September 18, 2023

Friendship blossoms through breast cancer treatment

Two women smiling in a garden

Becca Bryant and Michelle Hornung’s friendship blossomed during an extremely challenging time in their lives.

The two met in 2021 after they were each diagnosed with stage II triple negative breast cancer. This extremely-aggressive subtype represents 15% of breast cancer diagnoses and is also more likely to impact women under 40.

“We bonded immediately,” Hornung said.

They share the same sense of humor and a flair for the artistic. Bryant runs her own graphic design business, Urban Root Creative, and Hornung started a floral business, Crazy Daisy Flower Truck, as a passion project aside from her work as a nurse at UW Health.

Bryant and Hornung were each other’s rock as they faced the same courses of treatment, surgery and chemotherapy, and dealt with the same difficult side effects. They often talked on the phone as each laid in bed sick and exhausted from chemotherapy. Being a similar age and sharing the same cancer subtype helped them feel less isolated during treatments.

“It’s just nice to have that person to lean on and talk to,” they agreed.

Bryant had the extra challenge of going through treatments as the mom of three young children, including a son who was nine months old when she was diagnosed. She also had scale back her business to focus on her health, creating a financial hardship for their family. Becca felt like she had to hide her diagnosis to avoid being stigmatized.

“So many people out there, unfortunately, have dealt with cancer, and you can return to being a full-functioning employee and person,” Bryant said.

Now one year out from their treatments, Hornung wanted to help Bryant get back on her feet. She sponsored Bryant’s entry for Sun Prairie’s Community Art Making Project this summer, where artists were given floral silhouette canvases to design in their own way for a public art display.

Hornung and Bryant knew they wanted to share their cancer story and raise awareness. Bryant created a floral motif to symbolize how she and Hornung are blooming again after treatment. The slice of solid pink within the design represents the 1 in 8 chance a woman has to develop breast cancer in her lifetime. The three lines on the left side represent triple negative breast cancer.

The piece’s name, “The (Red) Devil in the Details” is a nod to the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin, nicknamed “the red devil” for its bright red color and harsh side effects. Both Hornung and Bryant had doxorubicin during their treatments, as it is very commonly used with triple negative breast cancer.

“We wanted this to focus on breast cancer awareness, but also for Becca to get back to her roots with her creativeness,” Hornung said. “It’s just all encompassed into one piece of art that tells you three different stories: our (cancer) story, independent (cancer) stories, and really for Becca to have this ability again to really do something so creative and detailed again.”

Hornung and Bryant also plan to start support groups for post-treatment young breast cancer survivors, as well as a peer network for family members and caregivers.

Hornung now works in the UW Health Breast Center as a nurse navigator, serving as a point of contact for patients who are having neoadjuvant chemotherapy to provide education and resources during their journey.

“Every journey is different, but the main thing is that always holds true is hope,” Hornung said.