October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We are dedicating the month of October to profiling fellow Breast Cancer Grads and Students.
Meet Breast Cancer Grad, Ericka Hart!
The Bold LadyBoss, Ericka Hart, graciously granted us a phone interview to wrap up our breast cancer awareness month profiles.
If you are unaware, Ericka is the gorgeous woman who bared her mastectomized breasts during AfroPunk, a music festival held in NYC.
Just like all Cancer Grads and Students, Ericka is more than her cancer. She has volunteered for the Peace Corps and currently works as a performer and sex educator. You can follow Ericka on Instagram and YouTube.
Name: Ericka Hart
Age at Enrollment: 28 years old. May 2014
Major: "Two stages-Stage 0 and 2. [ER/PR- HER2 +]. Two distinct cancers, one in each breast. Go Big or Go Home!"
Ericka was young when she was diagnosed and has a family history of breast cancer, but “[She] did not have the BRCA mutation. It is something people should know.” Often people assume that one equals the other, but that is not the case. It is likely that there may be genetic mutations that have not yet been identified.
Primary symptoms you had experienced prior to diagnosis: "I was partnered at the time- I was engaged- and my partner actually found it. I did a self-exam --which I always do-- to confirm, because she was like 'I feel something.' So, I was like, 'Okay, what do you feel?', and I was silent about what I had found for about a week. I was like, 'I don’t really want to go to the doctor.' I did not have health insurance. I was working part-time as a sex educator. I was like, 'I don’t know how I am even going to manage this.'"
"Another thing people don’t talk to you about is, how the fuck do you even manage it? Taxes, health insurance companies- they are just completely a mystery. Like really, just a mystery. I don’t understand them at all. No one explains it to you. It’s like, oh yeah your...deductible. I hate that word. [Laughs] I hate the word deductible. What in God’s name? I had to learn all of that shit really fast because I didn’t even know."
When you went to your doctors, did you have any pushback about being too young? "There has not been one doctor that has NOT been surprised about my age. Which is crazy, because there is a huge organization called the Young Survivors Coalition, where people my age and even younger have been diagnosed with breast cancer. So that is really unfortunate that physicians are surprised.
I would say that I got more pushback when I was younger. When I was 21, 22, 23, I would suggest, 'Hey, I should get a mammogram because my mom…' and they would say, 'No, you are too young.'"
Did your mom have breast cancer? "Yeah, my mom died of breast cancer when I was 13."
How old was she, if you don’t mind me asking? "Thirty nine. I don’t know where my mom’s was when they found hers. Also, medicine was drastically different back then."
Do you still have your ovaries? "Yep, I still have them, but they put my body in menopause, which also sucks. Um...shout out to all of those people going through menopause, that’s some real...oh Lord. That’s its own battle. I would love to see some menopausal activism, because CHRIST."
That vagina shrivels up… "Whoo, shrivels, get’s dry, the fatigue, personal summers. That shit is not a joke."
No sex drive. It drops dramatically. "None, no sex drive, nill."
So, for your treatment- you ended up having a double mastectomy. Did you end up going through chemo? "I did, I did chemo but no radiation. A shit load of chemo from Sept 2014-Sept 2015."
What would you like other women (and men) to know about breast cancer? Any helpful tips or tricks for other women or men navigating a diagnosis? "Drink a lot of water. Ask a lot of questions about your body. I will say this, medical systems/institutions want to try and fix you. So they are just trying to fix you and that is it.
Your emotional health matters. Your sexual health matters. You know your physical health beyond that illness matters. You are not broken, there is nothing wrong with you. It is just something that you are experiencing now, and that is it. All of the other stuff is added."
Anything you wished you knew about cancer or the experience prior to diagnosis? "Inside of this conversation, I wish I knew more about health insurance in general. I just didn’t really know how to navigate any of that stuff."
Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what was it? "I think the thing that comes to mind that I am scared to say is, that I am really a badass. Because cancer is definitely challenging and hard. People’s responses to cancer are all over the place, and often times are more of a stressor than the actual illness itself.
My mom died when I was 13, I mean that was really fucking hard. I am a black, queer person navigating this world. I have had a lot of shit to deal with. Cancer is just, you know, okay- bring it on. Alright, like what else you got?"