Alayne White is not a shrinking violet. The longtime Bristol resident and owner of her eponymous spas there and in Providence has always been vocal: about living life on your own terms; about how beauty can be empowering; about, well, everything. But when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, Alayne went totally silent. “I talked about it to people that I knew,” she says. “But I really hid out. I just wanted to have some privacy.”
Not this time, though. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time earlier this year, Alayne had just started to put her first experience into words on Medium.com. Her first post, titled “The Locker Room,” described the experience of unapologetically baring her scarred body at the gym. “The next thing you know,” she says, “I’m getting diagnosed.” And this time, the floodgates opened. Through her double mastectomy, reconstruction and recovery, Alayne has been writing near-daily blog posts about her experience – and they’ve been resonating with thousands of readers, in the East Bay and beyond.
“It was a totally different experience three years ago than this time,” she says. Now, bravery, honesty and humor define how she shares her experience – or maybe “overshares” is more accurate, since, she says, “I’ll show my boobs to anyone who wants to see them” (maybe/probably/not really a joke). “That feeling of having part of your body taken off was so sad to me,” Alayne says, “but I wrote about it so much that I think it helped release that sadness. The thing that helped me the most was that I met a woman who had the same surgery by the same surgeons. She invited me to look, and I was like, That’s going to be great.”
Just as other women with breast cancer have helped ease her own fears, Alayne’s openness has helped to inform others living with breast cancer in their lives, whether they’re the sick ones or not. She’s not providing medical information – she’s sharing what it’s like for one woman to go through cancer. “I’ve been making a difference in women’s lives for 15 years with the treatments that we do at the spa” that boost women’s confidence and help them to look and feel beautiful, she says. “But now, there’s a depth that feels so connected. I’ve had so many women and men say to me that they love what I’m writing, or they sent it to their sister who has cancer.”
As much as her posts celebrate bravery and recovery and thriving in the face of cancer, some reveal an author who’s vulnerable and afraid, especially in the countdown posts before her double mastectomy. In those days she was coming to terms with losing pieces of her body, and fearing the loss of her womanness, her desirability, her sense of self. For someone so adamant about aging naturally – Alayne barely wears makeup other than lipstick, and doesn’t color her graying hair – getting reconstructive implants was a difficult consideration. “There was a moment when I thought, Why am I even going to do this?”
Yes, she was diagnosed early and yes, her recovery has been less difficult and faster than some. Alayne is aware she’s making cancer look easy. A close friend of hers is having a very different battle with the same cancer right now. “The thing that’s interesting in people reading my writing is this sense that I’m Wonder Woman,” she says. “I laugh at it – but I don’t like to have that be the perception” of what going through cancer is like. “This is just my experience with it. When it gets caught early, you don’t even feel sick. I want everybody to know that it doesn’t have to be so bad if it’s not bad.”
Late in September, Alayne went in for the last in her series of reconstructive surgeries. She’ll continue writing about her recovery, but more than that, she’s just going to continue writing. “I think I have opened up my personal floodgates, and there’s no stopping my truth now,” she says. “I feel liberated by it. I think this… acting ‘as though’ has been the gift of cancer. I get to stand on the precipice of my mortality and look at my life and say, Alright, what do I want to do differently? I really like that.”