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It all started with a Beyonce concert… By guest blogger, Channte K.

It was one of the best nights of my life. After having front row seats to the Beyonce Formation concert, I was on an ultimate high. I crashed in the bed at 1:00 am, anxiously looking to recap the night. I scrolled through picture after picture on my phone, grinning at how remarkable the night had been. As I rested my phone near my chest to brace for a better view, I could see a raised lump. The site of the lump was not too frightening at the time, but I immediately knew that whatever the knot was, it didn’t belong there.

One month later; after an OBGYN visit, a mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy, I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 3, 2016 at 36 years old. This was the start of my cancer journey.

After the initial shock, to me it was simple. If it were up to me, my treatment plan would be to have the tumor surgically removed and then continue on with my life after a few weeks. But it’s far more complicated than that.

I was diagnosed with Stage 2, estrogen positive invasive ductal carcinoma. When you’re diagnosed, it seems as if the process moves very swiftly at first. A plethora of hard decisions that impact the rest of your life have to be made in a matter of days. Having said that, in three weeks post diagnosis, I removed both breast. I thought that having a double mastectomy was enough. The doctors thought otherwise.

My surgical oncologist insisted that I do radiation. It was my plastic surgeon that rebutted that course of treatment. I did a second surgery to remove additional skin against my surgical oncologist wishes but with my plastic surgeons persistence. My plastic surgeon secured clear margins during my second surgery. But to my surprise and horror there were still 1 cm of cancer cells left in my right breast. Although I avoided radiation because of my second procedure. I still had to do chemotherapy.

No one tells you how much you lose when you have cancer. Since I had surgery and chemotherapy, I lost my breast, my hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and the possibility for more children. There were mornings when I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself.

But the beautiful thing about my journey is that I gained so much more than I lost. A year later, most of what cancer took has been replaced with something much better. I have hair and my eyebrows and eyelashes back. I also have new breast thanks to reconstructive surgery.

But that’s not what’s most important. I have met some incredible people along this journey. I have found strength and companionship among other survivors. My faith in God has quadrupled. I am more passionate, more loving and more grateful for each day.

I could say that having cancer was some of the worst days of my life. But I won’t. Instead I will say that overcoming cancer gave me a new outlook on life. It was a beautiful experience that was painful at its worst (physically and emotionally), humbling at its core and rewarding in the end.

Now when I look in the mirror I still don’t recognize myself. I’m different. I’m a better version of the old me. I’ve been elevated to a warrior with immense strength and a clear purpose. I certainly have the battle scars to prove it.  I will continue to raise awareness, educate and help others in being their own health advocate and their best selves. ~ Channte

 

Cancer treatment breaks you down … physically and emotionally. By Robin G.


For me the hardest part about having cancer is not ever understanding why or how it happened. You scroll through your Rolodex over and over in your head and nothing makes sense. Every new research report I see only makes me angry. Fact is … when it comes to prevention we just don’t know. By all research accounts I did everything right. I’ve never smoked. I rarely have a drink of alcohol. I #exercise. I eat right. I even breast-fed both of my children for a full year in part because the “research” said it would decrease your risk for getting breast cancer. And I don’t carry the gene.

Yet somehow the sniper got me! I was a sitting duck and I got hit. So then all your medical team can do is go on the defense. Sometimes they cut the cancer out. Sometimes they poison you and put drugs in your body that kill cancer and everything else. Some people don’t survive the treatment. They literally get killed by the treatments. And sometimes they burn you. They literally burn your body in an effort to kill cancer. Chemo, surgery, and #Radiation. The cancer treatment trifecta.

Cancer treatment breaks you down … physically and emotionally.

When they can’t find any more #cancer they say “you won!” Won what?!? A battle I never asked to fight?!? And you’re left laying on the ground picking up the pieces and trying to find a sense of normal again. You’re supposed to be happy because you’re still breathing. You’re supposed to be grateful that you have a second chance at life. You’re not supposed to focus on what you’ve lost, or the moments that were stolen from you, or your risk of recurrence.
Well forgive me if I struggle with that sometimes. Every now and then that positive outlook bursts and the flood of emotions just come pouring out. Anger. Frustration. Bitterness.

