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GSN’s “Skin Wars” Feature Young Breast Cancer Survivors on June 8

By BCRF | June 8, 2016

BCRF sits down with participant Felicity to discuss how her experience inspired her to advocate for the young survivor community

Felicity was diagnosed with invasive estrogen-positive breast cancer on February 26, 2013, one week before her 29th birthday. She found a lump a few months prior and was referred to a doctor who was confident it was a benign cyst – that it could not be cancerous – because of her young age. After multiple tests, the result was positive.

“He didn’t look at me when he said I had cancer,” said Felicity. “I had so many questions; ‘Am I going to lose my hair? Am I going to die?’ and all he could say was ‘I don’t know.’”

She went on to find a surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center who was able to work on a treatment plan with her. After opting for a lumpectomy, Felicity took the OncotypeDx test, a test that analyzes a group of genes to determine how a cancer is likely to behave and respond to treatment. The test came unclear whether the benefits of chemotherapy outweigh the risks of side effects. She was left to choose to forego or undergo treatment on her own.

While determining to enter the long road of chemotherapy, Felicity was also experiencing emotional hurdles that affect young women with breast cancer. She was planning on undergoing costly fertility preservation treatment, all while managing being in a young relationship.  Eventually she opted out of chemotherapy and instead underwent radiation and ovarian suppression. The latter forces the body into temporary menopause in order to decrease the amount of estrogen in the body, and as a result, lessens the chances of feeding the estrogen receptor-positive tumor. She is now on Tamoxifen for the next 10 years.

“Cancer’s not over when it’s over,” said Felicity. She has dealt with depression, sexual health problems, joint pain, hot flashes and many more side effects from treatment. She utilizes therapy and yoga to cope.

“I felt so alone throughout my process, until I made friends who had been through it. Regardless of how we went about it, or if our ideals are different, there is so much value in speaking to someone who ‘gets it.’”

Sharing her story nationwide

Shortly after her diagnosis and the beginning of treatment, Felicity joined the Young Survival Coalition, an organization dedicated to the critical issues unique to young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. They put a call out on Facebook for survivors to participate in “Skin Wars,” a body-painting competition TV show on GSN that welcomes 12 new contestants to compete in weekly challenges for a shot at winning a prize package. Each week there is a different competition theme, and Felicity was chosen to participate in a special episode where the artists are asked to paint a representation of a survivor’s breast cancer journey using their body as a canvas.

As a women’s health advocate, particularly for metastatic research, Felicity used this as an opportunity to promote breast cancer awareness on a nationwide level.

“The best part about participating in ‘Skin Wars’ was meeting other girls [in the competition] who had been through it, too. It was lovely to spend the day with these young survivors, we felt connected,” Felicity said. “Even after just two days of filming there was a wonderful bond that brought us all together.”

Today, Felicity resides in New York City and focuses on sharing the stories and advocating on behalf of young women living with the disease and championing women’s rights through her documentary filmmaking and photography. 

 “The few things that I care about most post-breast cancer is showing the world that young women can and do get breast cancer,” said Felicity. “I want young women to see that there are people out there that can support you, and we can feel connected even when we feel isolated or depressed.”

The “Survive and Thrive” episode airs tonight on GSN 9:00pm.