Hey! My name is Sophie Morrone, I am 22 years old, I just graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology, and I am what you call a Previvor.
Now what is that you ask?
A Previvor is an individual who is a survivor of a predisposition to cancer but hasn’t had the disease. For me, I am BRCA1 positive which is a genetic mutation which is linked to breast cancer.
Now to give you some background, for as long as I could remember, I wanted to work in the fashion industry as my grandparents were designers and I always looked up to them for inspiration. I wrote for the fashion section of my high school’s newspaper, voted best dressed...I was that girl, fashion was in my DNA. I was destined to go to school for fashion and nothing would stop me.
My story began in 2015 when I was 19 and needed a physical prior to transferring to The Fashion Institute of Technology. I didn’t know it yet, but my whole world would soon turn upside down. I unexpectedly found out I had the hereditary mutation, BRCA1 that runs on my father’s side of the family. This meant that I had an 87-90% chance of developing breast cancer in my lifetime, and unfortunately, breast cancer ran heavily and quite young in my family (as young as 30). My world went from an infinite number of opportunities, to being placed on a timeline that lead to cancer.
This was probably one of the loneliest experiences I had ever gone through. To transfer to a new college, trying to make new friends and relate to the 20-somethings around me felt nearly impossible with the weight of this mutation. I remember my friends panicking over a Tinder guy they hadn’t heard back from, and frankly, I was jealous. I wish I could have had that kind of panic. My panic wouldn’t allow me to even come close to meeting new people, not wanting to be a burden to the next guy I met. I felt completely unlovable. I never expected my college career to feel like this.
It wasn’t until the fall of 2017 that I chose to take preventative action over surveillance. In doing so, I could provide myself peace of mind and a better standard of living. I firmly decided this was what I needed to do while sitting in the waiting room full of women who were at different stages of their own journeys at Memorial Sloan Cancer Center, most chemo patients. Sitting in that waiting room was like sitting in the middle of a war zone, each woman, fighting for her own survival, while I sat there with the ammunition of modern medicine to change my own life. Though I had a battle of my own, this prediction of my future weighing heavily on my shoulders was the very ammunition these individuals would have killed for.
In search of a greater purpose to my new journey but not yet ready to open up about it, I decided to walk in Central Park with Making Strides and had raised $2,400 that October.
I remember the day of the walk feeling completely anxious because I wasn’t walking for a cause anymore. Now, I am a part of the cause, a part of the greater community of previvors and survivors who marched in pink. It wasn’t until we reached the 2 mile marker that we heard these two young girls talking behind us.
“I just want to enjoy my youth, I feel like my fear of being diagnosed or what I may have to do to prevent it is taking over my life in college.”
My mom nudged me. We looked at each other silent and wide eyed in disbelief. I approached the girls to confirm what I just heard. I told them my story and they each told me their own.
"Wow this is crazy, I never thought any other girl was going through this. Where do you go to school?"
I told them how I was in my last year at FIT. I asked them where they attended. They revealed they were current FIT students as well.
All three of us were in awe that somehow we managed to just stumble upon each other in the sea of thousands wearing pink. I was in awe that, while this entire time I had felt so alone, girls `at my very own school were going through exactly what I was going through, and somehow, by the mystical ways of coincidence, we managed to find each other.
I realized from that very moment I had a voice that would be heard because there were others facing the same fears. I started to share a little more here and there on social media leading up to my final days until my surgery.
On March 22, 2018 I underwent a Prophylactic Bilateral Direct To Implant Mastectomy.
During my recovery, I was doing research to look for lingerie companies who could provide the support needed after having reconstruction surgery. It’s pretty common to find discomfort in bras with underwire for various reasons. With reconstruction surgery, you come to accept that, in more cases, you can expect to lose almost all feeling your breast(s), which can be dangerous when it comes to underwire. We all know that one bra you wear and it completely busts and starts jabbing you at the most inconvenient time. Although I wouldn’t necessarily feel this, I may scrape, or worse, puncture the surface of my skin.
As I am a 36D, it seemed nearly impossible to find no wire bras that were cute and age appropriate. I had donated all of my old bras to a women’s shelter and was looking forward to new “feel good” merchandise. To me, lingerie would be the answer. It is usually assumed within the lingerie industry that once you’re over a certain cup size, underwire is completely needed and necessary for support of your “large and heavy breasts”. In my case and the case of hundreds of thousands of women who go through reconstruction surgery, this is simply not necessarily true.
One day, I had visited an Italian luxury lingerie store that I had previously shopped at before my surgery. I was eager to see if they had what I was looking for. I was greeted by an employee and I gave her the quick version of my story and how I needed something in a 36D with no wire. Without batting an eye she shrugged her shoulders and said,
“Uh yeah, you’re better off going to Hanes.”
I couldn’t believe I just got dubbed for my size and circumstance. I left quickly and quietly, but my anger and frustration brewed. I was pretty disheartened for the next following days looking on website after website for something that would fit me properly and allow me to feel better about my “new normal”. I couldn’t find bras that were age appropriate and checked off all of the necessities. That’s when I stumbled upon LIVELY.
I remember seeing a few of my fellow classmates on Instagram post about the brand, so I decided to check them out. I saw that there was a bralette AND no wire section that went up to a 38DDD. I couldn’t believe it. My curiosity grew and I wanted to know more about a brand whose initiative was to be a supporter of women and women’s health.
This sparked my initial thought that there was a major disconnect between the industry and women’s health and only few are trying to change what has been assumed for decades in this multi billion dollar industry. The best thing I saw in LIVELY was that it was all inclusive. If I needed to contact someone in customer service, I didn’t have to explain my story if I didn’t want to, I could simply just tell them what I needed and they could provide it.
Now as a fashion business student this was huge. With all of the stories from breast cancer survivors and previvors, the single biggest complaint was that they just wanted to feel like everyone else, they wanted inclusivity, they wanted some normalcy back in their day to day activities - like shopping. For most, shopping is a feel good activity that lifts spirits and in some cases, is a way of self expression through what individuals chose to wear on a daily basis. So in cases where at home you are dealing with the heavy burden of an illness, a surgery, a genetic mutation, you want to step outside of your head and into the clothing racks of stores. LIVELY seemed to be a new wave of lingerie that could potentially change consumer behavior for these thousands of women who just want to feel good, like myself.
I needed to know who shaped this amazing brand so I did my research...and instagram stalking. That’s when I found Michelle, CEO to the company. I felt this need to thank her for what she had created because I didn’t know if she knew the magnitude of positivity and ease she was creating for a community such as myself. So what did I do? I DMed her. I never expected a response since I seemed like a crazy college student.
However, I got that response and received an invitation from Michelle to come to the LIVELY HQ to meet the team. She had no idea that this was a problem for women within the survivor/previvor community and wanted to know more about it and more about me.
That was one of the most inspirational days I’ve had in a long time. With the courage to speak up, I made waves. My goals to be apart of the fashion industry resulted in something so much more than I could ever have dream up despite my obstacles which lead me to question if the industry is where I was truly meant to be.
On May 24, 2018 I graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology with a BS in Fashion Business Management.
I did it. This last haul of my journey really proved that, despite how big or small any obstacle has been, I can achieve anything I put my mind to. I now know the strength and courage I carry and I can share my knowledge with others. For the longest time, I felt so unbelievably alone but I put any fear I had ever had into educating myself and finding what was best for me. Along the way, I had some pretty incredible moments and now know there is only more to come.