Breast Cancer Awareness Life with the Girls

My Sister, Myself

Alice Hurley’s older sister MaryAnne always looked out for her—so when MaryAnne needed a mastectomy, it was Alice’s turn to step up. Read on to find out what support can look like in this Breast Cancer Awareness Month edition of “Life with the Girls.” 


Alice (left) with MaryAnne and Buttercup.

The longer we live, the more my sister means to me.

Sis is seven years my senior. Calling her MaryAnne was for other people. We shared a bedroom with matching bedspreads. She did magical, thoughtful things: One Christmas Eve, my old striped stocking was replaced with a bigger, more cheerful patterned red felt one she had sewn and hung for Santa to fill.

The first time I left home for a sleepover, at Aunt Claire and Uncle Anthony’s Bronx apartment, Sis came with me. (I still cried.) She took me clothes shopping when I got my first New York City magazine job. She lived in a brownstone and invited me often to sleep over on her pullout sofa. (I was no longer scared.)

She took me under her wing. Our mother had died from colon cancer at 56, when I was still in college. Sis watched out for me. She was a scientist; I am a writer. She was a Peace Corps volunteer; I am an avid shopper. But our love overlaps.

Her mastectomy was in May 2019. My auburn-haired sister had just turned 65 and lived alone with her sweet also-auburn Dachshund, Buttercup. She had been widowed for two winters.

I had gone along to meet the breast surgeon. We had questions for Dr. Guth who, we agreed, reminded us of our late, beloved Aunt Claire—surely a good sign. We talked in the examination room about how Sis loved fishing and boats; she and her husband had met sailing. Without saying the words, I wanted Dr. Guth to know: This isn’t just any old patient. This is my sister. 

“We’ll get the surgery done in the spring and have you back out on the water,” Dr. Guth said. We believed in her.

Sis chartered a fishing boat the Saturday before her surgery to take me and my family out on the Long Island Sound with her; she predicted it might be a bit until she could hold a rod again. She baked the fish we caught for dinner.

While I was with Sis, my husband held down the fort. I left our car in suburbia, took the bus through the Lincoln Tunnel to the Port Authority, walked across town to Grand Central Station and boarded the train to Connecticut schlepping my jumbo, overstuffed pink tote (I read that pink makes both wearer and observers feel better). I arrived the day before surgery, feeling a bit like Mary Poppins unpacking in Sis’s guest room. I had books and salted cashews to share; pink tops and dresses; sneakers so I could walk Buttercup; and an umbrella, though, unlike Mary Poppins’, mine was only in case of rain.

I also brought, standing behind me, our parents, our Irish and Italian grandparents, our aunts and uncles, our two brothers, my daughters.… I stood alone before Sis, but I stood for everyone who loved her. I was the helper, ever upbeat and cheerful. We had been Girl Scouts, after all. I was dependable.

Yet I was also naïve. I didn’t fully register the deadly seriousness of having a breast removed. I didn’t anticipate the pain Sis would be in, how hard it would be for her to rest, to lift things. How she would be unable to bathe herself. I had not researched what a drainage tube entails.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”For the first time, our roles reversed. Though she forever has what I need in her handbag, now I had to bring my big sister what she needed: support”[/perfectpullquote]

For the first time, our roles reversed. Though she forever has what I need when I need it—hand sanitizer, a mint, tissues—now I had to bring my big sister what she needed most: support.

We rose in the dark of early morning, and I drove us into New York City, my cell phone updated with all the contacts I had to call after surgery. I took my place in the waiting room.

Once Dr. Guth said all had gone well and Sis’s lymph node sample was clean, I started the phone chain. I fetched her meds at the pharmacy. While doctors zipped in and out of her room, I made too many visits to the cafeteria, nervously eating to bury it all, to soothe myself: a bagel with cream cheese and lox, dark chocolate, endless coffee, fancy cookies, mashed potatoes, cheese blintzes, soft black licorice.

I slept on a cot by her bed. I liked being by her side again.

Alice on the fishing trip last June.

Back home, I checked Sis’ bandage and applied new tape. I changed her sheets and the water in the flower vases. I grocery-shopped, coming back with extra presents that would ultimately replace my presence: a pink petunia for the terrace; pink peony hand soap.

We sipped coffee and chatted. We walked Buttercup by the marina and watched the swans. I napped on the couch, safe in the presence of my big sister while I Dream of Jeannie, a show from our girlhood, was on TV. Even while she was recovering, Sis watched over me.

By June 2020, just over a year after the surgery, Sis was back on the water as Dr. Guth had promised, and I was there to celebrate with her. Covid had hit; we wore masks on the dock. She chartered a boat, and we caught big striped bass. Though some enormous swells rocked us, we held on for safety.

