Family Life

My mom survived breast cancer. Am I next?

On average, an estimated 15.2% of new cancer cases in the United States are women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. That means that 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. 

These statistics are indicative of families, touched eternally by a cancer that is more than just a disease – it is linear. Breast cancer often weaves a thread, mangled in fate and fear, through mothers, daughters, and sisters alike. The survivors among them are the superheroes of nearly every generation of women, powering through all of the anxiety, body disfiguring surgeries or treatments, and impromptu decision-making associated with the onset of such an illness. They take this disease and nip it in the bud, almost passively, acknowledging the unforgiving weight that will forever be weighing down their bodies and minds. 

In some cases, before these women can even think about what comes next, they are sewed up, stripped, and shaved. Left without any sensation in their breast area after a mastectomy, and feeling less and less whole with every visit to the oncologist. It is hard for most women to even feel at home in their bodies anymore. 

In February of 2017, my mother sat in a bleak and claustrophobic doctor’s office for her regular mammogram visit and heard the dreadful words that every woman lives in fear of, “I think we’re going to need to take a second exam. There may be cancer.” 

There was. 

She has told me that she spent most of her life, 38 years to be exact, in terror of what was surely to come. When my mother was 17 years old, the same age that I had been when she was diagnosed, her mother passed away after a long and debilitating battle with breast cancer. Afterward, this disease became a constant threat. So, in some ways, her diagnosis was more of a relief than anything else.

For me, however, it was excruciating. I had a hard time fathoming the enormity of it. Often, I would find myself drenched in hot and burning tears, unable to put into words what I was feeling. I was incoherent and unable to be comforted. I really hated it when people tried to comfort me, too—it felt condescending. I didn’t want to need them.

But, at the same time, I wasn’t even close to being the strong person that I presented to the world. I was falling hard—and fast. Most days, I would go to school or hang out with my friends, but the entire time I felt as if there were a million knives stabbing my chest at any given moment, and I couldn’t help it. Sometimes, I even liked feeling the pain. If my mom had to suffer, then, I thought, so did I. 

Years later I’m able to articulate my thoughts a little more clearly. I was terrified, desperate, and I didn’t know where to turn. So much was happening all the time and I was grieving my old self. That is, the self that hadn’t yet felt such complete and sunken remorse. There was this urgency to do everything right. In a situation like that, there’s no room for mistakes and I was incredibly nervous that I would mess up. Or maybe I was nervous that something would mess me up. Either way, I changed a lot that year. 

Unfortunately, our story is not an uncommon one. 

A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer increases if her mother, sister, or daughter has been diagnosed. In addition, women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene are at an increased risk of breast cancer than women who do not carry the gene. 

My mom is thankfully, and gracefully, in remission today. Her fight seemed, on the outside, to be continuous and suffocating. But, she is a survivor, bold and vivacious, in all of her glory. She has the scars and the strength to prove it, too. 

I am well aware that my risk of this disease is high. But, I am also confident that this does not mean that it is a death sentence. Regardless of being only 21 years old, I am diligent in conducting breast exams on myself at least once a month in an attempt to detect any early warning signs of breast cancer. What I search for is any abnormal lumps or changes in the breast tissue/skin. 

The good news is that with advancing technologies the survival rate of people diagnosed with breast cancer is steadily increasing, even though the number of people getting sick remains stagnant. 

Any cancer diagnosis is terrifying, but breast cancer for me feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I won’t be able to stop being overwhelmed by this sharp and unrelenting nervousness until it is completely out of my system. And we all know that there is only one way for that to happen. 

For now, I am trying to focus on what I am able to control. Breast cancer is certainly not one of those things. But, I am in control of my mindset. While it is important for me not to let my guard down, at some point I have to just let go and let it be. I trust that fate will run its course. 

