Above: three months into a five-month chemo regimen for stage 3 breast cancer, general contractor and home inspector Amanda Sprinkling-Felt builds for the first time since beginning her treatment.
What made you start doing the amazing things that you do?
My dad was a general contractor so I grew up on job sites and in supply houses. At five, I would collect the knockouts after the electricians had been through and pretend they were quarters. The first job site I managed was our childhood playhouse: two stories, a winch elevator, a firefighter pole, a second-story balcony AND electricity, which is still standing today.
What does a day in your work life look like?
With two kids and two businesses? I just do what’s in front of me! You should see what the back of my car looks like.
Double duty during home inspector training.
What do you want people to know about being a woman in your field?
Most of your counterparts won't believe that you can do it, whatever it is. Sometimes, even after you've done it. Repeatedly. So do the work, complete your tasks, hold your focus, and the rest will follow. The people that continue to think you can't do it can't be changed. Keep the good ones that see you and do your best to let the others fall into your periphery.
How do you encourage other women to start doing what you do?
I show them that it can be done, that it has been done, and that it feels good to do something that you thought you couldn't. I want to show women that they can can do anything they put their mind to. I hope to give women a new drumbeat to drown out the crappy one the world gave them. You can. You can. You can!
You were diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2018--tell us about that experience.
I had gone in with a lump three months earlier for a mammogram and ultrasound. At that time, they told me that they weren't even worried enough to request a biopsy and to come back in a year for a follow-up. Three months later I learned that my tumor is nearly 2" across and has made it to my lymph nodes.
It took a full day just to say it out loud. I have breast cancer. I am a self-employed sole income for a wife and two kids under the age of three. How in the hell is this supposed to work?
Amanda with her family and biggest supporters.
I, at this point, was not a hospital person. On the morning of my first surgery, the admissions receptionist joked "you don't come here very often," because my file was so thin. As of September, I was a full-time patient, on top of the rest of my life. Before I knew it, I had a team of doctors, 59 appointments and four surgeries ahead of me. The first few months of a diagnosis like this is running to keep up with the medical and emotional whirlwind that has kicked up all around you.
I had the first of five months of chemo two weeks later. The nurses lovingly referred to that particular treatment as "Red Devil". It's so toxic that if it were to drip on your skin, it would burn on impact. Because of this, it was hand-administered into my veins at a set, steady rate. That shit was vile. The thought of it still makes me queasy. The chemo and the three months of radiation that followed it, were, in effect, selectively killing me.
It was a well-orchestrated, exactly engineered, consensual dance with death. In order to kill the cancer, they have to kill the host. I was the host. I was lucky though. I had a secret weapon: I am a childhood sex abuse survivor and one of the tools that I walked away with from that early iron-forged experience was a particular ability to step outside of my physical person.
I was able to process my cancer and its treatment as though it were someone else's. I knew it was happening to me. The nausea and exhaustion was a constant reminder but I was able to have my emotions when I felt safe enough to do so. Because of this, my overarching feeling is that cancer and its treatment is fascinating. The way that the world handles you is fascinating. The manner in which you, yourself, move through this roller coaster is fascinating. I look back and I marvel at it. It wasn't the scariest thing I've done, I certainly hope that I don't have to do it again but If I do, bring it. Let's dance again.
My wife and I had, upon my diagnosis, easily decided to be very upfront with our then nearly 3-year-old daughter about mama's cancer. Georgia is smart. She would have known and it would have been so much more terrifying without information. We spoke to her in facts and answered every question that she had. She shaved my head ahead of the chemo.
When I came home from my bilateral mastectomy in February, with my chest wrapped in bandages and drain tubes poking out of my hoodie, she looked me over, grabbed both sides of my face and exclaimed,"mama, you have kiddo boobs like me!"
She wasn't afraid. She was aware but she wasn't afraid. In retrospect, this was another secret weapon that I had. I'm not sure if it was buoying because we were diligent in how we informed our child or if it was her lack of fear that held me up.
What advice would you give to other women who face breast cancer diagnoses?
It feels fairly impossible to offer up advice or guidance to anyone who's been diagnosed because no two people are going to process this the same. No two people are going to find comfort in the same things. This is a beautifully personal process. And, you can't know what your part in it will look like until you are standing in it. It was somehow acutely lonely and overwhelmingly exhibitionist. No one else was feeling what I was at any given point. I was entirely alone in that. And, simultaneously, I was being monitored by innumerable people with an ungodly arsenal of machines.
The best thing that I can think to offer is to feel what you're feeling. Be afraid. Let fear wash over you. And then let it pass. It will come back but let it leave you. Ask every question that you can think of. Write them down. I had lists in my phone for each department of my team.
Find someone that has been through this or is going through it at the same time. It can muffle the lonely when you need a break from it. Let yourself be proud of your scars and your shiny head and your pasty skin. You are surviving. In that exact moment you are surviving.
People are going to say things that don't feel right. Or they will say nothing when they really want to know. They are trying and they don't know what to say. Remember that they intend to help. They want to help in a place where they really can't. Hold onto their intention. Or, tell them to fuck off.
No one is going to argue with the cancer lady with no eyebrows. Nap like you've never napped before. Board the plane first. They let you if you ask. I know it's an overbaked cliché but keep your head up.
Cancer is a river that turns a rock over and over and over until it is a different shape from when it found itself thrown in. Some find rounded edges others are cracked in half. To any of you that have traveled this river, and to those that will in the future, I hope that you can find joy in what you become on the other side.