Breast Cancer, BRCA Mutation, and Butterflies

A few months ago, I shared reflections on a friend’s blog about breast cancer, and in case you missed it, I’m returning to the topic in hopes of bringing encouragement on this journey. I try to periodically share glimpses of my PREVIVOR story on Hello Lovely as someone with BRCA+ genetic mutation not to garner sympathy or pity but to spread the good news…whatever battle you’re fighting, whatever obstacle blocking your path to joy, I’m here to remind you that you are brave and stronger than you think.

Michele in #pointeshoes on pointe by Hello Lovely Studio #onpointe #ballerina #balletslippers

With a sky-high risk of developing ovarian or breast cancers, in 2013, I opted for a complete hysterectomy and bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. My 87% feminine cancer risk was the result of a genetic mutation (BRCA2) and unfortunate family health history. My younger sister and I inherited the mutation from our mother, who is fighting breast cancer, colon cancer, and melanoma as a living miracle.

Michele of Hello Lovely Studio and #PemaChodron quote about difficulty and transformation #inspiringquote
What a dramatic shift when we “let” difficulty transform us…sort of puts us in a powerful position, yes?

I’m a cancer previvor faced with some unlovely statistics and genetic imperfection, and rather than lay more cancer awareness on you (do we really need more awareness since we ALL love someone with cancer or have encountered the diagnosis firsthand?), I’d prefer to simply chat with you as if we are old friends helping each other muddle through.

Pink #pointeshoes on dancer #balletshoes
Breast Cancer, BRCA Mutation, and Butterflies

I agree with Ram Dass. We truly are just walking each other home.

Pink ballet slippers by Hello Lovely Studio #pointeshoes
I collect dead pointe shoes as they signify feminine strength to me. Some hate mail recently suggested I give them up…um, NOPE.

There are three thoughts I’d like to convey today.

First, while there are all sorts of titles and new identities for folks affected by breast cancer: Survivor, Previvor, Warrior, etc., PLEASE, LET’S NOT LET ANY LABEL SEPARATE US. We are all fighting battles. While my anti-cancer journey is a rather dramatic and genetically rare one (only about 1% of women who develop breast cancer are BRCA+), in a sense, you and I are not different at all! We’re vulnerable. We’re striving to live healthy, anti-cancer lifestyles which will not promote cancer cell growth within our bodies. My own heart overflows with admiration for my mom, who fights BC daily, but it’s bursting with admiration and mercy for one of my sisters who: did not test positive for BRCA, isn’t a previvor or survivor, yet fights battles every day on her anti-cancer journey to minimize risk.

Michele of Hello Lovely Studio #HelloLovelystudio
Such an important lesson I keep relearning on my journey.

Second, with BRCA2+ genetic mutation, I cannot suppress tumor growth, but you also have invisible risk factors for breast cancer. Of course, you know all of these, but please allow me just now to be your loving friend or mother.

Here’s what we can do: wear sunscreen, eliminate tobacco, exercise daily, see the doctor regularly, get regular mammograms, avoid alcohol or drink it moderately, eat the most gorgeous healthy food, avoid radiation exposure, and…here’s a biggie straight from my heart and professional training as a counselor…address the invisible hurts, anger, anxiety, despair, and stress that weaken us at the cellular level.

To inhibit cancer cell growth, we can be proactive in tenderly nurturing our spirits with therapy, meditation, faith, and spiritual practice. It’s difficult to sort out the relationship between heartache and cancer cell growth, yet there is so much to gain from making positive life shifts NOW to lower our risks. (Aside: when I posted a risky dark post about despair the other day, a couple of perfect strangers seized that moment for bullying and verbal assaults and suggested I’m a whiner without real problems. I realized how one’s honest, vulnerable, raw story may trigger fear or something dark in another. And fear may cause others to do and say some misinformed weird shit. Here’s the takeaway: Not everyone is gonna be for us. But WE can always be for us as our own best friend.)

Pink pointe shoes and a ruffly tutu by Hello Lovely Studio #pinktutu #blushpink #pointeshoes
Breast Cancer, BRCA Mutation, and Butterflies

Third, I encourage you to let go of fear in terms of the prospect of cancer diagnosis, living with cancer, and fighting cancer. I say this with the utmost respect to all facing the unspeakable as a cancer patient or caregiver. I’m spending time in Arizona with my mom at the moment, and her journey continues to shape my heart. I feel compelled to voice what I wholeheartedly believe: love is stronger than cancer, stronger than death, stronger than any prognosis. How is this possible, and isn’t this aerie-faerie? Because there can be healing in the absence of cure. Oh, friends, tears are rolling down my cheeks as I type these words. Healing can come even when the good news and the good lab reports do not. Healing is available and accessible, no matter the circumstance. You see, the little caterpillar inside the chrysalis has no idea what is happening as her world comes unraveled. She comes undone and dissolves to the point that her old self is impossible to recognize. The process feels like death and the end because in a sense, it truly is. The old is shattered. But those fragments are impossibly and beautifully re-arranged, and the weight of grief is eventually lightened with winged glory.

Michele of Hello Lovely Studio #whitepajamas #HelloLovelyStudio
Breast Cancer, BRCA Mutation, and Butterflies

You’re stronger than you think. You’re gonna fly, friend.

Let these wishes lift you higher:

Michele of Hello Lovely Studio #2Corinthians #scripture #inspiringquote
Sure sounds like chrysalis living if you ask me…

I wish you wakefulness and presence in whatever messy beautiful stage of metamorphosis you find yourself.

I wish you courage to make healthy life choices bringing you freedom and light.

I wish you eyes to see as the master creator sees…which is to see wonder and magic everywhere.

