By Sarrah Strimel Bentley
After 20 years of dating in New York City (if you know you know), I met a tall ginger unicorn (enter James Bentley) on Dec. 6, 2019. We had a whirlwind love affair, traveling to San Francisco on our fifth date. Covid lockdowns began and we flew to Florida to quarantine with my parents, who had only just heard about my new paramour. We stayed for three months. James Bentley and I decided to buy a house, sight unseen, in Springs (my favorite part of The Hamptons besides Montauk). We pulled the trigger on my mother’s Sarasota lanai and imagined our future together. Marriage and babies and all of the fixin’s! We moved into our East Hampton dream home on Aug. 4, 2020, amid Hurricane Isaias. On Aug. 20, we set out for our nightly beach walk with our beautiful rascal of a Boston terrier, Glory. I had an itch in my left armpit and reached over to scratch it, under the light of a perfect bay sunset. Almost out of thin air, a walnut-sized lump landed under my fingers.
On Sept. 1, 2020, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, at 38 years old. On Sept. 15, I had a double mastectomy, followed by two rounds of IVF, eight rounds of ACT chemotherapy, and 28 rounds of radiation. James proposed to me on Dec. 9, 2020. Before I said yes, I asked him if, as a little boy, he ever dreamed he would propose to a bald lady. We were able to create one embryo before I began chemotherapy, as my treatment usually renders one infertile on the back end. I have to be on continued medication for the next decade and, therefore, I can’t carry our one precious embryo. We have hired a surrogacy agency to match us with an angel who can bring our little boy into the world.
I’ve been asked many times how I managed to make cancer look “easy” (spoiler alert, it’s not). I have a mutated gene, so no amount of spirulina and ohm-ing could fix that, but there is a secret to resiliency I want to share with you: joy mining. I was put on a road I didn’t choose and I had two choices on how to walk down it: I could crawl through the muck, yelling “Why me?” or I could put one foot in front of the other and look around at all of the beauty amid the breakdown. It was about moments gained, not lost. When I was bald, puffy and gassy from chemotherapy, James woke me up every morning with a coffee and pastry in bed and said, “Good morning, most beautiful woman in the world.” Being a yogi is about being present to the moment at hand, not forecasting or holding onto things from the past. I beat cancer by waking up each morning and asking myself, “How do I feel in this moment and how can I make this better?” I danced to Pitbull on the car rides home from chemo and practiced yoga in my underwear to commune with my ever-changing physical body.
Along with my co-founders Victoria Raphael and Ann Palmer, I launched the nonprofit A Damn Good Life in October, funding surrogacy journeys for young breast cancer survivors in need. We will be hosting events this summer throughout the East End. I am chronicling my own surrogacy journey as a breast cancer survivor, much like I did in “The Breast Cancer Diaries,” on my Instagram page. I want every woman going through something difficult to know they aren’t alone and that they have a damn good life right in front of them! damngoodyoga.com; IG @damngoodyoga