Advertisement
Ad revenue keeps our community free for you

Cancer Derailed My Plans but Helped Me Tap Into My Greatest Strength

Real Talk

January 17, 2024

Content created for the Bezzy community and sponsored by our partners. Learn More

Photo by Vatesha Bouler/Design by Ryan Hamsher

Photo by Vatesha Bouler/Design by Ryan Hamsher

by Vatesha Bouler, as told to Elizabeth Millard

•••••

Fact Checked by:

Jennifer Chesak, MSJ

•••••

•••••

by Vatesha Bouler, as told to Elizabeth Millard

•••••

Fact Checked by:

Jennifer Chesak, MSJ

•••••

•••••

Teaching is my gift, but my purpose is to educate and advocate.

My cancer story began in a Zumba class. My arm brushed against my left breast, and I felt a knot.

I wasn’t worried. I was only 36 years old and didn’t have cancer in my family.

I thought breast cancer only happened to older women and women with generations of hereditary cancer. When I was diagnosed with stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma, to say I was shocked is an understatement. It was a punch in the gut.

At that point, I was in the prime of my career as a kindergarten teacher. I was healthy, and I had my whole life planned. I wanted to travel and have kids, and then boom — it felt like a death sentence.

The only women I’d known with breast cancer had died from it. Truly, I felt like my life was over.

I’m 45 now and have been in remission for 9 years. Through this experience, I’ve learned to embrace change and roll with the punches in a way I don’t think I would have otherwise. It’s brought my life more purpose and expanded how I’m able to help others through sharing information and insight.

Teaching is my gift, but my purpose is to educate and advocate. I’m grateful to bring that strength into the breast cancer community.

Join the free BC community!
Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

From diagnosis through treatment

When I felt the knot during Zumba, I immediately called my mom. She said it was probably a cyst because our family has dense breasts that are prone to cysts. Still, we agreed I should call the doctor and get a mammogram to be on the safe side.

Even when the mammogram was followed by a biopsy, I didn’t have any clue it was cancer. They called me the next day with the news: It was aggressive and had already spread to my lymph nodes.

I can’t even describe how terrified I was. My mom got on the next flight to come see me, and all I could think was that it was the end.

However, the nurse was reassuring. She told me that it was more treatable because we caught it early. That knowledge gave me a bit of ease, but it took a long time for the shock to wear off.

I decided to have a fertility consultation before chemotherapy because I wanted to be a mom someday. I had my eggs preserved before undergoing eight rounds of chemo, followed by a lumpectomy and 32 weeks of radiation.

After that, I went into remission. I have just one more year of tamoxifen. When I’m officially off of that, I’ll just have a yearly mammogram.

I was so relieved that I had immediately acted rather than waiting to see if the lump went away, because it likely would have kept spreading.

Advertisement
Ad revenue keeps our community free for you

Leaning on community

It was wonderful to have my mom through this, but she wasn’t the only one supporting me. My school staff was my rock. They put so many things in place for me and covered my classes when I had treatments.

I also received love and support from family members, my best friends, and sorority sisters. And I knew God was with me the entire time, too.

I was concerned about being around my kindergarten students. Those are some germy little people, and my immune system was compromised. But I never once got sick.

The most devastating thing was losing my hair. It was traumatic as an African American woman because our hair is our pride and glory. To see it coming out in clumps made me so upset.

Through this experience, I’ve learned to embrace change and roll with the punches in a way I don’t think I would have otherwise. It’s brought my life more purpose by expanding how I’m able to help others by sharing information and insight.

Fortunately, my uncle cuts hair. With my mom and my sister in the room, my uncle shaved my head, and I tried a wig on for the first time. It was tough because I looked in the mirror and thought, “This isn’t me.”

From that point on, I started wearing scarves and embracing my baldness, and that changed something for me. I felt the strength of my community around me and knew I could navigate this even though it felt traumatic.

Becoming an advocate

When I finished treatment in 2015, I decided to go to a conference in San Antonio so I could meet Marissa Thomas, the founder of For the Breast of Us (FTBOU), an organization highlighting the experiences of women of color in the breast cancer community. She and I had been talking online, but we really hit it off when we met in person. She’s my sister, and I love her dearly.

I became an FTBOU Baddie Ambassador because I believe in the purpose of this organization. I also started a vlog called Tesha’s Tea Room, a space filled with support and encouragement for thrivers and survivors to talk about our stories.

Sometimes, I host talks with medical professionals about how we can better our lives as we go through cancer.

It was a relief to find a group with young women of color and connect with them on issues we have in common, like wanting to start a family at some point.

I also co-authored a book called “Beyond Her Reflection” where I share my breast cancer journey, and became a board member for the grassroots organization PINK 4 The City in Baltimore.

I started my vlog and joined For the Breast of Us because I was going through treatment and trying to find support. Before FTBOU, I didn’t find a lot of people who looked like me. I was the youngest person in many support groups, and often, the only thing we had in common was cancer.

It was a relief to find a group with young women of color to connect with on issues we have in common, like wanting to start a family at some point.

In the next couple of years, I hope to take my vlog to another level with more advocacy and teaching. I love providing encouragement to women going through this journey — to let them know they’re not alone and they can get through this.

This is When You See Us, a series in partnership with our friends at For the Breast of Us, highlighting the experiences of Women of Color in the breast cancer community. Together, we believe that hearing the stories of women who look like you and can relate to your experiences has the power to foster community, resiliency, and hope.

If you’re a woman of color living with breast cancer, you can join the conversation by becoming a Bezzy BC member, navigating to the For the Breast of Us community forum, and introducing yourself.

Fact checked on January 17, 2024


Join the free BC community!
Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

Like the story? React below:


Have thoughts or suggestions about this article? Email us at article-feedback@bezzy.com.

Related stories

Advertisement
Ad revenue keeps our community free for you