Episode 101: Breast Cancer Survivor & Advocate Vatesha Bouler

Episode 101: Breast Cancer Survivor & Advocate Vatesha Bouler

Overview

An educator for over 20 years, Vatesha Bouler is a kindergarten teacher and (almost!) six-year breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed at a relatively young age, her experience pushed her to believe that life must be lived to the fullest — and she walks that walk every day in her advocacy work for others enduring similar experiences. A public speaker and author, she is one of the writers of Beyond Her Reflection, wherein she shares her healthcare story. A woman of faith, she also serves on the Cancer Support Ministry at her church, and has found continued love and support not only in her religious community, but also among friends and family who rallied to assist her in her healing. She recently launched the podcast Tesha’s Tea Room, where she interviews prominent survivors and practitioners in the breast cancer community about life during and after diagnosis.

Takeaway

Transcript

Vatesha Bouler Tesha Bouler Tesha's Tea Room Breast Cancer Survivor Patient Advocate Beyond Her Reflection Uninvisible Pod

Lauren: All right, guys, thank you so much for joining us. I am here today with the lovely Vatesha Bouler. Vatesha is an educator, an advocate and author. And she's a breast cancer survivor. And she's here to talk to us all about that. Vatesha, thank you so much for being on the show today.

Vatesha: Thank you for having me! Hello, everyone.

Lauren: Hello, hello. It is such a pleasure to have you here. I just love these connections. Because you are someone who happened to reach out to me because you listen to the podcast. You reached out via email, and here we are talking even more. It's always such an amazing feeling to connect like that with listeners, and a reminder to all of those who are tuning in right now that this could be you! So it's great to chat with you. We're in the midst of the COVID pandemic as we record. So Vatesha and I are both at home, doin’ our thing. And I figured we'd start at the very beginning of your story, as we always do, Vatesha. Can you tell us when and how you first realized you were sick, and what steps you've since taken to control your health?

Vatesha: ...

I realized that something wasn't right one afternoon when I was doing Zumba, of all things.

I was in the midst of doing a workout, and one particular dance move, my left arm brushed up against my breast. And I felt a lump. I felt something on the side of my left breast. So I immediately got to feeling on the right breast. Didn't feel anything, but I started feeling back again on the left breast. Something wasn’t right. 

Lauren: Were you someone, who prior to this, did regular self-checks, too?

Vatesha: I never did, not like I should have, I will admit. I was one that never did the regular self-checks. But prior to actually doing the Zumba workout, I was noticing that my left breast was slightly bigger than my right breast. But I was always told that one breast is always bigger than the other so I didn't think anything of it — until I did that workout that day. I called my mom. She told me to get in touch with my doctor because she was thinking, it’s probably a cyst. The women in my family have cystic breasts. So I'm thinking, it's just my turn.

Lauren: And how old were you at this time, too?

Vatesha: I was 36.

Lauren: Wow, so quite young. 

Vatesha: I was 36. So I made the appointment with my primary doctor. He did an examination. He felt something, too.

Lauren: Did he put in a referral for you?

Vatesha: He put in a referral for a mammogram. So I went and had the mammogram done.

Lauren: And that's a weird thing, too, when you're in your 30s … I have to say, because having been there myself … especially when you have larger breasts, and they tend to be kind of a ropey texture … you may be more likely to have cysts and little growths and things, and want to get them checked out over time. Going into a women's imaging center and getting mammograms and ultrasounds, you tend to be the youngest person there. And that can be a little unsettling. 

Vatesha: And that was the case for me.

I can remember sitting in the waiting room and looking around and I was literally the youngest one in there.

Because at a time, I think the guidelines were to get your first mammogram, I think, at age 50.

Lauren: And now it's like 40 or 45, I think.

Vatesha: And here I am 36, getting ready to have my first mammogram. So I get the mammogram done. Of course they see something. So I had to go have a biopsy done. I had the biopsy done. And as the doctor is conducting the biopsy, I'm asking him, “Is it a cyst?” And he says, “No, it's harder than a cyst. But we're gonna test it and find out." The biopsy happened on February 26th, 2014. The very next day, February 27th, at approximately 1:35pm … I will never forget it … I got the call stating that it was breast cancer.

