A few years ago, I interviewed a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 20’s. She was awarded a grant from FAB-U-WISH, an organization founded by TV Personality, Giuliana Rancic that grants wishes for women battling breast cancer. Out of all of the people I have interviewed in my 20’s, this one still gives me goosebumps.
This interview was originally published on October 15, 2015 here.
Meeting Giuliana Rancic and another Breast Cancer Survivor:
There was a line of women and men near the fresh ground coffee to meet Giuliana Rancic, one night in a Bucktown grocery store a few years ago.
In line, there was a theme – some had pink lined purses. Others wore pink dresses. I turned around and I saw four-inch pink stilettos.
“I love your shoes,” I said.
She smiled back at me. She had neat, long chocolate-brown hair and a black fringe skirt.
“I want to be like her,” I thought.
She was so stylish and composed, and she had an equally chic friend waiting in line with her.
When I met Rancic for the photo op, she was beautiful, vibrant and energetic, as seen on E! News. Not only is she a breast cancer survivor, but she is helping many young women along the way with their journey to recovery by helping them feel fabulous.
I told Rancic that I was interviewing the breast cancer survivor who won a wish from her foundation, FAB-U-WISH. She pointed to the woman in the pink stilettos, “That’s Mary.”
It was time to take my photo with Rancic. I smiled, but my face was still awash with the realization.
Breast Cancer Survivor, Mary’s Story
Mary first learned that she had breast cancer eight years ago at 29 years old.
Initial Reaction to Breast Cancer:
Windy City Cosmo: How did you feel when you heard the news?
Mary: Like I wanted to crawl into a hole. Everything changed.
Windy City Cosmo: How did you discover that you had cancer?
Mary: I felt a lump. It took a month. The doctor’s were 99 percent sure that I didn’t have cancer. They said it is such a small percentage (because I was young).
Working While Battling Cancer:
Windy City Cosmo: Did you work?
Mary: I am a nurse. I worked through it all. They (my coworkers) knew if I went to the bathroom, I would be throwing up for an hour.
Windy City Cosmo: Did you take time off?
Mary: I took intermittent time. After the double mastectomy, I took six weeks off.
Mary had to have several reconstruction surgeries after her double mastectomy.
Windy City Cosmo: Did you tell your boss? If so, what was their reaction?
Mary: I told my boss. She was great. Two days before going on chemo, she moved me to day shift. I was working night shift and it takes years to get to that status.
Windy City Cosmo: How do you feel about how organizations are bringing awareness to breast cancer?
Mary: I think there is a right way to gain awareness. I was never a ra ra dress myself in pink girl. I had a bitterness towards it. I hated my situation.
Windy City Cosmo: How did you hear about FAB-U-WISH?
Mary: As a young woman, my struggles were a little different. Giuliana’s organization focused more on needs of younger women.
I am not thinking about how I will tell my kids, I’m thinking if I can have kids…will I have a husband? Will I ever have love and acceptance after losing my hair and losing my boobs?
I kindof stalked Giuliana. I was like, “Oh my God, yes, young people finally have a voice—a face.” She was diagnosed and the next day she was going to bat for us.
Windy City Cosmo: What was your support group like?
Mary: I had a lot of friends that walked away from me. You go from going out every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday..(and then telling them) I feel like shit. I am going through chemo.
I was lucky to have a core group of friends.
Windy City Cosmo: What was your FAB-U-WISH?
Mary: My FAB-U-WISH was for them—my core group of friends.
I applied online. I am pretty sure I finished off a bottle of Pinot Noir. I was very emotional. I had forgotten that I applied.
My wish was to have a party at RPM for my “A Team,” that’s what I call them.
We overstayed our welcome. They had food and an open bar. They had us in a private room. I had chosen the menu before hand. Fifteen people came.
Mary’s wish was granted this past May 2015.
Windy City Cosmo: Are you currently involved with FAB-U-WISH?
Mary: I am talking about FAB-U-WISH. I got my friends and family geared up. It’s great now that Giuliana’s here. There isn’t a Chicago chapter here. All offices are on the east coast. Hopefully there will be more events.
Advice for Young Woman Diagnosed with Breast Cancer:
Windy City Cosmo: If you could offer one piece of advice for a young woman going through breast cancer, what would it be?
Mary: It gets better. It never leaves you. You are always scared. You are always worried about every single cough.
Windy City Cosmo: How did you get through the tough times?
Mary: I put together “Mary’s top 10 list of fries in Chicago,” because that’s the only thing I could eat. I would bring a glass of wine to my surgeon’s office…I didn’t feel sorry for myself.
It’s not lost on me that young women had worse scenarios than I had. They are single moms or new moms or they lost their job.
Amanda Elliott is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.