In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we sat down with HYLETE's very own Graphic Designer, Maren Reiter, and asked her to share her breast cancer survival story with the HYLETE community. Here is what she had to say. 

When did you find out that you were diagnosed with breast cancer? What was your diagnosis?

I woke up one morning and my chest was super hard, and I thought it was just from me working out a little too hard or something, but I went into the mirror and took my shirt off, and I lifted my arm up. My nipple just pointed straight down and there was this huge bump on my left side of my breast. So, I hopped in the shower really quick, and then I took a really hot shower thinking it would just relax. Then I called my mom, and then she told me to make an appointment. I made them see me the next day. My doctor said that sometimes when you drink too much coffee, which I do, you get lumps in your breast, just heavily dense tissue in your breast, so she sent me to a specialist. 

The specialist could feel the large apricot shaped lump in my breast. It was 3.5 centimeters wide, and then she said I had lumps in my underarm too, on top of that. They made an appointment for a couple of days later for a mammogram, and the mammogram quickly turned into a biopsy, which turned into another mammogram. It just turned into a lot, which is really scary when you have no idea what's happening to you. I was shaking. It was awful. And then, I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer that had already invaded my lymph nodes. I was at stage three right away. They didn't ever talk about the stages, but you're in stage three when it's invasive, and in other parts of your body, and your tissues. Triple Negative is the most aggressive. And it probably just happened within a month or two. 

What did you do first when you found out? 

I got off work. Actually, my coworker Angie was driving me home from work. I got the phone call in her car, and I think I just started crying. And I started shaking. I called my mom. I didn't even know what to ask, because I never really had to deal with any of that before.

Did they give you any next step instructions, or what did they tell you on the phone after they let you know?

I think they just told me that someone was going to call me with what happens next. I had to wait. There's a lot of waiting involved in being diagnosed with anything. There's a facilitator, and then a case worker, and then there's a doctor, and then there's two other doctors. And then there's scans, and it's just a lot to wait for. I think it took an entire month to actually start getting treatment for my diagnosis. And that's scary, right? Because you're waiting. And you've been told you have some sort of weird aggressive breast cancer, or cancer just in general and you're waiting an entire month to get help. I think they scheduled my treatment for Christmas. Which is so weird. Beginning to middle of November Of 2018. And then I had my first chemo right around Christmas Day. Then, it was every Thursday for five months. I think the month of May I had every other week. Then, I had a month off, then I had surgery.

How long was chemotherapy given?

Five months for me. And then I had a double mastectomy, followed by 25 rounds of radiation. And then my liver was really unhappy, and I had three months of steroids. I had to wait three months to have a consultation for maybe reconstructing my breasts. Then COVID happened. This has been the longest process of my entire life, and patience is… it's hard.

Did you have any other challenges with any of your treatments?

My thyroid slowed down. I think it's from the chemo. That happened in the last month. My regiment was the easy part of chemo and then the last couple months, they called it the red devil. And that was instead of every week, it was every two weeks, so I had a week to recover from chemo. I didn't get too sick, though, honestly. Just tired. And then my thyroid took a hit.

Did you change your diet or exercise routine?

Oh, yeah, I did. Basically through the entire thing, I changed my diet. I stopped eating meat, except for... I feel like on chemo days I ate whatever the fuck I wanted to as a treat, but I started taking chlorophyll and putting green shit in my drinks and drinking green smoothies and juices, and just doing a lot more green plants. So, I did change that, and I was doing yoga every day.

How long has it been since your surgery?

A year and four months.

What have you done to stay positive?

I think it was just hot yoga and drawing my feelings with my charcoals.

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Is there anything you're doing now to help boost recovery?

Still doing CBD. Still trying to maintain a green diet. I've gained a bit of weight back. That's because I'm healthy. I try to run too. I have lymphedema in my arm, and I'm not really supposed to get too hot. Not really supposed to lift a whole lot on that arm either, but... that's it.

What would you tell somebody who's just starting on their journey or just received their diagnosis?

I have a friend that has the diagnosis of liver cancer, and she just had surgery, and I just tell her whatever she needs, I've got her back, you've got this. I don't know, I'm constantly talking to her, like, what discoveries have you made, this is how I felt here, and so on. I ask questions like, when is your first day? Do you need a ride? Just show support.

If I don't talk to her for a couple days, I'll just send her a little heart emoji. I think the hardest thing through the whole process for me, and I didn't have to do it through COVID, is that I lost some friends, but I also gained some friends, new people that were constantly sending me their love. I needed that!

There are people I really don't even talk to now, who I used to hang out with and talk to all the time.

Who has been your biggest supporter?

My dog, Sugar and my mom. I moved in with her because I needed someone to be by my side.

How can women battling breast cancer advocate for themselves?

I think,  just demand. I think you need to be your own advocate and start demanding things. If you think you feel something, go in. Demand it!

You created the artwork for HYLETE's new Breast Cancer Awareness Tee and Cropped Tank. What was your inspiration there?

We all have different types of breasts, and all our breasts have their own stories to tell. No one's the same. Everyone is different. ""You've got this,"" I thought that was such an empowering message. It's scary, but you get through it. You move on. You live your life. If you donate to the research, maybe there could be an end to all of it at some point, and then women don't have to worry about it.