Closer to the issue

Closer to the issue

Brief bout with breast cancer inspires, motivates Atlanta resident

In April 2013, Atlanta resident Amena Mitchell went from observing an issue at an arm’s length to full immersion—and gained a sense of purpose in the process.

In 2013, Mitchell was attending a vision board party, where people come together and share their goals via visual representations. One person’s vision board may include a new car cut out from a magazine. Another individual may include a physically fit human body to represent his or her goals.

Mitchell’s included a representation for breast cancer advocacy.

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“I had had a couple of girlfriends who had breast cancer so I included advocacy on my vision board,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t know I would be diagnosed.”

Mitchell’s battle with breast cancer began in 2011 when a routine mammogram showed calcification. Her radiologist called it common but insisted it be monitored. Mitchell subsequently had mammograms every six months.

By April 2013, Mitchell said the calcification was showing a difference and a biopsy was performed. She eventually tested positive for breast cancer.

“My initial reaction was crying, of course,” Mitchell said. “The first thing you think about is mortality. We’re all going to die at some point, so you start to think about that. No one prepares you for it, but you just have to go through it.”

Mitchell soon had mastectomy surgery in which one of her breast’s tissue was removed. Weeks of physical therapy soon followed at TurningPoint, a physical therapy office specifically tailored to breast cancer. Mitchell had developed a condition called cording, with which someone loses range of motion due to swollen veins.

Mitchell said the experience was illuminating.

Breast cancer survivor Amena Mitchell now has two brands dedicated to breast cancer advocacy and mammogram awareness.
Breast cancer survivor Amena Mitchell now has two brands dedicated to breast cancer advocacy and mammogram awareness.

“You learn little things along the way,” Mitchell said. “You learn things no one typically shares with you [about breast cancer]. You try to talk to other women and encourage them to talk to you. I like sharing that part—going through a process no one really warns you about.”

Mitchell also said she considers herself quite lucky. Often, sessions of chemotherapy are required to completely eradicate tumors related to breast cancer. Mitchell only required surgery because her tumors were found early in the process.

“Overall, I had a really good experience,” Mitchell said. “I had very good doctors for my surgery and very good doctors for my rehabilitation. I had some very positive people around me all the time so I never had a bad spell. I got my mind right and said, ‘I need to take care of this.’” 

Mitchell said the hardest part of having breast cancer came after the tumor was removed. Her breast had to be reconstructed and a foreign object was inserted to give the appearance of a natural breast. 

“I went through this denial process where I didn’t want to discuss it,” Mitchell said. “I felt like if I talked about it, it may come back. Like talking about it would give it life again.” 

Mitchell’s friends encouraged her to speak to friends for positivity. As she talked about it with different people, Mitchell found a calling—that she was spreading awareness and helping herself at the same time.

She also remembered the vision board party and how she visualized herself advocating for breast cancer.

“I reconciled with myself that this may have been God’s way of putting me closer to the issue if I was going to advocate for it,” she said. “I felt that there may be something to this [and] that I was meant to talk to people about the process.”

Mitchell, a business graduate from Mercer and Kennesaw universities, used the experience to create two brands—Size Doesn’t Matter, Finding the Cure Does and the Million Mammo Movement. 

“For Size Doesn’t Matter, Finding the Cure Does, I thought about the fact that everyone can get this, no matter your size,” Mitchell said. “It’s a fun double entendre, but it really means that no one is exempt from this.”

A similar goal can be found in the Million Mammo Movement.

“I came up with that brand after running into women not getting mammograms,” Mitchell said. “Women were telling me they ‘just don’t want to know’ or just don’t want to go. Early detection is  a game changer—the doctors found mine early enough that I didn’t have to go through chemo. I try to express to people that, if you find out early enough, why not just find out?”

For both brands, Mitchell came up with designs for T-shirts and sells them to raise awareness. The money gained from shirt sales is donated to TurningPoint, the same rehabilitation office Mitchell attended. Funds are used to purchase lymphedema sleeves and help offset the cost for physical therapy sessions.

“If I can help one, I know I’ve made a difference,” Mitchell said. “I’m hoping to have good sales and be able to donate more.”

Mitchell also advocates one-on-one with women to help harbor positivity. She advocates women to get mammograms before they turn 40, which is seen as the standard, and to accept the process even if it requires surgery. 

“Just because you may have to have a mastectomy, it’s not the end of the world—I can still throw on a bikini and look sexy,” Mitchell said. “It’s something we have to deal with and we can survive. You have to reconcile that, in life, things are going to happen. But it’s not about what happens, it’s about how you deal with it. You’re going to have bad days with personal, internal struggles. But you can’t stay there. Know you’ll get through it.”

For more information on Amena Mitchell’s Size Doesn’t Matter, Finding the Cure Does as well as the Million Mammo Movement, visit www.atmitchellgroup.com. 

 

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