"Recovery is big and complicated. I am always moving onto the next step, but it's a nonlinear process. It is like creating a dance piece or any other type of artistic work, requiring frequent revisioning and practice." -Molly Weingart
Molly Weingart, received a call in late March of 2017 with the news that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was only 32. However, Molly was not entirely surprised- she always had a sinking feeling and fear that she would one day receive the same fate of her mother.
At the time of her diagnosis, Molly was preparing to enter a doctoral program in Physical Therapy at Arcadia, she was deep into her prerequisite studies, including Neuroscience and Physics, among many others. As she was learning the intricate details of the human body, she never thought she could turn into her own test patient. Molly was diagnosed with not just one form of cancer, but multiple. She received a diagnosis of Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma with an additional representation of DCIS within the breast tissue. 5 days after her final Physics exam, Molly would remove her breast on the infected side and preventatively remove her healthy breast for a double mastectomy.
Due to this devastating turn of events, she made the tough decision to defer her doctorate program, that was due to start in September, until she recovered from her double mastectomy, had a chance to harvest her eggs, and finished her chemotherapy and eventually her reconstructive surgery.
Molly knew that while cancer came with many different decisions, she grappled the most with not only the loss of her breasts, but the loss of her nipples. She considered all the options, from rebuilding the nipples in the reconstruction process, but also the thought of getting 3D nipple tattoos. None of these options felt right, or consistent with her perspective on the illness. So she took an alternative route, instead of trying to recreate what was once there, but is no longer, she wanted to transform her scars into something beautiful and new. A year after reconstruction was complete, she flew from Philadelphia to Chicago in order to meet David Allen, a tattoo artist that has been covering mastectomy scars in beautiful floral designs. David and Molly collaborated on imagery resulting in a beautiful asymmetrical design of peonies. She finally had the opportunity to recalime her body and feel like someone she recognized again.
Molly has found her recovery to come in distinct phases over the last few years, from facing chemo brain which limited her ability to learn facts, to learning to love her new body. It has all been complicated. She feels like she is always working on the next step of the process- although it may not always feel like a straight path forward.
Molly has learned that as she integrates and processes each experience, the next goal may change, and that’s OK. A serious, but amateur dancer, Molly continues to learn the role of patience in rebuilding one’s physical strength after illness. This experience has influenced her career path; she thought she’d want to work with aspiring professional athletes, but now feels more open to alternative patients, including those facing other health conditions like pelvic floor challenges and aging adults. But in addition, she understands the importance of living, like travel, being outdoors, and of course dancing like nobody's watching!
During treatment, Molly didn’t come out about her cancer diagnosis on social media. She decided to keep things private for as long as she could. She shared only with her family and closest of friends, in an effort to stay private during this incredibly stressful time. But those that knew, were incredibly supportive and were there no matter what the need was. As an only child, Molly has always been close to her parents, and during her illness they were there unconditionally for her with both practical information and emotional support. Due to a diagnosis at such a young age, many of her friends had no experience of what it meant to support someone with cancer. However, her friends quickly learned and educated themselves about the clumsy, painful and confusing aspects of the illness from side effects of medications and how she would feel from day to day. They always showed up for her in ways full of empathy and love. From these people, Molly learned the true meaning of support and of community.
Part of the recovery process for Molly is learning how to be more open and vulnerable when sharing her story. Her story is no longer just about what SHE went through, but how she can take her experience and share with others. Breast cancer is very alienating and isolating, and she hopes that sharing through her personal experience, other patients can find the same kind of supportive community she was so lucky to have, and that is where Living Beyond Breast Cancer comes in.
Molly met Dana Donofree, a board member of LBBC and the owner of AnaOno, who introduced the services and community as well as CEO, Jean Sachs. Meeting these two women, one diagnosed at a young age, and one that specializes in how to support people like herself, Molly paved a new stride in her path and began enjoying the events and community offerings of the organization, like Reach & Raise and the Butterfly Ball. Molly and Dana formed a team together at the 2018 Reach & Raise, LBBC’s annual yoga-based fundraiser. This event was a pivotal moment for Molly. Before putting herself out there to make her yoga team, she relied on her own personal support network, and so this was the first time she felt like she was really part of a larger community of people who have experienced breast cancer. Molly really appreciates that at LBBC programs and events, she feels like she is part of a community of people who have all been diagnosed with the same disease but who have all been affected differently and have had different experiences from which they and others can learn and feel less alone.