We want to share with you the uplifting stories of people making a difference in the lives of many. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we have partnered with Las Vegas nonprofit organization, The Remissionaries. We had the chance to chat with The Remissionaries Founder, Christina Wu. Christina is a breast cancer survivor who turned her experience with breast cancer into an opportunity to help inspire, uplift, and comfort other women on their cancer journey.
Can you tell us your story about how you discovered you had breast cancer?
In February 2018, I was in the shower doing a self-breast exam (note: every woman should perform a self-exam about once per month as an extra precaution beyond their annual mammogram), and I felt an extremely hard lump in my right breast. I asked my husband to feel it, and he confirmed that there was indeed a hard lump that was not there before. Unfortunately, we were leaving for a 3-week vacation to South Korea for the Winter Olympics that same week, so I had to put off any testing until our return. I think the stress of knowing that I might have breast cancer really weighed on me because I ended up getting very sick (pre-pneumonia according to the ER doctor in Seoul) while on vacation. Upon our return, I immediately started looking for a breast specialist. It was quite a puzzle trying to find a good doctor and actually getting in to see them. I had a mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, and biopsy. This process took over a month as each test came with a week or so of waiting for results. The stress was overwhelming. I was finally able to see the breast specialist after undergoing all these tests, and the results were as I expected. I had breast cancer. Even though I knew the possibility was real, just hearing those words made me black out momentarily. My world was shattered, and I couldn’t breathe. Between the crying and hyperventilating, the doctor and my husband holding my hands, I managed to gather enough resolve to ask what the next steps were. I was told that my immediate next step was to see an oncologist due to the type of breast cancer I had. I was diagnosed with HER-2-positive invasive ductal carcinoma. Many people don’t know this, but there are several different types of breast cancer, and each one is treated differently. I was able to see the oncologist within days, and there I learned that the best treatment course for my type of breast cancer was neoadjuvant chemotherapy. This means chemo before anything else. I was meant to start within the week, but my body had other plans. I ended up getting shingles a few days before chemo was supposed to start (likely due to stress), so I had to postpone my treatment until the shingles cleared up. I finally started chemo in May of 2018.
Did you have a support network that helped you through your treatment? If so, what did that look like?
This is such an important question because I don’t think people realize how vital it is to have support while going through something that you might not survive. One difficult aspect of having cancer is telling your loved ones about it. My advice is to eat the big frog first. My big frog was my family. It was hard to tell my mom and sister, but once I did, it was a huge relief. Figuring out the best way to tell your closest friends is also difficult. I wanted to avoid having multiple conversations via text, so I invited everyone over for a potluck at our house. Once everyone was done eating, I made the announcement. After a bit of uncomfortable silence, there was a lot of crying and questions. The nice thing about doing it this way is getting through it one time versus having to answer the same question multiple times. The only thing I asked from my friends was to check in on my husband periodically. I knew that he would be there for me through everything, and I wanted to be sure that he also had support when he needed it. I most certainly would not have gotten through this without the support of everyone around me, especially my husband. Caregivers do not get nearly enough support for what they must endure. Our family, friends, and even coworkers, really came through. The outpouring of love and support was astonishing. I had chemo every three weeks, and the week following was always the worst, so I stayed home to recover during that time. On the days that I felt ok, my friends all got together to have a potluck at someone’s house so that I could get out and feel somewhat normal. This happened every month for an entire year. Nobody ever treated me differently or made me feel like I was a sick person. Having cancer really sucks but knowing someone you love has cancer also really sucks. Sending gifts was one way for many people in my life to show me they cared. One gift stood out among the rest. My husband’s boss at the time was a breast cancer survivor, and she sent me a gift box that contained a lot of stuff that I didn’t think I’d need but ended up using. It was so thoughtful and had a greater impact on me, knowing that she had survived what I was going through. Whether it was potlucks, food prep, gifts in the mail, texts, phone calls, or home visits, I was so grateful to be surrounded by an amazing support network.
What led you to create The Remissionaries?
