The startling breast cancer diagnosis of Brittney Beadle has been the subject of local television news segments, print articles and radio conversations. She’s the 18-year-old from Taylor battling the leading cancer in women with a seemingly unfaltering smile and contagious, positive vibe.
People who heard of her diagnosis feel like they know her. Brittney says some people approach her with words of encouragement or stories of their experience with cancer.
Few know her real story. They’re unaware of the pain behind her smile.
Brittney shed light on why cancer could have ended her relationship with her boyfriend, how her future was forever altered and what she’d say to the doctor who could have detected her cancer earlier.
Not too young
We first met Brittney at Scranton MMA, a mixed martial arts studio, on Oct. 14, for her Weekender cover shoot.
She arrived with pink boxing gloves, representing Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the fight she’s battling along with more than 250,000 women who the American Cancer Society estimate will be diagnosed this year.
“Should I look serious?” she asked. “I don’t know if I can. I just want to smile.”
She expressed gratitude for being asked to appear on the cover.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “I really want to share my story.”
Brittney’s story began in February when she found a lump on her right breast. After her family doctor referred her to a breast cancer specialist at Moses Taylor Hospital, in Scranton, she was told a biopsy wasn’t necessary because “18-year-old’s don’t get breast cancer,” she recalled.
She carried on enjoying her last year of school at Riverside High School, thinking about prom, college and the possibility of studying to be a veterinarian.
But the lump kept getting bigger. She returned to the doctor and in May found out she had breast cancer.
“At first they thought it was stage 2,” Brittney said. “So I had a double mastectomy a week later. A month after that, we found out it spread to my bones, my lymph nodes and liver.”
She was now at stage 4.
When asked if she blamed the doctor who told her she was too young to worry about breast cancer, she said no, but she wouldn’t let her off the hook easy.
“I wouldn’t be rude,” she said. “But I’d tell her she needs to step her game up. She’s a breast specialist. She should know young women can get breast cancer, too, even if it’s more rare. I know from Instagram. I connected with a ton of girls who were diagnosed in their 20s.”
Following the photo shoot, Brittney went to Candy’s Place, a cancer wellness center in Forty Fort, to practice yoga. On the way, she talked about the day she was diagnosed and the emotions that followed.
She said on the night of her diagnosis she found strength from her boyfriend of two years, Jimmy Lewis.
“We took a blanket out, laid down in my backyard, and we just watched the stars, and looked up at the moon,” she said. “We just laid there and held each other. It was his way of showing me that he was going to be there for me, and this wasn’t just my battle, this was our journey together.”
Although Jimmy showed support, Brittney said she feared her boyfriend would leave her when she read in a pamphlet that chemo treatments would leave her unable to naturally lubricate, putting their sex life on hold. She wanted to ask her doctor about it, but felt uncomfortable because her mom was usually around.
“When a guy is young he wants to have sex,” Brittney said. “I was a little nervous he was going to leave me, but he reassured me that he totally understands. He’s been so understanding about everything.”
Not without purpose
Brittney explained the critical role yoga plays in her treatment. Practicing helps her find a mental balance, she said.
“I feel like your mind is the most powerful thing when it comes to healing. I feel what you think effects your outcome,” she said. “Of course I’m mad that I have cancer. I get sad. I just don’t unpack and live there. I look at life as a gift now and appreciate the smaller things.”
Brittney found a way to appreciate getting cancer.
“If I didn’t get diagnosed with breast cancer, I would have never figured out I want to be a holistic doctor,” she said. “Cancer gave me purpose. I feel like I’m a healer, and I’m supposed to be helping people now. I feel like I had breast cancer for a reason. It’s part of my journey. I had this so I can show others that just because you have cancer doesn’t mean that your life is over.”
Brittney’s mother, Karla, said her daughter’s death scare had a positive impact on her life, too. Brittney’s cancer taught her how to live.
“We were driving back from a doctor’s appointment this summer and we saw a horse riding farm,” Karla said. “Normally, we would have said, ‘We should try that some day,’ but instead, we got out and we rode the horses together.”
We met with Brittney as she underwent chemotherapy at Wayne Memorial Hospital, in Honesdale. Her Nonna (grandmother), Anne Petillo, came to sit by her side, donning a bright pink blouse. Nonna Anne’s eyes swelled up as she fought back tears.
“She’s my only granddaughter,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do without her. She’s a fighter. She always has a smile on her face. I don’t know how she does it. I go home every day and I cry.”
Brittney brightened the mood. It might be her last Taxotere treatment. She found out her cancer went into remission Sept. 30.
“I’ll have to have chemo every three weeks, for the rest of my life, but today I find out if I can stop having Taxotere treatment,” she said. “That’s the intense chemo that makes me lose my strength and makes my hair fall out. If I can stop that, then my hair will come back. I can get reconstructive surgery. I won’t get tired.”
Her doctor came out to greet her and gave her the best news she’s heard all year: she won’t need the Taxotere treatment anymore.
Brittney brought a sign for the occasion and instantly posted the good news to Facebook and Snapchat.
She knows there’s a possibility she’ll get cancer again, but for now, she’s looking to the future. She’s determined to be a spokesperson, educating young people about the importance of being aware of breast health. Brittney is appreciating life one day at a time, as a fighter, a survivor, and a young woman ready to start the rest of her life.
Reach Justin Adam Brown at 570-991-6652 or on Twitter @TLArts. Follow him on Instagram and Snapchat @justinadambrown