Today is one of those days. Today I am human. I will allow a moment of weakness and vulnerability.
And tomorrow I will put my rose-colored glasses back on and move forward. ~ Robin G.

Here we go again! by Guest Blogger, Shanicka.

Well it was the second week in September 2016, almost 6 years after my initial Stage 1 breast cancer diagnosis. I was scheduled to see my plastic surgeon for my annual exam. I wasn’t going to go because my implant felt fine. I’d already had five surgeries and I didn’t want to endure another, so I had made my mind up and decided I wasn’t going. The day of something just told me to call the plastic surgeon’s office and that’s what I did. After briefly speaking with the receptionist I decided I’d leave work and make my way downtown to Mercy Medical Ctr from Middle River. After a little wait, I saw Dr Chang. He examined my right breast which was my natural breast, the breast I paid more attention to because I always felt like if cancer reared its hideous self in my body again, it would be there. I had some sagging, but I was OK with that. My husband is fine with it , I’m fine with it and most importantly I didn’t want a sixth surgery. So he gets to the left (my January 2011 mastectomy side). He says “you have something here under the skin that doesn’t feel right; you need to get in with your breast surgeon”.

I’ve had a few scares in the past, so I was hoping it was just like the others- just some scar tissue or something of that nature. So on the way home from my plastic surgeon visit, I made a call to my breast surgeon whom I hadn’t seen in close to four years. That next week my husband and I went to see him. He told me, there is something there so let’s just get you in for ultrasound. So when I got home from the appointment, I called advanced radiology. They had an appointment a few weeks out and it didn’t seem urgent, so I took that date. I had the ultrasound which showed suspicion. The radiologist told me to get in touch with my doctor, then schedule the biopsy. I told her “no, I’m scheduling today”. So that’s what I did, and had it the next week. On 11/14, I got a phone call. The young lady on the other end of the phone said your breast surgeon wants to know when you’d like to come in. I replied “come in for what?” She says to discuss treatment options. I had just walked through the security gate at my job, planning to do a full days work. I was able to do almost that , but around 1:30, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Over the following few weeks the devastation started to consume me.

I couldn’t believe this was happening to me again- 37 years old with BC twice. I did everything as the doctors instructed and was even on Tamoxifen, and not only did it return in the removed breast but it had spread to my lymph nodes. I had just celebrated my five year cancerversary of my last chemo on June 2. I went through so much emotional turmoil. I felt like I was not going to be here much longer. I also had thoughts of not doing treatment and just riding it out until God wanted to call me home by traveling to places I’ve never been, doing things I’ve never done and just living life to the absolute fullest with no worries, no treatment until it was my time to leave earth. But here I am now. Had extensive surgery in December, today had my six of sixteen round of chemotherapy. I have another surgery ahead of me to redo my 2011 mastectomy that left too much breast tissue, reconstruction to my right mastectomy and port removal, then after I heal 30 rounds of radiation. After all of that is done, I also have to go on hormone therapy which will also change my life and not for the better.

However, as long as I am here to share love and laughter with my loved ones, travel the world, truly feel good mentally, spiritually and emotionally and look good while doing it, then I’m good with that! ~ Shanicka

Beyond The Shock and Beneath The Scars: Who Walked the NYFW Breast Cancer Show? *Borrowed from ihadcancer.com

By now you’ve probably seen the articles and photos of the sixteen models who bore everything at New York Fashion Week’s first-ever “Exposed” event, a show by AnaOno for #Cancerland. But what you probably didn’t realize was that they weren’t models at all – they were survivors, fighters and previvors who risked it all to raise awareness for metastatic breast cancer. So we wanted to know, who were these non-models, and why does the world need to start caring about their stories?

“We live in a world of conformity,” Mira Sorvino opened the show saying. Co-creator Champagne Joy expanded in a private interview with IHadCancer to say, “There is an arbiter of what people should look like and then we all follow suit, and what sets this apart is that we’re going in the other direction. We’re becoming the arbiters of what should be considered true beauty, which is your own individuality.”

