In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, meet Nalie Agustin, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at only 24 years old. As a survivor, she now helps other women who are currently fighting the disease and raises awareness about the importance of prevention; she shares tips, advice and stories on her personal blog. She also started the social media campaign #FeelItOnTheFirst to remind women to examine their breasts every first of the month.
Nalie, you were diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer in July 2013, at only 24 years old. Can you tell us about your journey?
Oh my, where do I even start? It has been one hell of a roller coaster ride. Truth is, I’m still on my journey. But if by journey you mean my cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, I can tell you that I underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy, a full mastectomy and 29 rounds of radiation. In 2014, I was able to scream “I AM CANCER FREE” and since then, I’ve been trying to make the most of every single day.
A lot of people in their 20’s struggle with body image and have a lot of insecurities when it comes to the way they look. How has your relationship with your body changed after getting cancer?
We live in a society where it’s common for women to get hair and eyelash extensions, to draw their eyebrows à la Kim Kardashian and to get boob jobs for the perfect side boob look. So imagine being 24 years old and losing your hair, eyelashes and eyebrows and having your entire breast removed. Although it was a struggle, I’m someone who seeks the positive in everything, and what I found from being stripped away from my most feminine assets, was an inner beauty that I didn’t not know I had. It was like peeling off layers that covered my true colors. While my long black hair and luscious lashes used to catch a lot of attention, my smile and positive attitude took the spotlight. I must admit, I fell in love with that person.
Cancer does not only affect the person who gets the diagnosis, but also their family, their friends, their significant other… What was the reaction of your loved ones? What difference did they make on your way back to health?
You are absolutely right. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, your whole family gets diagnosed with you. I often think they have it worse as they feel a lack of control. My loved ones were in just as much shock as I was. In fact, they shared every feeling of pain with me. I’ll never forget my father’s face when he watched me get stabbed by the IV needle over 8 times when they couldn’t find my veins for chemotherapy. His face looked like he was in more pain than I. Which is why I knew that if I cried, my mother cried. If I laughed, my brothers laughed with me. If I was scared, my boyfriend would be petrified. For this reason, this was my motivation to stay strong, so that my loved ones stayed strong with me.
I have no idea where I’d be today if it weren’t for my friends, family, and boyfriend, who were with me every step of the way. I could only help others because I had all the help I needed, and that’s thanks to them.
You started blogging when you received your diagnosis. How did writing help you during those difficult times?
Writing was my therapy. When you go through cancer, you have about a million thoughts going through your mind at once. Writing helped me decipher them. It allowed me to let out all my emotions instead of letting it boil within. Blogging saved me. And apparently, my blog saved a lot of other people too! Knowing that gave me a purpose to get through these difficult times.
On your blog, you share your story, of course, but you also give information about all things cancer-related such as preparing for an MRI, ultrasounds, medication… Do you think that there is enough information out there for people currently fighting cancer and for cancer survivors? Why do you think it’s important to give your own tips and share what you’ve learned along the way?
There is heaps of information. But personally, I couldn’t relate to any of it. A lot is written in ways only medical students would understand or they would be catered to older women. There is definitely a lack of information for younger women which is why I think it’s EXTREMELY important for everyone to share their own tips and experience because there be might something that helped you that could really help someone else!
As a cancer survivor, how do you get involved to help others who are in the same situation?
With my blog and social media, I provide a platform for others in the same situation to mingle, discuss, vent and ask questions. I do my best to answer every email despite the dozens a day. I think it’s important to let people know they are not alone. There is no better person to speak with than someone who knows exactly what you’re going through.
What advice would you give to the loved ones of someone who just got diagnosed with cancer? What are the best ways to help?
The best way to help is to be there for them in any way they need you to be. Some highly appreciated favors are cooking a healthy home-cooked meal, driving / accompanying them to the hospital, coming over to watch a funny movie, helping to clean the house. Basically, anything you can do to save them energy is the best gift you can offer!
It’s also important to know that everyone is different, some people need more space than others. It’s about letting them know they are not alone in this fight through your actions, not just your words!
We often are under the impression that only older women have breast cancer. What advice would you give to women in their 20’s and 30’s? What can we do to prevent cancer?
Young ladies and gentlemen, #FEELITONTHEFIRST ! hehe! Feel it on the first is the social media campaign I created to remind younger women to self-examine their breast every first of the month. Why? Because early detection is key to survival. And the only way you’ll know if there are changes in your breasts is if you check yourself REGULARLY – not just for breast cancer awareness month!
So every first of the month, I challenge women to snap a selfie feeling their breast, to hashtag #feelitonthefirst and to tag 3 of their girls to do the same. That way, every first of the month it appears all over newsfeeds as a reminder, and every woman tagged is responsible of reminding their friends to self-examine their breasts.
If ever you do find something suspicious… go see a doctor immediately! I cannot stress the importance of doing so enough!
Why? Because… I MADE THE MISTAKE of waiting thinking it was nothing. And because I waited, my tumors grew to the size of an egg, therefore extensive treatment was needed. Had I continued to procrastinate, I may not have been here today.
What did you learn about yourself through this whole journey?
I learned that I am way stronger than I thought and that I have the ability to remind others, that they have the same strength too!
Follow Nalie online!
Make sure to #FeelItOnTheFirst & tag your friends!