On her Cancerversary, Suzette Matthews wasn’t somewhere exotic on a celebratory trip.
Nor did she take the day off for a leisure lunch with the girls and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
That’s not Suzette’s style when it comes to Breast Cancer Awareness Month—not this year anyway.
Instead, she celebrated four years cancer-free by breaking a sweat.
At 6:30am, fellow Peloton-riding friends joined Suzette (myself included) in a virtual spin class on her 400th milestone ride. No rest for the over-achieving weary, she went right to work, promoting frozen yogurt sales at her side-hustle business Delta Dairy, to donate proceeds to a regional outreach program for breast cancer.
Suzette is a 34-year-old breast cancer survivor. Cancer and pandemic be damned, she received her doctorate in Higher Education on August 16, 2020.
She’s a wife, daughter, dog mama, professional philanthropist, entrepreneur and fun-loving bestie. A caring Capricorn, her spirit animal was the Notorious R.B.G., long before the late Supreme Justice became a pop culture icon.
Fundraiser and fellow advocate for women’s rights? Sure, but perhaps Suzette’s most important role now, when it comes to breast cancer, is mentor.
For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I sat down with Suzette (She was actually standing, selling that fro-yo and giving away pink ice cream sandwiches!) to hear her incredible story and share her personal message of awareness with Milk Punch Media readers.
How did your 400th Peloton ride feel this morning? That many rides is an impressive feat!
I’ve developed a little bit of an obsession. I’m all in on the Peloton! You feel amazing. I really love [instructors] Christine and Cody. You’ve got to try one of the Bike Boot Camps. You ride for 11 minutes, then get off the bike for 11 minutes of weights, then back on the bike. It’s really nice to break it up. Thanks for riding with me!
Take me back to October 2016. You were too young for annual mammograms, so what was the first sign that something was wrong?
I didn’t know anything was wrong. I went for an annual checkup at the gynecologist. I had always had this piece of fat on the left side of my armpit, about the size of a quarter. I asked every doctor I’d ever seen to cut it off, but they all said it was cosmetic. I showed it to this new doctor and she said she didn’t like the way it felt and sent me to a surgeon. I was hesitant about a CT scan, thinking it was unnecessary, and they discovered a malignant tumor in my right breast.
Wait, on the other side?
Yes! I went to have this literal piece of fat cut off—pure vanity—on the left side, and that’s how they found cancer on the right side. You couldn’t even feel it.
What was your diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with triple-positive breast cancer, which is estrogen and progesterone positive and HER2, the gene mutation.
Did you have a history of breast cancer in your family?
I have a paternal aunt that had breast cancer, but I tested negative for the BRCA gene test, so it was unrelated.
You openly shared your fight against breast cancer through social media. Why was that important to you?
I think it’s important to talk about our struggles, especially on social media. Everyone’s life is “perfect”—the perfect house, the perfect family and that’s not reality. I was diagnosed at 30 not 60, so it’s really important for young people to realize that this can happen. By me putting it out there, I’ve also connected with so many people. They don’t know what to ask the doctors, so I’ve been able to help them on the backend with questions. Things I wish I had known and done differently.
What specific foods do you avoid as a result of breast cancer?
I only eat red meat about once a week because of the hormones. My doctor is very concerned about any animal products, so I only buy milk and eggs that have never had hormones, essentially organic. A lot of cows especially are injected with estrogen.
What do women need to know about soy foods and estrogen?
When you have estrogen-positive breast cancer, it feeds off the estrogen in the body, whether from being a female or soy mimicking it. Soy is in everything that’s processed basically, so I try to limit my soy intake as much as possible.
What supplements do you take?
I take Tamoxifen, a hormone blocker that blocks the estrogen that your body naturally produces and puts you in menopause technically. I also take a good multi-vitamin for menopausal women.
You're essentially in menopause at age 34?
Yes, semi, and I do have some symptoms. I really believe the Peloton has helped me so much. Low impact exercise like walking is good for menopausal women and I really can tell a difference.
No special smoothie recipes or woo-woo cancer killing concoctions?
I really don’t!
What's your favorite frozen yogurt at Delta Dairy?
Aw, man, white chocolate mousse with rainbow sprinkles. It’s the best! We don’t have it very often because I just eat it.
You currently have three friends undergoing treatments. That seems unusual and too young! Do you suspect any environmental causes?
It is crazy. Maybe my body has the ability to produce this and environmental factors could have made that happen sooner. I don’t know. Medical detection is much better so maybe that also contributes to the influx of young cancer diagnosis.
Most of us don't have a mammogram until age 40 because of health insurance. What needs to change in the medical industry?
We should start having mammograms earlier, especially now that you can get a digital mammogram. It shows everything and is the best early detection that you could ever have. It would be much cheaper for our insurance companies to pay for a digital mammogram early rather than pay for breast cancer treatment.
Today is your 4-year Cancerversary. How else will you celebrate?
I’m gonna celebrate by working! [laughs] Normally we try to go on a trip, but because of covid restrictions, we will be at home. Maybe have some Champagne.
What's on your travel bucket list when we can travel again?
I want to go to Southeast Asia, anywhere in Thailand. I’d really love to go to South America also to Patagonia and Peru.
If anyone has been diagnosed with breast cancer, what’s your best advice?
It’s important to find someone that’s gone through it to help navigate the system. It can get really confusing, daunting and overwhelming. I’ve been able to go to every appointment with a friend and ask the really hard questions for her. You’re in such a vulnerable position and in shock.
How does Delta Cotton Belles support women in the Mississippi Delta region, where there's a high rate of breast cancer?
Jo Parker, who represents Delta Cotton Belles in Cleveland, is sitting outside Delta Dairy selling raffle tickets right now! They are a great advocacy group and help women navigate breast cancer. It’s a support network. Local businesses such as Double Quick donate gas cards to get people to and from appointments. They will also help pay for treatment, especially for the under-insured.
Other than shopping for the awareness cause, what do women need to do?
Understanding how to feel your breasts is important. There’s a social media campaign called Feel it on the First. [@feelitonthefirst] You’re supposed to raise one arm over your head and feel your breast with the opposite hand and also under your armpits. We all need to ask our doctors if we have dense breast tissue because if you do, the likelihood of feeling something is going to be lower. And demand a mammogram.
"Maybe I could have had breast cancer until I was 40 and never known it, and then found it when it was too late."
List of free mammogram sources by state: freemammograms.org
For more information on Delta Cotton Belles, visit deltacottonbelles.org.
You Shop, We Give: Shop these products on Milk Punch. 20% of all proceeds will benefit Delta Cotton Belles or a breast cancer organization of your choice, through October 31.