Lauren: Wow. So at this point, you're 36 years old. This is also an anniversary you've just had, because when we first spoke before recording this interview, I think it was on your anniversary date of diagnosis. And it's pretty incredible to be getting a diagnosis like that at such a young age. Because typically, we're seeing breast cancer as something that happens when you're a little older. That's why these regular mammograms start for women later in life. And yet … And no family history.

Vatesha: No history, no family history in my immediate family. I'm the first one. Like you said, it, I was always under the impression with breast cancer … older women would get diagnosed with it. How am I getting it? I'm 36. I'm healthy as a horse. I'm in the prime of my life, prime of my career. And you telling me I have something that could possibly kill me?

Lauren: It's when we hear that big C word, isn't it. 

Vatesha: ...

It was a punch in the gut.

And given the fact that I'm here in Maryland, and my parents, my immediate family is in South Carolina. I called my mom; she was on the next flight out. And the journey began from there.

Lauren: What was the recommended course of treatment, once the biopsy came back and you got the diagnosis?

Vatesha: When the biopsy came back, of course I had to go through several other tests — PET scans, EKGs, MRIs, all that — to see whether or not the cancer had spread to any other parts of my body, or whether or not it was just confined to my breast. 

Lauren: Oh, that’s scary. 

Vatesha: It was beyond scary. Came to find out, it had started to spread into my lymph nodes. So I had to start treatment immediately. I was diagnosed with at stage 2B, so I was going into stage 3. Before treatment started, because I don't have children, it was recommended by my breast surgeon that I have my eggs frozen. And so I needed to go to a fertility clinic to get that done. Had that done, the entire month of March …

Lauren: And that is its own journey in and of itself, because I'm of that age where friends are starting to do that or have already done it. And it's the kind of thing that takes a lot out of your body. We're talking breast cancer, which is already an estrogen-led cancer and you have to be on estrogen to harvest the eggs. So this is like, whoa.

Vatesha: In the midst of me having to harvest my eggs, I had to go every day to the clinic so they could do ultrasound, do blood work, see how big the eggs had gotten. I remember one of those particular days, it was snowing. And I called to see, do I still need to come in? It's snowing outside, people are sliding off the road. The roads are bad. They were, like, “Yes, you have to come.” The clinic is about 45 minutes from my house. So I'm driving like Miss Daisy; I'm driving 20 miles an hour, literally, in the snow, seeing cars on the side of the road because they've slid off from the snow from driving too fast. I mean, it was … 

Lauren: Yeah, it's a lot to be thinking about. 

Vatesha: It was a lot to be thinking about. And like I said, having that done first … and then I started my treatment. My treatment plan consisted of chemotherapy … I had a lumpectomy, I decided I wanted a lumpectomy, and radiation. So my chemo started on April 11th, 2014.

Lauren: And were you offering genetic testing for Brca?

Vatesha: I did that, I did the Brca testing. Tested negative for that, so that helped me in making this decision to have the lumpectomy, versus having a double mastectomy.

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. So what came first … chemo? radiation? surgery?

Vatesha: For my treatment plan, chemo came first. So I did eight weeks, every other Friday. Mind you, I teach kindergarten, so having to go through chemo …

But the thing about it, my faith really kicked in. There was nobody but God on my side, because I never got sick.

I breezed through chemo. The only devastating thing that happened for me during chemo was I lost my hair.

Lauren: So did the kids notice? Was that something where the kids were commenting and asking questions?

Vatesha: When my hair came out and I shaved my head, I would wear scarves. I didn't start going bald until towards the end of the chemo. Some started asking questions. I didn't come out and tell my kids that I was sick. The parents started noticing throughout the treatment, and I eventually told them — and they were so supportive. My staff at the school that I teach at have been my rock. They had things in place for me if I needed a break. They had teachers in place that would come and take over my classroom while I’d go and lay in the nurse’s station. Our school nurse, she was on me like, oh my gosh, like she was my own doctor. And my principal, the same way. If I needed to take a day off, they had everybody ready.

Lauren: This is how all employers should be, but I'm particularly pleased to hear that in an educational setting it was like that. 

Vatesha: Absolutely. And this is something that, again, people, especially employers, need to understand — they need to have that kind of compassion. Because you don't know what it's like for us going through this type of trauma in our lives. It is terrible. But I was so fortunate to have that type of support. Instead of most cancer patients when they go through chemo, they lose weight. I gained weight. I had one colleague who, whenever I didn't feel like eating, she would make me eat, she would make meals for me. She would freeze it. I would take it home whenever I needed it. They made sure I ate.

