This time last year, we had the honor of speaking with Kerri Besse, then going through treatment for breast cancer. A year later, we are checking in with her to see how her perspective has shifted since her diagnosis, treatment and now, survivorship. She has also become involved with Living Beyond Breast Cancer as a young advocate, which we are also thrilled to support this October with a specially curated care package. Read on to learn more about her inspiring journey and how LBBC is changing women's lives.
How did your diagnosis affect your outlook on work/life balance and prioritizing your time?
I like to call my new outlook on work my “gentle hustle”. I’m still hustling just with more of a feeling of ease and knowing that you can only do so much in a day. Prior to diagnosis, I believe that I was not taking good care of my mind or body. I had spent the last twenty years prioritizing my career over my own well-being. I also put other people's needs first and was constantly busy!
Now, I have learned when to say no. My list of those whom I call close friends has gotten shorter and that is exciting to me. More time to spend with the people who really make a difference in my life. I have put more focus on taking time for myself: yoga, meditation, healthier eating habits, sleeping (and napping, which I never did before). Listening to my body has become critical. I would be lying if I said this was all easy. It is HARD to make real changes within yourself. It feels like I am rewiring my brain most days.
My perspective toward work has shifted too. I am spending more time and energy focused on creating The Cancer Calendar, which I plan to self-publish in 2022.
Being a creative person working in the design industry can take a toll on your confidence. Art is subjective and everyone has an opinion (good or bad) about the work you put out into the world. I have had to tell myself to let a lot of comments go and to not dwell on things.
Kerri practicing yoga
In the aftermath of treatment, what are you drawn to? How has cancer affected how you spend your time?
Oh, I love this question! I was always someone who would inherently find pleasure in small details. Like the inside of a flower I saw while rushing through Bryant Park for a meeting. Now...I do MORE of this!
I go to more museums, historical sites, I read more art/design books, and I’ve taken more long road trips. Slowing down has been very eye opening. I’m learning and listening more and becoming a better designer for it. I’m also still healing from the trauma of losing my mom, having cancer, and the pandemic all in one year. I have to give myself the time it takes to truly be at peace with what happened to me last year.
Kerri starting chemotherapy treatment in May 2020
Tell us a little about Living Beyond Breast Cancer and how you got involved.
I really wish I had found Living Beyond Breast Cancer sooner in my journey. Once I started working on The Cancer Calendar, I started searching Instagram for Breast Cancer related hashtags. That is how I found Living Beyond Breast Cancer sometime in August 2020.
I immediately dove into watching some of the videos posted in the news channel on the LBBC site. The first one being facing chemotherapy during a pandemic. Although I was also done with chemo by August, it was still very comforting to know that trusted experts in the medical community were caring about this issue. Cancer didn’t stop because of Covid!
Other topics they cover include bone loss during treatment, cognitive function during and after treatment and the benefits of CBD for breast cancer patients.
I was SO excited when I found LBBC that I rushed to apply to be a Young Advocate, something in hindsight I should not have rushed into, as I was hesitant to share my story with the world, and that is a huge part of being a YA.
I was diagnosed on March 11th, 2020, but I didn’t post anything on Facebook or Instagram until seven months later, around this time last year. The outpouring of support was so beautiful and uplifting. With each day I became more and more comfortable talking about my illness.
Something that we talk a lot about at LBBC, “meeting people where they are at”. Not everyone is going to feel how I felt during treatment and not everyone is ready and willing to share their stories on social platforms publicly. And that’s okay.
LBBC is such an inclusive, empowering, and dynamic organization that helps more than 650,000 people a year, including the families of those impacted by cancer. I have found a sense of community amongst women who know exactly what it feels like when you first get the call that it’s cancer. I plan to partner with LBBC long after my advocacy period ends with goals in the future to volunteer to answer calls on their wonderful help line.
What do you hope to contribute through your partnership with LBBC?
I wish to first and foremost spread awareness. Awareness on two fronts: one of course for those who are newly diagnosed to not feel alone. And the other for the rest of the world to know that cancer can happen at any age.
Talk to your doctor about your Breast Cancer risk factors prior to age 40. Get your yearly mammogram at the age your doctors recommend and not waiting until your 40 if it is advised that you go sooner. Breast cancer is still somewhat rare in women under 45. There are about 24,000 new cases in the US each year. However, the numbers are growing sadly. Cases of Metastatic Breast Cancer in women under 40 is up by 4% since 2000.
A lot of young women are diagnosed at later stages for a few reasons; one being that their breasts are more dense at a younger age so it is harder to detect tumors during mammograms. I feel as though I have a duty to show the world that yes it can happen to you at age 39 and yes you can have ZERO symptoms.
I just found my lump in a yoga class and thought it was a pulled muscle. I don’t want the topic to be taboo anymore. One goal I have set for myself is to have my book available at Anthropologie stores, where the target customer is younger and may be looking for the help and guidance my book has to offer. They may be too embarrassed or ashamed to ask friends and family because they know they can’t relate.
I also have a fundraising goal that I plan to reach through selling products on my Etsy and Squarespace pages as well as hosting an event in the Spring of 2022. The products are going to be available for pre-order on The Cancer Calendar website in mid-October. 20% of all sales of the products and the event tickets will go to Living Beyond Breast Cancer. All remaining funding will go towards self-publishing The Cancer Calendar.
To learn more about Kerri and her book The Cancer Calendar, please click here.
To learn more about what Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers to young breast cancer patients such as Kerri, please visit their site here.
We are also grateful that Kerri curated a special collaboration care package between Le Wren & LBBC. For the rest of the month, 20% of this gift box's sales will be donated to LBBC to support the organization's phenomenal and important work. Click here to give to a loved one today.