Survivor Spectrum: Meet Samantha Paige
SO EXCITED to continue my "Survivor Spectrum" series! (As a young breast cancer survivor, I rarely saw anyone that looked like me in chemo rooms or support groups. Usually the only one without grey hair, I rarely see young survivors represented within the cancer community, and I can't wait to share our inspiring stories here!)
Thank you so much to my AMAZING creative cancer survivor sister, Samantha Paige, for sharing her incredibly INSPIRING story as my next guest! Constantly in awe of how openly honest she is about her years-long journey — including her brave, personal decision to “explant” — she embodies how cancer survivorship is about the WHOLE WOMAN…not just the sum of her parts.
Samantha Paige — creator of Last Cut Project, Last Cut Conversations podcast and the upcoming LAST CUT book — is a beautiful thyroid cancer survivor who also tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. After undergoing a preventative double mastectomy, she immediately had reconstructive surgery...but the implants never felt quite right.
After learning of the link between implants and certain health problems, she decided to have them removed. She then participated in Equinox’s “Commit to Something” campaign and hoped to inspire others through the images by showing her self-confidence — scars and all.
According to Samantha, “Last Cut Project is a multi-media documentary project about those big life decisions (last cuts) made to bring us closer to living a life that feels like our own.
After feeling like a stranger in my own life for far too long, I now constantly reflect on the powerful question, ‘How do I create a life that feels like mine?’”
Thank you so much for speaking with us! First, where can we find you online?
What was your diagnosis and at what age?
I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 21, right before my senior year of college. I was then diagnosed with the BRCA1 genetic mutation in my late twenties.
What was your course of treatment?
I had a full thyroidectomy and two rounds of radiation the year after that diagnosis. Later, I had a preventive double mastectomy and reconstruction at age 32 to mitigate risk of breast cancer. I also had a full hysterectomy at age 36.
Eight years after my preventive double mastectomy and reconstruction, I had an explant surgery and embraced my flat chest.
What was your (professional) life like before diagnosis?
Before my thyroid cancer diagnosis, I was loving life and stepping into my independence and identity shortly after my 21st birthday. I felt healthy and well. I had just returned from studying abroad in Italy.
The cancer diagnosis came as a complete shock. I was a happy, thriving student and was taken aback when my gynecologist found a lump in my neck during a routine examination. After the experience with thyroid cancer, I was less surprised when I received the BRCA1 genetic mutation diagnosis.
I went through a period of expecting the worst. I had spent much of my twenties dealing with PTSD, depression and anxiety after the trauma of cancer at age 21. I lived with a lot of anxiety around hospitals, doctor's visits, medical testing and my health and well-being in general.
How has your (professional) life changed AFTER cancer?
After thyroid cancer, I managed to pick back up with a normal rhythm of life for a few years. I moved to Italy for a job at an international school and then three years later went to graduate school for international relations.
However, there began to be signs that all of my productive action out in the world was not a clear reflection of what was happening within me. I found myself up late most nights with a lot of fear and anxiety. During graduate school, I began to have horrible panic attacks. I could not sit in a room without being close to the door and suffered greatly every time I was in a car, plane or other closed space.
Then, I started to have migraine headaches that were so frequent that I eventually had to go on disability from my post-graduate school job at an economics think tank. I kept trying to run from all the unprocessed emotions from cancer, but eventually it all caught up with me.
After my preventive double mastectomy, I was finally ready to seek help for the PTSD and called my internist to ask for a referral for therapy. I no longer wanted to run from the emotions I had not yet been able to face.
From there, I began to process the untouched pain that was affecting my life in so many other ways. Life started to open up, as I slowly but steadily sat with my hurt and trauma.
Eventually, I made my life's work all about a conversation around truth and the choices we make to line up our inner and outer worlds. Last Cut Project is all about asking ourselves the tough questions, listening to the answers and taking action to live a life that feels like our own.
There is great freedom in living by our own personal truth. It is a process that requires sitting with the pretty and the painful.
What's your best advice for someone who is newly diagnosed?
Take the time to feel all the feelings that come up for you. As humans, we are full spectrum beings, and we do ourselves a disservice by ignoring the breadth of emotions that we experience, especially with trauma. I believe it is important to allow for all the emotions to flow through us and to not edit ourselves because we fear how challenging what we are feeling might be for others.
Feel it all.
You will heal with greater ease and grace in the long run.
What cancer resources do you recommend?
My resource is less a website or a book but a recommendation about time. I would recommend taking the time to think of all your questions and seeking answers before you make big decisions.
When we are diagnosed, it feels as if we must make every decision with great haste. Sometimes this is true for our safety, but often we do have time to ask the questions, take a breath and get clear on the right path forward for each of us.
What resources are missing that you would like to see?
I would like to see more inclusive information provided to patients about choices, especially in the breast cancer and surgery realm.
I wish I had been presented with more unbiased information about my options for reconstruction, or no reconstruction, and about the risks inherent in some societally accepted choices. We all should have full information about our choices.
Who inspires you?
What are five fun facts that we may not know about you?
I speak fluent Italian.
I used to own a jewelry company.
I have a 12-year old daughter.
I love to dance.
I still love to write handwritten letters.
Watch The Nightside, a short film to empower and educate on the BRCA gene mutation, which predisposes women to a significantly increased risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer, featuring Samantha, directed & produced by Sophie Hexter and raising funds for thewinterball.org.
Pre-order her book, LAST CUT by Samantha Paige — as a thank you, she is offering 10% off with the code “LCP10” at checkout until September 1.