I come from a long legacy of confident and courageous women, all beautiful and bountiful in their own right. So, it would be a disservice if I did not take their wisdom and hold onto it tightly. I mean, I watched while my own mother boldly stared her fears directly in the face. She never skipped a beat, not even for a second. Her resilience against a disease that is otherwise overbearing is nothing short of inspiring and I am so proud of her. Because of her, I am starting to think that maybe I can handle it too, that maybe I can be as brave as her, when and if the day comes. 

I am not alone in my fear, although it may seem like it sometimes. I am one of millions living and feeling these same anxieties at full volume, so I must not let it overcome me. Instead, I have to remind myself to be introspective and to keep moving forward.

Gender & Identity Food & Drinks Life

I’m Arab and I grew up hating my body – because of my family

Trigger Warning: Mentions of bad thoughts and eating disorders.

Growing up, I was always surrounded by at least one family member who was on a diet.

Eating restrictions were a common part of our everyday lives. I knew all about counting calories, ‘light’ products, pounds and kilos before I was 12. There was an obsession among everyone around me, no matter how old they were or what their gender was, to attain the “perfect body.”

Scrutinizing and analyzing each other’s bodies is a common occurrence in a lot of Arab families. My conversations with friends have made me notice that others struggle with body image issues too. We, as a society, focus way too much on looking a certain way rather than embracing the genes we were born with and treating our bodies right. We focus too much on what others might think of us, that we don’t notice how poorly we see ourselves.

Everyone wants to have that ideal body that is displayed all over the magazines. The washboard abs and the stick-thin figure has always been appealing. Unfortunately, though, many will do whatever it takes to get it. I’ve seen it in the women I grew up around who obsessively counted calories. I’ve seen it in friends who would go on restrictive diets just to lose that extra five kilos.

I’ve even seen it in myself when I’d spend hours analyzing every angle of my body.

At only the tender age of 10, I realized I completely and utterly hated my body.  In fifth grade, I ended up moving to a new school where I didn’t know a single person. It didn’t help that I was the only one in my entire grade who was of a different nationality (i.e. automatic exclusion). Until a few students warmed up to me, I spent most of the year sitting alone or having lunch with my English teacher (no joke, I was that kid for like four months).

It was then that I started turning to food for comfort. If I had a rough day at school, I would come home and eat snacks to make myself feel better.

I had an unhealthy relationship with my body. I would eat to comfort myself about how crappy I felt at school, but then I would end up feeling even worse when I would put on weight. I spent years losing and gaining weight continuously. They were full of tears, hungry nights, vomiting after meals, and negative thinking. I knew that I didn’t have the ideal body type and being criticized by my family wasn’t making it any easier.

I was really unhappy for a long time. It was only when I started university that I truly changed the way I saw myself. I started cooking healthy meals because I wanted to. I started doing yoga and working out a few times a week because it made me feel good. There are days where I still feel insecure about myself, but I’ve learned to differentiate my own voice from everyone else’s.

Whenever I have a bad day or think I’m just not good enough, I take the time to list affirmations in front of the mirror. It takes a little getting used to and it might be a bit awkward at first, but it helps.

I came to realize that the more you focus on loving your body, the sooner you’ll start to believe it. All it takes is realizing that the unhealthy mindset that so many of us have grown up with is detrimental. It all starts when we ignore the negative comments around us, focus on ourselves, and do what we want to do to make ourselves happy.

It takes time, and I, for one, am nowhere near feeling 100 percent confident in myself. But I know that I’m on my way to getting there.

Love Life Stories

If you’re going to pressure me to eat all those samosas, then don’t shame me for my weight

I’m not skinny, I’ve never been skinny.

That’s just not my body type. It’s important to me to be healthy, but I’ve never been obsessed with being size zero.

Growing up in the UK, I’ve noticed that most people are generally polite about body size. If I put on 10 pounds, no-one would say anything out loud. I’m sure they would think it, but it wouldn’t be addressed. Because that’s rude, right? I wish someone could tell my extended family this. Indians have no filter, and it’s getting pretty annoying.

