Amplifying the power in HER voice because today’s woman is #BeyondCapable

Amplifying the power in HER voice because today’s woman is #BeyondCapable
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How A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Journey Is Helping Others Find Their Way

Kiana

It was in May 2019 when Kiana Wooten discovered what seemed to be a pea-sized lump in her left breast during her routine self-breast exam. She had a history of cysts before, so she initially thought of it as normal and brushed it off. However, a few months later, the lump was still there. She then decided to change deodorants, thinking it might have been caused by an ingrown hair or clogged sweat glands.

More months continued to pass as the lump only continued to grow in size and discomfort. Concerned, Wooten’s husband urged her to consult a doctor.

While Wooten’s doctor seemed reassuring during the initial consult, the subsequent mammogram and ultrasound confirmed her fears. The radiologist’s somber tone while uttering the word, “malignant” shattered her peace. She was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma.

“I felt totally betrayed by my own body,” Wooten said. “There were so many unanswered questions–mainly how I was going to be able to work and continue to provide for my family?”

Working as a chef, she already knew what the long hours of standing and constantly moving around could do to the body. But the addition of a daunting illness on top of that made her think about what the future held for her.

Kiana Wooten gives a radiant smile as she poses for a picture. Wooten

Finding the light at the end of the tunnel

Wooten’s battle with cancer took an unforeseen turn while she embarked on a treatment regimen just when the world started grappling with the coronavirus disease in 2020.

The isolation brought about by the pandemic worsened the emotional toll that the cancer took on her. Unable to have loved ones by her side during chemotherapy sessions, she faced the loneliness and fear head-on.

One of the biggest challenges she had faced was figuring out how to help her five-year-old daughter understand the situation. “I told my daughter that I was going to the doctor and would be right back in a few hours,” she said, “and boy, do I regret saying that. I didn’t see her until two weeks later.”

When Wooten was finally able to come home, her daughter acted very distant towards her. “In her mind, I lied when I said I would only be gone for a few hours,” Wooten said. “Even though it was an innocent notion on my part, my daughter didn’t understand. Having my daughter see me in a negative way really hurt me, and I broke down and cried.”

And so Wooten finally decided it was time to sit down and have one of the toughest conversations she ever had with her daughter. The best way to go about this, she thought, was to be as open as possible about the extreme changes her body would go through because of her illness and, as her daughter put it, the possibility of her “going to heaven.”

“She was very sad, but I knew it was important for us to talk about it, no matter how hard or uncomfortable,” Wooten related. “I wanted to include her.”

Throughout her fight with cancer, Wooten’s daughter provided her the strength to keep going, especially when she needed it the most.

Wooten recounted, “When my hair fell out, she walked over to me, rubbed my head, gave me a kiss, and told me, ‘don’t worry, Mommy, it’s just hair, and it will grow back. You are still beautiful.”

Wooten takes a selfie to document her journey. From the initial discovery of a lump in her breast, she has gone through one challenge after another. Her story of survival didn’t end with her enduring the consequences of her condition, as it progressed into that of mentorship and empowerment.

Cancer, as it turned out, acted as a catalyst to reevaluate her relationships with the people in her life. While some family members became estranged from Wooten, her husband and her mother stepped up to become her dedicated caretakers.

Outside of their home, friends also offered their support — with her neighbor ensuring her well-being and her co-workers raising funds to help with her treatment. All this collective kindness completed the backbone of her emotional sustenance as she trudged through her harrowing journey with breast cancer. Their love, Wooten shared, made her so much stronger than her condition.

“I wasn’t about to drown in my sorrow like I had seen others do,” Wooten added. “I needed to live, not just for myself, but for my daughter especially.”

Every day, Wooten made it a mission to affirm to herself that she was bigger than cancer and that she was more than worthy of having a second chance in life.

“My daughter deserves her mother,” Wooten said. “I deserve to watch my child grow up. My husband and I deserve to grow old together. These are the things that motivate me to keep going.”

Taking on the path to advocacy

After getting a double mastectomy, Wooten’s repeated brush with sepsis because of implants led her to embrace going flat, a choice that has been gaining traction among breast cancer survivors in the last few years.

According to Breastcancer.org, some breast cancer survivors opt to go flat to lower the risk of surgery complications and other health problems.

Because Wooten’s flat journey has served as an eye-opening experience for her, she decided to become an advocate of embracing one’s battle scars and encourage women not to conform to societal norms as to what a real woman should look like.

“I didn’t want to conform to society’s norms as to what a real woman should look like,” Wooten said. “Being flat gave me the courage I needed to want to help others.”

Encouraged by her husband, Wooten held a photoshoot to showcase her battle scars and to immortalize her beauty in the most raw and authentic way possible in one frame. 

This, she said, was where it all began — embracing her new normal with fresh eyes that always find her glass to be half full. “There are so many things cancer can take from you,” she quipped. “I was not going to let it defeat or define me.”

When the fight becomes more than a personal journey

Wooten’s mission transcends her own story as she recognizes the need for widespread education about breast cancer in order to dispel misconceptions and encourage early detection.

Her advocacy largely focuses on the importance of regular self-breast exams, family history discussions, and genetic testing. The commitment she has to providing resources and support to underserved communities, particularly BIPOC individuals, has become a driving force in her efforts to change the narrative surrounding cancer.

Wooten shows that there is beauty after surviving breast cancer. Wooten’s journey through breast cancer has been one of heartache, triumph and transformation. Throughout all these, she has found the strength to rebuild her life and it ignited a beacon of light for countless others walking a similar path.

Wooten has also authored a book, “The Breast Decision“, which talks about her breast cancer journey, how the illness changed her life and how it gave her a new positive outlook in life.

Additionally, Wooten’s advocacy efforts further took shape after becoming an integral part of several cancer organizations. In June of this year, she was named as one of the delegates for the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship in Washington, D.C. While there, Wooten and her fellow delegates  sought to propose a new cancer policy called the “Comprehensive Cancer Survivorship Act,” which aims to set new standards that will improve the experience of survivors, their families and their caregivers.

“We went to Capitol Hill and talked to members of Congress about why it would make a huge difference in the lives of people dealing with cancer,” she recalled. “It was such a great experience.”

At present, Wooten is working with the Tigerlily Foundation to educate people on breast cancer awareness in Black, indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC). To celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Wooten was appointed as one of the lead advocates at the Women’s Convention at Edison Convention Center in New Jersey. She also participated in the San Francisco for the Flat Community International Flat Day on October 7, 2023.

It has been two years since Wooten’s original surgery, yet more ailments are still plaguing her body. She is now dealing with osteoporosis, eczema, POTS disease, cognitive issues and alopecia. She will be under hormone therapy for the next five years.

But looking back on her journey, Wooten has decided that this is not something that will bring her down.

“It’s like I traded one ailment for five others,” Wooten said. “It is like a never-ending journey, but I came to fight and win.”

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