As someone who constantly feels an undercurrent of surprise at the little reminders of her advancing age — that ache in my hip after a day of sightseeing, my inability to just plop down and fall asleep anywhere, the selfie that casts a cold, unflinching eye on every line — I still feel jarred when friends and family achieve life milestones I normally associate with middle age, whether it be new parenthood or career promotions with important sounding titles (how many SVP positions are there?).
But the biggest reality check, by far, are the health issues. Surgery? Heart attacks? Cancer? Those are old people problems. Oh, right — those are now our problems.
As the former editor of Audrey Magazine, I’ve known designer Rachel Park for years. Of course, as these things go, we’ve communicated but have never met. She even sent my husband a gorgeous bow tie a few years back, one he wore to Audrey‘s fashion show in 2012. But just recently, Rachel contacted me again to let me know that a year ago (around the same time I was in a car accident that shattered my wrist and left my ulnar nerve severely damaged), she found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer, just after her 40th birthday. Since then, she’s had 15 rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries and 32 radiation treatments. She still has one surgery to go, but today, she is officially cancer-free.
After treatment, Rachel re-launched her designer tie line and, more importantly, started her website, Survivor Moda, which chronicles her cancer experience (with a dash of humor and unflinching honesty). In one post detailing her breast MRI, Rachel writes:
“If you have never had the pleasure of being on a breast MRI table, you have to lay face down. There is a place for your boobs to go into and a nice, hard, not-so-comfortable bar between them. Imagine the joy of pressing your body weight into this for 30 minutes, and then being told you have to do some of it again while blood runs down your arm. Awesome! Who invented that table anyways??? I bet it was a man!”
Rachel’s story really inspires me. Though what I experienced with my car accident is nowhere near her ordeal, I could relate to much of what she was feeling, one of which was her determination “to keep my fashion sense during treatment.” Out of that necessity came The ParkPuff, Rachel’s stylish solution to wearing a seatbelt post-mastectomy or lumpectomy. (Who knew that was an issue for breast cancer survivors?)
Says Rachel, “Cancer took many things from me, but I wouldn’t let it take my style.” Now that’s a woman after my own heart.
Read more about Rachel’s experience here.