At a family gathering a few months ago, my dear Aunt felt it was appropriate to point out that I’d put on a lot of weight since she’d last seen me. Mortifying, right?

Well, she continued to mention it, like 4 or 5 times in one conversation. I counted.

I was both embarrassed and extremely annoyed, but I kept my mouth shut. Respecting your elders is a huge thing in my community, but damn do they make it hard.

Fast forward a few weeks. My mum is face-timing relatives in India. The last and only time I’d visited India and met these people was as a baby. I haven’t really face-timed before, so I went over and said my hellos, to my mum’s delight.

My Uncle looked at me and said: “Well haven’t you put on weight!”

Erm, since birth? I’d really hope so.

My mother promptly took back her phone and left the room after seeing the horror on my face.

I’m not easily offended or over-dramatic, but these aren’t isolated incidents. At every family function, without a doubt, at least one relative will make some sort of comment about my weight or appearance. They won’t even start with a “Hello” or “How are you.” They just go straight into, “Wow, you’ve gone chubby haven’t you?” It isn’t just fat-shaming either. I’ve seen it happen to my friends who are naturally skinnier; they get told to eat more.

You just can’t win with the Aunties.

These are the same people who take full offense when you don’t finish your food at the dinner table and urge you to eat more. I mean if I eat all those samosas – I’m not really going to be tiny am I?

I suffer from PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), so maybe I am a little more sensitive about my weight than others. A side effect of PCOS is insulin resistance which leads to weight gain. I literally can’t help it. Even if I could, it should not be anyone else’s business. No-one ever appreciates negative comments about their weight.

In this day and age, loving yourself is already difficult. This ideology that no-one will marry you unless you are a perfect size doesn’t help. It is not so much the realization that people think I’ve put on weight that gets me. What I’m getting tired of is the fact that people think it is okay to point this out in public casually.

So I’m learning to call out everyone who thinks that they are entitled to comment on my appearance. The aim is to make them uncomfortable by explaining my medical issues in depth.

I want to be the super annoying relative that no-one wants to discuss weight with.

Gilmore Girls gilmore girls alexis bledel rory gilmore ill drink to that GIF

I love every inch of my chubby self, I just really wish everyone else would too.

Tech Now + Beyond

I’m a Filipinx American and I didn’t love myself – until I discovered a whole new world on Instagram

It’s no secret: representation in media matters.

Growing up, I clung to any Asian characters I watched on TV or film because there were so few of them. I think back to grade school and how I would declare to friends that my favorite Disney character was Mulan.

“Of course you would,” they said. “Because she’s Asian, right?”

The answer is obvious to me: Of course. Mulan was one of the only characters I grew up with that even remotely resembled me. I don’t identify as Chinese, but because she was one of the few representations of Asian identities I saw growing up, I found solace in her vague representation of myself.

Although the landscape for Asian American representation in media is better than it was even 10 years ago, it still leaves much to be desired. Fortunately, we have celebrities like Aziz Ansari and Constance Wu hitting the mainstream with their demands and efforts toward better representation, but I still can’t fully say that I’ve felt representation on film or TV as a Filipinx American woman.

Intersectional representation across all mediums are important, but access to diverse narratives is closer than we think. One form of tech that breaks down the gateways of traditional media industries is social media. Who I decide to follow on my social media feed is completely in my hands. I don’t have to be at the mercy of a media executive to get access to work from people of color. I can find it by myself.

What I’ve appreciated most about Instagram beyond its social and visual capabilities is how it evens the playing field, especially for people of color. Social media is fruitful landscape for POC in a broad spectrum of industries. From #BlackGirlMagic to #MovementMondays, people of color are using social media platforms to shine, empower and find commonplace.

I’m personally a sucker for Instagram. I first signed up for Instagram in 2012 and have been a committed user through its days of painfully saturated filters and squared-off images. There are about 400 million unique daily active Instagram users if that tells you anything about the platform’s diverse array of voices.

