Reema Banerjee didn’t have time for cancer. A young professional who speaks several languages and has a passion for music and theater, Reema was busy taking care of her family and working on her own start-up company when, in 2013, she started feeling a little off.
“I knew intuitively that there was something going on inside. Something wasn’t feeling right,” Reema recalls. After discovering a small breast lump, she followed up with her doctor. Although initial tests indicated the lump was benign, Reema pressed her radiologist for a biopsy. The results were swift and surprising: Reema had triple negative breast cancer. She was 34.
Receiving this diagnosis at a young age was devastating. Reema felt especially worried about the impact on her daughter, then only five years old. As treatment began, Reema’s focus was clear: she needed to get well to ensure she would be there for her child. “My work and everything else suddenly took a back seat,” she explains.
During chemotherapy, Reema used creativity and a bit of humor to explain the treatment process to her daughter. “I made up a fun story for my little girl, explaining that mommy got a ‘green virus’ that ate up her hair. I said there was medicine called chemo that would make my hair fall out, but new hair would grow later. My daughter was convinced!”
Though she was able to help her daughter cope, Reema struggled to find the right emotional support for herself. Initially, she searched for other women with triple negative breast cancer who also had young children, but due to her relatively rare diagnosis, she was unable to connect with anyone. Eventually, she found an online support group. While helpful, the group lacked the personalized support she needed.
A mutual friend connected Reema with another woman who had battled cancer when her daughter was in elementary school. “Not an exact match to my situation, but pretty close,” Reema says. Then, at chemotherapy, Reema met a patient who was receiving the same treatment for the same subtype of cancer Reema had, but was slightly further along in her course. Both women became key sources of support for Reema, who feels lucky to count them among her close friends today.
“The Internet is full of scary information, especially when it comes to triple negative breast cancer. So it always helps to talk with people who have been there. Not only online, but preferably over the phone or in person,” Reema notes.
Following her treatment, Reema started a non-profit organization and also volunteered for Susan G. Komen, helping to raise awareness of breast cancer. After coming across a pamphlet about ABCD, Reema was intrigued by the organization’s mission. She soon decided to complete ABCD’s Mentor Training Program. “Having someone who had walked that path and could understand – that was something I’d been looking for when I was diagnosed. Now I wanted to be that person for someone else.”
Five years out from treatment, Reema still battles concerns about recurrence, but she is committed to living her life with optimism. “I decided not to live my life in fear. I enjoy every moment with my daughter and continue to make long-term plans, including living to the ripe old age of 90!”