Emily Rhoads is originally from New Jersey but now resides in Parrish, Florida.
When were you diagnosed?
Nov. 30, 2017, at age 26.
What treatment did you receive?
16 rounds of IV chemotherapy — 4 dose-dense A/C and 12 Taxol, bilateral mastectomy with tissue expanders placed, 30 rounds of radiation, five months of oral chemotherapy and two reconstructive surgeries (with at least 1 more to go).
What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
I faced many obstacles along the way. The first of which was when I lost my hair. I didn’t have a wig I liked at the time so, between the trauma of your hair coming out in clumps in your hands, as well as not having a wig to “hide behind,” I had a really tough time. The second was when I lost my job a month into chemo, trying to figure out how we were going to survive financially without my income.
I also had to have an emergency surgery because of an infection.
But the worst obstacle of them all is just the battle that goes on in your own mind. I looked as bad as I felt. I was trapped in my own body — the body that was trying to kill me — with no escape. It was miserable.
I was able to overcome them by having an incredible support system that rallied around me, focusing on the positive and finding the good or the lesson in every situation. Mindset is truly everything when you’re fighting cancer.
What was the most challenging part?
The most challenging part of this experience has actually been in the survivorship, for me. When you’re going through treatment, you know you’re doing everything you can to fight this disease. It’s tough but at least you’re in the fight.
Survivorship, on the other hand, feels lonely and many times, terrifying. I face a 40% chance of recurrence, with the first five years being the riskiest. My cancer was triple negative. This makes treatment and prevention options limited.
Every ache, pain or change in your body is accompanied by the overwhelming fear of recurrence. Because a recurrence anywhere outside of the breast means you’re terminal. You’re trapped in a body you cannot trust.
Where did you find the greatest support?
I am very blessed to have had the support my amazing husband, family and friends. I also found the greatest support in the very place your parents warn you about growing up — strangers online!
I found The Breasties, an organization that is dedicated to providing community and support to young women affected by breast and reproductive cancers.
Finding this community of strangers online was the lifeline I needed to help get me through. Even in survivorship I stay connected to this community and help cultivate community here locally as an ambassador to the Florida Breasties.
How has this affected your relationships with friends and family?
It brought me much closer to my husband and family and a few friends. I feel a deeper love, connection and forgiveness between us all and I’m very thankful for that.
How has this affected you?
I will always be thankful for the perspective I’ve gained through this fight for my life. And as tough and frustrating as it is to completely restart my life again, I’m thankful for my chance to press the “reset” button.
What advice would you share with others?
The biggest piece of advice I wish I could shout from the rooftops is be your own advocate. I was misdiagnosed because I was “too young” and I accepted this for 10 months. Those 10 months could’ve cost me my life and I will never make that mistake again.
I was also brushed off when I had a serious infection and when I started showing symptoms of lymphedema.
You know your body better than anyone else, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t stop fighting for answers. Your life and your health could literally depend on it.