9 Inspirational Influencers Offer MBC Support
They may be facing a life-threatening disease, but that hasn’t stopped these women from living their lives with joy.by Linda Rodgers Health Writer
Some of the social media stars you’re about to meet are already well-known (and, wow, are you ever on point, Bald Ballerina!), while others are enjoying their first blush of TikTok or Insta fame. What they all have in common is a disease whose mighty challenges have driven them to step into an online spotlight: metastatic breast cancer (MBC). And while they’re not afraid to share a bad day (or an even worse treatment side effect) with their followers, they refuse to let cancer keep them down for long.
MBC, also known as stage 4 breast cancer, is terminal—meaning the cancer that started in your breast has now spread to other places in your body and has no cure. But new treatments mean women are living longer and continuing to do what they love, which is hopeful news, even though they’ll always need treatment and scans, and face uncertain futures. The result: MBC patients (and perhaps you, if you’re reading this) learn to live in the space between fear and hope, says Allison Forti, Ph.D., licensed clinical mental health counselor and associate director of the Online Counseling Programs at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, who has worked with cancer patients for 15 years.
To feel less alone, it’s good to turn to people who can understand what Forti calls “bright sadness,”—living with gratitude and appreciation alongside the grief and anguish. You can find them online or among friends and family members. The key is to surround yourself with those who have your back, no matter what, and who can listen and serve as a sounding board. But first, start by getting social with these influential MBC warriors, who speak your same language as they lift your spirits and fight the good fight:
Bella Jones, @breastbellaofficial
Breast Bella is a wife, mom, and metavivor—she’s fighting stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. She’s also “living flat,” which means she opted out of reconstructive surgery after her double mastectomy, proudly rocking her chest in many of the TikTok videos she posts (along with her oversized glasses, assorted hats, and a string of pearls). Is she an exhibitionist, as some who’ve stumbled on her videos claim? Hell to the no, she insists. In her words, “I’m raising awareness for women facing similar issues, and you wouldn’t believe how many reach out to me and say thank you.” Want some inspo? Watch Breast Bella shimmy to “Dance Monkey.”
Favorite quote: “Just because I wear my scars loud and proud and know I’m beautiful does not mean I need attention.”
Nalie Agustin, @nalieagustin
Diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago when she was 24, this Montreal native started blogging about her illness. After a year of treatment (which included chemo, radiation, and a mastectomy), she was in remission and began writing books, giving Ted talks, and producing “The Nalie Show,” a talk show on YouTube. In 2017, she was re-diagnosed with stage 4 cancer that had spread to her lungs. But don’t think she just rolled over. “Incurable to me just means cure from within,” she writes, so she focuses on thriving and inspiring others to lead a “heart-driven life,” despite brain cancer, and chemo and radiation treatments.
Favorite quote: “Sometimes, you don’t need a whole plan to move forward. It just takes one small step to get out of the funk. From there you can take another, and another after that … Suddenly, you can finally breathe again. Where there is breath, there is hope.”
Suzi Tozer, @suzitozer
Six years ago Suzi Tozer, of St. Louis, MO, was diagnosed with MBC and was given a year or two at most to live. “But here I am,” she says, and, as she puts it, still “kicking cancer’s ass,” even though the cancer has spread to her lungs now and she’s losing some teeth, her hair, and even her eyelashes. How does she do it? Well, you just have to scroll through her TikTok account to see how she starts every one of her videos with a huge smile. That doesn’t mean life with MBC doesn’t get her down every once in a while. But she has a plan to get over her sadness, and she’s happy to share her secret. (Keep reading to discover what it is…)
Favorite quote: “Everybody’s sad, you’d be weird if you weren’t. When they told me the cancer had moved to my lungs, I was sad and scared. I gave myself two days. I cried the ugly cry, I ate ice cream, I did everything I wanted to do. But when those two days were up, I moved on.”
Angel Lovelii, @Angellovelii
Three short weeks after Bronx, NY, native Angel Lovelii’s breast cancer diagnosis in July 2019, she’d had a double mastectomy and found out that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Since then, the cancer has now spread to her spine, tailbone, and ribs, and she’s confessed to being in horrible pain. Still, she keeps her battle with MBC real, whether she’s discussing her fears or her faith, her 5-year-old daughter or her hand-crafted earring business. But even though she says doesn’t know where she keeps getting her strength and purpose from, she has her good days—and she’s vowed to “make the rest of my life the best of my life.”
