Breast cancer has impacted most all of us in some way or another, and SEEN is no exception. Shortly after bringing Paige Herman-Axel onboard as our Content Strategist, she bravely shared her breast cancer diagnosis with us. Now, she’s telling her story in the name of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
For me, every month (and every day) of my entire life has always been about breast cancer awareness. My mom was diagnosed at the age of 30 when she was pregnant with me (that’s a whole different story), and thankfully her unilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation worked. She never had a recurrence despite testing positive for the BRCA gene much later in life (at which point she had a prophylactic mastectomy on the other side.)
Although I tested negative for BRCA, this family history meant I had to start getting a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI every six months at the age of 25. I was always super-diligent about my screenings and had a few scares along the way, but in February 2021 “it” happened. (I was 44.)
The summer before, my regular MRI found a mass that my team of doctors wanted to “watch.” When I went for a follow-up six months later it was gone—but there was something else. This one wasn’t watchable. This one required a biopsy ASAP. I had an appointment with the breast surgeon who has been overseeing my screening and care for the past 15+ years one week later. It was indeed breast cancer, but it was caught early and measured just 4 millimeters.
I spent the following two weeks meeting with oncologists and plastic surgeons (as well as a nutritionist and a therapist who were members of my “cancer team”). I also had to decide between two treatment options: A lumpectomy with radiation or a double mastectomy. I had a final meeting with my breast surgeon on March 11 and my mastectomy (and phase one of my reconstruction) was scheduled for April 13.
The surgery was a success in that the borders of my tumor and my lymph nodes were clear. Thankfully the only ongoing treatment necessary was tamoxifen—a somewhat bitter pill I’d have to take every day for the next five years. My second reconstructive surgery was performed in August, and then I was on the road to getting my life back.
I am beyond grateful that I did not need to undergo chemotherapy for several reasons, and the associated hair loss was one of them. However, the stress I endured after my diagnosis, the toll two major surgeries (and roughly 10 hours of general anesthesia) took on my body, and taking tamoxifen for a few months (at that point) resulted in a major change in my hair. When I showered, I could feel clumps of hair cascading down my body. I was seeing more and more hair in my comb, brush, and shower drain.
At the end of September I got my hair blown out for an event. It was so thin I was mortified. I immediately embarked on a regimen of new shampoos, conditioners, and scalp serums—and cut two inches off my already short hair to make it appear more full. (Before surgery, the nutritionist told me to stop using the hair supplements I was taking.)
Then, as a member of the SEEN team, I got a heads-up about the Harvard clinical study that showed using SEEN’s fragrance-free Shampoo and Conditioner reduces shedding by 44% in women experiencing female pattern hair loss (before we were able to share this incredible news with the public). Of course my house was already stocked with SEEN’s clean formulas for my husband and puberty-age son, so I decided to ditch the other products and give this simple regimen a whirl.
Six months later, I can confidently say that SEEN noticeably reduced my hair shedding, and now my hair density is pretty much back to where it was before my breast cancer diagnosis. I always had realistic expectations, because it takes time to see visible improvement in hair loss and regrowth regardless of your approach. For me, another upside of using SEEN is that using the Shampoo, Conditioner, and Blow-Out Creme instantly delivers a 306% increase in volume that sticks around for eight hours*, so this definitely helped improve the appearance of my hair as it got back on track.
Although I am officially cancer-free and feeling better than ever, I still see my oncologist for an exam and bloodwork every three months. Yet my breast cancer and reconstructive surgery still impact everything from figuring out what to wear, the types of exercise I can do, my ability to open jars (seriously), and so much more.
But most importantly, surviving breast cancer gave me gratitude. Shuttling my now-14-year-old son around town, helping with homework, packing lunches, making dinner, and blow-drying my hair when I actually have the time are now moments that I cherish.
My story aside, every woman needs to know that 90% of breast cancers are not due to genetic factors such as the BRCA gene. Get that annual mammogram if you’re 40 or older—no exceptions. And if you have a family history (regardless of your age), talk to your OB/GYN and enlist the help of a specialist who can recommend the ideal screening schedule and appropriate genetic testing.
*Source: Independent third party lab test, "Volume Measurement via Image Analysis," March 2020. SEEN Shampoo, Conditioner, and Blow-out Creme tested as a regimen compared to sebum treated hair.