Lauren: The community showed up. 

Vatesha: And showed out. They showed up and they showed out. I lost some friends. I lost some people that I cared about along the way. But I gained an army of supporters, and I could not have been more grateful for that.

Lauren: So you went through the chemo then the lumpectomy then the radiation. How long did that entire course of treatment end up taking?

Vatesha: I began chemo April the 11th; I finished chemo, July. I can't remember when in July. Took a break. My lumpectomy was on August 20. Took a break. Radiation started in September and radiation was every day Monday through Friday, 30 minutes a day. I finished radiation the day before my birthday on November 29, 2014. 

Lauren: Wow!

Vatesha: ...

 The best birthday gift I could have ever received!

Lauren: Absolutely. So by the end of the treatment, was your body run down? What was the result? 

Vatesha: I was worn out. Like I said, I breezed through chemo. I breezed through that. Radiation got me. At the beginning of radiation, I was fine. But towards the end, I got extremely tired. I didn't have any energy. I literally had to push myself to go have radiation done. But it wasn't until towards the latter part of radiation where it was just, like, okay, come on. I’m done. It’s time too get this over with. Thankfully, you know … I had to dig deep, and get that strength to keep pushing, so that we could get this treatment done. Because I’m, like, okay, we've come too far to stop now. We are at the end. I could see the finish line. Got to keep pushing, keep pushing. So it took not only self-encouragement, but it took the encouragement of my supporters, my family, my friends. My best friends, my sorority sisters, everybody that was in contact with me. My support groups would get me going. So when I tell you my body has taken a beatin’ … and now I feel like if I beat cancer, I can beat anything. I feel like I’m so strong right now. Because of the fact that I'm on the other side of it.

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. After this course of treatment, did you get test results after this? I'm sure you've been going back and checking, but did they give you the all-clear so you didn't have to continue additional treatment?

Vatesha:  I got the all-clear. What I do now is, I still have to see my oncologist every six months. But my mammograms, my breast exam checks with the breast surgeon — those are now once a year. 

Lauren: That's amazing!

Vatesha: I am currently on tamoxifen. At the time when I got on it — because I’ve been on it for 10 years — prior to that, the guidelines were five years. But now it’s 10. So I’ve got four more years to go.

Lauren: Okay. So tamoxifen, tell us … is that a hormone-suppressing drug?

Vatesha:  It is a hormone-suppressant drug, yep. It helps prevent the estrogen … all that … yes.

Lauren: So this has also sent you into a menopause, as well, at an earlier age?

Vatesha: Actually, when I went through chemo, I went through menopause.

Lauren: At the same time? And menopause, in and of itself, is a huge thing.

Vatesha: What I went through, I’m, like, oh, my God, I got to go through this again when I get older?! Oh, my gosh! I mean, one minute I'm fine; the next minute, I'm drenchin’ in sweat. I’m, like, what is this?! Yeah, so mood swings. I've always been an emotional person. That's just my personality. But when I went through menopause, it was twice as bad.

Now I’m, like, oh, my God, I’ve got to go through this again?! 

Lauren: It's tough because you're already going through one trauma, and then you're messin’ with your hormones, and you've gone from being super fertile, and doing the egg harvesting, right? And then to being completely the opposite. 

Vatesha: That’s it.

Lauren: And going through two traumas at once and two grieving processes at once, I imagine. Absolutely mind-boggling. And as you say, you've come through this on the other side, and now you're doing annual checks. When you got the lumpectomy, did you also get reconstructive surgery?

Vatesha: Yes, I got reconstruction as well.

Lauren: That’s amazing. So now you are in a place where you're so much on the other side of it, that you're able to go for the checkups a little less frequently, and still keep an eye on things though, obviously.

Vatesha: Absolutely. And even with that, there is still a level of anxiety. Especially during that time of year when it's time for the checkups, I always get really emotional. Because the thought is always in the back of my mind: What if this is the year that it comes back? 

Lauren: That's something you're gonna have to live with the rest of your life.

Vatesha: I have to live with this for the rest of my life.

Lauren: Does that also mean that the rest of your life is organized around prevention, too?

Vatesha: Yes. Once I go through the checkups, and I get the all-clear, I feel a sense of relief and I can move forward. But moving up to that point, it's like my mind gets to thinking … okay, if it does recur, what's going to be my plan of action? I'm like laying everything out … what am I going to do if it so happens that it comes back? And it is something that I do every year. I feel like I can speak for those that have gone through the experience, that's something that, no matter how strong your faith is, we're human. And that thought is always gonna be there.

