It was just one week after her 27th birthday when Kalila M. Kerr received her breast cancer diagnosis. “My first thought was that they made a mistake,” says Kerr, a five-year survivor. “No one in my family had breast cancer, and I was so young.”

Kerr didn’t spend a lot of time wondering “why me.” “These were the cards I was dealt, and now I needed to win the game. My only option was to survive!”

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With the support of her family, especially her father, along with friends and co-workers, Kerr began the journey, which included a bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction, chemotherapy and radiation. “I smiled at other patients when we were getting chemo, and that helped them smile, too,” she says. “I truly believe it can make a difference in extending someone’s life. You can’t control the pain, frustration or fear, but you can always control your smile.”

While Kerr lost her hair as a side effect of chemo, she never lost her confidence. “I didn’t wear a wig—I was way too hot!” she laughs. Today, she shares her message of strength with other breast cancer patients, both women and men. “Do not let anyone make you feel you are less of a person just because you are sick. You are beautiful! You are strong! You are a survivor!”