AnaOno Intimates, the company behind the runway lingerie line, takes on the challenge of designing garments for more than just the traditional breast cancer patient we’re used to associating with Pink October advertisements. Their clientele are people of all shapes and sizes, all varieties of treatment choices, for anyone who hasn’t had breast cancer, for those who don’t need a specific gender identity. Their line is about restoring identity and community through lingerie, full stop. This show was the perfect extension of that mission to show how breast cancer is ugly, beautiful, liberating, isolating, and unifying by using bodies that visually demonstrate that multifaceted reality.

We asked a few of those who walked in the show what their journey of self-love has been and how they would answer to why their bodies belonged on the runway now more than ever. Each one of them has a story that cannot be heard just by looking at a photo, no matter how viral it may go – and want to share, celebrate and honestly listen to those stories.

Aniela McGuinness | Co-Founder, Cancer Grad
Bilateral Reconstruction, diagnosed stage I days before a preventative mastectomy due to BRCA+ mutation

“Interestingly enough, I became more comfortable with my body during and after cancer than before. My career prior to cancer was as an actress/model, which valued my looks over anything else and people had NO problem telling me I wasn’t “enough” in every way (not pretty enough, tall enough, young enough, old enough, good enough, etc.). I thought that if I ever truly felt that I was ENOUGH it meant I was narcissistic. Cancer helped free me from that. I was able to witness how valuable and beautiful I really was without all of the things society and the industry put value in: hair, nails, health, breasts. My body loved me and showed it by healing over and over again. But don’t get me wrong, I still have moments where I catch my reflection and have to reassure myself that, “Yes, even with scars and no nipples, I am enough.”

There is a huge difference with the performance of confidence on the runway and in real life. Normally, I am not covered in gold glitter strutting around in three-inch heels and topless with crowds of people cheering me on. As I write this, I am in baggy sweatpants, a yellow Cancer Grad t-shirt and Toms shoes. I love who I am, but I don’t normally feel sexy. That night, I felt beyond sexy. I felt powerful.”

Candice Smith | Competitive Fitness Athlete, HR Professional
Bilateral Reconstruction, diagnosed DCIS

“At first, breast cancer affected my confidence because I’ve always had low self esteem despite performing on stages since age five. After my mastectomy I tried to stay optimistic, but I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to do all the fitness modeling and competitions that made up my career. After seven surgeries with a top-notch surgeon I felt I looked as normal as I possibly could — I mean, they looked as perfect as they once were when I had breast implants. Something more important happened through that surgery, though. I started to move past being defined by my breasts and started being grateful for simply being alive. Now I like to say that every morning I open up two gifts: my eyes.

On that runway, Dana made me feel like a Victoria’s Secret model. I felt beautiful for the first time in a long time, and there was so much empowerment with so many amazing people… I felt happier than I had in a very long time. I still do competitions and fitness photo shoots– in fact, I have a big one coming up next month. Am I nervous? Yes. Will I look the part? Will I be ready or feel confident? Who knows. I just know I’m blessed and try to always practice self love because God has me here for a reason. He helped me catch my cancer early, so I know I am here for a reason, and I believe it is to talk about early detection and to be a light and voice for others.”

Chiara D’Agostino | Blogger, Model
Reconstruction to Explant – Bilateral Flat, stage IV metastatic triple negative breast cancer

“I felt very comfortable in my skin before I had a mastectomy; my hair was the length and color I longed for, I was eating healthy and I was working out five times a week – I loved my body and felt sexy. Then I got cancer and had a single mastectomy – when I looked at my reflection in the mirror I fell to the ground and cried for a while, devastated by my mangled body. Six months later my other breast was removed and I had reconstructive breast surgery. I was convinced I needed round mounds protruding from my chest to feel feminine, but I hated the look and feel of my implants. Those gummy bears caused several infections and further complications and only after I had them both removed do I finally feel comfortable in my body again. I miss my girls, but now that the silicone is off my chest, I feel less invaded and like my natural self again.

