For Hil Moss, one of the most challenging aspects about having breast cancer has been the "after." Something so many of us don't think about or fully understand until we're there. "Navigating life post-treatment and learning to live with the uncertainty we hold after experiencing a severe illness," is really terrifying, she said. Despite having cancer, Hil's life has become incredibly full and looks nothing like she thought it would five years prior. "Hil 2.0" (she has that tattooed on her ankle) is here! Cancer opened her eyes to how much work needs to be done in order to improve outcomes and patient experience, leading her to change her career from the art world to healthcare. To read more about her diagnosis, course of treatment, what she's most proud of along her cancer journey and more, see our latest In Her Words below.
Name: Hil Moss
Location: New Haven, Connecticut
Current Health Status: Two years out from active treatment
Tell us about yourself.
Hi! My name is Hil, and I’m a 31-year-old breast cancer survivor. I’m originally from the Boston area, and am now a graduate student in business and public health (MBA/MPH) at Yale in New Haven, CT. I spent many years working in arts and culture, but decided to pivot after my diagnosis and work in the healthcare space. I love musical comedy and playing with my dog, Levi.
When were you diagnosed with cancer?
I was diagnosed at age 28. We had no family history, and to be honest, I felt as healthy as I ever had. I found the lump while I was lying in bed on a hot summer evening watching Love Island (no shame) – and I had no idea how drastically and quickly my life was about to change.
What were your first thoughts when you were diagnosed?
People are usually surprised when they hear this, but my very first – and very fleeting – thought was that I was relieved. I had always worried that something would happen to my loved ones – and when I realized the bad thing was happening to *me*, I had a momentary feeling of gratitude. But, of course, that didn’t last long: I basically alternated between blacking out entirely and having a million thoughts occupying my mind at once.
How did your friends and family take the news?
They were amazing and jumped into action immediately. My parents drove six hours in a horrific tropical storm to be with me, and a friend was on the train from NYC within minutes of me telling her about my diagnosis. I’m still so grateful for how those first few hours went down and the amazing support that I had.
Describe your treatment and how you arrived at that course of action.
I underwent twelve rounds of Taxol chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, DIEP flap reconstruction, and many months’ worth of Perjeta, Herceptin, and TMDI therapies. And I’m still on Tamoxifen hormone therapy. All planning was done in tandem with my medical team, keeping in mind the nature of my tumor as well as my risk profile (we discovered a mutation in my ATM gene).
Were you able to work through treatment?
I was on leave from school while I underwent treatment, though I did start up again in the final months of my treatment.
Where and how have you found the best care?
I was so lucky to be treated by the amazing team at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. I’m grateful to them every day!
Have you received any additional support or alternative therapies? If so, what kind, and have they been they beneficial?
One of the most crucial sources of support that I’ve had is therapy. I was warned early on by fellow survivors that while cancer is a physical disease, I needed to prepare for the mental health impacts. And having a therapist who understands the unique needs of survivors is absolutely crucial.
What or who have been your biggest supports? Who makes up your cancer tribe?
My parents, Frank and Kim, were my incredible caregivers, and friends from all different stages of life would come visit me for key milestones such as chemo and my “Ta-Ta to the Tatas” party. I have to say, though, that I never could have anticipated the incredible cancer tribe I would discover through social media – they have been there every step of the way and finding that community has been such a gift.
What has been one of the most challenging aspects of the experience for you?
I think one of the most challenging parts has been the “after” – navigating life post-treatment and learning to live with the uncertainty we hold after experiencing a severe illness.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you were diagnosed?
I wish I’d known that as terrifying as the whole ordeal was – and continues to be– my life would become incredibly full as a result. I have met the most incredible individuals in the cancer community and found an entirely new career path. My life looks nothing like I thought it would five years ago. And it’s really exciting.
Is there a particular mantra or inspiration that helps you?
I love following different tags on Instagram, like #cancersurvivor or #breasties. Every post I see inspires me, and reminds me of the incredible openness, strength and vulnerability in our community.
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 tell her that everyone’s journey looks different. What one person needs is not the same as what someone else may need – and, quite frankly, what you need at one minute might be different from what you need five hours later. There is no “right” way to live through cancer.
What are you most proud of in your cancer journey?
I’m proud of myself for learning to love my scars. I used to fear looking in the mirror and seeing how much my body had changed. Now I look at myself and smile.
How has cancer affected your outlook on life? On illness?
While I had a rough understanding of the challenges facing our healthcare system, particularly here in the US, cancer completely opened my eyes to how much work is still to be done to improve outcomes and patient experience. We have to address disparities head on and fundamentally rethink the way that we deliver care. It’s going to be hard. But we have to fight for it.
How have you changed?
I like to think of myself as “Hil 2.0” (I actually have a tattoo on my ankle that says that). I’m both a changed person and exactly who I was before cancer. Same me, but new outlook on life.