[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G. Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
This is Real Talk, a new podcast series where we’re going to break down the stigmas and feelings of embarrassment and talk openly and honestly about just how difficult breast cancer can be – from diagnosis, to treatment, to living with metastatic breast cancer, to life after treatment ends.
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day! But we’re kicking things off a day early with a conversation about LOVE and breast cancer. February 14th it isn’t red roses and champagne toasts for everyone, and today’s conversation about LOVE reminds us of that.
Se’Nita Harris was diagnosed with aggressive, triple negative breast cancer at age 37, before she found love. LaToya Bolds-Johnson was diagnosed with stage 3C triple negative breast cancer at age 36. She is married with three young girls and struggling to love the skin she’s in after treatment for her breast cancer.
Whether you’re in love or looking to find love breast cancer changes you – physically, emotionally, mentally, sexually. Ladies, thank you for being on today’s show to talk about your own personally struggles to love and be loved. And Se’Nita, do you want to kind of start off the conversation?
[00:01:29] Se’Nita Harris: Yeah. I know, you like you talked about, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I think. Once you get a cancer diagnosis, being a young woman you look at love, especially being single, you look at love a little bit differently when that moment happens. And I know for you, LaToya, that you do have a husband and a family. So love on on from your perspective. Definitely looks different than mine, but I wanted to. Just come to the conversation and kind of talk about, you know, how that initial moment was for you when you were diagnosed with breast cancer and how it was, you know, of re being received by like your husband and your family and what that looked like for you?
[00:02:23] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: Yeah. Being diagnosed with breast cancer, you know, in your thirties is definitely something that you never imagined you’d be dealing with, you know, in your thirties. For sure. And yes. I am happily married and I have three wonderful daughters. They’re very young and you know, For me with this diagnosis of breast cancer, it doesn’t just affect me, it affects my whole family, but it definitely affects my husband as well.
You know, I can’t speak for him 100%, but the part of him that I guess he allowed to be vulnerable because, you know, men usually try to just be off my show and hold everything in. And so I, I can definitely say that it definitely affected him a great deal because he was scared. You know, scared of, you know, of, you know, me potentially dying.
And then, you know, when I went through some body changes with my hair loss, you know, that was difficult. My hair started falling out and I was like asking, I just finally asked him to shave it. And that was really hard for him. That was really hard for him. And also host mastectomy. Was also hard for him too because you know, I did not I don’t, I still haven’t had my reconstruction.
So I, my body is pretty, I’m, you know, I feel like my body’s disfigured because I’m flat now because it was just kind of recommended because I had to go through so much radiation to not have the expanders in place because of the comp, potential complications with that, that I remained flat until I have my reconstruction.
So you’re not mentally. For your body and what it will look like post mastectomy, and nobody actually prepares you for that, especially if you’re going to be staying flat for a while. And so you just, you’re disfigured and so it’s like you’re, you feel disfigured and then your husband is perceiving you. He’s not telling me, you know, that he felt like, oh, you’re pretty, you’re beautiful, whatever.
But I, I don’t feel like that, but he still sees me. It’s still a different perspective that he sees me in when he gets to like, help me put on my prosthetic bra. You know, and he’s like, man, I just hate that you have to go through this. So it’s, it is definitely, it affects your loved ones for sure.
[00:05:00] Se’Nita Harris: Yeah. And I remember when I was diagnosed, I was single and the one thing that came to my mind, because I never wanted to rush to get into a relationship. But when I got diagnosed, it kind of flashed before my eyes. Like, what about marriage? What about kids? Because one thing. Women who go through chemotherapy, they have to think about is fertility.
And our time is ticking. Even though, you know, before I didn’t really think about that. So when that came up for me, I was really like, oh wow, I’m not married, I don’t have children. And also I actually had a lumpectomy. But I. I was a candidate for a mastectomy. So I did go through the process of talking to plastic surgeon and really doing like research to kind of see, you know, what that would look like.
And I, I totally understand and from that perspective, you know, I just didn’t know how it would be. Dating at, you know, after having a surgery like that. So those are things that ran through my mind as well, so I can totally understand. You know where you’re coming from in terms of in terms of having the surgery.
But another, another question, I know you talked about like when you lo when you lost your hair, I know for me that was like one thing that was like on my mind a lot. Like from the day that I got diagnosed, I was like, oh my God, I’m going to lose my hair. And then I cut my hair and I like really low and then I thought, I’m still going to lose like all of my hair.
