Meet Lauren, Strongest B*tch and Breast Cancer Survivor at 31
Have you ever met a person who's just so BIG inside of themselves that you can't help but be drawn to them? That's Lauren Nostro. The irony isn'y lost on anyone that she's 5 feet tall on a good day, but with a personality like hers you're hard-pressed to find a bigger person in any room.
Lauren and I coincided at Complex Networks at pivotal points in both our lives–from boys to careers to family, it was those crazy years in your mid-twenties that change everything. She had worked up the ranks to Music Editor over a group of her "sons" as she called them, aka bloggers, in the rap space, which I'm sure you can imagine....hardly populated by very many women. And it was in those same years she made herself a force to be reckoned with. pushed through the sea of dudes at Complex to write some of my favorite low-key feminist interviews.
Her cover stories with Nicki Minaj, where she confided how she wanted to leave it all to have a family, or with Khloe Kardashian in her first post-Lamar Odom divorce interview, or joining Amber Rose for the Slutwalk in LA are still some of my favorites Complex ever did. And me? I became her de facto publicist.
Little did we know that the "worst" days in those 20-something years, where the biggest problem we had was the hangover from drinking bad wine to forget bad boyfriends and work drama, were small ball.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29, years after we'd all moved on from those Complex days, and told us what was to come, I was gutted. And I didn't know what to say. Or do. What do you say when the baddest b*tch you know is brought to her knees?
I negotiated with God: Crazy, loud, passionate, larger than life Lauren was not to be f*cked with.
As we enter Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and she's officially in remission (but not out of the woods), she shares her story. What she's learned, what YOU should know about the realities of cancer treatment–especially as a young woman–and for me, the ultimate lesson.
To be grateful for the journey and the people on it. Thank you, Lauren, for fighting, for loving me despite how different we are, and for sharing your story.
You're a better woman than us all.
Name: Lauren Nostro
Identities you lead with: Daughter, sister, friend, partner, strongest bitch.
You’re a wildly talented writer. Have interviewed some of the most important talents of our time, mentored teams (of men your same age and older) in your early 20s...and battled breast cancer. What was your diagnosis and how did you find out? How quickly did you take action?
Last May, I left my job at Universal Music to pursue my biggest dream: working for myself & as a marketing & media consultant & starting an LLC—Nostro & Sons. With a change in jobs came a change in healthcare which resulted in a lapse in birth control, which I’d be on since I was 18 years old. In August, I felt a lump in my left breast which led to two months of ultrasounds, a biopsy, and last October 23, I was diagnosed with stage 3b invasive ductal carcinoma, which meant I had an 8 cm tumor that started in my milk duct. It was also triple negative, meaning it wasn’t an estrogen-fueled cancer, which typically means it’s more aggressive. By the time I got my diagnosis, my cancer had progressed so much that my medical team at UCLA where I was diagnosed said the cancer was growing at 95%—one of the highest they’d ever seen. By November 5, I had moved from Los Angeles back to Buffalo, where I’m from, & started treatment in November at Roswell Park. I did 20 weeks of chemo—to which I saw a complete pathological response meaning the chemo did its job. Then I had a bilateral double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, meaning that all of my breast tissue was removed & I had tissue expanders placed in the empty chest walls. Then I did 5 weeks of daily radiation. Now I’m in remission & I’m still in the reconstruction phase—I just booked my final surgery for January 2021, where I’ll finally get the implants of my dreams!
You’ve been — in pure Lauren fashion — an open book on your journey. Did you ever second guess that? What prompted that?
I don’t think I really had a choice, I’ve grappled with it so many times—did I really need to post that IG photo? With that caption? Did I really need to cry on my IG stories when I found out I may be permanently in menopause (they gave me shots that put my ovaries on hold during treatment) right after I met my soulmate this summer? There has been so much that I’ve shared that at this point there’s no looking back. I remember I had been diagnosed & had to sell my shit on IG before my move & people kept responding with “Where are you going? Are you moving back to New York? What’s happening!” So after 2 glasses of wine, I just had a fuck it moment. I knew that being more open could help other people & I think that has so while sometimes I cringe weeks later at some of my posts, if it’s helped someone else out even a little bit then I think that cringe is worth it.
Was anything off the table?
I don’t think I was as honest about how depressing & isolating the entire treatment was; there’s such a mentality of “You’re so strong! You got this!” & it’s like well, yes, thank you but what other choice is there? There wasn’t a choice of whether or not I was going to do anything. There were some instances like the time I shit my pants on Christmas Day after eating prime rib (never trust a fart on chemo) or where I went through a lot of mental health treatment & was put on mood stabilizers mid-way through chemo. If I couldn’t or wasn’t processing it well myself, it wouldn’t have been fair to share that with other people. There is also a lot of survivor’s remorse & guilt that I don’t think I can really manage or describe yet, so while those things aren’t exactly off the table, I haven’t processed them enough to share with others. I could’ve left the fact that my partner & I don’t need to use condoms for the foreseeable future off the table but… *sigh* I was trying to make light of an incredibly dark day!
What’s the most ridiculous reaction you got? Which ones stood out?
I had more of an issue with people being grief tourists during my treatment & my documentation of cancer—too much unsolicited advice, too much “yas queen,” too much “Well I was there for you during cancer treatment” shit but really all cancer did was bring me back home (which is something I’ve wanted for longer than I’d like to admit), make everything more urgent, & really weed out anyone who is in my life for reasons besides love & happiness.
What’s the biggest misconception about being a breast cancer patient / survivor at our age?
That one the cancer is gone, you’re good. I found I struggled the most with the weeks after I was in remission. “The cancer is gone, why are you still doing radiation?” It was exhausting & there was a part of post-treatment where I had a severe breakdown because I was so scared & nervous about the cancer coming back now that I wasn’t at my cancer center 3-5 times a week. I now see my team of doctors every 3 months & that has just been a lot to deal with. You’d think if you beat cancer, you’d feel relief—but it was actually the opposite. One of my biggest fears, one of the main catalysts to any emotional spiral, is that I simply won’t have enough time.
You’re super politically active and fierce ally, especially locally, with BLM. Has that helped fuel you in your battle with your health and vice versa?
I’m not sure it’s fueled me but I do think cancer & treatment & health care costs opened my eyes to the immediate need of Medicare for all. That one would have to choose between treatment options depending on what their insurance covers, the idea of even making that choice infuriates me. I was very lucky & incredibly privileged to receive the care I did in Buffalo, which is thanks to my own connections & friendships here. Had I of not gone to high school with my oncologists’ best friend’s son, how long would I have had to wait to get into treatment? How far would my cancer have progressed? Health care needs to be free & accessible to all—period.
I almost choked when you told me you started Pilates. Couldn’t picture it. Are there any other habits you’ve picked up in the past few years that you think you’ll hang on to?
I miss doing pilates so much, I can barely exercise now because of reconstruction & radiation side effects. I don’t really have many other habits I picked up, I think I’m more aware of my body & its limits but I’m back in active therapy again & as usual, it is one of the most rewarding “habits” in my life.
What advice would you give your 20 year old self ?
Be more gentle with yourself & establish better boundaries in your life.
Lastly, what’s next for Lauren Nostro?
I rarely think about the future these days unless I’m spiraling over recurrence so I try to stay in the moment, be incredibly intentional into who & what is in my life. It’s really that simple, there are no major keys or plans or goals, just to find some sort of happiness in the mundane day to day means the most to me.