005: You’re not Strong because of Cancer, you were Strong all Along

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

Wisdom from The Boobie Queen

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Episode Summary:

In this episode of the Your Killer Life podcast, Tammey talks with Whitney O’Connor. Whitney is a powerhouse of joy and founder of the Boobie Crown Company which she launched while undergoing oncology treatment with a very successful Kickstarter campaign and the intention to bring joy to others going through treatments. Diagnosed just after getting married and just before her 30th birthday, Whitney shares her wisdom when it comes to finding and creating happiness, while also reminding us that we were born with the strength to see this through. Currently undergoing treatment for her recurrence of cancer, Whitney talks with us about how she and her husband, the Boobie King, continue to find love, laughter and strength in one another.

“You know... you're not strong just because you have to go through breast cancer. You are strong to begin with. And we need to remember that. We need to remember that we were Queens from the beginning. We had the tools from the beginning.” -Whitney O'Connor Click to tweet

Topics in this Episode:

  • Newlywed and Newly Diagnosed

  • Family History and Hidden Genes

  • Adapting to New Realities and an Ever-Changing Body

  • Desperately Seeking Data

  • Finding Joy in the Fight

  • Service is a Love Language

  • The Boobie Crown

  • Please Reach Out if You Are Lost

  • Signing Off

Contact Information and Social Links:

Guest Contact Information and Social Links:



Tammey: Hello and welcome to the Your Killer Life podcast. I am your host, Tammey Grable-Woodford, and I am so excited today because I have a very special guest with me, Whitney O'Connor, and Whitney, you are also known as the Boobie Queen, and I cannot wait to share your story with our listeners. So, can you kick us off and tell us a little bit about you?

Whitney: Absolutely. Thank you for having me, Tammey. I'm super pumped to be here and chat with you about all things boobs. So yeah, I am a 33 year old, breast… soon to be two time breast cancer survivor. Um, I'm currently going through my second round of treatment for breast cancer after a reoccurrence. I am also a licensed therapist as well, and do that, uh, as as my job and worked for a crisis hospital and have a little side business, which I will talk about with you guys.

But yeah, in a nutshell, that's a little bit about me.

Tammey: So, as a licensed therapist, I have to ask, do you work with other cancer patients and survivors, or is it outside of that and in something different?

Whitney: It's outside of that and in something different. However, I will say that we get people that come in who are in crisis because they just got bad news from the doctor and they're having a hard time with it. So, and they end up having a mental health crisis because of the news that they heard. So, we do encounter lots of people all ages in the crisis center that are going through some sort of something. So.

Tammey: So, I of course did my homework before we got on the podcast here, and if it's okay, I want to talk a little bit about when you were diagnosed because you are, you know, you're about to go through it… you're a two time survivor.

You're, you're only 33 and I was diagnosed at 43 and I'm older than that now, (both laughing) but you know, I would say both of us were diagnosed pretty young. You definitely very young. And so can you talk to us a little bit about how you discovered, what took you to the doctor and just kind of that, that whole process when you found out that, and you know what was going on in your life when you were diagnosed.

Newlywed and Newly Diagnosed

The Boobie Queen wedding

Whitney: Absolutely. So, a lot was going on in my life actually. I had just gotten married before I found out about breast cancer. So, I got married on New Year’s Eve in 2016 I went in January for my annual exam, and when I went in for my annual exam, my gynecologists uh, was feeling some lumps in my breasts and wanted me to have a mammogram.

And so, I went in to get my mammogram, and then after my mammogram, they put me in this other room. And those of you out there who have been through this, you know about the other room…

Tammey: Oh the other room…

Whitney: …yeah… went into the other room and another doctor came in and said, yeah, we're going to have to do a biopsy.

I didn't know exactly what that meant. I didn't know what was next. I didn't know that process. And I turned 30 the week after that, uh, after I got that news. Turn 30 and the following week I went in for my biopsy.

Now I did a thing that's probably not recommended by most people. Uh, I didn't tell anybody about any of this. I didn't even tell my new husband.

Tammey: Wow.

Whitney: I told my husband about all of this the night before, I went in to get a biopsy and he was like, Whitney, are you kidding me? Like, what are you thinking? Like what? Why didn't you talk to me about this? And all of that. And so I'm just the kind of person I want to know what I'm dealing with before I start breaking everybody's heart.

So, I told him the night before, he was very supportive, very sweet. And, we went in, did my biopsy and got the news the next week or so that it was breast cancer. And not only was it breast cancer, it was Stage 3 breast cancer, and it was recommended that I start moving with treatment immediately. So we had a lot of big decisions to make as a newlywed couple in a short period of time.

So that was a little stressful.

Tammey: Yes!

Whitney: If you can imagine. So, um, yeah, that was the unexpected, newly would gift that we got.