And so that was like very tough for. So I just want to know, like for you how was that experience like when you lost your hair and what were the things that you kind of tried to d do to like, make yourself kind of feel okay about it? Or even you know, for me, I like tried to make sure that like, I did my makeup or like dressed up. How did you keep your beautiful, if that makes sense?
[00:07:20] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: Yeah. Yeah, the hair loss. I definitely knew I was going to lose my hair. You know,
[00:07:26] Se’Nita Harris: For me it’s. The hair loss
[00:07:31] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: signified like, okay, I’m sick. That’s what it signified for me. Like it, it made me appear to others, including myself, that you are now sick.
Like this is a validation of you having an a chronic illness or you know, the potentially life threatening illness. So I didn’t like that part of it because there’s so many people. You know so many women that you see who have, you may have breast cancer or may still be in active treatment you know, and may not have hair loss.
Like right now I’m still in active treatment. I still take chemo pills and immunotherapy, but now my hair has grown back. But looking at me, you wouldn’t tell that I have cancer, like I’m still in active cancer treatment, but what? The hair loss and you see someone maybe in the grocery store or whatever it may be, it’s like, okay, you know?
You look at them, you’re like, all right, hey, this person is probably sick. You know, more than likely they’re sick and they’re, you know, in, in that, you know, what I call the hardcore chemo the a c t and the red receiving the red devil and all that stuff. So for me, that’s what is signified. And, and also my children, my daughters, they did not like my hair being gone like at all.
Not even in the least, but when I was diagnosed, I had a one-year-old a three my daughters were one, three, and six, and now they’re three, five or seven. Yeah. So, they were really young so they didn’t understand that. So all they seen was my hair was gone and they did not like that. And so I would have to try to like, cover it up a lot.
I would just wear hair wrap. A lot, you know, as much as I could. I didn’t wear, you know, sometimes I would supplement wearing wigs, you know, to make myself feel somewhat normal. So, you know, wearing a wig or wearing a hair wrap. And so now that my hair is going back a little bit now, like I was so excited just recently, this is the first time I was able to get braids and my hair was like, it’s grew just a little long enough so I can like, get braids in.
So now I feel like. A little bit more like I feel closer to the normalcy of women of womanhood, if that makes sense. By just having my hair. because I feel like especially, you know, I know you may feel the same way as like an African American woman, like our hair is our crown and, you know, so it’s, yeah it definitely played a huge part with the hair loss for sure.
Yeah. I remember when I lost my hair I actually bought a crown. And when I lost my hair, I, that day I put the crown on. And I just kind of, danced with my little sister, because she was there with me at the moment. And we kind of danced to like a Beyonce song and a brown-skinned girl that was the song.
And it was just a moment where, you know, at one moment I was crying, then I was laughing. And then I was just like I had accepted that moment. And to your point, the process especially with black women in our hair mm-hmm. , is so important. So that process, when my hair started to grow back, I was very , I was very happy.
But what I do appreciate about losing my hair, I was able to really see like my true beauty. Mm-hmm.
And so for
[00:11:06] Se’Nita Harris: me, I recognize like, you know, without the hair, like I’m still Se’Nita. Still beautiful. I’m still beautiful. Right. And it’s more, it’s more about like, you know, the outer, it’s like what you kind of, you know, bring out. And so, you know, as my hair starts to grow back, your, to your saying point, like, I’m starting to try like new things and explore things, and then it becomes like a form of self-care and self-love. You know, like being able to try out like different styles, like whether it’s the head wrap or the wigs et cetera. Like it just makes you just feel , you know, so much better. So it’s like a form of self-love as well. So with that said now that I know that you’re still in active treatment, and I kind of just finished a couple months ago too because I did post-treatment. So just wanted, wanted to know like, what activities like have you started to do? Like maybe like with your husband, are you like still like going on dates or. And I know like the fatigue is real, right? , you know, you have to pace yourself, but what fun things are you all doing? Just to kind you know, spice things up,
[00:12:27] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: So I wouldn’t say as much. Different. I mean, now I have a better state of energy. You know, I’m still like, I’m fighting through fatigue right now, but I still have a better state of energy. So it’s kind of difficult with us just because we have little kids and so it’s always like, you know, we have to secure childcare, know, to go on you know, date nights, but we’ve been on, you know, a few date nights or whatever. But I would like to. My idea would be to just be able to just do staycations whenever we want. You know, at least, you know, just go to a hotel and have like a romantic night staycation. But it’s like, you know, we always have, there’s always something to do with the girls on the weekends or they have different activities, so, You know, having them, it really it does impact your one-on-one time with your husband. I’m not going to lie to you. It does. When you have children, especially young children. So, but you know, if they’re like during the day, if they’re at school, then you know, every now and then we’ll try