By Sharing Her Cancer Story With The World, This Woman Discovered A New Sense Of Purpose

"Did my life feel like my own?"

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In honor of the month, we will be highlighting the stories of those affected, as well as the people who come to their aid and help bring awareness to the issue.



Ask Samantha Paige what exactly a "last cut" is, and she'll tell you a story. It's a story about loss, love, life, and what to do with the leftovers. 

"I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 21 and after that, I didn't deal with the trauma of being diagnosed with cancer my senior year of college and it came back to haunt me," she told A Plus. In the years that followed, she suffered from "debilitating" migraines, panic attacks, and anxiety. 

"From that place, I started to make decisions based on what I had been told would make me happy …" she explained. "I got to a place where, one day, I woke up, and I didn't recognize who I was in my own life."

To find herself again, she created the Last Cut Project, a multi-media documentary project exploring how our big life decisions — last cuts, like her eventual decision to get a preventative mastectomy —  bring us closer to living our most authentic lives. Paige started with her own. Looking inward, taking stock of every decision, figuring out where she said "yes" when she should've said "no," she started over. 

In doing so, Paige got divorced, closed her company, unraveled a life that hadn't felt like her own in far too long. 

“I started to pull apart all of these parts of my life and realize that when we start to make these last cuts — these big life decisions that bring us more in line with who we are — then our life opens up ... ”

Courtesy of Lisa Field
Courtesy of Lisa Field

"That certainly then happened with me with the explant, which came after all of these other decisions that then I felt as if I really landed in my own body," she said. In her late twenties, Paige was diagnosed with the BRCA1 mutation, which indicated a much higher risk for not only breast cancer, but ovarian and other reproductive organ-related cancers. 

"Given my experience of having cancer at such an early age, when I got that diagnosis, I was really overwhelmed by the idea of going every three months to have an MRI or a mammogram and the anxiety around that type of testing," she said, explaining the reasoning behind her choice to have a prophylactic double mastectomy. "... I knew I wanted to have a child, so when my daughter was born, that was really the moment I decided that it was time," Paige added. "I didn't want to be living with that anxiety, and I really wanted to show up and be present for her."  So Paige decided to get a preventative mastectomy. 

While for Paige the preventative mastectomy was a "very empowered" last cut, it was also a "very personal" one. 

“ There's no right way to do any of this ... there's so many ways, and I think it goes back to what Last Cut is all about: what's right for each of us. And how do we tap into that and live that in our decision making?”

Courtesy of Lisa Field
Courtesy of Lisa Field

Paige learned what was right for her only after learning what was wrong. When she got her mastectomy, she originally decided to "do reconstruction," meaning she had her breast tissue removed and then replaced by silicone implants, which she kept for eight years. "... The decision to eventually get the silicone implants ... that just became this enormous metaphor for reflecting back on all the ways that I had said 'yes' to something that society told me I should," Paige recalled. "... When we internalize what society wants us to ... we often can get very off track from how we actually need to be showing up in the world." 

When she started The Last Cut Project in January 2016, writing about her explant experience and decision to "go flat" helped Paige realize that this single decision represented how she'd approached everything in her life. A self-described "people pleaser" barraged by the media's expectations, she realized that while the implants "supposedly made [her] look more intact and perfect," she never felt like herself. 

“I couldn't even look myself in the mirror, and now, I'm flat chested, I have huge scars across my chest, but I feel more integrated and intact than ever before.”

Courtesy of Lisa Field
Courtesy of Lisa Field


That feeling — and the choices we all can make to experience it for ourselves — is what the  Last Cut Project is really all about. "What do you need to do is go inside and answer for yourself, 'How do I want to define my life? How do I want to live so I feel good at the end of the day about how I showed up for myself, for my family, for my friends, in the work that I'm doing? Am I being of service in the world?'" Paige further explains. For her, it all comes back to the same question she asks herself every day: "Did my life feel like my own?" 

She's learned that, sometimes, for her life to feel like her own, it doesn't feel good. "For people who certainly are going through cancer or who have survived cancer, it's incredibly important to know that it's OK to feel all of the emotions on the human spectrum," Paige explained. "I like to say we're full spectrum beings, and so cancer survivorship or going through that isn't just about being optimistic and hopeful and holding it all together." There are pitfalls to false optimism in a time of tragedy, as Paige experienced with post-traumatic stress disorder that came after she survived thyroid cancer. 

When she was 21, she just wanted to be happy and finish her senior year of college, but there was "a lot of sadness and pain and disappointment" that she didn't fully acknowledge until it came back to haunt her later. "My advice, certainly for people who are going through that, is allow yourself the space to feel that and really feel it through because I think when you really go there, you come out the other side and can move on," she said. Though she acknowledged that cancer will always "be part of who we are," it doesn't have to "haunt your every moment." 

For supporters of those diagnosed with cancer, her advice is similar. 

“Allow for the space for all of the feelings, and to know that you're not failing a friend or a family member if you can't fix it, because we can't fix everything for everyone ... Sometimes you just have to say, 'I'm here.' "

Courtesy ofLisa Field
Courtesy ofLisa Field

What's been "so beautiful" for Paige to watch is the community that has evolved around the Last Cut Project and its accompanying podcast, Last Cut Conversations. "When we start to put ourselves out there, we're met by opportunities and people who want to support our personal mission because they understand it, and it's something that they uphold as well," she added. "... The more that I was hanging out with the people I knew loved me and supported me for who I was, the more that I was feeding myself well, the more that I was doing work that I loved, the more that I made my house environment a reflection of who I was, all of these things feed into my overall strength and resilience as a person, as a survivor, as a previvor, as a mother, as a friend." 

As The Last Cut Project continues, Paige hopes one person will read her words, see her creative partner Lisa Field's photos, or listen to her podcast conversations with others and be inspired to show up in their own life in their way, like she has learned to show up in hers. 

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, Lisa Field's name was misspelled. The headline also misstated that Samantha Paige had breast cancer. It has been updated to reflect that she had cancer, but was not specifically diagnosed with breast cancer. 

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