Sis and me, we were not going to let each other fall down or go under.

Breast Cancer Awareness

Self-Knowledge: Our Best Weapon Against Breast Cancer

As with all things, if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.

Every 15 seconds, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer somewhere in the world, and until there’s a cure, the best option we’ve got to save lives from breast cancer is early detection, so it’s nonnegotiable to take charge of your health and be your own best advocate.

“Despite all the attention breasts get, there really is very little that gets shared about taking care of them,” said Corrine Ellsworth-Beaumont, MFA PhD and the CEO of Know Your Lemons Foundation, whose mission is to help women find breast cancer as early as possible.

When every day counts, knowing everything there is to know—or at least where to find it—saves lives. Rather than scouring the Internet to gather together all of this information, Know Your Lemons’ new app centralizes it at your fingertips.

Read on for some of the crucial advice Know Your Lemons has put together…

Breast Cancer Awareness Power Figures

How Paula Flory Went from Surviving to Thriving When Faced with Breast Cancer

In the first chapter of her career, Paula Flory worked as a counselor for nonprofits serving underprivileged youth. Then, in 2011, in her early 40s and in the best shape of her life, she felt a lump in her armpit.

After focusing on beating Stage III breast cancer, Paula found her next chapter: serving women in the same circumstances she had so recently been in herself. That’s why she started Move Over Breast Cancer, a tricked-out van near our New Jersey headquarters that will bring you all the nice-to-have services you could want when undergoing treatment…for free.

“As everyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer can tell you,” said Paula, “it’s as if you’ve been hit by a high-speed train when you hear the news. It created chaos in me and in my life. Even with the tremendous support of family, friends and my and community, I felt as though I was crawling through sludge making these huge decisions about treatment and surgeries.”

Each day was more difficult than the next, said Paula, but there was also a moment early on in the diagnosis process that “there seemed to be a tiny tunnel through which I could see a light of hope. I strongly felt when looking through this pinhole that I would find an opportunity within this problem.”

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, hear Paula’s fresh perspective on breast cancer and find out why our Power Figure calls it “a gift.”

Breast Cancer Awareness Inner Beauty Relationships

Diagnosed at 75: Dee’s Breast Cancer Journey

Breast cancer is the most common kind to strike American women. Average age of diagnosis: 61. But with silver hair comes a silver lining. While the odds may rise with age, the odds of dying from it are down-trending, according to Harvard Medical School research.

Take my Grandma, for example.

Dolores Zuber—Dee to her friends, Ma to her five children, Nanny to her eleven grandkids and four great-grandkids—is as feisty and tough as they come. (Did your grandma go for her pilot’s license? Didn’t think so.) Stupid breast cancer did not know who it was going up against when it tried to mess with her…not the first time it came knocking at age 75, and not the second time around, nearly a decade later.

She’s an OG, straight-talking inspiration to me—and now, hopefully, to you, too.

Breast Cancer Awareness Health & Wellness Inner Beauty Relationships

Diagnosed at 30: Chelsey’s Breast Cancer Journey

Breast cancer is nothing if not personal, and the net it casts is wide. There are more than 3 million women with a history of breast cancer living in the US, according to in 2019. They’re our colleagues, our friends and, in this case, our family.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I got personal with my cousin Chelsey Goldman, a 30-year-old office administrator, wife and mom to daughter Abigail, 4, and son Rory, 3. One year and 6 days from her diagnosis, she has beaten the disease. Still, there is a ways to go to get back to life B.C. (before cancer). She opened up to Bare Necessities about what it’s like to wonder if you’re going to live to see the day your kids start school.

Breast Cancer Awareness Relationships

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: 10 Ways to be Supportive

Breast cancer touches most of us, directly or indirectly. What happens when someone you love is diagnosed, and the world keeps turning? So often, well-intentioned family, friends and coworkers want to be useful but realize they don’t really know how to be.

When breast cancer affects someone you care about, your greatest contribution can be offering both tangible and intangible support. Though not everyone will want the same things or react the same way, the most important takeaway is this: Don’t ignore the pink elephant in the room. Do something.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Bare Necessities compiled the 10 best suggestions:

Bra Fit Experts Breast Cancer Awareness Health & Wellness

10 Things to Know About Life After Breast Cancer from Survivor Theresa Specht

Four years ago this month, Theresa Specht, a preschool teacher and mother of two, was lying in bed watching television when a public service announcement about Breast Cancer Awareness Month came on. At 29, she had never really thought to thoroughly check herself out.

That’s the night she felt the lump in her left breast.

“My husband told me, ‘You didn’t have cancer an hour ago; you don’t have it now” and to relax and get some sleep,” Theresa recalls. Her gut told her otherwise.

