Cancer survivor gives back to those still battling the disease by creating a seatbelt pillow to comfort their chest in the car
Clockwise from top left: My final chemo day; my first walk after surgery; my final radiation day; my first post-chemo haircut.
Story By Rachel Park
In September of 2014 (shortly after my 40th birthday), I felt a small lump in my breast. Convincing myself it was "just a cyst," I was devastated when doctors confirmed my worst fears, and I was diagnosed with Stage IIB triple-negative breast cancer. Still in shock, I met with my new oncologist to figure out my game plan and looked ahead to a long year of chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation. Next thing you know, I was on the Cancer Train, and once it starts, it starts FAST.
It's difficult to watch your body betray you and become unrecognizable. It's equally hard to lose control over it. While in a chemotherapy fog (and trying to keep whatever I could eat down), being stylish was the last thing on my mind. During my second round, I ran my hand through my hair and clumps came out. I started crying.
Yes, I knew this would happen. Yes, I knew it would grow back. But, guess what? IT. STILL. SUCKED.
Soon, my boyfriend finally shaved my head (since he keeps his hair neatly shorn, he knows his way around clippers). I closed my eyes and cried as my remaining hair fell around me. When he finished, he kissed my head and said, "Look! We match!"
The next day, I felt FREE. It was finally over with, and I could stop dreading watching my hair fall out. With a background in fashion, I was determined to keep my style sense throughout treatment. Wanting to look more natural, I never wore my wig. Instead, I had fun experimenting with scarves during chemo and received lots of compliments. Cancer took many things from me, but I wouldn't let it take my style!
I wanted to create a resource to assist other breast cancer survivors in keeping their sense of style during treatment, and Survivor Moda (a play on “survivor mode,” using the Spanish word for "fashion," moda) was born. Survivor Moda both empowers breast cancer survivors to survive in style & provides breast cancer information and resources.
While still in radiation treatment, I created a seatbelt pillow to comfort my chest for the car rides to and from the hospital (and have used it daily ever since!). A fellow breast cancer survivor pal was due to have surgery, and I made one for her as a gift before she was admitted. She was so excited and said, "I didn't even know I needed this!" I assured her although she may not have known it, she would be glad to have it when she left the hospital. After seeing her response and incorporating feedback from other breast cancer survivors, I created The ParkPuff™, a portable, stylish, chest-comforting seatbelt pillow for breast cancer patients.
After more than a year of 15 chemotherapy rounds, three surgeries and 32 radiation treatments, I’m thankful to officially be declared cancer-free!
In addition to Survivor Moda, Rachel Park is a tie designer and founded Rachel Park Designs. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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