My 2nd Act feature essay – Don’t let cancer get the breast of you, by Jean Criss
Don’t Let Cancer Get the BREAST of You! That’s what I say. I didn’t. Hello, my name is Jean Criss. This is my 2nd act! I’m a 9-year BC survivor. Since my diagnosis in July 2007 and
Don’t Let Cancer Get the BREAST of You! That’s what I say. I didn’t.
I’m a 9-year BC survivor. Since my diagnosis in July 2007 and my last surgery in December 2010, that’s when I finally ‘jumped on the road to recovery’ after enduring 13 surgeries over 4 long years, for Stage 0 and Stage 1 bilateral breast cancer. It was crazy.
What I didn’t realize was that my body would reject so much. Initially bi-lateral lumpectomy followed by radiation. Succumbed to bad skin allergies, I had to seek other options. That led to a bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery a few months later. I became one of the few research patients in the U.S. of the now FDA approved gummy bear gel implants.
I had many complications. In fact, I had my breast implants replaced 4X within the first 18 months. It was unheard of!!
- I felt like the ‘Bionic Woman’ – 4 sets of Million dollar boobs.
- I was ‘One in a Million’, they said over and over again. ‘Never happens’ – well it did!
- I later learned that J. Lo’s legs were insured for less than my Ta-Tas! How about that!
I fought MRSA and a series of Breast Cellulitis infections, and then had a Fat Graph for corrective surgery, and finally called it a day. My ‘bff’ all of the sudden became my Infectious Disease Doc! I realized my mind, body and soul needed to heal — I was exhausted and an emotional wreck.
I couldn’t even shut the windows in my home. It took me years of therapy to regain my upper body strength. I lost most of the bicep muscle formation that I had worked so hard to form to wear that darn, beautiful sleeveless wedding dress from years ago. But after cancer, you realize what’s really important and what’s not.
What followed was turmoil: Divorce, corporate unemployment, difficult co-parenting, home theft, you name it. I learned the definition of strength and perseverance.
Who would have thought a successful business woman would be in such a predicament? I know that I didn’t. With no pre-nup, no family nearby and few shoulders to lean on, I put the metal to the pedal and moved forward.
I launched Jean Criss Media over 5 years ago and took my 25+ years in media and hi-tech to build a creative media services business. It’s been a real accomplishment to help local clients and a testament of my stamina.
I self-published 3 stories the first year and a half as a new author, adding humor and illustrations to portray my journeys. I was on a roll! Writing became good therapy after all that I had endured.
Just like when I began my first start-up, Beaded Baubles, LLC – a custom jewelry and accessory business I had for 7 consecutive years while working full-time in cable television.
I worked in media by day and beaded by night. That was my pre-cancer therapy during the pre-divorce days. I learned and adapted to change; I was like a sponge and pushed forward as an entrepreneur. We all have to find our niche and ways to cope in life.
But after I wrote BLISS something happened to me. I knew I could do more! I said to myself. . . ‘Now someone needs to design a better bra for Survivors!’ Well, today that someone is me!
I wore such ugly, utilitarian and uncomfortable bras. As a professional working woman, I designed , a collection of post-surgical bras, camis, hospital gowns, men’s vests and even medical scrubs for our caregivers. I got so creative and applied my sales and marketing experience combined into one and figured out how to launch in the Fashion World.
I want men and women to feel confident and look beautiful or handsome, as it may be, throughout their post-surgical experience. This past Christmas, I received the best present ever. My utility patent got approved, and we’lI will go into manufacturing and production later this year. The collection is revolutionary in design and will be sold thru e-commerce, specialty boutiques, retail and department stores. It’s an exciting time and I am presently seeking funding.
At the same time, I began blogging for leading Intimate Apparel Journals and have a column called #BreastBriefs and write monthly for other industry publications including New Focus Daily launching this April. I write about my experiences, survivor stories, advanced solutions in breast health and wellness and new technologies.
- My kids, now teens — one now in College and one in High School – honor students, both doing remarkably well. They have been my ROCK and reason I do what I do. I love them very much!
- And, my 9-year old dog – a pre-divorce gift that backfired on me. While my puppy stays by my side, the ‘other guy’ got the ‘pink slip’ twice! – pre-cancer and during post-recovery. Cancer brings you resiliency and helps you see life clearer.
After all these and many more horrific experiences, I’ve documented them in NEW short reality stories entitled “From Sour Grapes and Bitter Grapefruit to Sweet Lemonade! How Self-Motivation, Perseverance & Happiness Can Change Your Life!” being self-published later this year. A sample chapter title to share. . . “Breast Revolution – MRSA, Underwire and Nickel Bras”, crazy stories indeed.
My recent focus has been all about breast health and wellness, family and growing my business. It has been well worth it. I’ve been told I am a multi-faceted media-preneur, tenacious and resilient. I am a Survivor! I have found my way.
At 28 years old, my first husband died tragically from an auto accident, another awful life experience. He used to say ‘Stop and smell the roses Jean’. Now I do every chance I get! I buy myself flowers for beauty and joy. Ever since I was a young widow, I’ve learned to appreciate what you have – no matter what life brings your way, you just get up off the mat somehow, each and every day.
Bottom line – I’ve tried to add humor to my life as a way to cope. I try not to miss a beat, and will not let all the DOGMA drag me down, as our fearless leader Steve Jobs used to say – let it go! I have.
I did not let cancer, or anything else for that matter, get the BREAST of me!
Don’t let cancer define you. You can define who and what you are. I am not only a single mother of two wonderful teens, I am now a Fashion Designer, Author, Blogger, Digital Media-preneur, Host of ‘Java with Jean’ Web Series, former Susan G. Komen Board of Trustee, and have held many other leadership positions.
We are all survivors and I wish you all the breast!