The idea of finding beauty in strength has never been more clear to me than when I finished interviewing Brenee Hendrix, the founder of the breast cancer awareness and prevention organization I Heart My Boobs. In a heartfelt interview with Darling, Hendrix shares the story of her personal struggle with cancer, the way that struggle has drastically reshaped her ideas beauty, and the path that lead her to create a unique organization that is touching the lives of young women all over America.
You founded the breast cancer awareness organization, I Heart My Boobs, in 2010 after your own battle with breast cancer at age 26. Many people would be shocked to meet someone in her twenties who had already survived breast cancer; can you start out by telling our readers a little about your own journey with breast cancer?
My journey began two months after my 26th birthday. After noticing some abnormalities in one of my breasts, I went to a local clinic where I was told it was nothing. I sought a second and third opinion and finally found out that I had stage zero, Ductal Carcinoma. This was great news; since stage zero has an approximate survival rate of 99 percent! The bad news came when doctors found a larger lump, which was stage two. The lump was so large that the right breast could not be saved; I had to have a mastectomy.
To date I have had seven surgeries, two additional surgeries to make sure all the cancer was actually gone, and countless reconstructive surgeries. I have also done chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal chemotherapy, which I will undergo for three more years.
How did your experience with breast cancer inspire you to create an organization as unique as I Heart My Boobs?
During my journey I found that there aren’t many organizations that offer resources to young women, regarding preventative care and support. A lot of organizations promote raising money for research (which is extremely important) but I wanted, needed help and support directly. I realized how important that would be for me and wanted to be able to offer that for others.
I Heart My Boobs seeks to create breast health awareness in young women and support women in their twenties, who are going through the journey themselves. What are issues that are specific to women in their teens and twenties who are facing breast cancer?
Speaking from my personal experience, I would have to say body image issues and finding confidence after dealing with breast cancer. As young women it is hard enough to become comfortable in our own skin and embrace our bodies; especially with Hollywood giving our young people representations of unattainable beauty. It’s hard to find confidence when comparing yourself to the airbrushed, hair extension and lip injection filled pictures in society. Even more so, when you have had to deal with the pain of loosing your breasts or undergoing body altering surgeries.
How does I Heart My Boobs aid young women with these unique physical and mental challenges?
We offer support groups for the young and old, as well as those who want to just be educated. I also offer one on one counseling services and make myself and my team available to talk, listen, cry, pray or whatever is needed.
Among the various services that I Heart My Boobs offers, the organization also sponsors makeovers for women who are mid-journey. How do these makeovers help young women regain the self-esteem and confidence that can be lost when a woman’s physical appearance is changed so drastically?
It is always nice to have your hair and makeup done and even nicer to have people look even beyond that and recognize the beauty in strength, sacrifice and survival. It helps to be in the company of people that not just tell you “it’s going to be ok, you look fine;” but to hear it from someone who has lived it or is living it makes it more relatable. Restoring confidence and self-esteem is a process that takes time and has to come from within; however, positive reinforcement helps a lot to usher the process along.
Since your mastectomy, how have you coped with the physical alteration to your appearance?
It’s been 2 1/2 years and I am still coping! It is not easy! I find myself still unable to wear certain necklines and bathing suits and that’s annoying, but I have to tell myself that I saved my life and that is the most important thing. I have learned to admire other areas of my body and to look at my scars as a reminder of how strong and tough I am.
What has going through this journey and watching other women within the organization go through it, taught you about the value and meaning of inner and outer beauty?
It has taught me above all, that physical beauty is only skin deep. And true beauty is not defined by waistline, bra size or false lashes; it is truly the content of ones character and how you deal with adversity that shows true beauty.
What kind of practical advice do you have for women who are coping with appearance changes as a result of cancer, as far as dressing and being confident?
To ALL women I would say surround yourself with people that accept, love, and admire the real you. I always tell my style clients that you have to dress for your body type and size. Don’t buy clothes that are too big or too small; buy things that show off your shape but don’t exploit it. Most of all remember that things that are one of a kind are usually worth a lot of money or even priceless; and there is only one of YOU so treat yourself accordingly.
How can Darling readers get involved with I Heart My Boobs, as well as encourage awareness among the young women around them?
Readers can visit our site at iheartmyboobs.org or like us on Facebook or follow us on twitter. They can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s important for all women to lead by example! Do your self-breast exams each month and pay attention to the way your chest looks and feels; visit the doctor if anything abnormal arises.
Image via Anthropologie