Favorite quote: “At times I feel this is it and other days I get up, ready to take on the biggest fight of my life (Advanced Breast Cancer). Two years ago, I would have never thought this could happen to me, never thought this would be part of my story, but it is.”
Renee Kaiman, @mscmommylife
Diagnosed at 33, Renee Kaiman has been living with MBC for five years. You can also find this mom from Toronto, Canada, on Instagram, or read her blog to get her take on being a mom of two during quarantine with stage 4 breast cancer. But it’s on TikTok where her humor and her humanity really shine, whether she’s dancing away her anxieties just moments before she’s scanned (“Scanxiety is REAL!”) or telling others what not to say to a cancer patient, no matter their good intentions.
Favorite quote: “People say all the time, ‘I’m so strong and they could never do what I’m doing.’ But the truth is I don’t have a choice. You would do whatever you could to stay alive. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
Ann Silberman, @butdoctorihatepink
Ann Silberman has had metastatic breast cancer for 10 years now, and she’s been on chemo two years longer than that. Now 63 (she’s lived long past her initial prognosis), this silver-haired grandmother from Sacramento, CA, posts pictures of her kids, her grandbaby, her dog, even her manicured hands and diamond paintings—all photographical reminders to savor the blessings, large and small, of life. In between, you get her thoughts on living with cancer, which she describes as a wait, not a fight, one that involves many days, hours, minutes, and seconds of infusions, doctor and pharmacy visits, scans, and insurance calls. Even when she’s being 100% real about being in bed for 16 hours each day, she never gives up her joy or sense of humor.
Favorite quote: “Nobody has a crystal ball, and anger, frustration, despair only take away the good days that are coming. Of course, feel your feels—then let them go. Accept what’s happened, do your treatment and enjoy the beautiful life in front of you.”
Tanya Bhatia, @instatani
Ten years ago, Tanya Bhatia, now 33, found a lump on her breast and had a gut feeling that she had cancer. It was. So she moved from Bahrain (where she grew up) to Berlin, pausing her life just to deal with her treatment. By her fourth diagnosis, she had been “upgraded” (as she puts it) to stage 4 triple negative breast cancer. This time, dealing with MBC hasn’t stopped her from going about her life—working as an interior designer, hanging out with her partner and friends, and exploring New York City (where she now lives). And while her cancer has progressed, she maintains her vow to take the trauma and fear out of the big C. In her own words, she’s “a fighter.”
Favorite quote: “Every chemo is different; you lose hair, your hair comes back, and everyone says it’s ‘just hair,’ but until and unless you are in a position where you have to make that call and be like: ‘...and I’m back to where I was a year ago’ (or 10 years ago!), don’t judge, this is life with cancer.”
Maggie Kudirka, @baldballerina
Kudirka was a 23-year-old ballerina with the Joffrey Company in New York City when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which spread to her bones and lymph nodes. That was six years ago. The chemo drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) has kept her cancer at bay —she’s had over a 100 infusions. Before the pandemic, she gave master ballet classes to young dancers throughout the country and performed occasionally; she still keeps up her stamina and strength by dancing. And she is a strong advocate for metastatic breast cancer, raising awareness and money for research, and speaking out about the high cost of cancer drugs. Yet above all she’s thankful—to be alive, for her medical team, and for the many people she’s met along the way. Here’s to a compelling dance continuing.
Favorite quote: “Cancer, or any serious health crisis, makes one aware of what is really important: how precious life, family, and friends are; that small annoyances are not worth fussing over; that our differences are what make people interesting; that each life is important.”
Renee Sendelbach, @reneesendelbach
This mom from Austin, TX, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, when she was 30 and her son was 13 months old. After a year and a half of treatment, she made plans to have another baby, until doctors discovered that her cancer had spread to her bones and lungs and she had to put those second-baby dreams on the shelf. Since then, she’s had brain surgery to remove tumors where the cancer spread and has been diagnosed with leukemia (she got a bone marrow transplant for that). She describes herself as “annoyingly optimistic” but from where we’re sitting, she’s truly inspiring. You’ll find practical tips here—on how to get through scan anxiety, for instance, and mindset hacks—as well as beautiful post-it notes that are down-to-earth and never preachy, like the one about what comprises a good day: if she feels OK for 51% of it.
Favorite quote: “This cancer road isn’t an easy road to travel, is filled with crappy detours full of potholes that can shake and rattle your car, BUT it is worth it...all the hard crap is worth it.”
- Tanya Bhatia: Mt. Sinai Road to Resilience podcast. (2020). “Cancer is Me.” podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/id1399730603?i=1000495507671