You meet so many women in treatment, and many of them have a lot of support while others don’t. Many of them had days just like mine when leaving the house to get something as simple as lip balm or lotion just wasn’t realistic. I remembered that gift box I received and thought that every woman with a breast cancer diagnosis going through chemo should receive a box with all the little necessities that they’ll need without ever having to leave their house to get it. I wanted to provide a level of support that wasn’t there for so many women. As women, we’re looked upon as pillars of support, as givers of sustenance, and often we forget to take care of ourselves. We also tend to not ask for help because we’re usually the ones helping, and we don’t like to appear helpless or weak. I know this feeling all too well but realized during treatment that I needed support whether I asked for it or not. It became my mission to support these women without them having to ask. In June 2019, I finally finished all my treatments and surgeries. I was cancer free. I was in remission. I knew that I wanted this time in my life to have some meaning beyond survival. I wanted to look back at the year not with despair or regret but with something positive. And so, The Remissionaries was born along with our Comfort Crate program. As of today, we’ve delivered over 100 Comfort Crates to women with breast cancer across the Vegas valley.
What advice or words of encouragement would you give someone who has just discovered they have breast cancer?
One day, one minute, one second at a time. It’s all so overwhelming that it’s hard to focus on the right now. I found that to be the most difficult for me. The expectation is to feel ok all the time, to not be a burden by talking about how you really feel. It’s ok not to be ok. It’s ok to feel shitty sometimes and then great some other times. Massages, acupuncture, therapy, saunas, spas, comedy shows, crying, whatever it is that makes you feel better, do it. There’s really no exact formula. Join a support group if that suits you. I joined one after I completed treatment, and I really wish I had joined while I was going through treatment. For as amazing of a support system as I had, I still felt that I could have benefitted from someone who fully understood what I was going through. Being a part of a group of women who are going, or have gone, through exactly what you are going through makes you feel less alone. We’ve all heard that saying, “misery loves company,” but in this case, it’s not a bad thing.
What is the best way to support someone in their breast cancer journey?
Just be there. Don’t say you’ll be there. Actually be there. Don’t tell a cancer patient to ask you for help if they need something. Just help. We already know they won’t ask. Nobody ever wants to appear helpless. But please keep the unsolicited advice to yourself. As a cancer patient, we get so much advice! Don’t get me wrong, we all know that it comes from a place of love but trust me when I tell you to please refrain from giving us advice on how we should treat our illness. These are only a couple of examples. You can visit The Remissionaries website to learn more about what to do when someone you know and love has cancer. https://www.theremissionaries.org/cancer-lemons
Can you share a story about the impact one of your comfort crates had on someone?
Our goal is to provide a little comfort during a difficult and uncomfortable time; to ease some of the more common side effects chemo can cause. Our impact is personal as each individual journey is different, but the response from the recipients of our Comfort Crates has been positive. Most of the recipients that received a Comfort Crate in 2020, right after the shutdown, were able to make use of every single item. The pandemic made it much more difficult to procure many things, especially PPE, so we made sure that those were included. Many people have said that we thought of everything. Each Comfort Crate is filled with about 20 or so items. It’s helpful that I’ve been through it, so I know which items can be the most helpful. I make sure that each item is wrapped and labeled so that it feels like opening a bunch of little gifts. Many of the recipients have mentioned how thoughtful that is. Recently a recipient whom I delivered a Comfort Crate told me that her son’s response to her receiving it was, “this reminds me that there are good people in the world.” This is my why.
What does kindness mean to you?
Kindness is a thoughtful action. Kindness is intentional and voluntary. Oftentimes people confuse being “nice” and being “kind”. Being nice is telling the server at a restaurant that the food is good when it’s not. Being kind is tipping the server 20-25% despite the food being mediocre. Kindness is caring about others and doing what you can to improve their life without them having to ask and regardless of their background. Being kind takes actual work. Be kind. To everyone. Equally.
We need more people in this world like Christina Wu. Thank you for sharing your story with us. If you'd like to learn more about The Remissionaries, click here. You can shop our Cause Collection for Breast Cancer Awareness and support The Remissionaries by clicking here.