Every October we’re warned about the signs and dangers of breast cancer. You see the tutorial videos depicting how to do an at home examination floating around. You see businesses explode with pink “save the boobs” paraphernalia. You see the hashtags. However for many young women, the reality of breast cancer doesn’t always penetrate. In the back of your mind you always hear a small voice say “it will never happen to me.”
According to the American Cancer Society, over 33,000 black women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. While most cases of breast cancer occur in women over 40, black women tend to be diagnosed younger than other races. We may think breast cancer is a worry for our mothers, aunties, and grandmothers but the reality is that it is not.
Johanna De La Cruz used to say “it will never be me” until one day it was. At the age of 32 her husband discovered a lump in her breast early 2018. Even though Johanna’s mother was a breast cancer survivor she did not suspect it would be cancerous. Due to not having insurance, it took her weeks to make the appointment and then she learned she was pregnant.
“The moment I found I was pregnant—it was something I always wanted—I made it a priority to go get checked. I’m like okay now I have to make it my priority to get insurance because I was pregnant.”
And she did. Johanna got examined and even her doctor assumed the lump wasn’t cancerous. Unfortunately her pregnancy was ectopic—a condition where the fetus develops outside the uterus, typically in the fallopian tube, resulting in emergency surgery to terminate. 2 weeks later her biopsy returned. The lump was cancerous.
“My world turned upside down but I went on about it being positive. My mom’s a survivor and she was there to guide me the whole way. She would tell me ‘okay you’re going to go through this and that and it’s okay because I went through that so don’t be afraid.”
Before she began chemotherapy, Johanna raised money via goFundme to freeze her eggs as the treatment can be destructive to your reproductive system. After losing one fallopian tube due to the ectopic surgery, she decided to take the steps to ensure motherhood one day. After the support of her followers in raising $7,000, she froze her eggs and went under chemotherapy from August to December of 2018.
“The worst part of cancer was the chemo. There was days I coudn’t get out of bed, there was days I couldn’t walk. It was just horrible. I lost my hair of course, but I was still putting on make up and going outside like nothing was wrong with me… I was just being positive and trying to be strong.”
After chemotherapy, Johanna began radiation treatment for two months.
“Radiation wasn’t as bad as chemo but my breasts were discolored—it was like a bad sunburn. I had to go to radiation everyday for two months, so just the hassle of getting on the train–the commute was horrible. I was experiencing fatigue, I was experiencing hot flashes, weight gain… it was just a lot.”
Luckily for Johanna, she entered remission in January of this year and remarks that she feels much better. However her treatment experience isn’t yet over as she must remain on medication for the next 5 to 10 years and have monthly shots for the next 2-3 years.
“Once you’re over the treatment It’s like you’re never really done with the cancer because you still have side effects. I suffer from chemo fog, which is where I lose my memory and there’s nothing I can do about it. That’s part of the side effects.”
Through this life altering experience, Johanna has managed to keep her positivity first. While she admits her journey has been difficult, it has changed her overall perspective on life.
“I didn’t know I had this strength. A lot of people—even myself—knew the word cancer before I knew what cancer was. You think death. You get scared. A lot of people would say to me “you’re so strong” but you never know how strong you are until strong is the only thing left for you to be. Throughout this journey I learned to value life more. I see life different now.”
Johanna shared she ultimately learned to cherish her loved ones more, and to no longer allow people to take her peace from her.
“I decided not to take no one’s BS, I’ve been through too much. If I have to quit my job because I can’t deal with my boss I’m quitting!”
Johanna is currently a beauty, fashion and hair blogger as well as the owner of Heroic Boutique. She also recently partnered with Rihanna’s Savage Fenty lingerie to share her breast cancer survival story. As challenging as the past year and a half has been, she encourages other women who have been diagnosed to remain hopeful.
“Cancer doesn’t have to be the worst thing. A lot of people are living now. If you’re positive that helps a lot. Even sharing–a lot of us don’t like to share we’re scared, we’re ashamed, but we didn’t choose to have cancer. The more you’re open about it, the more positive you are, it’s going to help throughout your journey.”