Rich and I got engaged on a bright, sunny day less than two months before my diagnosis.

By Susan, diagnosed at age 33  

May 30, 2015 was one of the best days of my life! My boyfriend, Rich, and I got engaged on a beautiful day at a winery on Long Island. He and I quickly picked a date and a venue and planning was underway. I went wedding dress shopping and found the most beautiful strapless mermaid gown. I spent countless evenings looking up hair styles, theme ideas, bridesmaid dresses and other details I’ve been dreaming about my whole life. It was so exciting, and we were so very happy.

On July 22, 2015, less than two months later, I experienced the opposite end of the emotional spectrum when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through what was supposed to be the happiest time of my life, came this horrible diagnosis that changed my life — our lives. We considered postponing the wedding, moving it up or going down to city hall, but none of that was what we wanted.


I was thankful to have Rich by my side throughout treatment.

The weeks following diagnosis were the hardest: We did fertility preservation. I started treatment with chemotherapy and Lupron. I shaved my head. I was thankful that Rich was so positive and supportive throughout it all. I knew that our love was strong and that our marriage would be easy compared to cancer treatment. I tried to escape into wedding planning, but, at times, it was too much to handle and I would start to cry. I dreamed about going back to a time where my biggest problem was how I would wear my hair. Now, I was faced with not even having hair. I lost my eyebrows, eyelashes and I felt like I was losing my identity.

The wedding was scheduled for July 2016. My chemo treatment lasted through January, and I was to have a double mastectomy in February, with a second surgery scheduled for May. I was happy that everything would be done before my wedding day, and that the wedding would truly be a celebration of life and the new journey that Rich and I were embarking on. It took a long time to get to that point though.

Shopping for a new wedding dress with my mom (left) and Jennifer Finkelstein (right)

In January, I got the call that my wedding dress came in. I was thankful that I had ordered it one size up because I had gained weight from all the medication. I was devastated when I went to try on the dress and it didn’t fit. Over the course of my treatment I also decided I didn’t want to wear a strapless dress since I wasn’t sure how my reconstruction would look, and this was not an area that I was interested in highlighting. It was around this time that a friend told me about 5 Under 40. They bought me a beautiful wig and accompanied me when I went shopping for a new wedding dress.

[/media-credit] July 2, 2016 — Wedding Day! 

On my wedding day, I was probably one of the calmest brides, because I had come to see firsthand that you really can’t sweat the small stuff. I married my best friend, on a beautiful day in July. I am thankful to have been healthy and to have had all my family and friends around to celebrate with me.

I have come to realize that this journey has made me so strong, and that I was — without even realizing it — an inspiration to others. I also found that the most important tool for me was peer support. I felt that no one in my personal life could truly understand how I was feeling. They kept telling me, “focus on the happy stuff, focus on your wedding,” when really what I needed was to process everything that was happening to me — the mixed emotions, the fear of the diagnosis and the uncertainty of the future. Like me, 5 Under 40 founder, Jen Finkelstein had been diagnosed shortly before her wedding, and I don’t know how I would have gotten through this without her support and advice.

It has now been a year since my diagnosis, and I can honestly say that, although it is a journey that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, it has changed my personality and outlook on life for the better.