Just before her 30th birthday, Theresa was diagnosed with stage III lymph node-positive breast cancer.

She had no risk factors or family history and tested negative for the BRCA gene. Her cancer, in her breast and lymph nodes, appeared to be estrogen-driven and was positive for the HER2 protein. “It’s a nasty cancer, but for that reason, a lot of research has gone into developing drugs to target the protein,” Theresa says. (It’s unclear whether her Cowden syndrome, a rare genetic variant, played a role.)

After six cycles of chemotherapy, a year of targeted biological therapies, a bilateral mastectomy and prophylactic hysterectomy, six weeks of daily radiation, reconstructive surgery and ongoing use of Tamoxifen, Theresa is still here, showing cancer who’s boss. She shares with Bare Necessities 10 truths about what happens when you’ve emerged from the fight of your life and it’s time to pick up where you left off:

Breast Cancer Awareness Health & Wellness Power Figures

Dr. Leah Gendler, Oncologist and Breast Surgeon, Takes Down Cancer Daily

Eradicating the scourge of breast cancer is simply another day at the office for Dr. Leah Gendler. The renowned medical oncologist and breast surgeon spends each of her 14-hour workdays deftly excising tumors in the operating room or counseling breast cancer patients on what should be their next lifesaving move. That’s why we’re honored this Power Figure gave Bare it All so much of her valuable time to share what drives her forward and what gives her hope.

Breast Cancer Awareness Health & Wellness Power Figures

Bari Seiden-Young on her Work for The Estée Lauder Companies’ BCA Campaign and Breast Cancer Research Fundraising

As our Power Figures monthlong series continues, we managed to snag a coveted slot on Bari Seiden-Young’s jam-packed calendar: Bari is the Vice President of Corporate Communications for The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC), and she leads the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign on behalf of ELC, focusing media attention on annual high-wattage efforts to raise major awareness and funds that fuel life-saving research.

No matter if she’s illuminating the Empire State Building pink with supermodel and global ambassador Elizabeth Hurley or attending a black tie gala, for Bari, every last action she takes comes back to beating cancer. As with Lauren, the survivor, and Pamela, the fundraiser, Bari has an all-too personal cancer connection that drives her, too.

Breast Cancer Awareness Health & Wellness Power Figures

Pamela Lipkin on the Amazing Work of the Cure Breast Cancer Foundation

Power Figures take myriad forms. In lockstep with the brave front-line warriors fighting breast cancer—the survivors battling for their lives, supported by their tenacious medical teams—you’ll find driven, impassioned advocates and fundraisers. Count Pamela Lipkin among them.

Though Pamela works full-time at USI Insurance Services as a bond manager, she also devotes herself to organizing events for the Cure Breast Cancer Foundation, for which she serves as a board member.

For Pamela, it’s personal.

Breast Cancer Awareness Health & Wellness Power Figures

Lauren Cohen, a Young Breast Cancer Survivor, Tells Her Story

The stats about breast cancer are as staggering as they are ubiquitous: 246,660 new cases this year. 1 in every 8 women. More than 2.8 million women in the United States with a history of breast cancer.

Behind the dizzying numbers are flesh-and-blood human beings going to war every day in their own ways against breast cancer. They are Power Figures in every sense of the word: raising awareness at the same time as they are making plans for the rest of their lives. Following our 4-part series last year on the science and politics of Breast Cancer Awareness Month with medical correspondent Dr. Sharon Mass, this year, we’re honored to introduce you to four of them. Taken together, they’re profiles in courage, in caring, in the conviction that we can and will turn this tide.

Meet Lauren Cohen who, at 33, is already a breast cancer survivor. She graciously opened up to Bare it All about her path from blindsiding diagnosis to the new normal.

Breast Cancer Awareness Health & Wellness

“The Doctor Will See You Now, Doctor”: A Breast Cancer Survival Story

In the final installment of our special four-part series on breast cancer, Dr. Sharon Mass opens up about her very personal battle:

When I was a child, my parents called me “Sunshine.” They joked about how I was an eternal optimist, always seeing the proverbial glass half-full. That optimism was tested when, at 43, I was diagnosed with breast cancer by a routine mammogram. As an OB-GYN, I had given cancer news to many patients. However, on a Friday in May 2011—Friday the 13th to be exact—I found myself on the other side of the phone.

Four-and-a-half years later, with pink ribbons fluttering in every storefront, pink shoes on the feet of NFL players and ‘turn-it-pink’ activities at my kids’ high school, I can’t help but relive the moments that had such a lasting impact on my life. In doing so, I can reflect on the impact that those four words—“You have breast cancer”—have had on me and those around me….