When diagnosed with stage III triple negative breast cancer in 2014 I became very depressed and anxious; antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication made a big difference. While NED, I was off the meds, but when the cancer spread, I immediately started taking them again. I still experience bouts of depression and when I do, I’ll journal, connect with friends, share in support groups, meditate, walk in nature, play with children, help someone, pray and/or treat myself to a pedicure/movie/meal. If I can afford it, I’ll spring for Reiki, energy healing or massage – good vibes and healing touch are therapeutic to me.”

Maggie Kudirka | Advocate, Dancer
Bilateral Mastectomy Without Reconstruction, de novo stage IV metastatic breast cancer

“Before I was diagnosed, I was a large-breasted ballet dancer. It was hard to find ways to keep my breasts inside the costumes designed for small-breasted women, to keep them from bouncing and distracting the audience. I also had constant back pain and shoulder bruising from their weight. After my de novo stage IV terminal breast cancer diagnosis, I saw the mastectomy as my silver lining: I finally had an opportunity to get the body I always wanted.

I chose a bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction. Every time I saw my surgeon, he asked about reconstruction and pointed out that I was only 23 and that my decision could impact future relationships. I replied that I didn’t want to be with anyone who valued my breasts more than me. My surgeon said he wished all his patients had my maturity.

When the sunlight came through my hospital room window, I woke up and couldn’t stop smiling. When my surgeon came in he said I was the happiest patient he had ever seen after surgery. And why not? The source of my cancer and my back pain was gone! No more worries about costumes or leotards! Now I love my body even more than I ever had before.

As a ballet dancer, I am very much at home on stage and accustomed to dancing various roles and wearing all sorts of costumes. I am far more confident on-stage than off because everything is choreographed or scripted; there are no surprises (like cancer) lurking around the corner.

I walked in the AnaOno Exposed show in pointe shoes to show that cancer does not discriminate; that even a very fit 23-year-old ballerina with no risk factors or genetic involvement can get metastatic breast cancer. I walked for all very young metastatic women whose voices and concerns are too often ignored when research grants are awarded and innovative treatments are denied by insurance. Our needs are very different from the typical breast cancer patient. I believe it is important for every woman to have the right to choose a mastectomy with or without reconstruction and for the people in her life to respect her choice.”

Vonn Jensen | Founder, Flattopper® Pride and Queer Cancer, Trans/Non-Binary Cancer Advocate
Bilateral Mastectomy without reconstruction, identifies as a trans/non-binary. Specific breast cancer diagnosis unknown

“In speaking about confidence, I must speak to my roots, both in the sense of where I come from, and in the sense of what grounds me. I come from the Pacific Northwest and because of that, there’s a certain attitude toward the world that is imbedded in me. We drink organic coffee. We talk to trees. We don’t have elective surgery.

Cancer gave me permission to alter my body surgically; it forced me to decide that I wanted to live more than I wanted to refuse Western medicine. However strange it may sound, cancer afforded me opportunities to grow into myself and to access a level of comfort and confidence that I never could have otherwise. With every bodily loss, I become more whole.

My flat chest suits me. Every cut, every shot, every slice taken out of me gave me more room to grow into myself. I had freedom to let go of the performance of femaleness because that outward marker of femininity was removed. I felt more at home than I ever had before. The suppression of my ovaries only intensified this sense. When I no longer produced ‘female’ hormones, I felt my body becoming mine. Only then did I begin to realize that it hadn’t been mine before. Although my mastectomy wasn’t intended as gender confirmation, it has become that.

After coming back from NYC and New York Fashion Week, I drove directly into the forest until I was lost. I sat by a river until the sun rose and until I had room only for the sensation of my passion, my heart and my values being aligned. I do this often – this calling to alignment – because in every way, cancer made me aware of how disjointed I had been.

My confidence is not a performance. Everything I emote is true to me because I have had to scrutinize the alignment of my body and my values until there was no question. Whether it’s on a runway, with my friends, or cradled in moss, I am within authenticity always already. My confidence is not a performance; my confidence grew where body parts were cut off. I am the summary of my loss in that loss enables me to grow larger than my physical borders ever could.”