Tammey: So, you were diagnosed uh, stage 3b, and it's interesting you say you don't know what the biopsy and the process, it's very interesting to me, especially now as I'm in more survivor groups.

I'll admit, for me, I was very self-focused my first few years, right? I was researching everything relative to me. And so my diagnosis was infiltrating lobular carcinoma, and I didn't know. And for me, I found out the same day I went for the mammo, and then I got tucked into that little room. Then I went and had an ultrasound and her radiologist said, you've got cancer, you've got a lot of it, and we need to do a biopsy.

And then I got the phone call about mastectomies before I even had my biopsies. So… it's interesting to me, like the… the timing is so different for each of us. And so what type of breast cancer were you diagnosed with? Because I really want to highlight that there are so many, so many people think breast cancer is breast cancer and treatment is treatment.

And I and I did until I was diagnosed with it. So can you talk a little bit about your, your specific um… type of cancer.

Whitney: Yeah, absolutely. So I was diagnosed with HER2 positive. I immediately went into surgery mode when I found out that I had cancer. So… we had a lot of gift cards from our wedding and we went to the store and went and bought a bunch of surgery materials like the wedge and like the pregnancy pillow, you know, all of those different pillows and different things that they recommend you to have. That's what we spent our gift cards on, and we did that immediately. I did research and I was just feeling more and more at ease about it because I could get these things off of me. Right? I could go ahead and get the boobs away from me and I was fine with that.

Well then after, probably after a couple of weeks I found out…

You know what, I keep saying a week, couple of weeks, all of these days blurred together. You know what I mean? Like I'm, I'm, while I'm thinking about it, I'm like, was it two weeks. It was probably two days, but it felt like two weeks…

But anyway, um, my surgeon was like, yeah, we're going to have to do chemotherapy first and then surgery, and that was just like, Oh, really? I have to have these things on me. Like I just want to have the surgery. I want the boobies off. I'm okay with that. Let's just get it going. And I was not happy about having to have to do chemo first.

My father had to go through chemotherapy and my mother and brother and I were great caretakers for him, and that was only two years prior to this diagnosis.

Tammey: Wow.

Family History and Hidden Genes

Whitney: Yeah. So I had my dad who had a brain tumor, chemo, cancer, and passed away. Then two years later, I had to tell my family all over again, “Hey, we gotta do this cancer thing again.”

So I was familiar with what chemo looked like, and I was not looking forward to it. So that was the treatment recommendation, followed by radiation, which I did not do. So those are the things that that were part of my treatment plan.

Tammey: It's interesting, you and I were talking a little bit in the, what I like to call the technical green room, about different treatment options and how everyone takes a different path than even how recommendations are different. And I would say even now that I'm five years from my original diagnosis, it's interesting to see how some things are changing as far as medical recommendations, depending on the type of cancer that you have.

So… but there was a reason that you declined radiation. And was it as much a choice as it was a medical recommendation, or was it both? And do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Whitney: Yes, yes, absolutely. So it was recommended that I not have radiation. And the reason why is because I found out during the beginning of treatment, uh, that I have what's called Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and it is a genetic disorder.

It's extremely rare. Only 400 families are documented to even have this disorder. And basically what it means is my T-cells and my body are not defending my body from cancer. We all have T cells that are constantly being the gatekeepers, so to speak. Well, my gatekeepers were not working, so that's why I got cancer so young, um, at 30.

Having radiation on top of that basically would cause more damage than good for, for me. It would, it would damage more cells, which would create more cancer and leave for meaning.

When you have the TP53 gene, it's known as the cancer gene, which is another thing that I, it took me a long time to fully understand what all of that meant. To really wrap my brain around that.

So the cancer gene, basically, meaning that the odds of me getting cancer over and over again are quite high than the normal person. So people would Li-Fraumeni, have to constantly get scanned. Um, we have to constantly go over labs and blood work and all those fun things with our doctor on a regular basis. Just to make sure that we're on top of it.

So that is why I did not do radiation the first time around when I was, when I was going through this in 2017.

Tammey: So when you went through this in 2017 did you find this out as part of genetic testing, which when I was diagnosed that they didn't even do genetic testing, believe it or not, it was like not even mentioned to me…

Whitney: Oh wow.

Tammey: I know. So I all the time I'm asked if I've had genetic testing and no, they didn't do that. And with was stage 3b. I didn't even do a pet scan. Insurance denied it. So, yeah,

Whitney: What?

Tammey: Seriously, and so, and that's why I'm always so amazed at the difference in the whole process from doctor recommendations to insurance companies to what it is that we do.

But did you find this out, back to you, did you find this out as part of your dad's treatment? Was this something that he had or did you find this out as part of genetic testing from your diagnosis?

Whitney: I found this out through genetic testing, through my diagnosis. Um, the first week it was, so I found out in February, started treatment in March, and they did genetic testing with me in March.