to like, go through like a day, you know, like a day. I guess like an afternoon date, you know, so while they’re at school. Yeah. So something like that. But I personally don’t feel sexy anymore because of the body disfigurement, and so I think that impacts some areas, but I don’t, I mean, I feel better, like, you know, if I put my little makeup on. Throw on one of my Beyonce wigs and a dress or whatever. Then I feel somewhat normal and he compliments me in that area. So he does make me feel like, okay, you know, you’re the pre, LaToya before cancer. But when I take it all off, then I’m like, okay, there’s like a re a sensory of reality that sets in. It’s like, okay, all right, girl, you still have cancer? So, I don’t know, it’s just it’s still. It’s still a fighting battle. Is what I have to say. But I wish that I, I do want to kick it up a notch. So I just actually thought about doing some like pole dancing classes. As a form of exercise. So I’m going to, I am going to make that a mission of self-care as a form of exercise this beginning, this new year to at least try to do that twice a week. And my goal would be to like, know, have develop some skills so that I can dis display them to him at some point in the near future.
[00:15:17] Se’Nita Harris: Well, since you brought up whole dancing classes, I actually try that. So, I’m happy that you shared everything. About you know, how you’re, how you were feeling in terms of like sometimes not feeling so sex, so sexy because I also have felt like. As well. And I think that as we go through, it’s like a, our body is like doing like this transformation and like, we’re trying to get back to ourselves. So for me I hadn’t really dated like, during like, the hardcore treatment just because I was just so focused on just trying to. But once I kind of finished like, the, the really hardcore, I tried to put myself back out there. Into the, into the dating world. But what I realized and you know, in addition to that was that I had to feel comfortable, like with myself . And so, most recently I just had this craving for me to get to know myself better. So I did try pole dancing class and it was really, it was a fun way for me to kind of get used to. My new body or like how I feel now. And it was also something that was kind of fun, right? To like kind of be flirty with your, with yourself, so. , if you need any tips, I don’t have , but , but you know, you know, we can probably catch up and go to a class together. I would love to do something like that.
[00:16:53] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: Yeah. That would be cool.
[00:16:55] Se’Nita Harris: Yeah. But in addition to that, like I’ve just been trying like different things that , you know, can help me boost my confidence from like pole dancing class. I went to sex, a sex embodiment class. Too, just to learn more about, you know, partnership and things like that. So I think the more that we explore , the more we can start to feel comfortable, like our, with our with ourselves, with our sexuality with how we feel internally about ourselves. Who else to you for to do that?
[00:17:28] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Pole dancing is fun. I mean, I took a class before I was like, you know what? I’m going to, you know, reenact that because that it’s like cardio. And then I don’t know I feel sexy when I’m not going to lie. Like, it feel, it makes you feel, you know, a little bold, you know, bodacious like, so yeah. I’m for it.
[00:17:52] Se’Nita Harris: Yeah. So I know that we kind of talked about you know, in terms of like adjusting to your new body. And I know like sometimes, you know, talking to other women kind of helps what have you done to like, get, you know, like support from other women who’ve kind of been through like the same thing?
[00:18:17] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: What support I’ve received from other women who’ve been through the same journey. Well, you I always, I recently that being a breasty is not something that I woke up and said, Hmm, I want to be part of this sisterhood. But when you do meet other breasties, it’s a, it’s. You know, it’s a sisterhood that is unspeakable. You know, it’s a connection that we don’t have to try to create or try to foster a fake relationship when you’re abre a breasty, you know what I’m saying? Like, it’s like a commonality. It’s like a, it’s like this common energy that you have when you meet another breasty that it is some things that you don’t have to say. Your breasty sister understands versus like my non breasty friends they don’t understand. Like I had a non breasty friend tell me that I’ve known since I was in high school and we’re pretty close friends, but when I lost my breast she was just like, oh, it’s no big deal. You can get some more. And I was like, I was really offended by it because I’m sitting here looking at myself and I feel so disfigured and you’re just telling me, oh, there’s just breasts is no big deal. No, it is a big deal. I mean, would you tell someone who had their legs amputated? That is no big deal. My breasts were amputated from my body. My breast served as a form of you know, feeding my children and maternal bonding and, you know, them laying in my bosom or my husband laying in my bosom. Like, I don’t have that anymore. It hurts. My chest hurts. My chest is always tender, so my husband can’t just lay on my chest. My children can’t just lay on my chest anymore. So I took that in. I was very offended by it. So, so, but if I say that to you. I know that you going to understand it. You know, even if you don’t, you’re not flat. It’s still some form of disfigurement or transition, whether, you know, you’ve had to get reconstruction or stay flat or whatever it may be. You understand? So I think I receive more. From my breasties, then I’ll probably give as far as, I mean I do advocate and things like that, but as far as the, in that area, I think I receive more than anything from my breasties.
