In celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we have selected one of Gap’s own - our PR Director, Mackenzie Dougherty, to be featured in the Fall 2019 Love by GapBody campaign.
Mackenzie is a beloved sister, daughter, girlfriend and good friend, who was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in March of this year. One month later, she made the decision to undergo a double mastectomy.
Mackenzie is an open book, chronicling her journey in her blog and Instagram @iforgotihavecancer. We were fortunate enough to learn even more in the candid and inspiring interview below.
“Love by Gap celebrates every day, inspiring women who find comfort in their own beauty. This year we didn’t need to look far to find an inspiring woman whose story we could share that celebrates Breast Cancer Awareness Month while supporting BCRF’s important mission. Mackenzie’s optimism and positive hopefulness is exactly why her story was important to share. She truly lives our brand values to the core!”
-Lindsey Yosha, Senior Director Brand Communications
In your blog, I Forgot I Have Cancer!, you said “everything is small potatoes after cancer.” Tell us about your breast cancer diagnosis and how it’s changed your perspective on day-to-day life?
The diagnosis itself wasn’t as shocking as the timing. While I feel young at 33, my BRCA1 genetic mutation always had me on high alert and kept me busy with bi-annual screenings (mammograms and breast MRIs). Each screening that showed no detection of cancer gave me another 6 months of normalcy however anxiety always crept in leading up to the next appointment.
My last mammogram was scheduled for the day after my father passed away in February after a 4-year battle with lung cancer. I canceled it in the days leading up and honestly planned to forego the screening all together but after a nudge from my mother, I knew rescheduling was the right thing to do.
When I eventually went in March, it felt like I was just going through the motions and it never occurred to me that this time something would be wrong. I had not even begun to grieve the loss of my father so for me, there was no possibility of an issue arising. After the initial shock of the abnormal mammogram results, I went through a series of follow up tests, ultrasounds and a biopsy leading up to the confirmation that I had stage 1 triple negative breast cancer.
This experience has taught me that life is going to happen whichever way it wants and you have to accept it and make the best of it. There are no tallies for good vs. bad moments to ensure its balanced.
The name for my blog, ‘I Forgot I have Cancer!’, came from a direct experience during the initial diagnosis phase of my journey where I let myself enjoy life for a bit and rest my mind of all the chaos happening around me for a mere 30 minutes. And there’s also meant to be a little bit of wit in there as well – humor is the best medicine for your mind.
But ultimately, cancer is awful and the side effects from treatment are even worse. So yes, at the end of the day many of the trivial problems that I encounter are small potatoes compared to the big sacrifices I’ve made for my body. From hair loss to potential infertility and a double mastectomy, I really have come to appreciate what I’m capable of and dismiss the small potatoes that might get in the way of an otherwise beautiful day.
You're committed to making sure your diagnosis doesn't affect your professional life or your patience. How have you managed to separate cancer from those two things?
My professional life is one of the main drivers that got me through treatment. I was lucky to be able to work throughout chemo because it kept me motivated to get out of bed on my worst of days and managed to keep my mind occupied from the anxiety and depression that wanted to take over at times.
While I do my best to compartmentalize my life and emotions from my work, it’s impossible to completely separate the two. I consider my co-workers to be my work family and they have been my biggest supporters and advocates. From care packages while I was on leave, to flowers to celebrate the end of my chemo, my friends at Gap were an integral part of my support system. They rallied behind me on social media after I shaved my head and my boss even bought me my now signature Jennifer Fisher hoops that I wear daily.
On top of all of that, my colleagues personally had the idea to have me in the campaign which meant everything. I cried when Rory Edwards asked me!
Your role as PR Director for Gap is clearly a huge part of who you are. Tell us about this opportunity to be a part of the Gap’s BCRF campaign and why it is so important to you?
Kara from Fighting Pretty was in the BCRF campaign last year and I remember pitching out her story and watching her on the Today Show, packing up over 100 boxes on live TV that would be sent to women who were fighting cancer. After my diagnosis, Lindsey Yosha ordered me a box and Kara sent me a personal supportive note and mentioned how about much she loved being a part of the Gap campaign.
I truly feel as though I’ve come full circle and am incredibly honored to be a part of this campaign and partnership. My oncologist works with BCRF so in some ways, this campaign really merges my personal, professional and medical life! It’s true that vulnerability makes you stronger and I hope that this shines through. These images display my most vulnerable, raw self at a time when I’m learning to accept my body.
How have you stayed intentional in making sure that having cancer doesn’t become the “headline of your life”?
I’ve done by best at keeping life as normal as possible. A big fear of mine was that my hair loss or fatigue would make me appear weak both personally and professionally, but I was adamant that I could work full time, maintain friendships, work out as much as my body could handle and be the best partner for my boyfriend. There were days when I felt completely useless, but I would just wake up the next morning and try my hardest to do better than the day before.
Your relationship with your dad and his own cancer journey seems to have played a pivotal role in your perspective. In what ways has your dad taught and inspired you?
My dad was the strongest, kindest, most humble and caring man. He truly was one of my best friends in life and living through this journey without him has been extremely difficult. But, I’ve channeled him in every way I know how, from his humor to his promptness to his friendly demeanor. My dad never considered himself the sickest person in the room, even when he was. He never lost confidence in himself and he also never missed an opportunity for a cancer joke. My blog was inspired by my dad because he didn’t let cancer become the headline of his life and I like to think that he forgot he had cancer on a regular basis, which helps me believe that he was enjoying his life to the fullest.
You made some tough decisions to have a double mastectomy, as well as undergo additional treatments for fertility. What was it like making these decisions and why were they so important to you?
From the moment I received my abnormal mammogram results in March, I have been conjuring up lists in my head and mentally checking off each step of the process, marking each as an accomplishment – from surgery to IVF to chemo. Each surgery, egg retrieval and chemo treatment felt like a step (albeit leap) to progress and the side effects were a reminder that it was working. So, while I feared the pain, fatigue, bodily changes and risks, I was fueled by the idea that each treatment was doing the work that had to be done and reach where it needed to in my body.
Cancer is a tough topic. If someone has a friend or family member that was recently diagnosed, what advice would you give about talking to their loved one?
It’s the simple things. Ask ‘how are you doing?!’ Ask ‘how are you feeling?!’ It’s also about being there rather than asking to be there. Don’t compare or bring up someone else with cancer and their treatment. Everyone’s journey is different and treatment effects everyone differently.
For someone just receiving a scary or daunting diagnosis of their own, what would you tell them?
Be your own advocate and fight for the answers! Also, there is a sisterhood of women who are going through it and looking to support you! Meeting so many other strong women has been the silver lining.
What has surprised you the most about your journey?
How much I enjoy being bald! Shaving my head was one of the most scary yet most liberating experiences.
Anything else you’d like to add that we didn’t ask?
I love my Gap family! Thank you for supporting me and giving me the platform to tell my story and find my strength!
Thank you for sharing your story, Mackenzie! From now until October 19th, Gap will be donating 10% of sales from all regular-price bras to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. BCRF’s mission is to advance the world’s most promising research to eradicate breast cancer.