Lauren: So that’s the real chronic part of it. Aside from the fact that you're going to be mindful of diet, exercise, lifestyle in order to prevent reoccurrence. But the additional emotional trauma, the mental part …

Vatesha: Absolutely. And that's something that I actually had to get my mother to understand. That it's not only the physical part, but it's that emotional piece, it’s that social piece that's always gonna be there, too. She was there with me every step of the way … my mom was my rock, my family was my rock. But they didn't go through what I went through. Although she was there holding my hand the entire time. But until you can actually walk in my shoes. You didn't have the poison put in your body to kill all these cells; you weren't the one that, when you lightly touch your hair there were clumps of hair. You didn't have to go through all that. That mental and emotional part is just as traumatic for a cancer patient, as well as the physical part.

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. Did you seek guidance in that? Did you look into mental health care as well?

Vatesha: Absolutely. Yeah. I went through counseling; I sought counseling. Besides talking to family, talking to my pastor.

Lauren: You reached out to people.

Vatesha: You have to, because keeping that inside, and not talking to someone, can do more harm than good. Like you say, not only do you need to take care of your physical body, the mental is just as important. And that needs to be addressed as well.

Lauren: So we've talked about how your community showed up and showed out. And I'm wondering, along this journey to diagnosis and treatment and now wellness … now on the other side of it where you are … did you find that you needed particular advocates to lean on? Were there specific people in your life who really stepped up and became your rocks during that time, and has that impacted your relationship with them?

Vatesha: My two best friends who are still back home in South Carolina, although they couldn't get here to Maryland as much as they wanted, showed up in ways that I could have never imagined. My best friend … we’ve been friends since kindergarten, we were in the same kindergarten class … she would be on the phone with me while I was sitting through chemo. My other best friend, she would be on one line, I would be on the other line. They would send me gifts to help me get through. They would always check on me.

Going through that, and seeing how it affected them, as well, brought us a little more closer together.

Lauren: That’s beautiful. It's interesting because this is what I hear from people most of the time, that the people who become the advocates in these stories … for the patients among us, it ends up deepening relationships. It’s quite incredible.

Vatesha:  The best friend, the one where we've been friends since kindergarten, she was like my doctor. I would tell her what was going on. She works at a hospital, in the IT field, but she knows all about things. So every time I would get on the phone with her, she would be asking me all these different questions. She would be Googling stuff; she would send me this and telling me to do this and do that. She was like my doctor. And to this day, she still stays on top of me. She makes sure that I have what I need. And especially now during this pandemic, she is really on me now to make sure that I'm staying inside, that I'm doing stuff to keep my immune system boosted up. They have truly been my rock. And I tell them, “You can't get rid of me now even if you wanted to! If you told me today that you wanted to, that you don't want to be my friend anymore, I would say, ‘You can't get rid of me. Nope. I’m not accepting that.’”

Lauren: It goes both ways, too, right? I'm sure you're showing up for them when they need you as well. 

Vatesha: Absolutely. That's what friendship is all about, through the good times and the bad.

Lauren: Yes. Very good point. So what does a typical day look like for you now, as you're managing the potential side-effects of medications you're still on? Or, preparation for these appointments, and lifestyle changes that you've made to prevent a recurrence? How are you balancing the demands of work and life, as you're also being aware of being a long-term cancer patient?

Vatesha: There are challenges with the tamoxifen that I'm on. Because it’s a steroid, I've gained weight. 

Lauren: Well, you look great.

Vatesha:  I appreciate that. It's made me gain weight. So with that, sometimes I have image issues, self-esteem issues.

Lauren: That probably started when you were losing your hair, too, right?

Vatesha: Oh, my gosh, yes. Absolutely. My diet has changed drastically. I eat a lot more fruits and vegetables now, prior to pre-cancer. Just making sure that I'm noticing my body more, noticing more changes.

Now, if I see the slightest change, I panic, and I'm on the phone with my doctor …

“What is going on? No, you need to tell me what's happening, what we need to do.”

Lauren: Do you think that's made you a bit of a hypochondriac? Because you’re on such high alert all the time?

