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Fashion Writer and Editor Alyssa Vingan, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 21, shares the wisdom she learned from her year-long journey back to health.


Your early twenties are supposed to be the best years of your life, so you can imagine how derailed I was when I received a breast cancer diagnosis at age 21. With no family history and a relatively healthy lifestyle (I was living in New Orleans during college, hence the “relatively”), it was a shock that I sometimes still can’t wrap my head around. Now that the ordeal is a few years behind me, I wanted to share some wisdom I picked up along the way.

1. Know your body.
Hands down, the question I’m asked most frequently after someone learns I’m a cancer survivor is, “How did you know?” Well, it hurt like hell. I first noticed an ache while lying face-down on my mat during yoga class. Over the next few weeks, whenever I applied pressure, it got progressively worse. Aside from the pain, I felt a hard lump — so swollen that it was nearly visible through my skin. If you’re active and take care of your body, you’ll immediately realize when something isn’t right — plus, you’ll feel it in your gut. That’s your cue to tell someone.

2. A little bit of makeup goes a long way.
I fortunately did not feel sick most days during the year of my cancer treatments, but I certainly looked sick. I lost all of my hair — eyebrows and eyelashes included — and the color in my face was totally gone.

My boyfriend affectionately nicknamed me Glo Worm, referencing that so-ugly-it’s-cute toy from the Eighties. Instead of hiding away in my bald state, I bought a really great wig, learned how to apply false lashes and started to swear by self-tanner. I could look like a completely different (and healthy!) person in minutes. All it took was some practice.

3. You can still feel sexy.
I had a double mastectomy with reconstruction, and even though most people might never notice the difference, I had to make a pretty dramatic body image adjustment. It took me a long while to look past the scars, but I now proudly wear low-cut tops and bikinis like I used to. My then-boyfriend, now-fiancé was my old boobs’ number one fan, but I can assure you he loves the new ones just as much. Plus, on another positive note, I never have to wear a bra again. Ever!

4. Don’t isolate yourself.
I spent far too many days alone in my room during my year with cancer, probably because I didn’t want others to feel like they owed me their sympathy. But, as you can probably imagine, I don’t look back too fondly on those hours I lost watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians solo. You know that cheesy saying “Laughter is the best medicine?” Well, it’s true. Go out and be social — you’ll feel a million times better.

5. Life goes on.
A week before my mastectomy, I had an interview at one of my favorite fashion websites for an internship the next fall. The editors had no idea what I was going through and, as it turns out, I got the gig. I wasn’t going to let having cancer stand in the way of the goals I’d set for myself, and I continued to plan my life past my year of treatments. Don’t waste your time worrying — keep working on what you hope to achieve once the nightmare is behind you.

6. You can do anything for a short time.
I’ll never forget what my doctor said to me right after giving me my diagnosis: “It’s going to be a tough year, but we’ll get you through this.” I can’t begin to tell you how daunting that sounded to me in the moment, but looking back, it feels like a completely different lifetime. Yes, I totally missed out on my last semester of college, but my time as a cancer patient was just a hiccup in my life plans. If a roadblock ever comes along that you feel like you can’t get past, trust me — you can.

Alyssa Vingan
Fashion Writer and Editor

Alyssa, wearing Tory’s Sabe bootie, photographed by Noa Griffel

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Comments

  • jaleesrehman

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  • Facing Cancer Together

    I so get when you mean when you said “I didn’t feel sick, but I looked sick”. Cancer goes beyond the physical and deep into the emotional and psychological. Just a little bit of makeup can remind us that we’re still women, still beautiful and this phase will pass. ~Catherine

  • http://www.thestylelobby.com/ The Style Lobby

    I can so relate to Alyssa’s story. Though I never wore my wig, I SWORE by my lipstick and beauty products to make sure I was the healthiest looking breast cancer patient anyone had ever seen. Thankfully just a year past my diagnosis, I’m now healthy and back to “normal.” And happy to be so! Many thanks to Alyssa for sharing her story, and to you for sharing it for her. xx, Jamie

  • jbraganza

    What an amazing story — it puts so many things in perspective, for cancer patients and pretty much everyone else! Thank you for sharing.

  • Jan

    You are lovely and intelligent. I am a thriver also. Blessings, prayers and healing thoughts, as you go through life!!

  • Nonni

    A very beautiful young woman who fought the terrible breast monster is courageous with an inspiring story.

  • surender

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