[00:20:43] Se’Nita Harris: And I agree with you and I feel like that support is needed, right? Because to experience that experience no one else can like relate to you. And I’ve heard the same thing, like it’s a free boob job. No, it’s not. No, it’s not. No, it’s really not. And you know, even, even myself when I had to think about my surgery as a woman who didn’t have children yet, you know, I thought about when I have a child, like am I going to be able to to breastfeed and things like that. So it’s just something. You know, you can relate whether you’ve had you know, a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, I think all women who’ve gone through this can like, relate in some type of way. Just because the journey is so tough. So I, you I appreciate my breasties. It’s not, to your point, it’s not a club that I wanted to be a part of, but then when I discovered the community in it and how I can actually, you know, talk to other women about things that I’ve gone through very personal. It’s just been, it’s just been a great community for me as well.
[00:21:58] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: Yeah. Yeah, it is. It’s like a more of like a safe space and a safe haven and in the service it provides a level of comfortability that you can’t describe with, you know, non-busy friends. For sure.
[00:22:11] Se’Nita Harris: Yeah, absolutely. So in terms of you know, I know this is all about all about. And I know for myself, like I said, I’ve been doing like activities to kind of, you know, get myself out there. Is there anything that you would like to say to, you know, someone who just got the news and like they’re really, you know, thinking about how this will affect like their love life. Is there any like advice you could give to them or anything that you would say to them?
[00:22:48] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: Well, I guess I can’t really speak you know, in the perspective as a single woman because I’m married, but I can definitely say as a married woman with a new diagnosis, it is like, you know, received the love that your husband is wanting to give you. Even though when you may not feel worthy of love or you may feel like you don’t feel that self-love about yourself, just allow. To love on you and it’s a work in progress for myself as well. But to also know that he your partner’s going to need that affection in return too, because they’re going through something too. Seeing you lose your hair and sick and losing your breast, or, you know, they’re going through things too. So just try to, I guess, just try to take little moments of showing him affection as well as, you know, as a new woman, as a woman with a new diagnosis is what I would say. You know, accept those foot rubs, , you know, ask your partner for those foot rubs, you know, that can be your bonding time. Is what, is what I would say. It’s just just be vulnerable. Just be open to receiving it. And I will tell you you know, I was amazed to hear about so many women who. At a community, at an event that I attended last year, and I don’t know, I would probably say it was about 20 of us breasties and like out of it was like maybe just three of us who were married and then. I heard about so many other stories from the other women who, when they received their diagnosis, that their husbands left them. You know? And I was just, I just was just like, how could you leave your wife that you vowed and committed to for a sickness and through health, you know, for the good and bad, how can you just leave them? When you are married to them and they get, you know, a cancer diagnosis. But, you know, a lot of the women were like, you know what that means he wasn’t for me. That means he didn’t really take his commitment to marriage as serious as he should have. And this was God’s way moving him from my life to receive someone better in the future. So.
[00:25:15] Se’Nita Harris: Yeah, I’ve heard those stories as well and it’s like really, it’s really tough and I know. I have, I know a lot of single breasties who are out there and looking for love like regardless of like their health status. And it’s like you still do deserve love even though you’ve been through something so tough, you still do deserve it. And you know, I think that as a single woman, you do have a lot to think about now, so it’s kind of, for me, it was not more of a priority like doing during that process. But now that, you know, I’m kind of like on the other end of it I do look at it differently, right? And like what I want out of a relationship. And you have to be more intentional now with life, with anything in life just because of the seriousness of what you’ve been through. And so now you know, even like a lot of women that I’ve like, talked to along the journey and I’ve read tons of articles about it. And I know for a single woman who, who has probably gone through like even surgery, it’s like, how do you have those conversations the, with the with someone? And I remember like when I was first started, like talking to someone, I’m like, well, do I say something like the first conversation. Hey, my name is Se’Nita, oh and by the way, I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.
