Breast Cancer Survivor Lauren Tarpley Delivers Hard Truths About Survivorship

“Time doesn’t stop for you to figure out who you are in survivorship,” Lauren Tarpley told BLACK ENTERPRISE. “I live my life like a love letter to my children.”

In an honest testimony, Tarpley acknowledged that surviving breast cancer means something different to each person.

“You think that everything is supposed to snap back, but it doesn’t,” the fierce survivor said. “I am fundamentally different from the person who was diagnosed.”

For Tarpley, a wife, mother of two, and a Type-A, ambitious Black woman in tech, the marathon continues in survivorship. Three years later, she finds these moments liberating when she can tell her whole story.

Photo Credit: Jody Mack @jodymackphotography

In May 2020, her son had just turned one, and she received the green light to conceive another child. Despite ongoing difficulties getting time off work, Tarpley was proud to take charge of her health and visited her OBGYN. By July, she and her husband had conceived, but the pregnancy had some complications. She was 34 then.

After receiving confirmation that her unborn child was in distress at the doctors, she told BE, “I was actively and currently miscarrying.”

She expressed that there had been a “nagging pain” in her armpit to an on-call doctor.

“I can only feel the pain in me,” she recalled.

Though the doctor was not her primary physician, he examined her and misdiagnosed the pain for an ingrown hair. Tarpley knew something wasn’t right, all while grieving the loss of an unborn child. But the miscarriage saved her life. So, she got a mammogram with results that alarmed her OBGYN on a random follow-up call. After an ultrasound and a biopsy, Tarpley was diagnosed with stage 2 HER2+, hormone receptor-negative and BRCA-negative invasive ductal carcinoma.

“I never wanted the story of a diagnosis or a misdiagnosis to be overshadowed by anybody’s sympathy about the miscarriage,” Tarpley said.

As a breast cancer survivor, Tarpley said she was in a “state of arrested development.”

The mental and physical toll of enduring six rounds of chemotherapy, 11 rounds of immunotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation therapy, and a double mastectomy changes who you are.

“I’ve had to change the way I look at myself.”

She added:  “I still only have 40% mobility in my arm,” she said. “I can’t work out the way I used to.”

Photo Credit: Jody Mack @jodymackphotography

Miraculously, in March 2023, 37-year-old Tarpley and her husband welcomed a baby daughter after enduring IFV treatments, thanks to grant funding.

Reprioritizing boundaries

“I look at cancer like the wake-up call I needed,” the devoted mom told BE. “You know what happened, but your mind is trying to protect itself, and your body is trying to heal itself. Every memory isn’t as crisp.”

“That’s why I wanted to write in real-time,” she continued. Tarpley had been fearless in advocating for herself at doctor appointments and work. She is also the author of three books dedicated to telling her story and helping others navigate life with cancer: Type A Guide to Cancer, Too Many Cells, and Type A Guide to Survivorship.

“That was very difficult because you’re faced with what you’re going through twice,” Tarpley admitted.

She expressed that her children are her biggest motivators. “All I want to do is fulfill my promises to them and protect them as much as I can. If you’re one of those people that’s super transparent with your kids, then be that transparent. If you are not, then just tell them the things that you know they’re going to see. Talk to them about hair and how it grows back. Talk to them about being kind. Encourage them to ask questions.”

Photo Credit: Jody Mack @jodymackphotography

Building community in survivorship

From writing books and creating businesses out of need to volunteering and farming, “I’m all about a project,” Tarpley told BE. Though her social skills were rusty, “I had to find a job that met me where I was,” she said, adding that she now works for a socially conscious tech startup.

Though it was once difficult to find women like her, Tarpley is continually grateful for the community she’s built on Instagram. She is a community volunteer who holds women’s hands during their mammograms. This month, she is taking time to rest. And will constantly tell her kids how much she loves them.


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