Fall is officially here! For most Americans, this means planning what outfits to wear for Halloween and trying new pumpkin spice coffee. While some women are getting involved in the fall-festivities this October, they are also coming together to share their survivor stories, new diagnosis or support of family and friends that are suffering. These women are faced with some of the most debilitating words to hear from a doctor: You have breast cancer. According to a new 2021 study, the new number of cases of females coping with this diagnosis is 281,550.
About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 13%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. As a way of educating and uplifting women and men about breast cancer for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), we sought out inspiring individuals and asked them: What does Breast Cancer Awareness Month mean to you. Michael Todd Beauty is proud to share survivor stories that inspire those alike and help continue the fight to end breast cancer.
We had the pleasure of speaking with MiSean Neal back in September. The 31-year-old, accountant and entrepreneur, was delighted to walk us through her day-to-day as a breast cancer survivor. “I enjoy my role as a wife and mom of two little ones. They keep me on my toes,” said the wife and mother of two. “My hobbies include singing, dancing, and having fun with friends. But my passion is inspiring and uplifting people, through my story”. When describing the impact breast cancer has had on her life, Neal explains: “It's not just my life, but it’s impacted my family too”.
Ashley Rath is another survivor we had the pleasure of speaking with. When she is not spending time with her fiancée or children, Rath loves to stay active. “I’m an avid Cross-Fitter and have been for about 10 years now; fitness is such an important part of my life, "Ashley said. “I also enjoy hiking and weekend cabin getaways whenever time allows.” The 39-year-old breast cancer survivor and avid fitness guru said she feels ‘humbled’ by her journey with breast cancer. “I was worried about losing my identity, not being able to take care of my kids, losing my fitness, so many things,” Rath explained. “I didn’t lose as much as I thought...The world doesn’t end with a breast cancer diagnosis. It can be the beginning of something more beautiful for yourself.”
Having breast cancer can be daunting--many survivors find it hard to relate to people after their diagnosis or start to lose hope through their journey. We wanted to know who inspired you through your breast cancer journey; “My mom and my husband have been my biggest inspirations,” said Neal. “My mom because she dropped everything and took care of her baby girl like only a mother could…When I grow up, I still want to be like her...and my husband because he’s shown me the true meaning of sacrifice.”
Rath talked about being inspired by all the women that came before her; “Watching them fight, finish treatment and win the battle against breast cancer has been instrumental in helping me maintain a positive attitude and keep going through the process.” Shannah Montgomery, a 34-year-old breast cancer survivor and loving wife, also felt inspired by the group of women before her, “Seeing strong women thriving after diagnosis...It motivates me and is such an inspiration.” Montgomery shared a glimpse into her life post breast cancer diagnosis; When she's not spending time with family and friends, Shannah enjoys being a self-proclaimed foodie and traveling.
“I try to jot down small victories every day. When you’re in treatment and it feels like there is a mountain to climb in front of you, it’s hard to not be able to see the end results. Sometimes all you can do is focus on small wins along the way, knowing all of those will eventually lead to big wins in the end”.
Ashley Rath-Mom, Fiancée, Fitness Warrior
As the nation prepares to observe NBCAM, it is important to remember that spreading awareness is more than just raising money for research; it’s about educating the public about this disease, early detection and treatment. Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in American women. It is estimated that in 2021, approximately 30% of all new women cancer diagnoses will be breast cancer. Yet, 1 in 4 women reported not being up to date with breast cancer screenings. This reason alone is why Breast Cancer Awareness Month is so prevalent to our society.
We asked the women, what does breast cancer awareness mean to you? Shannah replied, “breast cancer awareness means early detection and advocating for yourself. It's okay to get second opinions.” Like many, Montgomery knew nothing about breast cancer prior to her diagnosis and emphasized the importance of asking questions if you feel something is wrong. “Don't be shy about it and don't convince yourself that it could be anything but cancer. Get it checked out!”
MiSean agreed saying, “it’s an opportunity to save lives by early detection and possible prevention, and it brings about conversations of family medical history which is important for survival.” When breast cancer is detected early and hasn’t spread, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99 percent. Ashley Rath also shared her thoughts on Breast Cancer Awareness Month saying, “breast cancer awareness means sharing with the world the prevalence of breast cancer...how it impacts women’s lives, not only physically but mentally.”
Whether it is October or not, we should always be emphasizing the importance of taking charge of your health and understanding when to be seen by a doctor. When we asked the women how we can encourage others to get screened and educated, Neal said: “social media is such a great tool for sharing information as well as resources, and it’s important we use it...being transparent about the bad days…it helps to know that you’re not on this journey alone.”
“Unfortunately, breast cancer isn’t something that affects a certain demographic anymore. It’s attacking the younger women all over the world, and we must take control of our health as best we can. We can inspire others during their journey by sharing our victories no matter how small. "
Similarly, Rath also emphasized the importance of self and early detection. “When people say you should feel your breasts on the first of every month, you absolutely should. Get to know your body and what is normal...speak out anytime something doesn’t feel right, including during treatment,” says Rath. “We have to advocate for ourselves because we know our bodies best. We may not get to choose whether we get cancer, but we can choose how we fight and respond to it.”
“For me, my focus has been on things that I can control. Right now, I can control how I think, my movement, and nutrition. It helps tremendously.”
Shannah Montgomery- Wife, Daughter, Travel enthusiast
Skincare and makeup continue to be a positive force for cancer survivors, and those still battling. When we think of those who have used makeup and skincare to empower others going through a diagnosis, the brave Talia Castellano comes to mind. Castellano, the young internet personality, lost her 6-year battle to Leukemia and Neuroblastoma back in 2013. Talia impacted thousands of lives through her makeup tutorials on YouTube, and others have continued to use the beauty industry through their cancer journey, calling it “essential”.
Neal explains “especially during chemotherapy because I had all kinds of breakouts…not only on my face, but all over my bald head.” The women talked about the effects of chemo on their skin and how having a consistent routine has helped minimize the side effects shown through their skin. Skincare fanatic Shannah says she's always been into skincare and makeup but upped her game during chemotherapy. “I have a skincare routine that I follow every single day, even my body! It is something I feel good doing”.
Ashley, Misean, and Shannah each brought up a point about how makeup has helped them gain confidence with hair loss. “Since I have lost 90% of my eyebrows and eyelashes, I always feel more "put together" after I've applied eyeliner and drawn on my eyebrows,” says Montgomery. Neal added, “I was never really into makeup before, but it really helped me feel beautiful and more like myself throughout this journey.” Rath says she found herself using makeup more after her diagnosis. “Cancer can take away many things that make you feel like a woman...I was able to still feel like myself, still feel pretty, with some mascara and blush”.
Beauty is more than skin deep. Here at Michael Todd Beauty, we understand the importance of self-care and makeup to survivors as a way to empower themselves and others. We are proud to partner with the Susan G. Komen foundation to help fight breast cancer. With every purchase of a Pink N’ Pink bundle in addition to any “pink” beauty device, we are donating 10% of our proceeds to the support of their mission to educate and defeat breast cancer. Learn other ways to give back to your local community and breast cancer research here.
A Special thank you to MiSean Neal, Ashley Rath, and Shannah Montgomery, for sharing their inspirational stories with Michael Todd Beauty and giving us a change to share their words with our community. Follow them on Instagram (linked above) and remember: “When life kicks you, let it kick you forward.” - Kay Yow.