Shay Sharpe | Madame President, Shay Sharpe’s Pink Wishes, Advocate
Bilateral Mastectomy with Reconstruction, Explant to Flat, Two-time breast cancer survivor

“​I was totally in love with my body prior to my mastectomy! However, everything changed during chemo before undergoing my mastectomy. I’m a hair girl, so losing my hair had to be one of the hardest obstacles to deal with during my cancer journey, followed by my very itchy skin turning really dark and my finger and toe nails darkening and falling off​. I began to feel really unpretty after breast cancer. No nipples. Horrible breast and belly scars. Dental issues and missing teeth. Unflattering clothes and devastating hot flashes. Gaining over 60 pounds in six months. I didn’t love any of these side effects.

I started a diet prior to the fashion show and lost over 20 pounds, although it didn’t matter because I still felt HUGE at the time of the show. At my heaviest I was 221 pounds, but on the day of the show, my 39th birthday, I was 190 pounds. ​Prior to my cancer returning, I was 160 pounds, so 190 still feels so heavy on me. I was excited about my weight loss and tried to bring that confidence with me to the show.

​I had ZERO confidence on the runway! Zip! As I walked, I kept telling myself to take off my wig and bra once I got to the end of the runway. But I didn’t.. I just totally owned the moment of being in the spotlight as a young African American woman strutting this lupron/steroid weight down the runway like a champ. Everyone in the venue started screaming, lights were flashing — it was an incredibly empowering moment for all facets of my identity.

However, that empowerment started to wilt once I saw the first pictures from the fashion show. I was blown away at how chunky I still looked. To be honest, it broke my heart a little. I felt as if all my exercising was in vain. On the flip side, I was talking to another survivor who walked the show who lost 25 pounds without trying, who thought she appeared way too skinny during the show and was unhappy with her appearance. Same issue. Different view. I guess we are all our own worst critics.

And yet, a couple days later as the runway show pictures went viral, I started receiving messages from other survivors stating how happy they were to see a woman who represented them on the runway. African American women, who are 43 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than their white counterparts, increasing the visibility for women of color in the cancer space, being on that runway as an icon to redefining beauty for both myself and everyone participating has helped me restructure how I think about beauty and my body.”

Kiku Collins | Musician
Unilateral Reconstruction, Infiltrative Ductal Carcinoma, current staging unknown

“One month after my wedding, I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I was finally getting my life together– or so I thought. I felt like a failure. I had lived a very clean and healthy life to make good on my vowed to prevent the disease that stole my mother, her sister, and others in our family at a very young age from taking me, too.

Oddly, what helped me get through that was being private about the cancer. It was important for me to be quiet until I knew I could and would go on. I’m not good with being the “poor thing.” I don’t need people to say their “thoughts and prayers” are with me. I needed to persist. And if I stopped to think about what my life had become, I would simply see my mother. She died from metastatic breast cancer when I was 18 years old. I wanted to continue working, traveling, playing and making others happy through music. My husband and I didn’t exit the “cancer closet” for about 6 months. I’m still struggling with my health, my body and body image, the realities of everything going on, inside and out.

Confidence on and off the runway – it’s interesting. As a performer, I take on an alter ego. She’s confident in every way. She never worries about her hair or makeup, her chops, her dance steps or backup vocals parts, her outfit, her body. She’s confident and flawless. She only exists when the lights are up and I’m “on.” The second the show is over and the eyelashes are peeled off, the dress is crumpled in a corner, what’s left is me: incredibly flawed, scars that hurt, lymphedema that throbs, bones that ache.

In everyday life, I’m definitely aware that my breast cancer affects how people perceive me. In the gym, I can see people look at my one jumping “breast” whenever I use my left pec. People look at my lymphedema sleeve and don’t seem to understand what it is, if it’s cool, or if I’m trying to get away with fake tattoos. That’s all not to mention my “second” menopause – my hot flashes, my cravings, my crankiness, my loss of metabolism – contributes to who I am now. And she’s very different than the woman I was five years ago. I’m learning to embrace all that I have now, but sometimes I can see my mom in the mirror looking back at me and there isn’t much to do other than wonder where I went. Other times, I look in the mirror and I see myself and know exactly where my mom went.”

