Stylist Story: A Breast Cancer Diagnosis Spurs Change

With 28 years behind the chair, Bay Area stylist Sara Jane Diaz evolved with the hair industry trends. But a breast cancer diagnosis in 2019 inspired Sara Jane to prioritize clean beauty options and disconnect from unhealthy salon industry expectations. Thanks to early detection and an amazing healthcare team, she is here to share her story with us during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

1. Can you tell us about your diagnosis and journey?

November 21, 2019 was the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in the healthiest place in my life, or so I thought. I worked out 5 days a week in the gym and ran up to 3 miles per day. I had achieved a comfortable work/life balance.

I went in for a routine mammogram at the end of October, which I had done for many years. Going in for these appointments had become somewhat uneventful so I was busy thinking about the rest of my day during the appointment. Once the initial films were completed I was asked to wait in another room while the radiologist looked at my films. The tech came back into the room and told me we needed to take more images. Once the images were taken, I went back and waited. Not too long after the tech came back and said “We are going to need to take an ultrasound today.”

About 15 minutes later I heard the curtain open and two sets of footsteps. I knew at that point someone was going to deliver news I did not want to hear. On November 19 I went in for a core needle biopsy. On November 21, I received the call from my OB/GYN. “Sara, I am sorry to tell you, you have breast cancer.”

The next few weeks were a flurry of doctor appointments, breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, lab tests. Then came a surgery date of Feb. 27, 2020 for a double mastectomy. After surgery, I was lucky the pathology report showed the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes.

My cancer is known as DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ, and is one of the most common breast cancers. Due to my age and lack of familial history of this disease, I was referred for genetic testing. Surprisingly, once I received the results we had an answer to maybe why this occurred. I tested positive for a gene mutation under the BRCA panel that put me at a 60% higher risk for breast cancer, among others.

Today, my health is stable, however due to this sneaky mutation, cancer will be something I will always need to be one step ahead of. My future will be dotted with doctor appointments, lab work, and upcoming preventative surgeries to keep this disease in my rearview mirror.

2. If you could talk to yourself as a young stylist, what would you say? 

“Take time to take care for yourself.” Not only in my non-work life, but, most importantly, in my work environment. As a young stylist, I grew up in an industry in which time was money. The “smarter” – not harder – you worked was the key to success. This often meant double booking, long days, always weekends. Now that I am on the other side of that life, and see the industry shifting to promoting self care and a focused approach to the client and stylist experience, it is not lost on me. Your daily environment plays a role in your overall health.

I would encourage my younger self to let go of the stress associated with double booking, long days and overall salon environment. It is not just our products that can be toxic to our health. Cultivating a space that is peaceful and joy filled will help to promote awareness of your physical, mental and spiritual needs throughout the day. Also, I would encourage my younger self to do research on the products that work for my business and clientele, always be open to learning as that is the true key to success.

3.  How has clean beauty shifted your perspective as a stylist?

I discovered clean beauty about 15 years ago. As I incorporated this into my work environment, it shifted the way I looked at my business model, clients and their hair. I began to see real results with products that did not contain harsh chemicals and surfactants that we know have damaging effects on our bodies and the greater environment.

What a wonderful opportunity I have to teach my clients about their overall health from the perspective of beauty. Being able to provide services with products that do not contain harmful irritants or fragrances not only enhances my clients’ experience but recharges my work space. It also allows me the opportunity to talk about philanthropy because most of our clean beauty brands work to give back to the community in one way or another. It is wonderful to strike up a conversation with a client about giving back and see how that inspires or affects them.

Clean beauty has also shown me how to slow down and trust the process, which in turn for my clients has a tremendous benefit. 

4. You talk about finding your “center” as a stylist, how do you do that?

First, find the place within yourself that is uniquely you. How will you bring that to the world? We all have these amazing attributes as human beings, but sometimes we are a little shy to let the world see them. I say cultivate those wonderful qualities that make you who you are. Take time to honor those qualities and be vulnerable and brave enough to share them with the world.

Second, we must take time each day to reflect and be grateful. Even if you can only squeeze out five minutes of time in your busy schedule, take a look around you and find a quiet space within and fill your mind with gratitude. I love to take 15-30 minutes each day to sit outside and just listen to nature. There is something special about hearing the wind through the trees or watching the sun as it is setting for the day. Puts a lot in perspective and helps to shift us from the busyness of the day to a calmer place of reflection.

5. How do you remind yourself to listen to yourself and your body?

Listening to our bodies is key! We all know those 3pm hunger pangs when we are on our fourth client and are existing on three cups of coffee. If you are hungry, while your client is processing, have a light snack. If your feet are aching, reach for that stool next to you and finish your service sitting down. Take care of you, too!

Try scheduling out a hard lunch for yourself for a week, I bet you will feel a huge difference in your motivation and energy. While you are working, be mindful of body positioning. So many of our physical complaints can be attributed to our posture, if something doesn’t feel right, change your position. Take time to stretch during the day, our bodies are in constant motion. If you don’t already have a workout routine in your schedule, try to incorporate that into your life. As we age in this business, physical strength is a key game changer!

6. What’s your advice for anyone facing a breast cancer diagnosis?

Do not let this define you. Is it scary? You bet, I was terrified, but I learned that I am strong. Is it unfair? Yes, it disrupts our plans but sometimes that brings about new opportunities and needed change. Get as much information as you can to make the right decision for you. Find the healthcare team that listens to you and will advocate for you. Your healthcare team will carry you through some of the toughest decisions of your life, and most vulnerable moments. Lean on your support system and know it is ok to let others help.

Most importantly, keep your sense of humor through it all. I did a lot of crying in the first few months, but I also did a lot of laughing. Cancer changes you physically and emotionally, it is important to still be able to laugh at life and most of all LOVE life. You don’t get to choose a lot of what happens to you during cancer but you can choose how you respond to it. Make the most of your life!

7. What do you wish you knew “then?”

I think I wouldn’t have had such a wild ride if I knew! I think most importantly we stress over a lot of unnecessary things in life, finding your own peace and maintaining it – I believe – will bring you happiness. Don’t be afraid to assert your boundaries personally or professionally in life. Most of all cherish who you are and celebrate the real beauty of just being YOU! One more thing… Go get your mammogram!

Raising Funds And Awareness

In June, 2021, Innersense Organic Beauty raised over $44,000 for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners’ Climb Against The Odds, when seven team members joined in the ascent of Mt. Shasta, a beautiful 14,179-foot summit in Northern California.

And in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re participating in the 26th Annual Peak Hike for Prevention with BCPP, a seven mile trek through the coastal trail at Point Bonita in Marin County, California!

So many of us have been touched in some way by this devastating disease. Together, we can and will raise more money for breast cancer prevention than we ever could alone. And together, we will make prevention possible. If you feel inspired, you can help us support BCPP at the button below. 

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