So it was at the beginning of, of my treatment process. We think that my father had it as well. We're not sure, but after lots of digging and researching with family, when we looked at our family tree, we did the ancestry.com thing and we looked at my family history as much as we could to try to figure out where it came from, and we do believe it came from my dad's side.

I just had an uncle that passed away from pancreatic cancer in November in 2019. Now again, not sure if he had it. Not sure. Um, but, uh, yeah, it is something I found out and it's just crazy to me that, that's just not a normal thing for everybody for genetic testing.

And I tell people all the time, you know, if your insurance says it paid for it, save up to take the test. I mean, it's like $400 out of pocket, I think here. So in Georgia. So, you know, make the steps to do it because it is a wealth of information for you and you can make some good, healthy decisions if you just know what you're dealing with.

Tammey: All that information is, and I know for me, when I was first diagnosed, I would cling to… because there's opinion and then there's data. And I lived for pathology reports. I lived for imaging reports. I lived for anything that I could count as quantifiable versus a medical opinion or recommendation. And that being just sort of how my brain tends to work.

And. At some point, maybe I should go do the genetic testing. I don't know. (both laughing) One of these days…

Whitney: Yes! You need to.

Tammey: So tell me a little bit about what was the most difficult part for you as far as being diagnosed and being so young and walking through this. I'm one of those, I don't really like the journey word, but you know, walking down this path of a reclamation of, you know, from diagnosis to getting me some form of reclamation for yourself.

Adapting to New Realities and an Ever-Changing Body

Whitney: Hot flashes. (both laughing)

Okay. Let me explain.

Okay, so you guys, this whole breast cancer thing, you will experience hot flashes. And I thought that this was a myth. I thought my mother was making these things up when she would complain about the temperature all the time and like stripping clothes off. I'm like, what are you doing? And. They are real you guys, and you know, it is, it's a real thing. (both laughing)

But in all seriousness, the main thing I learned about hot flashes is that the, the treatment doesn't end with breast cancer. Once you ring the bell.

We all ring a bell once we finished chemotherapy and whatever the treatment journey or regimen is… looks like for you. We ring a bell and it's very exciting.

But what they didn't tell me was that, my body was going to constantly be trying to adapt to a new way. My hormones are going to be all over the place. I'm going to be different. Whether I like it or not. I'm going to look differently. I'm going to feel differently. So… to be honest, Tammey, for me, the treatment part wasn't as difficult as the aftermath part.

The survivor part.

And you know, having anxiety, having depression and having, having all these mental health issues. And I'm a therapist and I'm pretty, I mean, if you talk to anyone that knows me. They will tell you that I'm a pretty optimistic person and it was difficult. And it is difficult. And so we celebrate and we lift people up once they accomplish their goal of treatment. But what… what people forget is that the journey is not over and it's a constant, constant adaptation. I don't want to say battle because that makes it sound like it's all negative and it's not. But it is a constant, constant thing that we have to figure out as. Breast cancer survivors.

And so I remember I was, uh, getting together with my girlfriends and we had a girls' day and had arranged for, um someone to come and do massages for us and pamper us. And we were trying to just celebrate and all those things. And I went in for my massage and halfway through it we were, she was doing, it was a Thai massage, and she says she was doing some stretches with my hips. And we store energy in our hips, especially as women.

And so when she was doing that, all of a sudden I just had a full blown, like meltdown, but in a good way. I mean, I just cried and cried and cried. And I looked at her, the massage therapist, and I just looked at her, and, I don't know, it wasn’t a fluid thought, but it just came to me. I was like, “Oh my God, I did it. Like I did it!” And it was just this revelation of, wow, I just did something really big and really hard, and it's over now. Whoa.

And so I just didn't realize the - the big accomplishment that I even had until much later, if that makes sense.

Tammey: It does. You know, and each of us can only speak from our own perspective and our own truths, and I have said that for me, I don't feel like I really processed it until I was done thinking and planning because in the midst of the diagnosis and the surgeries and the recoveries, I was so laser focused on what do I need, especially in the beginning, what do I need to know today? What do I need to decide today? And then it was, what do I need to know this week and what do I need to decide this week? And then eventually it was in the next few months.

And then I hit a point and I was like, Whoa, six months, something in six months ahead. And you know, eventually I got to the point of. I'm actually here and I probably will still be here for awhile, because I hadn't accepted that yet.

As I got to the end of that process, I was like, wow, now I can start feeling the things that I didn't, I didn't feel, and I didn't process. And I'll tell you, I, you know, I photographed the whole journey. God only knows why... It's not like I posted the photos all over, but I have photos and some of those photos, Whitney, I look back and I, and I cr.. now, they'll make me cry because I don't know how on earth I survived that. How I endured that.