Although I initially used Instagram to connect with friends and family, I later grew to follow people outside my inner circles. I discovered that a lot of creative figures used Instagram to expand their personal brand. Subsequently, I started following artists, fashion bloggers, models, photographers, and other unique influencers. The more I actively discovered these Instagrammers, the more I also came upon Instagrammers who were like me: Asian American, Filipinx American woman, artist, writer, or creative professional.

For people with marginalized identities, seeing others that parallel their experiences builds solidarity, self-affirmation and positive body image. I used to hate some of my physical features and saw myself as the “other”. I thought my nose was too big or my skin wasn’t white enough. I often wished my hair was straighter and lighter. Ultimately I wanted to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards I believed were the golden standard.

But the more women I followed that looked like me, the more wholeheartedly I embraced my entire being. I loved how these women were unapologetically themselves in this unique visual medium. They were able to express themselves through their distinct styles, whether through clothing, art or mixed media.

My body is my heritage.

I love my skin color, my nose, and my hair. Ultimately, following a social media feed that was saturated with women similar to me reinforced my journey of identity formation and appreciation.

I’m tired of seeing white people all day, every day. I love that social media platforms like Instagram are shaking up the status quo and are giving people of color spaces to express themselves and share their work.

There are inevitable barriers of entry for people of color in traditional media industries, but social media is revolutionizing how people of color find representation when other industries have failed them. We have to continue to support POC on these platforms so they can continue to do the badass work that they do.

Love Wellness

My mother never knew how much she hurt me, but I’m taking back control

Like most little girls, I grew up watching my mom get ready when she’d go out to parties or dinners with my Dad.

It was a ritual.

The makeup, heels, dresses, and perfume. There was something so exciting about watching my mom transform.

But there was another side to this ritual that wasn’t so glamorous.

I loved watching my mom get ready, but more often than not, her time spent getting ready was very stressful. Searching for an outfit looked more like unraveling a closet. Every outfit revealed some flaw that I had never noticed before: “this shirt shows my back fat;” “I have too many lumps for this dress;” “this dress reveals my cellulite;” on and on it went. Although she looked perfect to me, she had an entire list of things she now needed to fix. “I’m going on a diet on Monday,” she’d say, or “I can’t continue looking like this.”

[bctt tweet=”We have the power to set up an entirely different foundation for the next generation of women.” username=”wearethetempest”]

And so I’d watch my mother get into these cycles like many women do: the house gets filled with green food and a miserable woman for a week. Then I’d watch my mom give into a piece of cake or bread. She’d then conclude that dieting doesn’t work—although she always tried again—and life is too short to stress about food, which is true.

When we’d go shopping, my mom would pick up jeans in sizes too small for her and stare at them in admiration. “I wish I could be this thin.”

When I did the same thing, my mom would roll her eyes and say, “You’re perfect, sweetie.”

But her actions and her own body image issues told me differently.

When I was 10 I remember staring at the mirror and pointing out my own flaws. “When I grow up I’ll be a size 0 and be thin and beautiful,” I said to myself. It wasn’t until a decade later that I realized that was the day I stopped loving myself.

[bctt tweet=”When we’d go shopping, my mom would pick up jeans in sizes too small for her and admire them. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Generation after generation, we’ve unintentionally passed down these poisonous actions and negative words to our daughters. And now we see an epidemic of young women struggling with self-harm, anorexia, bulimia, and myriad other self-esteem issues. Yet we wonder where it all went wrong.

Although most of our mothers are amazing superwomen, most have failed to teach us to love ourselves. There is a right way to take care of your body, there is a right way to respect it and there is a right way to talk about it. Unfortunately, most of our mothers were never taught how either.


As a millennial woman, I consider myself extremely fortunate to be growing up in a generation of women who’ve become awakened to these issues. They’re changing the conversation over women’s rights and bodies. We are at the cusp of changing and easing the societal standards set on all women.