Breast cancer is one of the most visible cancers in American society, but we hardly ever hear stories like the ones of those who walked the runway that night. Not everyone who walked was a breast cancer survivor; in fact, half are living with metastatic breast cancer, for which there is no cure and for which the mortality rate has stagnated for the last 40 years despite increased funds toward cancer research generally. Additionally, one walked as a “pre-vivor,” meaning she tested positive for a mutation in the BRCA1 gene and was greatly predisposed to develop breast and ovarian cancer, and committed to a double-mastectomy as the single most effective means of cancer prevention.

While much of the work on the runway was about witnessing the breadth of human experience with breast cancer from a variety of body shapes, parts, and colors, the deeper ambitions of the show seek to lift the carpet on lame-duck policies that force anyone diagnosed with breast cancer to remain in limbo.

“With metastatic breast cancer, we are seeing a mirror of AIDS just before its tipping point,” Champagne Joy says. “As we bury people every single day — [people] that should have had a life ahead of them — we’re finally at a point where, if we can remove the impediments to further research and access to current cancer treatments, we can at least see this become a chronic disease and during that time, if research is put toward a cure, we could do it all.”

*Photos by Carey Kirkella

Happy Valentine’s Day from Madame President, Shay Sharpe.

❤️ Self love.

We can so easily fall out of love with ourselves after cancer treatment. Weight gain, weight loss, darker skin, black nails, low libido, dental issues, no nails, lymphedema, scars, ports, radiation burns, hair loss, belly scar, 1 breast, no breasts, etc.

Society will offer you a million reasons to hate yourself and feel incomplete. DONT!! So on this international day of love, I remind you to love yourself.

❤️ PS… Shay Sharpe’s Pink Wishes and I love you too! ~ Madame President

I HATE CANCER! Our friend, Rachell, has been placed in home hospice.

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Our beautiful Rachell, is resting, pain free, in home hospice. I hate cancer! Here is the latest update, I found it on the Prayers for Rachell page.  Please keep her friends and family in prayer.  Thank you! ~ Madame President

Our beautiful girl has given an amazing, powerful, and most of all, inspirational fight against this hell-ish cancer. She has faced every obstacle with positivity. Pushing through unimaginable pain with a smile. She showed us what a true warrior looks like. She’s hid her pain and suffering so well behind that beautiful smile, I honestly don’t think any of us can comprehend the actual amount of pain that she has endored. Our warrior is exhausted from this tireless fight…her beautiful soul deserves to rest….

Rachell is ready to be free from the pain and suffering that this cancer has caused her…ready to let go. She hasn’t received chemo in over a month, it’s no longer an option as her body is too weak to handle it. She’s been put on In Home Hospice, which is end of life care in the comfort of her home. No more doctors appointments, scans, or testing. Her mom and hospice nurse are making sure that she is comfortable and feels as little pain as possible. She is and will continue to be surrounded by people who love her dearly. She will not be alone. Things are happening fast, if she continues on this path she should be letting go very soon. Send your prayers and positive energy to Rachell for her new journey.

Rachell has always informed her friends on social media of her battle, it’s important that we continue her story now that she can’t. I will do my best to keep yall updated and answer questions. Please keep our family in your prayers, this is obviously a difficult time for everyone.

Rachell’s mom asked me to update everyone on Rachell…so of course I wrote something. What I didn’t expect was how difficult it would be to post it here. I’ve held onto this for hours and hours…thinking how pissed off she’s going to be with me for making everyone think that she’s leaving us. My brain can’t wrap around the facts. It hurts so bad. It’s such a strange thing…watching someone so young, someone that you love and care about so deeply go through what she has…wanting her to let go and be free of the pain, while still wanting her to stay and not leave you. Rachell has touched so many people in her young life, I know this is painful for so many. Let’s try as hard as we can to fight that feeling of hurt and sadness. I know it sounds cliché but I know she really wouldn’t want us to feel that way. I’m sending my love out to everyone. ~ Rachell’s family

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My Life After Cancer. By Guest Blogger, Tameka J

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Often times, people believe that when the surgeries are complete and the chemo is over the fight ends for people who were diagnosed with cancer. Well unfortunately that’s a myth. The fight continues and honestly, I think I’ll be fighting for the rest of my life. Every ache, every pain, every abnormal occurrence leads you back to the oncologist, breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, or emergency room. Chatting with my pink sisters I’m realizing that everyday is a fight. Each one of has has had something different going on with us in the last few months. Lumps are being found, can’t hold down food, not eating, losing weight, gaining weight, and the pain is unmanageable. Hospital visits, scans, and new meds. We do everything to maintain good health, eating better, exercise, and living differently but we still have to fight. When will it end? When does it stop? When can we get a break? That’s how I feel. Those are the questions that go through my mind. The questions I ask God in my prayers.