Vatesha: Exactly. I'm on such high alert now. Because, like I said, I always have it in the back of my mind … oh my gosh, you know, just the slightest change and I'm like, oh, my gosh, is this it. And not only with changes in my breast, but any other changes that I see in my body, I'm thinking, oh, my God, did it spread to other parts of my body now? Now that I'm learning more about metastatic breast cancer, and I'm learning that for those that have had early stage cancer later in life, to be diagnosed with metastatic, that's the thing that is going through my mind.

Lauren: How are you managing that stress?

Vatesha: When the thoughts come into my mind, I try to think of something positive. I try to immediately block it out. I pray; I really tap into my faith. Music helps me to just get my mind off of things.

Lauren: Sounds like, just getting out of your head.

Vatesha: Getting out of my head, yeah. That’s my big thing. I have to stay out of my head.

Lauren: In many ways, chronic illness lives between your ears, doesn't it.

Vatesha: There it is, right there.

Lauren: And I think that's such an important point for people who are listening, to understand — whether they relate to it or not — because when you're a chronic illness patient with cancer, this is something that's long-term. It's something that's lifelong that's going to affect your point-of-view. And the way that you treat your body. It really is so much about the mental state that it switches you into. And the fact that you're acknowledging that, and that you sought counseling and have coping techniques is so important. Because you could just live in that state of stress all the time. And that high alert, fight or flight … that's no good for you either.

Lauren: Stress is not good. Stress can trigger … 

Lauren: … so many things.

Vatesha: So many things.

And you definitely don't want that added stress to your body.

Lauren: You mentioned that when you found the lump, you went to your GP; he agreed. So pretty much from the get-go, people were on your team. Have you been in a position, at all, where you've been forced to validate your experience or your illness to people who just didn’t agree with it because they couldn't see it?

Vatesha: I have not. 

Lauren: That’s good. I sometimes wonder if it's this thing about cancer … that cancer is so widely known. Even though there's so much we still don't understand about it, there’s a lot of press behind cancer. It seems to me that it's one of those illnesses that you can tell your neighbor you have cancer, and they know how serious that is. So to be able to go to your doctor and be believed. However, statistically, we also know that being a woman of color — and this is a big part of your platform, too, right — that often women of color, whether it's their social upbringing, or whether it’s their experience in the medical system, they may not know what to look for. Or may have doctors who don't believe them — at a much higher rate.

Vatesha: The lack of education, lack of trust in the medical field, medical doctors. And the fact that we wait until it’s gotten so bad — and then we go to the doctor. 

Lauren: Because of the lack of trust. 

Vatesha: Because of the lack of trust. 

Lauren: So how did that affect your relationship with medicine when you were going through this?

Vatesha: Well, growing up … and I can only speak for my family … we always have been a family where we've always gone to the doctor. My mother, whenever something's wrong, she’s the first one there. And that's how she brought me and my siblings up. But speaking, in general with the African-American community, a lot wait until it's too late. Because it’s not only lack of trust, lack of education … but time. Because many families work, and they don't have time to go to the doctor, or they try to self-medicate. And when they go to the doctor, it’s when they can't take it anymore. When the pain is so unbearable, or when they can truly see that something is wrong. And when they finally get to the doctor, then they're either diagnosed at a later stage. And then the treatment won't have much of a success rate — when they should have gone early.

Lauren: So how are you working to bridge that gap and provide educational resources?

Vatesha: By doing what I'm doing now, doing the podcast, just going out and sharing my story at different events. Just spreading the word out in the community, becoming a patient advocate. Just to get the information out there to help the community, the African-American community, to start trusting in the medical field. Especially with medical doctors, to let them know that we're not back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when they had all these experiments going on that were supposed to have helped us, but in actuality were harming us. That's not the case anymore. Expressing and emphasizing the importance of making sure that we are healthy for generations to come.

Making sure that we are healthy so that we are able to live the life that we are destined to live. 

Lauren: I love that idea that your health doesn't just belong to you. It belongs to the community.

Vatesha: It belongs to the community. It belongs to your family. You have families that are dependent on you to be healthy and well. And in order for you to do that, you're going to have to … not so much take a risk … but you're going to have to learn what happened in the past, that happened in the past. We're in totally different times now; medicine has changed, technology has changed. So you have to be able to definitely get that trust. Sometimes, it's hard to get them to turn around and to change their mindset. 