[00:26:48] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: Yeah.
[00:26:49] Se’Nita Harris: Like, is that something I’m supposed to say or do I wait until like the sec, the second date or the third date? So it’s like those tricky conversations now that you like, started to think about. And then you’re like, well, if I tell ’em, like, do they, will they just like run away? And I’ve had experiences where like, I’ve been open and vulnerable and told people and like, it was just like too much for them and and they’re like, look, I can’t deal with, I can’t, you know, do this or, and that’s okay. You know, like, to get that, like, to your point, I would rather know upfront, yeah. Upfront to, to you know, continue on a journey. But, you know, it’s a, it is tricky you know, conversation or way to navigate dating after being, having a cancer diagnosis. The more you think about it, the more people you know who have had a diagnosis. So then you kind of understand like, hey, you know, even though at the moment it doesn’t feel, you know, like, it doesn’t feel, it doesn’t feel like the norm, like the normal thing to do, but it’s like something that you can get, you know, comfortable.
[00:28:04] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: Yeah. Yeah, and I think it’s probably based on like your energy. You know, what the energy you’re feeling from that person that you may meet. And you know what I would say? And you know what I, what another breasty girlfriend said too is like, you know, she was showing me, you know, her reconstructive breasts or whatnot. She was like, look, whatever guy I’m with now, he’s going to have to accept my scars. Know, he’s going to have to be comfortable with my scars, you know, in and out and. You know, and if that person, I think a jewel, you know, finding a really great jewel is that when you meet that person and you tell him, you know, at whatever point you do decide to tell him about your diagnosis and he sees your body and he’s comfortable with your body, then you know you’ve captured a jewel because he sees you and he doesn’t just see a surface and he’s still okay with it. You know, so that, that’s somebody that is like, okay, you want to hold on to him? You know, because you know, that person is like, okay, you know, I don’t care. You know, I still want to get to know you or, you know, I like you or I think I’m falling in love with you despite your scars. Cause that’s somebody that you know that okay, he’s definitely a marriage potential. You know? So that’s how I see it.
[00:29:23] Se’Nita Harris: Yeah, I agree. Like that. You know, what do they call it? Like a diamond in?
[00:29:29] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: Yeah, A diamond in the rough.
[00:29:33] Se’Nita Harris: Yeah. Absolutely.
[00:29:36] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: This is what I will say in closing that, you know, ladies, single ladies, you know, in the dating scene post, you know, post-cancer diagnosis, is that. I think that manifestation is great. I think that, you know, positive affirmations and positive energy that, that it’s all real energy that you’re, you know, expressing in the universe. But what I will say is that be open as well to a partner, not meeting every single bulletin on your checklist. You know, like, have some adaptation. I’m not saying to, you know, lower your standards to the lowest of the low. But what I’m saying is that your actual partner may not be the person that you envision yourself to be with, but it’s all about how that you’ll know when you meet that person, but just don’t exclude him because. Well, he doesn’t have this, so he doesn’t have a se seven figure income or, you know, whatever it may be. So that’s what I would say is don’t exclude some money if he doesn’t check every single box down your list.
[00:30:46] Se’Nita Harris: I totally agree. Agree with you on that. And I know like we have like these lists, like list, like he has to be this, he has to be that. He has to be that. And then, A guy comes along who’s like, perfect for you, and you’re like, oh, okay. So totally .
[00:31:07] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: So just be, have an open heart is what I’m saying. Yeah.
[00:31:10] Se’Nita Harris: Yeah.
[00:31:11] Adam Walker: That’s good. Good advice. Well, ladies, this has been it’s special. It’s really it’s really special for you to allow us to to just understand where you’re coming. And to sort of witness your own private conversation. And just, I just want to thank you for letting us in and sharing your stories and I know that in doing that, it’s going to help so many people.
[00:31:38] LaToya Bolds-Johnson: Hope so. I hope so. That’s the mission.
[00:31:41] Se’Nita Harris: Yeah. Thank you.
[00:31:49] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit RealPink.com. For more on breast cancer, visit Komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog, AdamJWalker.com.