As a military wife, Kelsey Bucci is well versed in leaning into the unknown, and her unexpected breast cancer diagnosis was no exception. Through takeaways from her own fight, she’s now helping warriors everywhere feel beautiful and safe.
“Falling down is an accident. Staying down is a choice.” – Rosemary Nonny Knight
I was so excited for my 30th birthday. My family and I had just moved to Savannah, Ga. where my husband was being stationed. A new place and a new year of life—it all seemed great.
But a couple of weeks after my birthday, I did a breast self-exam and found a lump in my left breast. I wasn’t prone to doing breast self-exams. Truthfully, no one had ever told me to give myself one in my 30 years of life. I just left them for my well-woman visits every year. Was that naïve? Maybe, but I have now learned so many women my age have not done one either. Having four kids in my 20s, I was very used to changes in my breasts. From pregnancies to breastfeeding, my body changed, so when I found the lump I tried not to panic.
But unfortunately, the news was not great: In August 2017, I was diagnosed with stage IIB invasive ductal carcinoma and DCIS. With no family history of breast cancer, I really didn’t know what to expect from my treatments. All I could think about was how this would affect my kids. How was I going to explain it all to them? Would they even understand? At the time I was diagnosed, they were 7, 6, 4, and 2 years old. As military kids, they were used to their fair share of new situations and learning how to adapt and overcome; my diagnosis was going to be another adjustment.
I started chemotherapy right away. When I walked into the infusion center for my first treatment, I had a smile on my face. I don’t know if I was smiling because I was trying to hide the fear and anxiety of the unknown, or because I felt like we now had a plan of attack. It was probably both.
One of the first things I noticed about chemotherapy was how horribly my skin reacted to it. I had head-to-toe rashes, open sores on my skin, and hand-foot syndrome where the skin on my hands and feet literally peeled off. It was a lot to take in. Add in my hair falling out after the initial round of chemo and I could tell I was really in for it.
Somehow, the weight of everything that was happening had not hit me yet. I was in survival mode—just put one foot in front of the other every single day. I thought that losing my hair—so much hair, 13 inches of hair—was going to be hard. My hair was like my security blanket but losing it and shaving it all off felt so liberating. I felt like I was showing my face to people for the first time. There was nothing to hide behind and I was always shocked at how so many people didn’t automatically think cancer when they saw me. On many occasions, people said I didn’t “look sick.” I heard this so often that I launched a podcast with the same name, “But You Don’t Look Sick.”
Toward the end of my chemotherapy treatments, I got very sick. I went into neutropenic isolation. While there, I chatted with an internal medicine doctor about products I used on my skin, my household cleaners, and what I was eating. I have always been a very healthy eater, making sure that I was reading ingredient labels and being very conscious of what I was putting in my body, but I didn’t stop to think about what I was putting on my body.
After four days, I went home and started researching non-toxic beauty products. I was shocked at my findings. Certain chemicals and ingredients were linked to hormone disruptors, skin irritants, carcinogens and more. My mind was blown. As a consumer, I thought there was more regulation of the products that we put on our bodies. I immediately began transitioning the products in my beauty routine and the products that we had in our house. I was on a mission to learn more. I couldn’t help but wonder about my own cancer diagnosis. With family history accounting for only around 10 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses, and no family history or genetic links, I was in the category of environmentally-derived cancer. I shared my journey into clean beauty on my blog and social media and it seemed that many women I was connecting with were interested.
As I began to obsessively research ingredients, I was even more shocked to see the amount of greenwashing and misleading marketing. Many claimed their products were “all natural, chemical-free and clean,” but their ingredient lists told a different story. I was angry as a consumer, a mom, a woman and now a breast cancer survivor. So I decided to do something about it.
While recovering from my bilateral mastectomy, I formulated a business plan for an e-commerce store dedicated to real products with clean ingredients, filled with brands that I had personally vetted. My passion to create a central place for women to come and shop for beauty products that they felt confident and safe in purchasing brought my company, Paris Laundry, to life. It brought me to life!
I have always been into beauty and fashion. Working in retail as a buyer and merchandiser, I knew a lot about the curation of brands and products, but not a lot about the behind-the-scenes business. Add in continued cancer treatments like radiation, more surgeries, hormone therapy and ongoing targeted therapy drugs, it seemed like a lot to take on. But I knew it was needed. I knew that women who found themselves in my same position want to feel and look beautiful through their battle. No one should have to compromise their health in order to do that.
Breast cancer changed my life in ways that I never thought possible. It forced me to put my health and happiness above all else. It also helped me find a passion that keeps me pushing forward, instead of looking back on what my life used to look like. It propelled me into doing and creating things I never thought about before.