to do research on my own as they’re widely used in Europe and he couldn’t provide them himself. I did tons of research and am SO happy that I did! They’re brutally cold – I’m talking negative 35 degrees cold – and you wear them during and for a few hours after each infusion. They work by freezing the scalp so that the chemotherapy doesn’t reach the hair follicles. I’ve definitely shed some hair but nobody else can tell! It’s amazing what a difference keeping my hair has made in the whole process. It feels awesome to not be treated differently or have people feel bad for me, because I don’t feel bad for myself. Plus, now that I’ve finished chemo I can just move on without lingering effects every time I look into the mirror. Not looking forward to my body hair growing back though. Not shaving for four months has been amazing…
8. Now that you’ve kicked chemo’s butt, what’s next?
The more aggressive the cancer, the better the cancer responds to chemo. My lump was no longer palpable after just two rounds of chemo! However, since I found out that I’m BRCA positive, I’ll still be getting a bilateral mastectomy (and immediate reconstruction) on November 12th because my chance of reoccurrence is so high. I’ll also continue infusions of this targeted therapy called Herceptin every 21 days for a full year and then a drug called Tamoxifen for 5 years. I’ll also need a prophylactic oophorectomy since I’m high risk for ovarian cancer, but I hopefully won’t have to worry about that for another 10 years or so.
9. How has cancer changed you?
Honestly, I’m so thankful that I’ve gone through this and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s completely changed my outlook on life and other people. Rather than getting upset at the person in front of me driving slow on the interstate, my mind goes to what they may be going through. It has made me so much more thankful for the little things that I’ve never thought about before – waking up and still having hair on my head, being able to get through a workout, not feeling sick for those days in between chemo. I’ve met so many incredible people through this – other fighters, survivors, advocates, doctors, and more. And even more importantly it has strengthened my faith and relationships with family and friends. I’ve received so much support through all of this and it really makes you realize how loved you truly are.
Thank you, Lauren, for being our hero and sharing your incredible story! Learn more about her journey, here.
Show your support by wearing PINK this month and donating to Barbells for Boobs! Early detection can save lives!