Updated: Apr 19
Sounds contradictory, right? I realize for so many, just the word cancer comes with some negative and scary feelings. Everyone has at least one connection to cancer. It is hard to escape. But anyone impacted understands cancer can and usually will completely change how one looks and walks through life.
My name is Sarah Hall, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32 years old---- on Valentine's Day----during my 3rd trimester of pregnancy. It was a total shock. I had no family history and considered myself a healthy person. Before being diagnosed, healthy eating and exercise were a huge part of my life. Yoga, weightlifting, step, spin, 5ks, half marathons… you name it. I did it. My husband Eric has been a firefighter paramedic for 15 years. The fire life is no stranger to either of us.
My treatment included a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, reconstruction, and hormone therapy. Navigating cancer treatment with a newborn was not ideal, but I tried to focus on the good stuff. I found humor where I could and stayed as active as possible. I kept up my yoga practice and walked regularly. Each time I moved my body, it lifted my spirits, and I experienced significantly less fatigue during chemo. Exercise was empowering and provided a way to connect with my body positively when it was very easy to think of how my body had failed me.
Our fire community acted as an extension of our family- donating personal and sick days so my husband could be off during surgery and chemo. The fire wives banded together and delivered meals so that Eric and the girls didn’t have to worry about food. These are people we could rely on for practical support or to give us a shoulder to cry on.
Although I did my best to maintain a positive attitude, like most survivors, I struggled emotionally when treatment concluded. The mental toll of being diagnosed, amputating my breasts, and undergoing chemotherapy while caring for an infant eventually caught up with me. At one point, I started having depressive thoughts and wondered if my family would be better off without me. Our marriage got rocky, and we realized it was going to take some outside help to weather the storm. Many do not realize that cancer is just as much an emotional battle as a physical battle, and mental health often takes a backseat in the treatment process. Both Eric and I sought counseling for the first time in our lives. We found it invaluable to have someone to check in on us both personally and together.
For years following treatment, I tried to return to my pre-cancer life. Over the last year, I realized it is IMPOSSIBLE to be the same woman again. You can never go back to who you were before, no matter how hard you try. You must learn to move forward differently. I finally stopped trying to lose weight like I did in my 20’s and let go of the do-it all mentality.
It took many years of practice, but I have changed the way I view exercise. Yoga has taken on a whole new meaning in my life.I prioritize my own health by doing a gong meditation weekly, prioritizing mindfulness and adopting the habit of buying organic.
I knew when I was done with treatment, I would do everything within my power to give back to others struggling with breast cancer. Turning my pain into my purpose was a significant motivation post-treatment. That’s when I was introduced to a brand-new organization named Faith Through Fire.
Faith Through Fire’s mission is to reduce breast cancer patients' fear and anxiety and replace it with hope and a path toward thriving. We say it all the time- you can choose to let cancer make you bitter or better. Cancer is a traumatic experience, but post-traumatic growth is possible!
Valentine's day last week marked a significant milestone for my family and me. 5 years since diagnosis! The last 5 years have been the most challenging, humbling, and growth-filled years of my life. If there is one thing I want to leave you with, it’s this- through obstacles come opportunities. I’m now Vice President of Faith Through Fire and find joy daily in my work. Life isn’t easy, but when you allow others to help and guide you, you can get to the other side!