[bctt tweet=”Our mothers are amazing, super women, but, most have failed to teach us to love ourselves. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

We have the power to set up an entirely different foundation for the next generation of women. One where they’ll get the opportunity to grow up without staring at the mirror and looking for their “flaws.” A future where they will be focused on their passions and interests instead of being hyper-conscious of cellulite and jean sizes. A future where their future and their bodies get to be their own.

It starts with a conversation. It starts with complimenting a skill over a look. It starts with speaking kindly to and of yourself. It starts with forgiveness.

So yes, our mothers were wrong. But now we can have our cake and eat it too.

Gender Inequality

These 5 spoken word pieces embody our beauty and body image struggles

As a spoken word poet, naturally, spoken word poetry is going to affect me the most when it comes to art that highlights social issues and internalized joys and frustrations humanity goes through. It is so great to see art being so inclusive and diverse, especially for women’s voices to be heard.

Beauty standards and body image standards can be stigmatizing for women, so in order to bring awareness to that, these spoken word poets make you snap all the snaps in regards to their honesty and relatability. These are definitely not the only poems that cover beauty and body image for women. There are a wide range of poets you can look up as a source of encouragement if you need more than what is provided in this list. Take a good thirty minutes to an hour to listen to a lot of these poems to feel good about yourself – if just for a moment.

So, without further ado, here are the top five spoken word performances, placed in no particular order, that embody and highlight the beauty and body image struggles women face.

1. Song of the Prettybird by Shay Alexi Stewart

“What a treat hosting between my thighs. You’ll spend equal time begging to share bed with me, condemning mediocrity.”

I remember first seeing this poem in person at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational in Texas this past April, and I remember screaming the entire time watching and listening. Her intricate metaphor of the pretty bird covers how women are often objectified, harassed, and placed under this pressure to be pretty in our society. It can cause women to be silent, not wanting to sing.  Stewart’s movement, grace, and intonation will make you relate to her so hard.

2. In My Skin by iCon

“This is not self-hate. This is loving the skin I’m in even if it is only an illusion.”

This woman will be able to change everything you think about makeup and womanhood, especially if you’re the type of woman who believes that makeup can’t be an empowering tool for women. iCon is able to cover the biases men and women have about women who wear makeup often and the bashing they may go through when they decide to go natural. The double edged sword for women’s beauty is still alive and well, and iCon beautifully confronts that through her words and her performance.

3. Transplant by Chrysanthemum Tran

“When I say that my selfies are a radical act of self-love, I mean that my Instagram is your guilty pleasure.”

I also got to see this poem in person at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, and I couldn’t stop grunting in affirmation and snapping. Tran’s exuberance about their trans identity and the variances of trans beauty and womanhood makes this piece encouraging and adamant about body positivity. Not feeling comfortable in the skin you’re in, or not having the freedom to express the skin you’re in because of the judgment of others and their need to cut and paste your appearance is a feeling of loneliness that Tran shows here.

4. Dear Ursula by Melissa May

“And while you may not have had the waistline of a princess, I’ll be goddamned if you didn’t have the swagger of a queen.”

This poem is in reaction to the 2012 edition of The Little Mermaid Ursula dolls that transformed the beautifully curvy sea witch into a cinched size zero. May goes in on how even though Ursula was the villain of the story, she was a hero to her for embracing her body and being someone curvy women could look up to. Creating this doll for young girls was a huge disservice to them and to the character Ursula herself. May’s voice is so powerful in this piece.

5. Trapped Room by Mercedez Holtry

“The womanizer says be a dirty girl, be a pretty girl, be a good girl, be a girl who doesn’t talk too much…”

Not only does Holtry cover the struggles of body image for women, she covers a lot of the double standards women face, and feminism has helped her find her voice in her poetry. Her fast paced cadence and diction makes viewers hold their attention to what she has to say as a woman and as a woman of color. Again, double standards are still alive and well for women, and if we don’t talk about it or acknowledge it, behavior isn’t going to change in the slightest.