Breast Cancer AllianceSarrah Strimel, founder of Damn Good Yoga
Tell us about your breast cancer journey...
Breast cancer was never on my radar. We didn't have it in my family. But once I was diagnosed, I thought, OK, let's get through this and I'll get on with my life. But then I found out that my fertility and my ability to carry a child would be affected—that was the biggest shock in the world to me. I lost my breasts, I'm on my third surgery, I just had my ovaries removed—OK. The hardest part—more than all this, more than the chemo—was the loss of being able to carry my own child. This was something I had waited for my whole life and now that chance was taken away.
For the uninitiated, what are the risks here?
About 80% of breast cancers are hormone-receptor positive, which means the cancer feeds off your body's estrogen and progesterone. After the initial treatment, your oncologist will put you on medications for the first five years to trigger a chemical menopause for five years because that's when the recurrence rate is highest. So if you're diagnosed in your 30s—and an alarming amount of women are—by the time you're done with therapy, it's not an ideal situation. There are many intricacies and each case is personal, but long story short, a lot of women can't carry an embryo because of their diagnosis.
“OK, so you lost today. How are you going to win tomorrow?”
You always have two choices—dwell in the sadness and anger or find the joy in the darkest days and walk down the road past them. Look around you; there's beauty everywhere, even when you're feeling the sh*ttiest. And that's what I did. I made a conscious decision to bring myself back to whatever moments of joy I could find.
I read an article in The New York Times that said resiliency is partially in our DNA—so I thank mom and dad for that. But I was also given a certain set of skills from life. I chose to have a career on Broadway, which is not the easiest thing. I had built up some muscle from going to auditions, getting rejected and having to pick myself back up again. OK, so you lost today. How are you going to win tomorrow?
Did being a yogi help with the process?
For sure. Yoga is about presence. It's not about doing everything perfect and nailing the best poses; it's about meeting yourself where you are in the moment. After my mastectomy, I would do yoga only my underwear in my house. Every day, I moved, touched and got to know a different body on the mat. Some days I couldn't move my arms; some days I was bald and puffy from chemo. Yoga means union and I was bringing myself back together, the old me and the new me.
Tell us about your nonprofit A Damn Good Life…
I saw a huge gap in assistance for surrogacy. The price tag for a surrogate is $150,000. My husband and I are lucky enough that we can afford it, but so many women can't. And while there are many amazing foundations that help with egg freezing and IVF, there's no help for surrogacy. So I got together with two of my good friends, Victoria Raphael and Ann Palmer—both young breast cancer survivors—and started A Damn Good Life, which gives grants to woman to have babies after cancer. We fund the whole journey, from soup to nuts. We hope to eventually expand to help families with financial adoption assistance and to extend beyond breast cancer survivors to all female fertility cancers—ovarian, uterine and cervical.