Breast Cancer Awareness Month, held in October every year, was created in 1985 to promote screening and prevention of the disease, which affects one in eight women in the United States every year and 2.3 million women worldwide. Known best for its pink theme color, the month features a number of campaigns and programs — conducted by groups ranging from breast cancer advocacy organizations to local community organizations to major retailers — aimed at: supporting people diagnosed with breast cancer, including metastatic breast cancer educating people about breast cancer risk factors stressing the importance of regular screening, starting at age 40.

To give us more context on this month, I sat down with Yvonne to talk about her daughter, Amber. In May of 2018, at the age of 26, Amber was diagnosed with HER2 triple positive breast cancer, an extremely aggressive form of breast cancer that is highly treatable if caught early.

Amber had struggled with previous PCOS symptoms and had actually cancelled her initial OB appointment. Her younger sister, Tara, talked her into going. The doctor found a lump and scheduled her for a mammogram and biopsy. Yvonne didn’t want to think the worst at that point, but she told me, “I knew Amber had breast cancer. I just knew.”

Yvonne recalls, “And so then we went [to the biopsy], and it was a week later, May 25th, sitting in the office. And I remember the phone rang, and I remember looking at Lori in my eye, and she walked over, and we held hands. And then the call came in. It was, ‘She has breast cancer.’ Worst words ever.”

“And so then, me being who I am, that same day after I drank probably a half a bottle of tequila, in the reality of shit, this is shit. And I came to terms with, okay, no time to wait. And so then I did all my research, found top of the top doctors in Colorado, and had all my appointments by four o’clock that day, everyone. And then within a week we had our port put in, and then we started chemo two weeks later.”

“Walking her through the process was hard. She was scared to death, didn’t quite understand what was about to happen. Chantel called me that night and told me, ‘Mom, God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers.’ And at that time I was like, ‘Oh, you’re such a jerk. Why the fuck are you telling me this?’ But I realized she’s right. You have to be a soldier. Amber is hands down a soldier. I made her promise me. I said, ‘I need you to grab my pinky, and I need you to fight. And that’s what I need you to do, and I’ll stress.’ And she grabbed fingers, and we locked that night. And so May 26 came, and we put our feet on the ground, we had our appointments, and she was the soldier. She fought like fucken hell.”

“The first three [chemo sessions] were pretty bad, even went into anaphylactic shock once. She struggled on chemo, and then she just kind of accepted it. But the hardest part for Amber was losing her hair. That was a bad day. She woke up, and I just remember, she called out, ‘Mom,’ and I ran in there, and her hands were full, and she was freaking out. And then we went to chemo early that day. And I remember a gal that was young, too, that came up, and she goes, ‘Do you mind?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ Because Amber was just crying, putting the hair in the bucket at chemo. And the gal had told her, ‘It’s really easy if you just go shave your head.’ So that day after chemo, she goes, ‘Let’s go shave my head. Find me at black cap and shave my head.’ And that was her choice. ‘I’m shaving, chemo’s not getting this.’”

“She went through three months of hardcore chemo, once a week, three drugs. Then we stopped for three weeks, and she had her breast reduction. And it was October 8th, 2018, she was declared cancer free. She had to do chemo for another nine months. We had to do it every three weeks for nine months. And that’s because her kind of cancer, she has an active cell. If Amber gets any hormones or estrogen, it can kick her cancer right back in. And so she’s on a 10-year program, she has six years left. She will end up having a hysterectomy to avoid a relapse of cancer, because it is fed by estrogen and hormones.”

“She has mental challenges. She’s doing better than before. But she knows now when the mental’s got her, she has a counselor, and she’ll call me and say, mom, I have to go to my counselor. And then she’ll go do four or five sessions of counseling to drill her in when she has mental moment. She’s been fighting that pretty bad feeling, fear, that it’s going to come back. But for the most part, she kills it, for somebody that experienced cancer at 26, and now she’s 30. And she tells me, you just don’t know. Life is short. You don’t know mom.”

“And she’s a soldier…She’s a soldier.”

Amber posted the following on Facebook on 10/1/22: “Never in my life would I imagined having to fight breast cancer at 26. The journey was rough and days where I wanted to give up but the amazing people around me help me push through. I will be 4 years cancer free on the 8th! Thankful, for my early detection and my sister forcing me to go to my yearly OB appointment. She saved my life. If I would have waited like I wanted to my outcome would have been a lot worse. I had the most aggressive breast cancer. When I say ‘aggressive,’ I went from a stage 1 to stage almost 3 in a matter of two weeks. Friends and family go get checked, keep up with your appointments, it can save your life!”