Her new boyfriend found her lump and it changed how she treats her body, relationships, and life forever

This year, we had the opportunity to partner with True&Co on their True Body Front Closure + Bra which was inspired by and designed specifically with survivors in mind. Through this partnership, we have been able to speak and connect with some truly incredible survivors, like Ash Armstrong, aka Breast Cancer Yogi

Armstrong describes herself as “kicking cancer’s ass, asana by asana”. She is an amazing and super inspiring lifestyle blogger, who focuses on health, yoga (of course), and life post-diagnosis. Get to know her below!

If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

I was once asked this question in a job interview, and I was so nervous that I couldn’t think of a single animal at that moment, let alone say something intelligent about why I chose it. I’m still so embarrassed! But since this isn’t a job interview and the pressure’s off, I can safely confide that if I could be any animal, I’d choose to be an iguana. Basking on a warm rock in the sun on some remote tropical island.

If you’re curious, I got the job anyway. Phew!

When was your diagnosis and how old were you?

I was 34, and I found out a couple of days before Christmas in 2016, which I was spending in Boston with my boyfriend, Felix (at the time, we were dating long-distance). I’d gotten the biopsy done right before getting on the plane, and it was excruciatingly painful to lug my stuff around the airport.

When I got the call with the bad news, I got tunnel vision. I just started furiously taking notes. My diagnosis: invasive ductal carcinoma. Now to schedule an MRI. The doctors I needed to call for appointments: one each for chemo, radiation, breast surgery, and reconstructive surgery. I was emotionally numb; I didn’t start to process my situation until later on. At first, I just wrote everything down and began making calls.

I remember the doctor on the other end of the line saying, “if you were my sister, these are the doctors I would send you to.” And I was—and am—so grateful for that guidance. Without it, I would have been completely lost.

How did you find out you had breast cancer?

Felix found the lump. It was pretty soon after we started seeing each other, and I’m so grateful and so proud of him that he chose to speak up about it. What an awkward conversation to have with someone you’re still getting to know! I have been extremely blessed to have had him by my side through this journey.

Who was the first person you confided in about your illness?

The first person I told was Felix, but I didn’t have to say anything; he could tell from my face when I took that call at Christmas. I didn’t share the news with anyone else for a while. I was still processing it myself, and I didn’t have it in me to answer people’s questions before I knew the answers.

The second time I told someone, it was an accident. A friend reached out to ask if I had plans to watch the Super Bowl, and I accidentally blurted out: “I don’t know what I’m doing for the rest of the year anymore because I have cancer.” He freaked out. That’s not a good way to break the bad news. Don’t do that.

Tell us something about yourself that people probably don’t know?

My hobby is underwater photography. I started scuba diving in 2009, and I now dive to depths in excess of 300 feet using a specialized piece of equipment called a rebreather. I love exploring and photographing shipwrecks, and I’m also fascinated with the tiny critters that live in the ocean, especially a type of sea slug called the nudibranch. They’re nothing like land slugs; they’re bright, colorful, and beautiful. Because they’re small and frequently camouflaged, it can take patience and a trained eye to spot them. I appreciate that challenge to slow down and take note of the little things.

After your treatment, what do you now make time for in your day?

Post-cancer, I realize it’s incredibly important to make time for myself. I can’t take life for granted anymore, and so I make an effort to do the things that are important to me every day. For me, that meant a radical reprioritization. After two years of dating long-distance, I changed jobs and moved from San Diego to Boston to be with Felix full-time. I make time every day to reflect on how grateful I am that he’s in my life. I also make it a priority to take care of my body and mind through healthy eating and exercise. You have to nurture yourself first.

If you could be a superhero, what would your superpowers be?

Sleeping eight hours straight through the night.

What advice would you give to someone recently diagnosed?

Do all the core work you can before you have breast surgery! I know it seems superficial to say “work on your abs,” but being able to crunch up out of my hospital bed was the only way I could get up to get to the bathroom by myself after my mastectomy. Imagine pain shooting down your chest every time you try to use your arms to move. That’s what it was like to try to push myself out of bed. I learned to use my abs really quickly, and I was sure grateful I had them!

