Anna Crollman is a beauty enthusiast, style fanatic, lover of all things pink, coffee queen, infertility warrior, self-love crusader and breast cancer thriver and advocate. By day, she's a government employee, and on nights and weekends, she runs an incredible lifestyle brand and blog called My Cancer Chic (while also spending time with her husband of 11 years and 2.5 year old son). How does she do it all? Great question, as we definitely think she's a superwoman!
Being diagnosed with breast cancer in her mid-twenties changed the way Anna envisioned her future and pointed her in a new direction that ultimately led her to her true passion - inspiring other women facing adversity to thrive with strength, confidence and style. To get to know Anna, learn more about her cancer journey and understand how it impacted her outlook on life, read our latest, supremely poignant In Her Words.
Name: Anna Crollman
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Current Health Status: Cancer Free
When were you diagnosed with cancer?
At 27 years old, I was a newlywed planning for a family when I found a lump in my breast. Within a matter of weeks, I was diagnosed with Stage 2B aggressive triple positive breast cancer. At the time, I wasn’t aware of any family history, though I later learned my grandmother had breast cancer in her late 60s. I would go on to find out that I had no genetic mutations to “explain” the cancer, and to this day, I am baffled by a cancer diagnosis hitting me when I was in the best shape and healthiest I had ever been.
What were your first thoughts when you were diagnosed?
My first thought after hearing the words “you’re not going to like this, but you have cancer” was am I going to die? As a young person, I didn't know anyone my age that had cancer, and I associated cancer with a death sentence. Once I learned that my cancer, while terrifying, was not an automatic death sentence, my fears shifted to losing my hair, going bankrupt with the expense of treatment and whether or not I would ever be able to have the children I dreamed of.
How did your friends and family take the news?
I was out of the country in Mexico when I received the dreaded call, and having to call my husband and mom to share the news was all a blur. I remember dialing and reciting facts and crying, sitting on a bench in a bathing suit as vacationers walked by as a sea of faces. My family and husband were immensely supportive and did everything they could to help me from afar while I finished the vacation with my girlfriends.
Describe your treatment and how you arrived at that course of action.
Since my tumor was very large and fertility was a priority for me, I decided with my care team to start with a mastectomy to quickly remove the tumor. That would give me time for IVF fertility preservation before beginning chemotherapy and 5 years of hormone blocking therapy.
Were you able to work through treatment?
I was lucky enough to work for a very understanding and flexible employer. I was able to work from home following my surgeries and then, return to the office during chemotherapy. I would usually take off 1-2 days on chemotherapy weeks to recuperate.
Where and how have you found the best care?
At the time I was diagnosed, I was working in a medical setting and was so grateful to have amazing care right across the street from my office. I also had colleagues closely connected to top surgeons and thus, was able to get multiple opinions and select a care team that was most aligned with my values and desires.
Have you received any additional support or alternative therapies? If so, what kind, and have they been they beneficial?
During treatment and in survivorship, I received wonderful support and alternative therapies from local non-profits, the cancer support center and amazing online resources such as LBBC, Young Survivor Coalition and Lacuna Loft.
What or who have been your biggest supports? Who makes up your cancer tribe?
My husband has been my #1 supporter. Even before I found my tribe in the breast cancer community online, he supported me in my challenges, helping me grieve and also grow through the many stages of trauma and healing.
What has been one of the most challenging aspects of the experience for you?
The most challenging aspect of a cancer diagnosis is its long-term impact. Once diagnosed with cancer, your history of cancer never goes away. Even once the active treatment is over, your emotional and physical scars never leave completely. It’s the gift that no one wants and that keeps on giving. Over time, the challenges change, but the experience sticks with you forever.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you were diagnosed?
I wish I knew there was such an amazing community of breast cancer thrivers. It took me a long time to find my people, the women that get it and would go on to support me through the highs and lows of my pain and healing to this point. Now, I have immense gratitude for my blog and social media community that continues to grow and strengthen over time.
Is there a particular mantra or inspiration that helps you?
You are stronger than you know. It is cliché, but when you go through a cancer diagnosis, you are forced to learn this lesson. You are forced into survival mode, and it’s not an option whether you can be strong. You take it one day at a time, and when you look back, it is only then that you realize how strong and resilient you are.
If you could offer a woman, who has been newly diagnosed, some words of wisdom for her journey, what would you tell her?
I would say that cancer may try to knock you down, but you are resilient. You will pause and face this temporary season with strength and grief and pain, but you will come out on the other side. You will find sunshine again! There is hope and joy and dreams beyond this! You are not alone!
What are you most proud of in your cancer journey?
I am most proud of my ability to take my pain, share my vulnerability to the world and help other women.
How has breast cancer affected your outlook on life? On illness? How have you changed?
Cancer temporarily destroyed my plans for the future, but it helped me find new direction in life. My diagnosis forced me to confront my insecurities and fears to heal myself mentally, and through medical treatment. I am now immensely proud of the woman that I have become and how I use my experience and passion to inspire other women facing adversity to thrive with strength, confidence and style. I know there is hope beyond pain, and I can handle anything life throws my way.