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Resilience in the Face of Breast Cancer: Two breast cancer advocates share their stories

You’ve likely heard about the importance of self-examining your breasts, but what is rarely discussed is the effect that something as Earth-shattering as cancer has on your mental health. In particular, a cancer that has the stigma of only affecting women over 35. So you can imagine the shock Aisha Patterson felt at 30 when what she thought was a clogged milk duct turned out to be stage two breast cancer. Or Allyn Rose, who at only 26 underwent a double mastectomy despite testing negative for the BRCA gene.  

This week on the blog we interviewed two breast cancer advocates, Aisha Patterson and Allyn Rose Oertel to discuss their journeys as they relate to breast cancer, mental health, and activism.

                             Aisha Patterson


Aisha Patterson is a wife, mother, and survivor. She can be found on Instagram where she shares information, activism, and outtakes from her life. At only 30 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She now serves as an advocate for breast cancer awareness and lives on a farm with her husband and children.

Tell us about yourself. What is your story? When were you diagnosed? What was your path to becoming a breast health advocate?

My name is Aisha (eye-sha) Patterson.

I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer when I was 30 years old. I was breastfeeding my son during the time I found the lump. I ignored it because I assumed it was a clogged milk duct. A few months later, two more lumps popped and that prompted me to go to the doctor. I had a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy all within a span of three weeks. On November 18, 2020, my husband and I sat in front of a friendly nurse who told me that the lumps in my breast were positive for breast cancer. I was devastated. I soon began treatment which included 6 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, and 33 rounds of radiation. 

As a dedicated wife and mom, treatment took a major toll on my family. Most of the day-to-day responsibilities fell on my husband while I healed. He ran his business from home, homeschooled our children to reduce my exposure to COVID-19, and was my full-time caregiver.

I completed all of my treatment in December of 2021. Throughout the entire year of treatment, I shared my story on Instagram and TikTok. I remember asking God to use my story and He did. I began advocating for women of color and women under 40 who would be diagnosed with breast cancer. It became my purpose in life. I advocate for better breast health education, health equity, and more. 

Fast forward to today, I am happily living on a small farm in the country with my husband of 11 years and 4 kids. We own ducks, chickens, and pigs, and have goats on the way!  I’m an avid gardener and lover of growing my own food. It's a dream come true and I'm living my best post-cancer life. 

I never thought I would be diagnosed with breast cancer at 30 years old but I wouldn't have changed it.

How did your diagnosis change you and the way you see yourself?

The diagnosis immediately changed me in the best way. For once, in my adult life, I had no choice but to focus on myself. I took off my superwoman cape and I allowed myself to be cared for and to rest. I went through chemo while we were in the thick of the pandemic and due to being immunocompromised, I had to quarantine away from my family anytime they were sick which felt like all the time. Being separated from my family was one of the hardest parts of the entire journey. However, during that time alone, I found myself. It was in the silence that I began healing and learning who I really was. Not the mom or wife…just me. Aisha.

I learned who she was. I began to see myself as a whole person. I began to give myself the love I always deserved. It was a beautiful transformation. My husband and kids are the most important people in my life and I love them with my entire being. However, treatment helped me to see my worth as an individual. Not just wife and mom. I love them so much but I love myself more and take care of myself with great care so I can be alive for them. Cancer taught me how important it is to put myself first and fill my cup.

How did your diagnosis impact your mental health?

The diagnosis greatly impacted my mental health and it still does today. Cancer treatment is hard and very scary. There are so many ups, downs, and unexpected turns. It was very challenging to stay positive and not think about dying and leaving my family behind. Once I finished treatment, I thought I would go back to my normal life but it was anything but that. Once I finished treatment, I struggled greatly. I had anxiety, depression, PTSD, and a great deal of medical trauma to unpack. It was extremely challenging trying to rebuild my life while trying to be a good wife and mom again. I was so afraid of the cancer coming back that some days, it was hard to function. I couldn’t live like that anymore. I remember writing down a list of all the things that brought me joy and what I wanted from my “new life.” I then went on a quest to rebuild my life on my terms. It was scary yet exhilarating to feel like I could create a life that filled me up. It was very intentional and it worked!! Life after treatment hasn’t been easy but I’m finally living a life that I love, and deserve and I’m happy to show up for every day.