Treatment wise, I think it’s important to remember that you’re in charge! My doctors are all wonderful, but they work for me—nobody has my best interests at heart more than I do, right? So I learn the scientific terms and study my imaging and pathology reports. I go to every doctor’s appointment armed with a list of questions, and I take notes. If that level of involvement is too stressful for you, bring someone along who can be level-headed on your behalf. Stay informed and be your own advocate.

Finally, don’t be afraid to lean on your loved ones! My friends and family rallied around me when I told them I had cancer. I’ve always been very independent, and it was a serious act of strength for me to summon the humility to ask for help. But I did, and everyone chipped in to help me get back on my feet. It brought us closer together.

If someone wrote a biography about you what would the title be?

Resilience.

What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?

I wish I could go back in time and coach my teenage self to have more confidence and a greater sense of direction. I see some highly motivated kids these days who know what they want and are working hard to get it. That sense of purpose came much later for me.

What was the toughest challenge you faced?

You’d think it would be something to do with cancer, right? But it wasn’t. In the months leading up to my cancer diagnosis, I’d made the single most challenging decision of my life, which was to leave my abusive marriage. Emotional abuse is insidious. You think you’re smart and capable, and that abuse is something that happens to other people, and you don’t even realize that it’s happening to you, that it has its hooks in you. It crushes your self-esteem to the point where you don’t believe you deserve to take that first step out the door. I’m very grateful I did, for so many reasons, but the greatest reason of all was my cancer diagnosis. During my treatment, I was surrounded by supportive, loving people, and that made all the difference in my recovery. I don’t want to imagine what cancer would have been like if I’d stayed.

When do you laugh the most?

A good pun cracks me up. I’m a giant word nerd.

If you could go back in time to any event, what would it be?

Before we were really seriously dating, there was a weekend where Felix came out to San Diego to see me. We were living on opposite coasts, and there had been a spark between us, but I think it’s fair to say we were both still a little timid and licking our wounds from our respective divorces, and completely unsure how, or if, any chemistry might progress. That uncertainty lifted as soon as we saw each other at the airport, and the weekend only got better from there. My dog loved him immediately. We explored sea caves and swam in the ocean. We stayed up late oversharing, realizing we had something promising, and buzzing with hope and excitement for our future. And when that magical weekend was coming to a close, while I was driving him to the airport for his redeye flight home, there was this spectacular, dazzling, otherworldly lunar eclipse we got to experience together. I could live that weekend over and over.

If you could travel anywhere where would it be and why?

My travel bucket list gets longer and longer all the time and spans all types of destinations. This year, since I’m not spending all my money and vacation time commuting back and forth to the east coast to see my boyfriend, we’re chipping away at the list together. We have plans to visit several tropical islands, and we’re also headed to Europe.

What made you interested in True&Co.?

I was a True&Co customer way back when I still had the breasts I was born with. I hate shopping in stores, especially for bras, so I loved the home try-on service. The quality was good, too; several True&Co bras were in my regular rotation for years before I donated everything and started fresh for my surgery!

How would you describe your comfort in the True Body + Front Closure Bra and how does it compare to other bras in its category?

The Front Closure Bra is extremely soft and comfortable. It launched after my surgeries were completed, but the front clasp would be ideal for any woman who was recently post-op with limited arm mobility. I sleep in a bra most nights, and the Front Closure is a much prettier, softer, and more feminine option than the sports bras I was wearing before!

Post-cancer, I realize it’s incredibly important to make time for myself. I can’t take life for granted anymore, and so I make an effort to do the things that are important to me every day. For me, that meant a radical reprioritization. – Ash Armstrong

The super generous people at True&Co. are giving Keep A Breast readers 20% off through the end of March when you use code checkyourself at checkout!  

Download our Check Yourself! app on the Apple App Store or Google Play to learn to do a breast self-check & set up an automatic monthly reminder. Early detection is the key. 

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