How many times have you run into something on your body, or in your body that is, that you automatically brushed off as harmless? You assumed that it was just an ordinary bump and that to talk to your doctor about it would be to overreact. For Cashmere Nicole, CEO and founder of the brand Beauty Bakerie Cosmetics, that’s what she initially thought when she ran across a lump in her breast. She was in her late 20s and didn’t want to freak out about something that would likely be nothing. She thought, “Cut it out. It’s not breast cancer.”
“It was barely palpable so you could literally roll your first finger back and forth over your skin and barely detect it,” she told me over the phone. “In that moment it’s just like, it’s so small and insignificant that anything that we typically find in our breasts, we’re probably like, okay, maybe it’s nothing. It could be anything, but not something for me to panic over.”
To her shock though, the lump grew “significantly” in size pretty quickly. It became hard not to notice.
“My bra was no longer sitting on my body the right way,” she said. “I didn’t know that was why. I wasn’t checking in on that lump every month. By the time I noticed it again, it was like literally two inches long and an inch wide. It was pretty big. It was at that point that I decided, okay, I’ll go and get this checked out because it’s not small. It has grown in size and you don’t know how much bigger it’s going to get. I didn’t really even know what it was.”
She went to the doctor and they removed the lump, but that was about it. She was assured that it was nothing to worry about. And while her doctor had the lump tested, she never got to see or hear about the results.
“I wasn’t a big advocate for myself and for my healthcare at the time,” she said. “It was just like, whatever you told me is just whatever I was going to believe.”
It wasn’t until she lived in another state a year and a half later and the lump grew back full size that she went to a new physician. By the time the doctor tested everything, he told her that her previous health provider had seriously dropped the ball because she had cancer. At 27, a mother of a daughter, she was diagnosed with intermediate cancer. She was found to have cancerous floating tumors throughout both breasts. Thankfully, the cancer hadn’t spread to any other part of her body.
Cashmere was initially encouraged to do a lumpectomy, but when her doctor went in to get out a particularly large lump, he found that there were many that could be a big problem.
“He said, ‘Listen, there’s so many of them, and if one wants to be cancerous tomorrow, we just wouldn’t know which one is going to turn cancerous at any given moment. We think it’s best to just do a double mastectomy.'”
Cashmere was worried initially about how her boyfriend would feel about her not having breasts. She also felt sad about not being able to breastfeed in the future if they decided to have children down the line.
“I think those initial fears are something that anyone at that stage in their life — not age but stage — would conclude. They would worry about what it would be like for them in terms of dating,” she said. “What does this look like in terms of being attractive to the opposite sex? And what does this look like if I want to have more children? How does all of this work? When you go through something like that, you need a manual to know how to get through the thoughts that you end up thinking.”
Deciding to go through with the double mastectomy left her in a state of depression that was hard to get out of.
“I’m trying to carry gratitude, but I’m still carrying the reality that there’s been a change and trying to acknowledge that and give that change a space in my life. It was a really conflicting period to go through,” she said. “Again, you want to be thankful for having life, but also you want to acknowledge that something has shifted in a tremendous way. Not having anyone to talk to about those deeper feelings and not really knowing how to express it myself, I internalized it all.”
She only really opened up about her journey with her mom initially. It wasn’t until after she lost her cousin to breast cancer, a 34-year-old mother of two, that she realized how important it is to ask other women the questions she wished she was asked and to help others feel heard and understood. She doesn’t want others to feel like they’re going through everything, including some strong fears, alone.
“I know how lonely it felt,” she said. Cashmere realized she needed “so many things poured into me to give me enough to fight back and to see clearly what I was actually dealing with.”
She now gives that strength and hope to others, and is thankful that her journey has helped her to do that.
“It was lonely but in hindsight I wouldn’t change the past,” she said. “I wouldn’t change the valleys along that path because I think those really really developed my womanhood and they really developed my character and how I could persevere through a lot of challenges.”
Cashmere started Beauty Bakerie in 2011, and as she went through her cancer battle around 2012 and 2013, she found solace in focusing on keeping her business going. She did this even when she was going through the worst of recovery.
“When it’s something you’re passionate about, it’s almost therapeutic. It almost takes your mind off of things, like how your mind is trying to constantly come up with these scenarios,” she said. “It’s up to us to validate those scenarios. So in my mind it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is awful.’ But I don’t have to think about that right now because I’m working on something I enjoy working on.”
Her hard work paid off, as well as sharing her story, because she caught the attention of Beyoncé. According to Cashmere, the superstar saw a video she did about her cancer battle for Indiegogo and had her team reach out for an interview, which was inevitably published on the singer’s website for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 2014.
“Shortly after, she sent flowers and she’s always had my heart since,” she said
Since having her cancerous floating tumors removed and having breast implants put in, Cashmere, now 35, has been doing great. She was told she doesn’t have to go to the doctor for checkups but every three years. Still, she keeps an eye out and “I do what I can on my own” to always understand how her breasts are feeling and be aware of any changes.
She also is big on awareness and encourages women who are going through their own breast cancer battle. She pushes them to have a more balanced diet, to exercise, to meditate, pray, practice mindfulness, and overall, keep light and positive energy in their body and mind at all times in order to heal.
“It’s definitely a tough thing to go through, but always thinking up, and for me, being better and not bitter was one motto that I came up with while I was going through it,” she said. “I felt like it was so easy to be negative, but you have to try to practice focusing on the things that are going right.”