If you saw Brandy Reed on the street, there are a lot of things that would stand out--her megawatt smile, her infectious laugh, or her stark, down to earth honesty. She's a wife, a mother, a scientist, and a realtor. She's also a breast cancer survivor.
While many have a connection to someone that has fought this disease, Reed's discovery of her diagnosis was unique. After giving birth to her son, Jaxson, five years ago, Reed returned to work at the Environmental Protection Agency, where she is an environmental protection specialist. She was lucky to have a friend that had also returned to work after birth and coordinated their daily pumping breaks.
"I had noticed some discomfort in my left breast, but I didn't know if it was mastitis or something feeding related. Jax was my first child, so I was still learning. I mentioned it to my friend, and she urged me to see my OB/GYN about it. I figured it would clear up on my its, but she kept pestering me about it, and I finally went," says Reed.
Reed has a family history of cancer, so she had already had a mammogram at the age of 29. Now, after ruling out a clogged duct or mastitis, her doctor sent her for another one at age 31. She was sent immediately to the Breast Center at Saint Luke's on the Plaza. After some unusual imaging, they sent her for ultrasound in her right breast, rather than the left. An ultrasound led to a biopsy.
Which led to a diagnosis. At the age of 31, Reed was diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer. It was localized to the milk ducts in the right breast and spread from the nipple to the armpit. It came as a shock.
"II thought I was too young for this. I led a healthy lifestyle; I had a great pregnancy. No one else in my family had it so young. I was shocked," said Reed.
Because of the wide area that cancer effected, Reed was advised to have a mastectomy. To be proactive, she opted to have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. At that point, chemo hadn't been prescribed. A month after her mastectomy, the doctors had a different idea.
"I was a month out from surgery; it had gone well. Then they tell me that cancer had moved from my milk ducts to the breast tissue and because it moved, now they recommended chemo. I was floored. I thought we were finished with the mastectomy, one and done, and I could move on with my life," says Reed.
She had 16 sessions of chemotherapy, finishing a week before her son's first birthday.
"The vain me was mad. I lost my hair. I had only been married a year and a half. I just had a baby. I was hormonal and vulnerable. But the staff, the nurses, the care team were amazing. I didn't get sick. And when we finished, we had a huge birthday celebration for Jaxson's birthday," says Reed.
After her stint in chemo, Reed opted not to get her ovaries removed. Reed yearned for a second baby, but husband, Jerron, didn't want to risk it.
"I really wanted to try for a girl, but my cancer was estrogen-driven. Jerron just said, why risk it? And people have suggested a surrogate, but to do that, you have to go through the same hormone surge. So I really struggled with that," says Reed.
"I think back to that: could have had my eggs frozen? But that wasn't my mindset then. The priority was just to get cancer out of my body and move on. There was a lot of information coming at me at one time. I was hormonal. I was freaked out," says Reed.
Now that Jaxson is almost six, she's at peace with the decision. She says he seems pretty happy being in the spotlight.
With a combo of cancer-inhibiting drugs, Reed was put into early menopause. She thought she was out of the woods as her fifth anniversary loomed on the calendar. Then, in November, the other shoe dropped.
"I felt like the people's champ; I beat cancer! But then four and a half years out, I didn't. I was just so angry," she says.
The new diagnoses came after feeling pressure in her chest. She wondered if her implants had flipped the wrong way, so she checked in with her plastic surgeon. After an MRI, they found a tumor on her sternum. Now, her cancer has metastasized; it is now considered bone cancer.
The tumor was small, so she underwent five radiation treatments on two lymph nodes and the tumor itself, which is inoperable. It did shrink, and a scan in February came back clear.
"I think my biggest concern is Jaxson. He's older now. When I was first diagnosed, he was four months old. He didn't have a clue. He knows what's going on now, but he doesn't really know the depth of it. And I haven't really told him. We just try to maintain a normal life," says Reed.
Reed credits her husband for buoying her spirits.
"I feel like I'm the Debbie Downer, and he's the optimist. He's been very positive and supportive throughout," says Reed.
Now, the couple has plans to develop a nonprofit to celebrate survivorship. Kicks for Boobs will eventually be a sneaker ball.
"We love to host parties, and his idea was to have a black-tie gala, but where everyone wears formal wear and their sneakers. So we've been working on that together. It's scheduled for October at the 28 Event Space. We are looking for sponsors for that," she says.
Despite her honesty about feelings of anger and defeat, Reed radiates defiance and tenacity that overwhelms. As she moves past her second diagnosis, she keeps her eye on the prize--celebrating five years cancer-free and seeing her forties with her husband and son.