And I have sort of changed my language a little bit. I'm not shy about saying it is a breast amputation, like don't church it up. It is an amputation. And it is brutal and it is violent in what it looks like. And in that process, and until you know you're, you're sort of… until it's you going through it, right? You just sort of accept the… oh yeah, well, if you get breast cancer, it's okay. There's typically, you know, the outcomes are really good and you “just have a mastectomy and chemotherapy, and that's just it. Badabing, badaboom, and you're better!” and no, it's not. That’s not the case.

Desperately Seeking Data

Whitney: Yeah. Well you and I have a lot of similarities then cause that was the same way I was… we were in full blown. Okay, “What's the plan? What does the research say? You know, what do the professionals say? Why does this professional differ from this one? What's the best preventative measure for this?” And that kind of thing. And so it wasn't until afterwards where I just was like, “Whoa, I just did this really big thing.”

I think a lot of me keeping it together had to do with, uh, my family as well. Like we had just gone through this whole cancer thing with my dad, literally. And caretaking is not easy. It's, it is, it is taxing is tiresome. And not to mention you're watching someone that you love and care about kind of wither away, and you're trying to be joyful and make the best of it and, and all these things. And it's just a lot.

And so being a caretaker and a patient, as the patient, I stuffed probably more than I should have. Um, I didn't want my new husband, first of all, to regret marrying me, (both laughing) and I didn't want my mother to go through this whole taxing process again with her daughter. And so there was a lot of that going on. And so I, I really, you know. Had to suck it up, buttercup kind of attitude and just did it and it was hard and difficult.

Looking back, doing it again. It's a different process, which we've been talking about in a minute, but yeah, so, so going through all of that and just trying to keep a straight face was, was interesting.

Tammey: Yeah. I think you are compelled to be strong for everybody else, and it's a weird, and maybe even for yourself, I say that, you know for me in particular anyway, you know, the five stages of grief, it was like a ping pong ball at a high velocity because you think you have just gotten through one aspect of it and you get new news, new information, new whatever treatment option, whatever it is, you now have a new thing to deny or grieve or get angry about as you are just constantly bombarded.

So talk to us about the second diagnosis and sort of how that came about, if, if you knew or if that was part of your scans and how you process that, how you, I love how you guys tackle this together.

So for our listeners, I just want you to know that after this bit we are going to talk about joy because Whitney is one of the most joyful giving people. She's so amazing. And so there's so much good in this. But do tell us about that second time around because were you two years ago? Or like a year and a half out and diagnosed again or…

Whitney: Yeah, so that was a lovely Christmas present…

Tammey: Man…

Whitney: I, as a way, well, I have to do scans, like I mentioned before, because of the Li-Fraumeni disorder, and so I was going in for my annual scan, which was in December. And got the news aft.. probably about three or four days after my scan that they had found two spots, one behind my left breast, which is where the cancer was the first time and one spot in my collarbone on the right side. And so, uh, that was just very devastating.

But also super annoying, just to be honest. Like you know, it was just so annoying like I just wanted to be like, listen, could you have not given me like five years? I mean, give me five years before reoccurance, why just two? I just, you know, got the Boobie Queen Company off the ground, you know, and, and, and working through that. And so, anyway, it was just super annoying and devastating.

So, we immediately, again, you know, went into full blown treatment mode, doing all the research, figuring out all the things. I got a, an opinion by my doctor and we actually wanted a second opinion. My doctor encouraged us to get a second opinion. We flew from Georgia to Sloan Kettering in New York and met with their specialists there.

We met with an oncologist, a surgeon, and a radiologist, and it was recommended that I go through chemotherapy again. It was recommended that I have surgery to remove the tissue, uh, where the tumor was once the chemotherapy was, was completed. And then it was recommended for me to do proton therapy, which is a type of radiation, but it's not as dangerous to my body as regular radiation.

So that was recommended for me. And, and plea it also, this was all stage one. So for a normal person, probably surgery. Maybe some radiation would suffice, but for me, since I'm so special, I get to do the whole daggone thing again. So, um, you guys can't see me at home, but I am freshly bald and it is shining in the sun, um, nice and glistening. So, yeah, here we are.

Tammey: You know what though? I always thank Sinead O'Connor for making that, uh, an actual look. (both laughing)

So talk to me about finding joy, because this is, this is so heavy and it can be so dark and it's so hard sometimes to lift yourself up out of that and not get stuck and let your brain race ahead with all of the, what abouts. Right? And even after, like, I'll tell you, I joke all the time, “Oh, it's gotta be a cancer cavity.” and it's not really a joke. I'm like, “Oh no, that's gotta be a cancer mole.” Right? I just always have that fear… that I got a weird itch on my arm… it's so, you know...

Whitney: Yeees….

Finding joy in the fight

Tammey: It's always there. But talk to us about how you find joy, how your husband, because this is, this is a success story that so many women I think need to hear. That… that you had a person who stepped in and was caregiver and, and you