Hannah Paramore Breen is widely recognized for her entrepreneurship; she built the Nashville-based Paramore Digital empire and then sold it in 2016. But while her career accomplishments are impressive (to say the least), it’s her recent health challenges that prompted us to sit down with her. In light of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Hannah agreed to share her story — lessons learned, newfound priorities, and what she wishes more women knew about breast cancer. Get to know this inspiring FACE of Nashville!
For some background, can you tell us about your upbringing and career trajectory?
My family moved to Nashville when I was five years old. My father was a minister, and my mother was a housewife, so our lives were focused on the church. I attended public schools and later Belmont College but did not graduate. I married early and had two children. Nobody expected me to have a career — not even myself — but I had to work to provide, so I climbed from entry-level positions to that awful ground of middle management until I got a break and was recruited into the digital industry. I rode that bubble in the late ’90s, and in 2002, I started what became Paramore Digital from a single consulting contract signed at my kitchen table.
What led you to transition away from Paramore Digital, and what was your biggest takeaway?
It was a true privilege and so much fun to own and run Paramore Digital, but it might have been a bigger privilege to sell it. The company gave me the opportunity to be involved in so many great things in our city, but after 15 years, I found my personal desires changing. Approaching 60 made me reprioritize my life. Of course, I had to marry my golf pro, too. I could feel my own commitment to the business wavering, which is never good when you’re the sole owner and CEO. When a buyer comes along, you have to pay attention.
My biggest takeaway was that absolutely nothing lasts forever; both the good and the bad in life will eventually end. This is true in every aspect of life and business. After 15 years with the business, the way I wanted to spend my days changed. I was impatient with aspects of the business that I had enjoyed in the past and anxious to be out the door at the end of the day to pursue hobbies and new interests. The tension between these new interests and my responsibility for the business was very uncomfortable. Some truth-tellers popped up in my life from unexpected places during that time and helped me to see the opportunity as something I couldn’t pass up. Letting go of the business I’d built set the stage for the next phase of my life.
On a more personal level, you were diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year and recently finished treatment. Can you share your story?
Yes, that’s a phone call you never want to get. After two mammograms that showed calcium spots — but nothing else — I had a doctor who just wouldn’t give up. My primary care physician didn’t like the reports, although I clearly did not have cancer at the time. He referred me to a surgeon who agreed that there was nothing to worry about but who decided to follow up in six months rather than the normal 12 months, just in case.
By that six-month follow-up, I had two cancerous tumors. Through the process that followed (MRI, genetic testing, etc.), we discovered that the tumors were larger than we first thought and in a place that was difficult to reach through a lumpectomy. I had a double mastectomy in May 2023, followed by five weeks of radiation. Now, I’ll take hormone blockers for the next five years to kill whatever might be left. Thank God for my primary care doctor.
What did you do to help navigate your diagnosis, and where did you find support?
A village of support sprouted up around my husband and me immediately. My friends and family mobilized instantly. Friends came from out of town to help me during the first couple of weeks after surgery. Others organized a meal train, which might be the best idea of all time. People sent flowers and gifts and cards. They called and texted me or just showed up unannounced. I have never been surrounded by so much love in my life.
The cancer community here is very strong, and once you are diagnosed, the doctors don’t waste any time getting your treatment plan in place. It’s a rollercoaster of one appointment after another to the point that there is little time for anything else at all. Things move very quickly. At each appointment, more and more information is revealed, and that feels very heavy. For us, the news got worse with every new test we did for a while, but now my prognosis is excellent.
My care team was based out of Ascension Saint Thomas and Tennessee Oncology. They provided tons of reading material, checklists (which I love), and guidance. I am still taking advantage of every service they offer: a psychologist, a dietician, the Cancer Wellness Center workout classes, yoga, lymphedema support, and more.
In addition, we have a relationship with LiveWell by Blakeford that provided additional support when we needed it, like rides to doctor appointments when there was one my husband could miss and other in-home support like help with grocery shopping. When we first became a member of LiveWell, we thought of it as something we would sign up for now to make sure we could live at home with support in the future.
We both have seen elderly family members who had to move into assisted living communities and knew that was not for us. While there are features that were beneficial even before my diagnosis, like the nutrition and fitness assessments, we thought we would only utilize LiveWell sparingly in our 60s and rely on it more when we are much older. We had no idea we would experience the need for more help at our age! But they came through.
What do you wish more women knew about breast cancer?
Many types of breast cancer are highly curable; we have had decades of experience treating and curing breast cancer. But if and when it recurs, it is very aggressive, so it’s important to treat it immediately, even in an early stage.
So many people, even in my own circle of friends, are dealing with breast cancer right now. In fact, I have four close friends who are in this fight with me! Sharing my experience with them and with the new friends I’ve made in the Cancer Wellness Center has really helped me cope. My cancer is worse than some of my friends but not as bad as others. It helps to get a perspective.
Breast cancer isn’t a death sentence in most cases now, but there is still a lot of fear to deal with when you are diagnosed because it’s a long journey to be cancer-free. Even through surgery, radiation, and medical oncology, I’ve never been afraid that this cancer would take my life, but I did realize that it would change my life. However, we are resilient and adaptable. We do heal and move forward.
What self-care strategies did you find along the way?
Cancer resets all your priorities, not only for you but for your whole family. My husband, Bill Breen, is a golf pro, so our plans for the tournament season immediately shifted. We had to let go of those plans and look at this as a fight we had to win.
I was told early on that I needed three things to heal: rest, protein, and low stress. We paid attention to that immediately. Daily naps, good food, and some financial decisions to lower our stress levels were all a part of the mix. We don’t over-commit to anything anymore, including things we normally love to do.
Health is our priority, and it lowered our stress to know we had a good care team, including two oncologists, two surgeons, many therapists, and LiveWell to help us with our daily needs. All of that brought peace of mind.
Additionally, we share a common faith in God, which has helped us tremendously. Almost daily Bible reading and prayer as a couple has really given us strength, comfort, and a larger perspective.
What is the best advice you’ve received — through your cancer battle or otherwise?
In a recent visit with my oncologist, I got clarity on the frustration I’ve been feeling over the medicine I’ll have to take for the next five years and all the potential side effects. I told her, “I’ve tried so hard all my life to make good decisions and stay healthy and fit, and now this cancer is …”
She interrupted me and said, “Yes, but this is life, and it could have been anything.”
It was such a simple statement, but it’s so true, and it’s one that I saw in my business as well. No matter what we do, we are not special. We’re human. We are not immune to the second law of thermodynamics. All systems tend toward chaos and disorder. Entropy is real.
So, take a breath. This is life. The blessings and the struggles.
Outside of faith, family, and friends, what three things can’t you live without?
I’ve learned this year that I can actually live without all the things I’ve been accustomed to or loved my whole life. But if you want to know the things I really enjoy daily, it’s books, music, and golf.
And finally, our lightning-round questions:
What was your last memorable meal here in town, and what did you have? Lamb meatballs, whipped feta, Brussels sprouts, and bucatini pasta at Santo.
What is your favorite gift to give, and where do you shop for it? A gift certificate to Escape Day Spa in Belle Meade.
What is your favorite Nashville hidden gem? Harpeth Valley Golf Center — the golf range where I learned to play golf, met my husband, said “yes” to his marriage proposal, and married him. It’s not so hidden anymore. COVID helped thousands of people discover it. Still, it’s one of the best places around to spend time.
What is the travel destination that tops your bucket list? Africa (again).
What is the last book you loved? Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
Thank you for sharing your story, Hannah. All images courtesy of David Bailey.
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