Maybe you don't know who you are, how brave you are, or what you're made of, until the chair of the life you're sitting on gets pulled out from under you. Alice Crisci, a member of the Ladies Who Launch Los Angeles Incubator, is facing breast cancer at 31 years old. Why? How? What next?
As she looks through the hourglass of her last days with the breasts she was born with, she raises the bar for all of us as we live our ordinary, yet extraordinary, lives. The story of Alice will likely keep telling itself until she is a grandmother, but for now, one woman represents the thousands of others who face uncertainty in this moment. Press pause on your life for this second to read...and appreciate.
Amy Swift, Editor in Chief, www.ladieswholaunch.com
Pulling up the Window Shade
Part One of a 31-Year-Old's Breast Cancer Journey
February 27, 2008, I received the kind of call you never want to hear: "Alice, you have breast cancer." In a single instant someone pushed the pause button on my life and pulled a gray window shade down over my eyes. At 31-years-old, my first thought was that of vanity, "Will I lose my hair?" While I tried to picture myself throwing up and bald, people kept telling me, "You're going to be fine, it's totally treatable," like I had strep throat and could return to work after being on antibiotics for 24 hours.
Nothing about having cancer is "fine." It's not "fine" to face your mortality or lose your hair or be too tired to have a social life when you are in your early 30's. It's not fine being an entrepreneur with all the wrong insurance policies that could have supplemented your lost income. It's definitely not fine to learn you may be infertile, thrown into permanent menopause, and you haven't had children yet, let alone picked out a husband. And it's really not fine choosing a sperm donor from a catalog because your boyfriend doesn't believe there's a future for the two of you. There is never a fine time to get cancer either. One minute, I was looking at apartments in New York City to rent so I could live a bi-coastal life and the next I am reviewing reconstructed breasts to help me decide if I wanted a bi-lateral mastectomy.
I realized quickly that there was something unique about having breast cancer so young. I couldn't relate to my own mother who was diagnosed at 53-years-old. Her kids were grown, her body already aging, and chemo wasn't mentioned as part of her treatment plan. I felt isolated from everyone. I couldn't see my well-manicured and thoughtfully laid out life anymore, yet I was faced with making huge decisions in the first 30 days of my diagnosis that could alter the vision I had of that future permanently.
I'm told I've dealt with cancer with the same audacity, drive and focus that I've counted on for everything else in my life, especially when it came to choosing a sperm donor. Although the process began with an overwhelming catalog of stats as if I were recruiting for a college basketball team, it ended with me in love with my donor's DNA. I poured over written essays, baby pictures, long profiles of extensive medical history, and audio interviews before finding a French, Spanish, Mexican med student with both athleticism and rhythm in his family (if only you could be that specific on match.com).
To stimulate my ovaries, I injected myself with hormones day and night. In the end, I was so fertile, I was able to freeze 14 embryos and 11 eggs; enough actually to birth a football team. I financed the expensive treatment on my American Express card, earning what I like to call "Fertility miles." I also launched a foundation (www.myvisionfoundation.org) and had a nude photo shoot to remember that I am sexy and feminine even if I don't feel that way after my double mastectomy.
I've landed a literary agent, written a book and thought of about a dozen different titles for other books missing on the market for the young, female, cancer patient. I've cried too, many times. I've cried for the breasts I am about to lose. I cried for my life changing very much out of my control and for the pain I will physically feel. I have cried for how sad all the people who love me were to hear my news and I sure did cry when my boyfriend and I broke up. I've cried for things I can't even articulate. But never once, did I doubt how I've confronted my cancer.
This question has been nagging me all week: "How do I spend the last few days I have in this body exactly as it is?" Well, I've thought about touching my breasts every five minutes to try and permanently remember that sensation. I've also thought about all the men I know who would be willing to feel me up. But, really, when all is said and done, what I will remember from the few days leading up to surgery is the debut cocktail reception for the foundation and the Certificate of Recognition I received from California State Assembly Member Ted W. Lieu for my courage. I'll remember the family barbecue I'll host in my first home. I will also remember that I set aside the day before to center myself, pray and visualize what I will look like saying goodbye to my parents, my ex-boyfriend, my friend Jen and to the little girl that isn't going to wake up from surgery. Because who wakes up from this surgery is a courageous woman with a fierce mission to protect the vision of every young woman's future who is diagnosed with cancer.
And with that, I will be wheeled into the operating room to lose my tumor and receive my new breasts with my window shade all the way up, a new future illuminating in front of my eyes. Cancer may take my hair, it may take my fertility, but it cannot take the formidable strength I have to make a difference.