“In 2019, the hardest thing I had to deal with in my life was asking for a divorce,” says Ceta Walters. “And it has since turned into divorce, breast cancer, a pandemic and homeschooling.”
A lot has changed for Walters. Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Walters was best known for her popular blog and Instagram account, Clark and Stone. On both platforms, Walters shares the ins and outs of her life and love of fashion, travel and motherhood, all with a unique flair. Glimpses into her picture-perfect life has amassed more than 70,000 followers on Instagram alone, but learning to share the highs was a lot easier than sharing the lows.
After asking her husband for a divorce, Walters was ready to embark on her new life as a single mother of two boys.
“I went through that phase of being embarrassed that I was no longer wearing a wedding band on my ring finger. I had removed the shame of preparing to be a divorced mom of two boys,” she says. “I was so comfortable in my skin in that space that I was excited for what my new normal was going to look like. [But] I had no clue what was coming my way.”
Walters felt insincere after joining the board for the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation, an organization that supports breast cancer awareness and research. “My grandmother and my best friend passed away from breast cancer, so it has affected me personally, but I didn’t want it to affect me personally,” she says.
While preparing to collect handbags for the organization’s annual luncheon, Walters realized she hadn’t had a mammogram. “In my mind, it had only been a year, [but] it had actually been three years,” she recalls. At that moment, she decided to do a breast self-exam and found a lump. “My heart kind of sank,” she says. “I tried to talk myself out of it. Like, ‘Oh, that wasn’t a lump.’ I felt the other side like, ‘Oh, I have dense breasts.’” But Walters also remembered that 10 months before her wedding, her doctors also found a lump. Well before the age of 40, she had her first mammogram and ultrasound. Later, she was told to get a mammogram every two years because she was at a higher risk.
She called the doctor the next day, got an appointment the following day, and was told to get another mammogram and ultrasound. Walters delayed the exams for a vacation and her tests were scheduled for after the luncheon, on Halloween. It was the luncheon’s keynote speaker that finally made the situation real for Walters.
“The water works just started coming. Everyone at my table was looking at me like I was crazy,” Walters recalls. “Here I was keeping this secret and crying because I [knew] in this moment, this lump is breast cancer. It’s like my spirit told me.”
On November 4, her intuition was confirmed—she had stage III invasive ductal carcinoma.
“It felt like someone punched me in the face with a brick,” Walters says. “I felt like I was finally living my authentic self, unapologetically. And now this? Like no, this is not a part of my plan.”
As a blogger, Walters was used to sharing the intimate details of her life with her readers. But nothing prepared her for what it was like to have cancer. Was she willing to share that part of herself, too? Walters wasn’t, at least not initially. “I just kind of accepted it and I just wanted to disappear and go away and just be done with my blog,” she says. But a constant tug in her gut told her she had to share her diagnosis. “I want to be authentic and true to myself, so I can’t share my life and not share my life,” she recalls. “Then it became, well, how am I going to share?”
Remembering the statistic that women in the United States have a 1 in 8 lifetime chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer, Walters gathered seven of her friends for a photo shoot. Her caption? “I’m number 1.”
“It still just hurts to say that because I don’t want to be that special,” she says. “And now I have breast cancer on my plate, but then I just kept saying to myself, I have to remember why I started the blog, which was to empower women to live their best lives.”
Through sharing her diagnosis and her treatment process, Walters has kept her audience informed while also helping herself feel less alone. “I’m so thankful for my friends—my close friends, my distant friends, the acquaintances I’ve made throughout this process—because I’m not alone,” she says. “I have this sisterhood that I never would have expected to have.”
Meeting breast cancer survivors, thrivers and previvors has opened Walters up to the possibilities of what her life can be like. In the months since her diagnosis, she also settled into her “new normal,” which included rest during the first 10 days of her strong chemo cocktail, then a mix of working out and time with friends.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has put a damper on things. “COVID has placed such a dark cloud on me having some control of this experience because it stripped everything away that I had created as my new normal,” she says.
The first “hiccup,” as she says, was homeschooling for her two boys. “I wasn’t expecting it to be for the rest of the school year,” she says. She also wasn’t prepared for the delay in her treatment. Walters’ last chemotherapy treatment was scheduled for March 23, after which she would receive a double mastectomy. Although Walters only had breast cancer in her right breast, she opted for the double mastectomy after being inspired by a friend who was diagnosed just two weeks before her. That friend chose a double mastectomy and doctors later found cancer in her left breast, although it hadn’t shown up yet in her scans.
“My oncologist told me that typically, your surgery is four to six weeks after your last chemo session, but because of COVID-19, hospitals were no longer allowing elective surgeries,” she says. “My double mastectomy was now considered an elective surgery because I only had it in the right [breast] and I just thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’
Like many cancer warriors, Walters says her time now is a matter of waiting and keeping the faith. Her friends check in on her and even facilitate socially-distanced dance parties to Drake outside the gate of her home. “My friends constantly remind me that I’m not alone,” she says.
The pandemic may have taken away the sense of control she was slowly gaining through her “new normal,” but it has not lessened her spirit. “Cancer gave me three gifts: gratitude, love and community,” Walters says. “As opposed to harping on the little things which would have driven me nuts in the past, who has time to constantly complain and gripe about the little things instead of appreciating the little things? I’ve learned to be grateful for every little thing, because it could all be taken away at any moment.”