Meet Sarah Howell

We first met Sarah at the Adventure Retreat in May 2019. She kicked butt rappelling down canyons near Zion, and since then, she has become a dear friend of Image Reborn. We’ve enjoyed seeing Sarah at the Calendar Project meetups and are grateful to have gotten to know her even better! – Ally Morrison, Program Director

Image Reborn Special Spotlight – Meet a fellow retreat alumni and learn about her breast cancer journey.

Q: Where do you live?
A: I grew up in St. Louis, MO and moved to Las Vegas, NV in 2018, 9 months after my treatment ended.
Q: How old were you when you were diagnosed with breast cancer?
A: I was 41 when I went in for my first mammogram (a year late) and that’s how my cancer was found.
Q: What was/is your diagnosis?
A: Stage 2b, grade 3, triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma.

Q: Can you describe some of the feelings that came with your diagnosis?
A: I was devastated. I had just lost my mom 6 months earlier and I was so scared and sad. It was very hard to tell my family this totally unexpected bad news so soon after our loss. I come from a pretty stoic family, so we all generally took a “stiff upper lip” approach and didn’t really talk about our feelings at all.
Q: Are you still in treatment? Or how long did treatment take?
A: I started chemo 6/2/17 and finished radiation 1/15/18. With triple negative BC, there’s no additional hormonal treatment, so that was it.
Q: What type of treatment did you go through?
A: I participated in a clinical trial for neoadjuvent docetaxel and carboplatin for triple negative BC, 6 treatments 3 weeks apart, and I did have a PCR with that. My tumor was completely gone by the time I had a lumpectomy to remove the tissue in that area. That was followed by 21 radiation treatments.
Q: Tell us how you felt during treatment. In real words.
A: Chemo was brutal. Besides losing my hair and the fatigue & nausea, I had a lot of weird side effects. After the first treatment I got a terrible infection in my mouth that caused my gums to swell over my back teeth so I couldn’t chew anything for a few days. My fingers became so sore that I couldn’t open a soda can or button a shirt. My eyes watered uncontrollably for weeks with sticky tears, which blurred my vision and damaged my skin from the constant wiping. I could go on… Basically everything about my body was altered and I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. Most days I got through it one hour at a time. After my last chemo, I had a gallbladder attack and had to squeeze in a cholecystectomy before my lumpectomy. By the time I started radiation, I was feeling a lot of self-pity. Even though the worst part, physically, was over, I really struggled mentally and emotionally with the radiation treatment.
Q: Did you have any cravings?
A: Not really, but I remember the only thing that tasted “normal” during chemo was pickles. I ate dill pickles every day, and I sipped diet ginger ale through a straw.
Q: Did anything completely turn you off?
A: Not exactly, but it was always frustrating when something I normally loved to eat or drink no longer tasted like I remembered.
Q: Describe your support system during your journey.
A: During my diagnosis and treatment it was primarily my husband who was so wonderful. He really could not have been better. He was there for every bit of it and took complete care of me. My sister-in-law and I became much closer by texting almost every day, and a long-distance friend who I didn’t even know that well suddenly became front-and-center by checking in on me daily and sending me amazing care packages. For the most part, I just wanted to be left alone during treatment. In my post-treatment life, I have grown so much as a human with the support I’ve received from Livestrong, Image Reborn, and Living Beauties. I am forever grateful to know all of these amazing people and I am continuing to expand my circle in ways I never would have dreamed possible.
Q: Have any of your relationships changed since experiencing breast cancer?
A: I have changed so much as a person so I think all of my relationships have also changed. In general, I appreciate people more and I cut people a lot more slack for things I don’t like.
Q: Have you gained new friends since your diagnosis?
A: So many!! It’s funny, because I didn’t really have too many close friends or female friends at the time I was diagnosed. My college girlfriends had drifted away and started families and I played poker with a group of guys. Suddenly in the past few years I have made all these amazing close friendships with women who mean the world to me.
Q: Use some descriptive words to describe your breast cancer experience.
A: Arduous. Altering. Freeing.
Q: How has your life changed for the better since your diagnosis?
A: I live in my dream house, in my dream city, where I get to foster rescue dogs and play poker every day. I couldn’t really ask for anything more.
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