In the last few months, we’ve heard incredible stories from incredible women living with breast cancer. Our most recent spotlight (and real-life MAKEMERRY model) is Rosalia, an occupational therapist in Pittsburgh, who—although never diagnosed with breast cancer—made the difficult decision to undergo a prophylactic (or preventative) mastectomy. Since cancer was prevalent in her immediate family, she got tested for the BRCA1 gene, a gene mutation that carries an increased risk of breast cancer. When her results came back positive, she struggled with whether or not to have her breasts removed. Feeling alone, she joined a BRCA1 online community that helped empower her to have surgery. And at just 28 years old, Rosalia “did what I had to do.”
Who did you tell first about your diagnosis?
I told my cousin, Emily, and sister, Theresa, when I found out I was BRCA1 positive. I didn’t want to tell my parents because I didn’t want to upset them—especially my mother since she’s a BRCA1-positive cancer survivor. I know she would’ve done anything in this world to make sure it wasn’t passed to me. I just tell her we’re breast-ies now, and thank god it wasn’t my sister or cousin!
What has been the most surprising thing about your diagnosis or experience?
Prior to my testing, I had every intention of being open about my journey, but after my positive results, I surprisingly shut down. I became weary of expressing my feelings, and that made me feel very isolated and alone. I have a ton of supportive family and friends, but I didn’t want to burden them. I also felt guilty and selfish for feeling upset, because I knew it could be much worse. The BRCA/breast groups I became a part of helped me through this internal struggle. There, I met the most supportive, strong, and empathetic women ever. Their kindness and willingness to help me was so comforting, but also, their validation of my feelings showed me that I wasn’t alone—and that I didn’t have to worry about feeling the way I’m ‘supposed’ to feel. So three days before my mastectomy, I started openly posting about it. Being more open about my situation helped me accept and trust my journey. It also confirmed my purpose to help others and that’s what makes it worth it.
What did you know about yourself that was confirmed by this diagnosis?
I always felt like a strong and independent woman who lives life to the fullest, but taking on these obstacles and understanding the importance of being positive confirmed this for me. Now I know that I can get through anything life brings my way. With every challenge, you learn something about yourself, which helps shape you into the person you are.
What have you learned about yourself?
So many things. I mentioned a few things already. But I learned how important it is for me to reach out when I need help or support. I learned that things don’t always go as planned. My dad always tells me life isn’t about what happens to you—it’s about how you choose to react to the situation. He’s right. We can’t control what happens, but we can control how we move forward from it.
What is the best thing someone has said or done for you during cancer?
There are so many things that people did for me that I am beyond thankful for. My mom and dad showing me their strength through their cancer journeys (both diagnosed in 2012). My mom is a breast cancer survivor and my dad is currently in remission with multiple myeloma after undergoing treatment and a stem cell transplant. My parents, aunts, uncle, sister, and cousin all took care of me after surgery. My coworkers and friends did everything for me, from sitting by my side when I called to schedule my test to literally packing and moving my entire home for me—in less than a week! They are amazing.
The best thing anyone ever said to me came from my therapist. I remember sitting there rambling on and on about all the things I kept to myself. With tears streaming down my face, I told him I hate being upset because I know it could be worse. His response: “Yes, there are worse things, but do you know any other 28-year-olds who had to make this decision?” That simple question showed me that it’s okay to feel sad or stressed or whatever I want to feel because it’s MY journey and MY feelings. He said, “Take that information, think about all your options, and make the best decision for YOU.” I will never forget the day he asked me that—it’s what I needed to hear to move forward.
Now that you have had this experience, is there one thing that you would never say to someone diagnosed with cancer? Why?
I know what I would say to someone who tests BRCA positive: It’s not a death sentence—it’s a valuable piece of information that can save your life. So take that information, think about all your options, and make the best decision for YOU. If it feels right, it is right. Trust yourself.
What is the silver lining from your experience?
I was given the chance to live a healthy life! I was blessed with being able to get tested, have a prophylactic mastectomy, and decrease my chances of getting breast cancer by nearly 90%.
That one secret talent you possess?
Making balloon animals!
Why do you want to model for MAKEMERRY?
I love the company’s mission to create garments that aren’t just comfortable, but also attractive. Giving a cancer fighter/survivor/previvor one less thing to worry about during such an emotional and trying time can mean the world to them. Had I been introduced to MAKEMERRY during my prophylactic mastectomy, it would have saved me a lot of stress and given me a lot of comfort—literally and figuratively.
Rosalia’s raw honesty and beautiful spirit inspire us each and every day. Check back soon to meet our next model: a mother, blogger, and Harry Potter fan whose positivity is also her biggest asset.