Lauren: You mean the patients, to get the patients to turn around …

Vatesha: Yes, I'm sorry, to get the patients to change their mindsets, because they've been thinking this way for so long.

Lauren: What about though … we know about the statistics out there that affect people of color, and women of color, in particular, at the highest rates of negligence, if you will. We know that this lack of trust comes from a real place. Aside from educating patients, are there also ways to educate patients that you've been working on — whether it's communicating with their care team in specific ways, or even communicating with people in the medical field about how to be more open when a woman of color walks into their office, so they believe them?

Vatesha: I attended a breast cancer conference in San Antonio this past December, and there was a panel discussion with doctors, breast cancer survivors, and actual patients. That was one of the topics that came up. Just being present, I think, and attending these types of events, these conferences, where there are medical professionals — so that they can see that not only do we get it too, but also understanding that we need your support. And we need to be able to trust you so that you can give us the adequate care that we need so that we can bridge this gap.

Because African-Americans, especially women of color, die of breast cancer … it’s 40% higher than non-women of color.

So that is the only way that we can bridge this gap.

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. So it's really about getting everyone in the same room, isn't it. The patients and the doctors.

Vatesha: We need everyone at the same table.

Lauren: I think that's really well expressed. And when we know that these statistics are not in the favor of certain groups of people, it behooves us to make the statistics better, to make the numbers better, for everyone at the table. Because, again, our health doesn't belong to us alone; it belongs to the whole community. 

Vatesha: It belongs to the whole community. And like we say, when there's not a seat for us at the table, then we’ve got to bring our own chairs and make a place for us at the table — because our voices need to be heard as well.

Lauren: Absolutely. And the fact that there are women like you who are encouraging other women … not just women of color … you’re encouraging all kinds of women!

Vatesha: Everybody!

Lauren:  You're encouraging everybody; that's your focus, everybody. That’s so much of what you're working toward.

Vatesha: My target focus is, of course, women of color. But young women.

Because I'm finding that more and more young women are getting diagnosed with this every year.

When I went to this conference, I met a young lady that was diagnosed at 19. At 19, I'm thinking about where I'm going to college… no, I think I was already in college … but what college parties I'm going to. I’m not thinking about chemo, or having surgery. It blew my mind. I’m, like … wow.

Lauren: Why do you think that is? I feel like there's a two-pronged approach here that, on one level, more women are becoming more aware of their bodies and learning to speak up for themselves. So that's one part — where people are getting diagnosed earlier because they're actually going. But the other part of it is … why are people getting cancer at 19? Aside from the genetic factors that contribute to breast cancer, do you think that there's an environmental issue at play here that needs to be addressed, too?

Vatesha: Partly, yes. I think it could be in the foods that we eat as well. And how foods are processed with all these pesticides. And we're not eating as much organic food as we should. Not only that, but also knowing our family history. 

Lauren: Yeah. It’s so important. I'm so glad you brought that up.

Vatesha: Oh, my gosh, and especially speaking from the African-American standpoint … we don't talk about our family history like we should, what we should we know about the family history, until we get the illness. That's when … “Oh, well, you know, your great-grandmother, your great-grandfather, or somebody in your family had this?” No, I didn’t. Had I known, maybe I would have taken more preventive actions.

Lauren: Precautions.

Vatesha: Precautions to get checked out earlier to try to help prevent me getting it. That’s another thing that I try to get information out to the community — to talk about your family history. Don't wait until somebody gets it — and then you want to share. No, no, no. That’s a big factor.

Lauren: Absolutely. So what are the next steps in your advocacy? I know it's tougher right now with COVID going on. But what is that looking like for you as 2020 continues marching on?

Vatesha: I wish that we could just unplug 2020!

Lauren: Have you seen the memes about 2020 just being canceled!

Vatesha: I'm ready for New Year's Eve so that we can go ahead into 2021. 

Lauren: I’m ready to run out and kiss everyone and hug them all again!

Vatesha: Everybody’s asking, “What's the first thing that you're going to do when you're able to travel?” Well, I’ve got to go home and just see my family. I had a few trips that I had planned. Of course, I had to cancel them. Now I’m, like, I have got to get somewhere where I can put my feet into some sand and some water, and I'm good to go. It's definitely been a challenge. One thing that I have been doing is with this wonderful organization called Tigerlily Foundation, which, again, focuses on breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer with women, but also with women of color. I’m working on a podcast. I started one before, but I'm revamping and I am excited about that. So, got some things in place; working on some things in place right now I'm looking to launch, preferably by early summer. That's another avenue of getting the word, the information, out. I’ve found this is my niche. I like doing that.

