If you had asked Arpi Hamilton five years ago if competing in and winning the Mrs. Arizona America pageant was part of her life plan, she would have answered you with a resounding “No.” But now? She’ll tell you it’s exactly where she’s supposed to be. Arpi became a breast cancer survivor after beating a 25% survival rating of a triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis in 2016, Arpi made it her mission to “educate others about preventative screenings, cancer awareness, and dedicating her life to health, wellness, cancer advocacy, and survivorship.” And the Mrs. Arizona—and potentially Mrs. America—platform is the perfect place to do that.
FemmePharma connected with Arpi and asked if she’d share her breast cancer survivor story with our community. We spoke with her about her initial diagnosis, navigating survivorship, and being a role model for other survivors.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis
As someone who works with and advocates for cancer patients through the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Arpi was very familiar with the illness. But it became personal for her in December 2016 when she noticed a lump.
“I was doing regular breast self-exams, but I just kind of glazed over it—I wasn’t too concerned. Fast forward a few months, and it had considerably grown in size. And I was also experiencing some pain. Everything happened kind of quickly at that point.”
After a referral from her doctor to CTCA, followed by a mammogram and an ultrasound, Arpi received her diagnosis.
Working through Treatment
Luckily, Arpi was able to start treatment quickly. But she acknowledges that the process wasn’t the smoothest. After four rounds of chemotherapy, multiple drug treatments, and a unilateral mastectomy, she’d had enough.
So when the doctors said they needed to do additional chemo because they didn’t get all of her cancer, Arpi was devastated and didn’t know if she had it in her to keep going.
“My daughter actually sat me down and she said, ‘You’ve given up. I feel like you’ve given up on us.’ They deserved for me to give it my all,” she said.
With that boost from her daughter—along with her “army of support” in the form of 9-10 friends who accompanied her to treatments—she continued the additional chemotherapy, along with radiation treatments. Finally, she was declared cancer-free on August 15, 2017.
Survivorship – Living Through and Beyond Breast Cancer
Many people think receiving treatment is the most harrowing part of a breast cancer diagnosis. But for Arpi, the most challenging—and ultimately, rewarding—part was becoming a cancer survivor.
For Arpi, being a beast cancer survivor meant navigating the toll cancer took on her, including working through sexual intimacy issues, becoming post-menopausal and managing those symptoms, and dealing with the potential for cancer recurrence.
“Survivorship was so much more than what I was prepared for. I assumed that I would just go back to my normal life and everything would be fine. However, that wasn’t the case.”
Perhaps one of the hardest parts was working through sexual intimacy issues post-treatment.
“My husband and I had gone almost a year without being intimate because he took on the role of caregiver. I’m his wife, whom he loves so much, and there’s the possibility he’s going to lose me. So you kind of turn off the intimacy part and the sexual part of you, and you move forward. And just because you’re now cancer-free doesn’t mean that it goes right back to where you left off. That was tough for us, and we went through sexual behavior therapy to work through that,” she said.
After navigating these uncertainties and challenges for a while, Arpi finally began to experience happiness again. Through her job at CTCA, she helps others in treatment by serving on a community engagement team, providing resources, offering virtual support groups, and doing different forms of therapy.
“CTCA has given me unbelievable opportunities,” she said.
Becoming Mrs. Arizona – Using Her Voice to Reach Others
Another opportunity came where she least expected it—the chance to run for Mrs. Arizona.
Though it wasn’t something she’d ever considered, Arpi grew to the idea after speaking with the former Mrs. Arizona, who encouraged her to apply and emphasized the impact and reach she could have on others.
“She planted a seed. And the more time went on, it morphed into this journey that I felt God was leading. I felt like, I have a voice. And now I’ve been given this platform to use it. And there are people that want to hear it; there are people that need to hear it. So I put in the effort. And, oddly enough, I showed up and I won.”
Winning the crown was an even greater victory for Arpi because it was the same day she was declared cancer-free, three years later.
Arpi hopes to spread awareness even further by competing for the title of Mrs. America. To her, there’s no greater joy than sharing her breast cancer story with other survivors.
“I feel like I owe it to those that no longer have a voice and those that are still going to be coming after me; those yet to be diagnosed. They deserve to see that there’s life after cancer and it doesn’t have to be a death sentence.”
FemmePharma is proudly sharing survivors’ journeys during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Check out their stories here. Arpi is also a speaker for our free webinar “Impact Of Chemotherapy On Intimacy & Vulvo-vaginal Health”
Photo Courtesy – Arpi Hamilton