My name is Anna Crollman and I am a breast cancer survivor. I never thought I’d hear my name and cancer in the same sentence. But here I am. I can’t tell you how many doctors, nurses and strangers looked at me and said I was too young. I just so happen to be one of those unlucky women. My story is filled with pain and struggle but is ultimately a story of strength and growth.
My experience with breast cancer began in June 2015. I was 27 years old and my husband and I had just celebrated our 1-year wedding anniversary. We’d just sold our house and were hoping to start a family. From that moment on, everything moved at lighting speed. My husband and I learned more about cancer in the next 3 weeks than anyone wants to know in their lifetime. I learned that I had a special kind of breast cancer called triple positive interductal carcinoma. I would need surgery, chemotherapy and targeting hormone therapy for many years to come. If we wanted to ever have children, we’d also have to go through IVF and egg preservation immediately. The doctors wanted to act quickly and be aggressive. We were forced to make decision about our future, our family and my body in a matter of weeks. From diagnosis to my first surgery was only 3 weeks. Cancer had taken control and we were along for the ride. The more educated we became the more power we could reclaim. I didn’t have a choice about whether to lose my breasts or my hair, but I could control how I decide to approach the situation. I decided to choose happiness, strength and positivity.
Early into my treatment I felt isolated, alone and frustrated about the lack of resources available for young women with cancer. I struggled to find other young women in my area, who would understand what I was going through. The challenges of facing a cancer diagnosis in my 20s were unique. I wasn’t retired, I didn’t have children and I wasn’t comfortable financially. I had different things to worry about: intimacy, sex, marriage, fertility, working, and body image. The faces I saw in the hospitals and waiting rooms didn’t look like mine. I felt like no one knew how to help me, like I was the only 27 year old to ever be diagnosed with breast cancer.
I was fed up. I wanted to find resources online of other women like me. I couldn’t find anything. So, I decided to create my own. And that’s how My Cancer Chic was born. I was a lover of all things beauty and fashion and cancer wasn’t going to change that. Cancer may take my breasts and my hair but I would keep my lipstick and heels. I would keep my style and I WOULD find a way to feel beautiful despite it all.
I always loved journaling for myself but I had never shared my writing with anyone. Writing was therapeutic for me -- A way to process my grief. I decided if I couldn’t find a story like mine, I should share my own. I didn’t want anyone else to experience the isolation that I felt. Lost in a sea of grey hair and old lady mastectomy bras. I wanted other young women to find their confidence and see their beauty during this awful time. I wanted them to have the confidence to rock the bald head and feel strong and sexy. One woman at a time, I spread my message and led by example.
The more I shared my story, the more I began to connect with other young women. I found these women through my blog, through Facebook, Instagram, friends and family. Women began to email me from around the world. They shared stories of their own. Their struggles, their fears, and the way my story had changed their lives, brought them inspiration. That changed everything for me. I had found my tribe - my sisterhood. I found inspiration and renewed strength this new outlook. No matter how bad my chemo reactions were, or how many surgical complications I faced, these women lifted me up. On the days I felt ugly, mutilated and betrayed by my body, they just got it --they got me. They knew what I was going through.
I began to get more involved with nationwide organizations, like Young Survival Coalition, focused on providing support and resources for young women facing breast cancer. After attending the Young Survival Coalition Summit in 2016, I came home with a renewed sense of purpose. I felt beautiful and empowered. I now knew that although cancer had changed me, it couldn’t control me. I had control over what I would make of this experience and my life moving forward. I decide to use it for good. It was my turn to give back to this community and change the lives of other young women like me.
The connections I made at YSC triggered a whirlwind of opportunities for me to share my story and advocate for others. I began sharing the YSC guidebooks with women who reached out to me. I started filming a video diary series and reached more women online. This past summer, I also started the first Raleigh support group for young women facing breast cancer – another avenue to support women and share my story. We have over 30 members and newly diagnosed women are finding us everyday. I have come to be known as a local resource, a friend and an inspiration for those around me. I never wanted to get breast cancer, but I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for the world. I learned to love myself, and I found out I am stronger than I ever knew. I am in a great place in my life now and I continue to feel inspired each day to support other women facing this disease. This challenge has strengthened our marriage and our communication skills and we still hope to start a family sometime with our little frozen embryos. My message to all the young women out there newly diagnosed or living beyond breast cancer is celebrate each day by showing love and kindness to yourself and others.