At 31, Emily Affonso was the picture of health. The high school English teacher embraced spin and Zumba classes; shunned processed foods, cigarettes and alcohol; and religiously slathered on sunscreen to protect her skin from the sun. Yet on May 24, 2012, doctors diagnosed Emily with a fast-growing breast cancer.
“I did everything I was supposed to do and did nothing out of the ordinary that would have caused me to get cancer,” recalls Emily, who has no family history of the disease. “Breast cancer does not just affect women who are post-menopausal.”
Although her surgeon recommended a lumpectomy, she opted for an aggressive course of treatment that included a bilateral mastectomy, because, as she put it, “I never again wanted anyone to say to me, you have cancer.” After the surgery, she endured a punishing ordeal: eight rounds of chemotherapy and year-long monthly infusions of a drug that boosts the immune system to fight the cancer.
But just as she celebrated being cancer-free for one year, her marriage came to an end. “Suddenly, the empowered survivor was a weak, insecure woman…” she says. “The strength I displayed throughout treatment vanished, and I had to figure out who I was and where I was going.”
Now, four years later at age 35, Emily remains cancer-free and has a new man on her arm—one who loves her just the way she is. She offers words of encouragement and hope to others who are fighting the disease. “On my darkest days, I said, you are going to beat this. I felt I would be okay and that my story wasn’t over.”