Sisters and mom wearing white #hellolovelystudio
What fighting cancer looks like.

Peace to you right where you are.


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  1. February 1, 2018 / 5:26 am

    How can anyone not be touched by your spirit of courage, encouragement, and compassion. There is nothing more powerful than human words reaching a human heart and filling it with hope and light. You, Michele, not only fill our eyes with design delight but also remind us of the deeper meanings in life, struggles, and challenges. You are precious and so appreciated.

    • michele
      February 1, 2018 / 5:35 pm

      I don’t deserve the high praise, Joan, but it brings me joy to uncover beauty within interiors whether they be in a home or a heart. xox

  2. Kathy McManus
    February 1, 2018 / 6:57 am

    Thank you for such a beautiful post – it was what I needed this morning.
    We all have our own paths to travel and when life shakes us with what seems like the end of the world
    news, it’s then we push aside our fears and learn we have strengths to face each day.
    Big hugs to you and your family.

    • michele
      February 1, 2018 / 5:31 pm

      Thanks for the encouragement, Kathy. I agree with you. Humans were created with this incredible capacity to adapt. Your words have inspired me to think about the strengths I have discovered only because of setbacks. Peace to you and yours. xox

  3. Kaye Blackburn
    February 1, 2018 / 8:51 am

    Thank you for this deeply personal blog. We all are affected by cancer, sad as that is. My family has Lynch Syndrome, a mutation of the gene that fights cancer cells. This diagnosis came after years of wondering what in the world was wrong in our family. Many, many family members had died of colon cancer or digestive cancer related illness. I personally have lost my Mother to stomach cancer, my older brother to colon cancer, and sadly my middle daughter from colon cancer 4 years ago. I carry the gene as well. Many people are walking around with this mutation and do not realize they have it. It projects out of families with young diagnosis of colon cancer mainly. If you have a history of colon cancer in your family, please speak with a knowledgeable doctor. If the doctor you go to seems to be in the dark, find one who has studied this issue. My life without my daughter has been challenging. But my faith in GOD carries me through. God bless you and your family.

    • michele
      February 1, 2018 / 5:29 pm

      Thank you for sharing some of your history and for raising awareness about Lynch Syndrome, Kaye. I’m so sorry for the losses in your family. BRCA puts us at risk for colon cancer, skin cancer, and pancreatic. My risk is even higher since I have Crohn’s disease (full remission now!) and since my mom has colon cancer. You’re right. It’s so important to see doctors who understand the difference in the standard of care when a mutation is involved. Thank you for sharing your testimony and the kindness permeating this computer screen. I honor you and these challenges you face. xox

  4. Teresa C
    February 1, 2018 / 9:26 am

    Never give up your toe shoes! If I could find one pair (used), I’d display them proudly. Yes! I danced many years ago. I cannot now; I dance in my heart daily.

    • michele
      February 1, 2018 / 5:24 pm

      How wonderful that the toe shoes inspire fond memories for you. Peace to you, Teresa, and thanks for reading. 🙂

  5. Sally
    February 1, 2018 / 6:29 pm

    Thank you for a beautiful post. Keep the shoes!! I don’t do ballet, but I know it takes incredible perseverance and grace. Those shoes encourage me.

    • michele
      February 2, 2018 / 1:44 am

      It’s easier to collect the shoes and admire the shoes than dance in the shoes! They are such an amazing symbol of strength and perseverance. Thanks for reading, friend.

  6. Donna C.
    February 1, 2018 / 8:13 pm

    U r brave sweet friend n an inspiration to raise awareness to the fight against breast cancer. U walk the, talk the talk n willingly share ur sweet family’s journey. U r brave warriors n have my utmost admiration n respect. I pray for peace n that love continues to lift u up every day.

    • michele
      February 2, 2018 / 1:41 am

      Thank you for your prayers, Donna. They matter. xox

    • michele
      February 2, 2018 / 1:40 am

      Right back at ya, goldilocks. 🙂

  7. Jodi Jones
    February 1, 2018 / 11:01 pm

    ….address the invisible hurts, anger, anxiety, despair, and stress that weaken us at the cellular level. Yes. Thank you.

    • michele
      February 2, 2018 / 1:40 am

      Thanks for reading, Jodi. 🙂

  8. Sally
    February 2, 2018 / 3:34 pm

    One more thing, don’t judge until you have walked a much a mile in someone’s hardworking ballet shoes. Then see if you can understand.

  9. Karin
    February 23, 2018 / 12:45 am

    I am so sorry you have received hate mail. How do people become so warped? Bullies are dangerous and destructive. Thankfully your goodness WILL prevail. And remember your beautiful blog brings great joy to many people. Thank you.

    • michele
      February 23, 2018 / 10:22 am

      Thanks for the encouragement, Karin. I’m a real person but to some folks online, I’m simply a personality and fair game. All of the positivity in comments I get actually stirs up insecurity in a few folks who think optimism or encouragement is fake or irrelevant. Receiving hate mail is sort of affirmation that the blog has grown significantly so I’ll try to accept it gracefully as an achievement! 🙂

  10. dee
    March 1, 2018 / 6:44 pm

    You so touched my heart and my soul and the depths of my being Michele. I’m trying to figure out how to print your entire post. Bless you and your family and thank you, always, for your honesty and your insights…………fondly….. dee

    • michele
      March 1, 2018 / 7:21 pm

      Thank you for reading and for this encouragement, Dee. You have given me a helpful idea: perhaps I should make some transcripts of some of my writing so it can be read more easily. Best to you and your tender heart. xox

  11. dee
    March 2, 2018 / 10:40 am

    Thank you for reading my comment Michele and responding. Blessings……………..fondly……dee

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