In honor of the My 2nd Act Stage show coming to Birmingham on November 6th, we are chatting with Scarlett Bradford, cast member and producer. NOU Magazine’s Cindy Chafin interviews Scarlett as she prepares to bring a 2nd Act to the stage of Birmingham.
NOU: Scarlett, tell us a little bit about your life right before your cancer diagnosis, and how your diagnosis came about.
SB: I was 34 at diagnosis and was employed by Regions Bank as a Regional Operations Manager supporting 13 branches in the Hoover/Shelby County area of Greater Birmingham.
Since 2006, I had participated the Komen Race for the Cure almost every year. In 2011, I decided to captain a team for the first time in support of a high school teacher who was a new survivor. We had a great turn out for the team and made amazing memories celebrating with her. We excitedly made plans to outdo ourselves the next year by participating in the Komen 3-Day – 60 miles over three days while raising at least $2,300 each to defeat this terrible disease.
I had picked up a brochure at the Race for the Cure that year and took the time to read it because I had noticed a pain in my right breast that didn’t go away. The brochure suggested I visit the doctor for such pain. My general practitioner felt the painful lump but didn’t believe it was anything to worry about. She attempted a needle aspiration in her office and sent me for a baseline mammogram so we’d have it for the future. Long story short, two more biopsies followed before it was confirmed two months later that a small tumor was hiding behind the painful lump which had prompted my doctor visit. That pain and the brochure from Komen probably saved my life since who knows when I would have noticed the tumor which was located far back in my large breast near my chest wall.
NOU: What are some of the unique challenges your diagnosis brought to your life and how those challenges brought personal inspiration to your NOU life after cancer?
SB: During my treatment, I had very limited family support. My brother lives in Arizona. My father lived two hours away and was unable to drive because he was legally blind from birth. I drove myself to almost all my chemo treatments and doctor appointments and took care of myself throughout. I had some wonderful friends who accompanied me to the visits when I was not allowed to drive myself, but most of the daily management of the treatment regime was done alone. I worked throughout my illness. While I took some half days on treatment days, I only exceeded my allotted sick and vacation time for full days off by one day. Due to these challenges, my faith increased, both faith in God and faith in myself – that I could endure, with His help, whatever came my way. I did my best to maintain a positive attitude and sense of humor and to never ask why. I chose to celebrate each step of the journey with events such as a Ta Ta to the Ta Tas party, a Mohawk party when my hair was on its way out, a blue wig worn to my last day of chemo. I have always been an experience junkie, and the great thing about cancer treatment is there is absolutely no shortage on new experiences. I approached each with curiosity, and I think that mindset was paramount in the ease with which I tolerated treatment. I experienced almost no negative side effects of chemo and very little pain following my bilateral mastectomy and the reconstruction process.
NOU: Tell us about the 3-day walk you are about to do with Komen. What is all of that about? And is it really THREE days?!?
SB: The 3-Day is the boldest fundraising event of its kind. Participants are asked to achieve a minimum fundraising goal which is challenging and prepare for the physical challenge of walking 20 miles a day for three days. Yes, it is three days. 60 miles. We’ll sleep each night in sleeping bags in a pink tent city and awake to tackle another 20 miles. Through the support of over 100 amazing individuals, both myself and my teammate achieved our fundraising goal, and we are ready to walk this weekend. This walk is so important to me because the dream of it was first formed at the same time as I was diagnosed. I wanted to do it with my teacher to celebrate her survivorship and raise funds to end this disease, but it became so much more personal. It is a promise I made to myself, and I can’t wait to honor that commitment. I should also mention that when I started this journey this year, I weighed over 300 pounds and could barely walk up the stairs so the physical challenge alone is noteworthy for me. I’ve lost close to 70 pounds and can tackle stairs without a fainting sofa.
NOU: Scarlett, someone reading this will no doubt be inspired by your story and encouraged to make some much needed 2nd Act changes in their life. What advice can you offer them?
SB: Be gentle with yourself. Take care of yourself during treatment and forgive your human imperfections. Don’t try to be a superhero. There is no prize for doing it all yourself. I think traveling that path of trying to do it all helped me get through treatment because it gave me a focus and a mission, but it extended the time it took me to bounce back to “normal” by an unknown amount of time and increased the overall emotional toll the year of treatment took on me.
After cancer turns your life upside down, it is easy to fall into a trap of trying to do something BIG for your 2nd Act to ensure your life has meaning since you have so recently dealt with your own mortality. Our society rewards those urges, too, so it is very hard to maintain the balance and clarity that the Big C brought to your life once you re-enter the mundane of post-treatment daily life. My challenges in those areas led me through some times of crippling social anxiety as I worked through the emotions related to the trauma of diagnosis and treatment. Mother Theresa, now St. Theresa, said, “Do small things with great love.” Celebrate small victories and commit to small acts of kindness. Those things add up to some amazing 2nd Acts! Once I backed off from pressuring myself, I found that I could make a positive impact through programs like My 2nd Act, Komen and other volunteer commitments I have made.
NOU: How has being involved in organizations that focus on cancer research and support been helpful to you in your recovery?
SB: The external focus has helped me to get outside of the social anxiety I mentioned and to interact with others who have been impacted by breast cancer in ways that inspire and invigorate me. Being with other survivors helps assure me that some of the feelings and changes I have experienced are normal, a new normal, but one that is common to survivor sisters. I got a lot of gifts from cancer and have framed it as a positive experience in my life. But it is not an experience I would have chosen (I’d have rather taken a trip across Europe to experience personal growth). I think Komen and other organizations that are meaningful to me such as the Women’s Survivors Alliance are impacting cancer treatment and survivorship issues in a positive way. I hope the efforts I make in support of these groups will be a part of the ultimate cure for this terrible disease. I want to live in a world where breast cancer is as rare as polio has become.
NOU: What’s next for you?
SB: After dreaming it five years ago, I’m finally fulfilling my commitment to myself and Komen by walking the 3-Day next weekend.
We are in full swing with promoting the Birmingham production of My 2nd Act so I’m looking forward to continued involvement with that leading up to the show on November 6.
I recently began volunteering at Community Grief Support Services for its Loss of Parent, Grandparent, Sibling Support group. I hope to continue working with the group facilitator to receive the training I need to facilitate future groups. I am also working with a friend who is starting a foundation for healing through the written word. We have collaborated on Write to Heal workshops for various groups. Ultimately, I hope to use the skills I learn through this volunteer work to design retreats and workshops to provide emotional support for cancer patients and survivors as a personal mission which is meaningful to me outside of my “day job.”
NOU: Thank you, Scarlett for being such an inspiration to survivors everywhere, and for allowing us to share more about your journey with our NOU readers!