Look for the small victories in every leg of the journey

At the age of 36, Yolanda was diagnosed with stage II Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) in her left breast. She underwent four rounds of chemotherapy and thirty radiation treatments. At a young age, she understood the value of education and the importance of excelling. In 1997, she graduated from Trinity Christian School and went on to obtain her BS in Business Management from Carlow University in 2008.

For several years, Yolanda has worked for a healthcare company and until 2016, was living a simple life. Yolanda is now cancer-free and encourages all she meets by declaring, “I am a miracle! Despite what it looks like - if I can make it, you can make it! Find what gives you hope.”

What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge was navigating my new normal. I was used to being able to do certain things when I was ready to. Going through life as I pleased, but after active treatment, it taught me to listen more and more to my body and what it needed in the moment.

What are you most grateful for?

What I am most grateful for besides still being here and alive, is my parents, particularly my Mom. I am not married and do not have any children. So my parents and close friends were my support during active treatment. The fact my Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer five months before I was diagnosed, made what my parents did for me that more amazing. Being able to rely on them to be my caregivers through surgery and chemo was huge.

What have you learned that you wish you knew when you were first diagnosed?

What I learned that I wish I knew when I was first diagnosed is once you complete active treatment, your journey with cancer will not be over! In the beginning you are just trying to do all you can to stay alive, so the aftermath really isn’t on you radar. No one prepares you for the rest of your life being a cancer survivor especially if you were diagnosed before 40. The mental, emotional, and physical changes were the hardest of my breast cancer journey. I wish someone would have told me active treatment was really the beginning!

In what ways do you think being a woman of color impacted your breast cancer journey?

I think being a woman of color impacted my breast cancer journey in a couple of ways. The main way is that when I was diagnosed, I didn’t really see women in the waiting rooms for treatment or appointments my hue of color. And to be honest, I was usually the youngest as well. So to be in the back holding/waiting room after a mammogram, biopsy or ultrasound scan, sitting in my pink robe waiting for my results was interesting because there were a lot of older white women looking at me like I didn’t belong there.

How did breast cancer impact your relationships with friends or family?

The sad reality is that everyone can’t handle your diagnosis. I learned that the hard way. People I genuinely loved and cared for fell off the face of the earth. People I thought would be by my side weren’t, but strangely enough, a few I didn’t expect to were there! The way I see it now, three years out from diagnosis, is that who is here is supposed to be here! It is unfortunate that it took me being diagnosed with breast cancer to see who was really in my corner.

In what ways did breast cancer change how you feel about yourself?

Breast cancer has taught me so much about me and everyday I am learning something new. Paramount though was it taught me to be more patient and gentle with myself and value my life more. I used to be so hard on myself for not reaching certain goals and after my breast cancer diagnosis, I realized that me still living was the ultimate goal and just go from there.
If you could make people “aware” of one thing about breast cancer what it be and why?

One thing I would want to make people aware of is that breast cancer is no respecter of persons! It has no preference of race or ethnicity, no preference of gender and surely no preference of age. Being diagnosed as a 36-year-old African American woman opened my eyes to what the stats really are. Since the end of my active treatment one of my advocacy goals is to make more people aware of this.

What are your words to live by?

The words I live by are I am braver because I went through it, I am stronger because I lived through it and now I have to pass it on to someone else!

What advice would you give to a newly diagnosed woman? 

The advice I would give to a newly diagnosed woman is to have hope. It is a daunting place to be in - your first med onco appoint or your first round of chemo/radiation. But look for the small victories in every leg of the journey – every time you finish a chemo treatment or radiation round. You have made it further than you thought you ever could!


Meet the Breast Cancer Baddie

Yolanda J. Murphy was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. As a young African American woman, she thought this could never happen to her and more frightening was the inability to find the necessary resources to help her navigate her now new normal. While she is thankful for the organizations that did help her fight for life, she is passionate about advocating and providing resources for young women suffering with breast cancer. She understands how important it is for women to know being “too young to get cancer” is a myth. Yolanda serves as a Pennsylvania State Leader as well as on the Council of Advisor Board for Patient Education with Young Survivor Coalition (YCS), a Young Adult Cancer Survivor advisory board member with Lacuna Loft, a recent graduate of the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD science and research advocacy course, a 2017-2018 Young Advocate for Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) and an active member of the Young Adult Cancer Support (YACS) group of Pittsburgh. She is also the host of The Exceptional Journey podcast.