Most people remember Nov. 8, 2016 as the day America held its breath.
Lianne Zhang, 32, remembers Election Day differently.
She remembers it was a really nice morning in New York City. She woke up feeling like it was the beginning of a new chapter.
After casting her ballot, she remembers getting an ultrasound at a place near the LinkedIn building, where she works as a customer success manager. Right after, they asked her to get a mammogram, which was unusual for her age.
It didn’t occur to her something could be wrong.
Even though Zhang had discovered a small lump in her right breast, her obstetrician-gynecologist shrugged it off. It probably wasn’t a big deal. Zhang didn’t have a family history of breast cancer. Most likely, it was a water pocket or cyst, and getting an ultrasound was just a safety measure.
So she went back to work. Then she went to the gym.
In the middle of her usual Tuesday routine, her doctor called. This time, her doctor didn’t sound so calm. She said they needed to look into cancer centers right away. She had already reached out to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Zhang needed to get a biopsy tomorrow.
“What are you saying?” Zhang remembers asking. Her entire body turned ice-cold.
“Didn’t the radiologist tell you?” her doctor replied. “He thinks it’s cancer.”
On Nov. 9, Zhang woke up to what she says was the worst nightmare she could have imagined. She had cancer and Donald Trump was president.
She had stage 2a, triple positive, grade 3 breast cancer. Her cancer cells were growing in random, irregular patterns. In other words, the cancer was aggressive and grew by greater exposure to the hormone estrogen.
On top of that, her oncologist asked if she wanted to have kids. If she did, she needed to save her eggs and get surgery first. If not, they’d start with chemotherapy. Then surgery. Then radiation. More treatment. Then 10 years of drugs after that.
Zhang opted out. “You have to decide the next day, within the day, if you want to save your eggs. And it was just really stressful.”
“I didn’t opt for [the procedure],” she says. “It’s something that I do struggle with from time-to-time, but I think it was the right choice at the time.”
She decided to get chemotherapy done in the Washington, D.C. area, so she could be near her family.
When Zhang was diagnosed, she struggled to find reliable resources for young women like her.
“I think it’s something very, very niche and unique to have a young woman with breast cancer and have that social community,” she says.
They could relate, so they began sharing their stories, too. Her community grew.
It’s now been 10 months, and Zhang’s met some of the other survivors. She has several photos where she’s posing with headscarves piled high, celebrating with inflatable donuts and even one where she’s wearing a T-shirt that’d make Beyoncé proud. She’s turned her hospital gown into more than one runway-chic #ootd.
“Unfortunately, more and more young people are having to deal with this, and I want them to have a place where they feel like they have somebody on their side,” says Zhang. “I would post little wins, like, ‘Hey, I walked a mile today.’ People started to reach out … They were helping me as much as I was helping them.”
Zhang is now done with chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. She’s back in New York, where she’s getting HER2 treatments every three weeks.
“I’m in a weird limbo now as I finish out the year. I’m trying to balance doing the treatment, dealing with the side effects and going back to work full-time,” she says.
Last month, Zhang took a short hiatus from social media to focus on healing.
“It’s one of the craziest things: Now, I’m one of the veterans,” she says. But she doesn’t want other cancer patients on Instagram to compare or think her life is perfect these days.
There’s still pain — both mentally and physically.
Yet Zhang isn’t one to dwell in — what she calls — “the black hole of Insta scrolling.”
In her most recent blog post, she ends on this note: