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MAKING A MARK: Two young breast cancer survivors forge friendship through battle

Erin Westover and Jackie Mierle became friends after being diagnosed with breast cancer in their early 30's. Together, they share the value of a survivor sisterhood.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — This is a tale of two young survivors.

Erin Westover was diagnosed with triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma on January 7, 2020, at the age of 32. 

Jackie Mierle was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma on June 11, 2021, at the age of 30. 

Both Westover's and Mierle's breast cancer was detected from testing after the women went to get cysts checked out. 

Westover's cyst was cancerous, and Mierle's breast cancer was found on the other side of her body.

Mierle has a history of breast cancer in her family, while Westover has none. 

"Breast cancer does not discriminate," Westover said. 

The women faced unique challenges on their breast cancer journeys after being diagnosed at a relatively early age.

"Dealing with cancer in your 30's was quite an emotional roller coaster," Westover said.

 "I was single when I was diagnosed... If I remove my breasts, you know, trying to date after that-- ugh! It was a nightmare!"

Both Westover and Mierle elected to have a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction as part of their treatment.

 They also chose to undergo fertility treatment to freeze their eggs prior to starting chemotherapy.

"A lot of things happen with your body that you don't know are [going to] happen," Mierle said. 

"Do I keep working?... Who's going to take care of me?"

They credit "Here for the Girls" with giving them the support they needed throughout their breast cancer journeys. 

The nonprofit works to improve the lives of women diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 51.

"I think the family aspect of Here for the Girls is what I hold on to," Mierle said.

"It's just so nice that you can keep a brave face all day, but then go to a meeting, you can break down in tears, and everyone knows exactly what you're going through," Westover said. 

The women also credit their friendship to "Here for the Girls" after meeting as fellow ambassadors of the group's 2023 A Calendar to Live By. 

The calendar shares the stories of survivors, provides breast health guidance and offers advice to other young women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. 

"Jackie sent me a DM on Facebook immediately, and we clicked," Westover said. "I can't get enough of her. I want to squeeze her every day."

Both Westover and Mierle are also board members for "Here for the Girls."

"It's an incredible feeling to be able to help in that way, but also to be able to help behind the scenes," Mierle said in regards to helping newly-diagnosed young women navigate their breast cancer journeys.

Westover said she believes it's important for her to share her story.

"You never know who you're going to touch, who you're going to help out,"  Westover said. 

"While it is not fun being diagnosed with breast cancer at 30, you get to either reinvent yourself or re-discover who you were... You get a second chance."

The "Here for the Girls" 2023 A Calendar to Live By is available for purchase now. Proceeds support the group. Click here for more information, or email info@hereforthegirls.org to purchase a copy.

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