What did you do to care for your mental health during this time?

During that time, I went to therapy, I used affirmations regularly and I leaned into my support group of breasties. Also a lot of prayer. 

Did you have a support network? How did you find it? 

I had an amazing support network! My friends and family rallied around me near and far. I felt very loved and supported throughout my treatment. It was beautiful.

I also found support in the breast cancer community on Instagram. My breasties. A community of survivors, patients, thrivers, and previvors… all people who just get it and the struggle of being a young cancer patient. They encouraged me, shared advice with me, and cheered me on through every milestone. When no one else understood, they did. Many of them have become my closest friends. I’m very grateful for the Instagram breast cancer community. 

At what age range should we start doing breast exams at home, and how often?

We should start doing breast exams once we develop breasts. At least, that’s what I’ve been recommending to my own daughter. While breast cancer is not common at the young age of 14, I want to ingrain breast health in her now so it comes naturally throughout her life.

Breast exams should be done at least once per month. However, the focus should be on getting to know how our breasts normally look and feel, and in the event of a change, we should speak to our doctors. This means touching them and looking at them regularly. If we don’t make an intentional effort to get to know them, it will be hard to know if something is off. So get to know those breasts, ladies! Listen to your body. Know your normal!

Why is it important for younger women to consider their own breast health?

 It’s important that young women consider their breast health because young women can get breast cancer too! I was diagnosed when I was 30 and I know of women as young as 18 that was diagnosed. It’s important that we get familiar with our breasts, listen to our bodies, and advocate for ourselves at the doctor's office in case we do find something abnormal. If a doctor dismisses your concerns, that’s a red flag and you should specifically ask for testing or find a  new doctor. 

What are some of the main concerns or worries you get approached about by your community? How can we help calm anxiety surrounding breast cancer? 

The main concern is when women find a lump. They often aren’t sure what to do or which doctor to talk to about it with. It’s important that you simply schedule a visit with your general doctor or OGBYN. If they say you are too young for testing or for cancer, specifically ask for testing anyway. If they still refuse, find a new doctor immediately. I want to add that there are 12 signs of breast cancer that we should be aware of as well. It’s not just lumps. Here are the 12 signs according to Know Your Lemons (a breast health app all women should have)

  • Hard lumps
  • Thick area
  • Dimple 
  • Nipple crust
  • Red or hot area 
  • Unexpected fluid lol
  • Skin sores 
  • Bumps
  • Growing veins
  • Sunken nipples
  • New shape or size 
  • Appears similar to an orange peel

What advice would you give to anyone struggling with cancer or other health conditions?

I would tell them to acknowledge that they are in the driver's seat of their health. No one is coming to save them. It’s important that we as patients, take control of our health. That means advocating for ourselves, researching our condition, and clearly communicating our needs to our doctors. Use your voice! Your life may depend on it. 

Is there anything else you want our audience to know about you, your cause, or breast cancer awareness? 

Unfortunately, as young women and women of color, the cancer industry is not set up to provide great outcomes for women of color or women under 40. Year after year, black women remain 41% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. Incident and mortality rates of breast cancer continue to rise for women under 40 yet we aren’t even mentioned in the breast cancer screening guidelines. This is the reality. 

I consider myself an activist because I have no desire to fit into the mold to change it. This is a hill I am willing to die on. I will boldly use my platform to speak out, consult, and offer solutions to the problem. I do this work so I can see a better tomorrow for my daughter who will now have to start mammogram screening at the age of 25 because I became the family history when I was diagnosed. I will never quit because so much depends on it. Whatever injustice makes your heart roar, I hope you’ll do the same.

                            Allyn Rose

Healthcare advocate and breast cancer previvor Allyn Rose is the founder of the non-profit The Previvor. At only 26 years old,  Allyn Rose underwent a double mastectomy after losing her aunt, mother, and great-grandmother to breast cancer - despite testing negative for the BRCA gene.

Tell us about yourself. What is your story? What was your path to becoming a breast health advocate?

My name is Allyn Rose Oertel and my journey to becoming a breast cancer advocate started with the loss of my mother when I was 16. After losing my mother, grandmother, and great aunt to breast cancer, I knew that this was something that could very likely impact my life and I made the decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy in my 20s (knowing that my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 20s). I was a Miss America contestant when I first shared my story publicly. It went viral around the world and completely changed the trajectory of my life and afforded me the opportunity to speak to my generation about preventive healthcare. 

Breast cancer is a cause that is greatly important to you, tell us about starting The Previvor and what that process was like.

After undergoing a mastectomy and publicly sharing the process, I quickly realized that it was incredibly difficult for women undergoing mastectomy to access information about all of their mastectomy and breast reconstruction choices. Thousands of women reached out to me over the years asking for information so I decided to build a global information hub for women considering surgery to aid them in the process. I started with a budget of zero and a 10-year-old laptop on my living room sofa. I’m blown away by what it’s become. 

What did the journey of deciding to get a mastectomy look like? Where was your mental health at during that time? 

It was very challenging to pull the final trigger to have a mastectomy, especially in my 20s. I was working as a full-time model, I was a former pageant contestant and so much of my public identity was wrapped up in the way that I looked. Making the decision to forego my vanity for my future health and my future family was something that took a while to process. However, once I made the decision, I never looked back. It was a journey to love my new normal, but I’m grateful for my friends, family, and husband who helped me along the way.

How did your diagnosis/genetic testing results change you and the way you see yourself?

I tested negative for all known “cancer gene mutations” which was surprising to me, especially with my strong family history. My breast surgeon said to me “you don’t have BRCA, but you likely have something we just can’t test for yet. It still makes sense based on your genetic history to undergo this procedure.” Having the support of my surgical team was very validating in making the final choice, despite not having a clear mutation. 

How did your diagnosis/results impact your mental health?

Sharing my story publicly brought a lot of scrutiny and when I tested negative, it opened the door for the naysayers to second-guess my decision. 

What did you do to care for your mental health during this time?

I journaled a lot during the process because it helped me put any concerns, frustrations, or rouge thoughts out of my conscious mind. I also tried my best to share my feelings with friends and family. 

Did you have a support network? How did you find it? 

My family and friends were a great support during the process. I was also dating someone at the time (my now husband) who was invaluable in helping me heal, physically and emotionally. 

Most women in their 20s and 30s aren’t really thinking about breast cancer. How can we change that? And why is it important that we spread this awareness? 

I do my best to share relevant information with women in their 20s and 30s about breast cancer. It’s easy to think that it’s an “old woman’s disease,” which simply isn’t true. Breast cancer rates in women 30-40 have increased by almost 20% in recent years - that’s terrifying. Providing women with practical tools like knowing how to do a self-breast exam I think is the best line of defense. 


What are some of the main concerns or worries you get approached about by your community? How can we help calm anxiety surrounding breast cancer? 

The main concerns with young women are traditionally how they are going to look afterward and how it may impact current and future relationships. I know that women who are better informed have better results and are statistically happier with their outcomes. That’s why it’s so important for me to offer women options like The Previvor to learn about their options.  


What advice would you give to anyone struggling with cancer or other health conditions?

Find your support system and keep them close. Breast cancer can be incredibly isolating but it’s okay and necessary to ask for help. 

How can we show support to our community who is affected by this disease? 

Donate to organizations that provide educational resources and those that actually fund research - particularly stage 4 breast cancer research. 

The Previvor Foundation is a team of previvors, survivors, caretakers, business owners, and physicians, dedicated to providing you with comprehensive information regarding your choices for mastectomy and reconstruction, genetic testing, as well as provide access to the essential items needed for a smooth recovery.

A final word from Inside Then Out

Breast cancer awareness is not just an issue for women over 35; we all benefit from breast cancer awareness. By staying informed, performing regular self-exams, and seeking support, you can take control of your health. Remember, early detection can save lives, so prioritize your well-being and empower yourself through knowledge and proactive steps. 

We’re in this together.

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