I love talking with other advocates, other survivors, other patients — just giving them a platform to talk.

A lot of patients may not want to share their experience. So I want my space, my podcast, to be a safe space where we can share experiences, where we can talk about not only the physical and emotional part of it, but the social part of it. Because cancer affects every aspect of your life. It’s finances; it’s dating — especially if you're not married, such as myself … dating and cancer and just being out and about and just how you’re living your life. And so that is the space that I'm creating. I'm looking forward to getting back into that. Like I said, I'm revamping and I'm adding some new things to the podcast. Got a new name and all this good stuff. So I'm looking forward to doing that early summer.

Lauren: That's great. So we'll definitely link to that when it’s out. That's very exciting. And at the end of the interview, I'll have you share where everyone can find you. We're sliding into the end portion of our interview here. And I like to round up with a couple of Top Three lists. I wondered if you could give us your Top Three Tips for someone … maybe they suspect something's off, maybe they feel alone, maybe they've already got their diagnosis. What are your Top Three Tips for someone who's entering this world of, for what it's worth, invisible, chronic illness — be it cancer or otherwise?

Vatesha: Top Three Tips? First, I would say, get a support system. Have a support system in place; you definitely do not want to go through this alone. You don't have to go through this alone. Utilize resources that are out there, because there is a plethora of resources, online resources, that you can use to help get you through this journey. And know that it's not a death sentence, that you can thrive and survive through this. I tell everybody, if I can do it, you can do it. I've met a lot of people that are living with this disease, with this beast, that have had it for years. And I never knew … and that was something that I learned … that you can live with this thing for years on end. You can have a fulfilling, a great life. Just know that it's not a death sentence. Definitely get a support system because you want somebody there in your corner to help you with those moments when you just feel like giving up, or you’re just too tired to move. You need somebody to just give you that push. Utilize those resources that are out there for you.

Lauren: Yes, especially for something like cancer. There are a lot of resources out there online.

Vatesha: There are so many.

Lauren: Absolutely. So another Top Three list. This one is more fun. Okay, three things that give you unbridled joy. You've made these lifestyle changes, you've changed your diet, you've changed the way you're living your life, your rest, your exercise, etc. But Top Three things that you just absolutely will not give up, no matter what. This could be guilty pleasures, it could be secret indulgences, comfort activities. Places you turn in the dark for light. What are they?

Vatesha: Music. Pasta. Oh my gosh, I cannot get rid of pasta! I’m sorry. I just can't do it.

Lauren: Well, then you'll be fine for quarantine because it's just a carb fest!

Vatesha: That’s it! Exactly. Music, pasta. And just, travel.

Lauren: I feel like you're an Italian deep down inside!

Vatesha: I think I am, yes!

Lauren: It’s that zest for life!

Vatesha:  Anyone who knows me knows that's my favorite food, pasta.

Lauren: And an Italian loves music and travel, too. So there you go! I love that. So tell everyone who's listening where they can find you, and the new podcast as well, if you have any social media links or anything available?

Vatesha: I'll give you all three of my social media handles. On Twitter, I am @FeistyIvy. Instagram, I am @VateshaB. And on Facebook, I am Tesha Bouler.

Lauren: That’s wonderful. So guys, if you're tuning in, please connect with Vatesha, especially if you are in the breast cancer community. I'm sure she would love to talk to you. 

Vatesha: Absolutely!

Lauren: Vatesha, it's been such a pleasure chatting with you. Is there anything else you'd like to share with us before I release you into the evening? 

Vatesha: I just want to say thank you again for allowing me to come on your show. I'm so glad that I linked up with you. This has been a wonderful, wonderful interview. It didn't even seem like an interview, it was like we were just having it a conversation.

Lauren: That’s when you know it's a good one!

Vatesha: That's what I loved about it. But thank you, I really appreciate you giving me an opportunity to get my story out, to help share my story. And I want to thank everybody who is out there listening, please follow me. And if you are out there and you are a patient, if you're newly diagnosed, know that I am here as a support for you because we are all in this together. You are my breast cancer sister, no matter where in the world you are. So just know that I'm here, and I thank you. 

Lauren: Thank you so much, Vatesha! It was such a pleasure to meet you.

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