My husband and I were in one of the most beautiful places we had ever visited when we discovered the lump in my breast. As we lay in our bungalow on Lake Atitlán in the middle of Guatemala, my heart sank into my stomach and a wave of anxiety hit me when I first felt it. It was the size of a grape—probably just a cyst, I told myself. It couldn’t be cancer. I was 29, a nonsmoker, vegan, and had no family history of breast cancer that I was aware of.
In December 2017 just after Christmas, I was diagnosed with invasive stage 3 breast cancer. My world was turned upside down as I was thrown into a multitude of tests and screenings before starting an intense neoadjuvant chemotherapy regimen. I was lucky the cancer hadn’t spread, despite my tumor having rapidly grown beyond an innocent lump. But, due to a genetic mutation, I learned I have an increased risk of recurrence and ovarian cancer. I clumsily prepared to lose my hair, and eventually both of my breasts, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. As I struggled to get used to this new reality, I wondered how so many women have managed to power through and come out the other end confident and cancer-free.
Fortunately, I found a breast cancer support group in my area for young women. After going to my first meeting and unloading all of the questions, concerns, and various other emotional ramblings I had bottled up—I felt an immense sense of relief that I was not alone. One woman around my age who had finished chemo brought all of her old headwraps and caps she had accumulated over the course of her treatment. She encouraged the baldies in the room to take anything they could use. As I dug around in her stash, a bright, beautiful splash of color caught my eye. I pulled out a blue, green, and gold printed headwrap and tried it on. I loved the way it looked on me and how simple it was to adjust and tie. I looked at the tag to see which company produced it, and that’s how I first discovered Totonga Bomoi.
As someone who is passionate about investing time, energy, and resources into empowering others to thrive in this life, I was overjoyed to learn about everything Totonga Bomoi is doing to support such talented artisans and entrepreneurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I realized the headwrap I wore to protect my awkward bald head was more than just an accessory—it was both a symbolic and tangible outcome of a creative, resilient community working towards economic justice. This inspired me to purchase a second headwrap, as well as a third for a friend who is also going through cancer at a young age.
When I think about the values I share with Totonga Bomoi—community, education, dignity, compassion, creativity—I feel grateful for the twist of fate that has allowed me to contribute to their mission. Instead of sinking into a dark space of perpetual worry and fear of the unknown, I focus on appreciating what each day has to offer. The Totonga Bomoi artisans motivate me to stay inspired, stay creative, and keep fighting—and I’ll always cherish the brightly colored pagne that connects me to them from across the world.