The last time I saw my oncologist he said “Ok Tameka you’re nice and healthy, see you in 6 months”. That was the best news. I was on a 6 month plan, which meant I was closer to the once a year visit. Well, I had to go see him two weeks ago because I was having chest pains that woke me up out of my sleep and had me crying uncontrollably. His first reaction is you have to get a scan to make sure there are no mass. I honestly wasn’t worried that there was, I think it just procedural on his part. So, last week I had a PET scan without the CT. I saw my doctor yesterday to review the results and thank God everything came back clear but I knew that! Unfortunately, we still are unsure as to why I was having the chest pain, so I have to follow up in 3 months. Thought I could get a break for 6 months but my body fooled me. I’m scheduled for another scan this time it’s a CT scan. I dread it, why? Cause that means I have to get that horrible injection that makes me nauseous and vomit. Definitely not looking forward to but it’s what has to be done, so I WON’T COMPLAIN. I thank God for my life, for healing a 2nd time from this horrible disease, and for loving me ENOUGH!

I am so sure that these little battles are a test of my faith. How are you going to handle things this time Tameka? Are you going to trust God or are you going to break? The answer to these questions are…I’m going to trust God because I was not built to break! I fight for someone more important than myself and that’s my 8 year old daughter. I continue to fight remembering that God has my back no matter what I have to face! So to my Pink sisters that are going through, remember you were not built to break! Keep fighting! Keep pushing! Keep believing!
My life after cancer!… ~ Tameka

Cancer was the easy part, the side effects of treatment have proved to be most difficult. By Madame President, Shay Sharpe.

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Three broken ribs! What else is new? It’s always something! ALWAYS!! But that also serves as a reminder that I’m alive! I AM ALIVE! Even in the midst of all my mess, I am alive.

I have no idea how I fractured my ribs or when it happened. I’ve been in pain for awhile and the doctors couldn’t figure out why. I had lots of pain on my left side in October 2014, but I had just had my left breast removed again, so needless to say, that’s why they said I was in pain. I was in pain again in February 2015, but was immediately told my pain came from just completing radiation again. There were 2 hospital stays for chest pain over the next year. The hospital still couldn’t figure out what was going on and I kept being sent home with no answers. Fast forward to January 2016. Still in pain. Dr performed a chest X-ray and still didn’t see anything. I called my oncology team at another hospital and voiced my concerns. They sent me to nuclear medicine to ensure that cancer hadn’t spread to my bones. During that test, they noticed that I had 3 broken/fractured ribs. Wtf? I can’t believe I’ve been complaining about chest pain all this time and it took over an year to get to the bottom of it. I can’t stress enough, how important it is to be your own advocate. Keep going to the Drs until you get answers! Nobody knows your body better than you! Don’t be scared or discouraged to seek a second opinion.

Unfortunately, there is nothing they can do about my fractured ribs, except control my extreme lingering pain. No cast. No bandages. Ribs takes months to heal, so I have to take it easy for awhile… Easier said than done! It’s a struggle trying pull a shirt over my head or to lift myself out of the tub. {I can’t even count how many times I’ve been stuck in a shirt!} Feels as if I’ve been shot, every time I attempt to sneeze or cough. I honestly have NEVER felt pain on this level. No laying on my stomach or left side, no missionary, no upper body exercise and no heavy lifting. You never fully appreciate a body part until you can’t use it. Drs said the number of radiation treatments I received could’ve been the culprit for the broken ribs. COULD’VE!

My life after breast cancer.. ~ Madame President

Young women CAN and DO get breast cancer! Guest blogger, Micha, shares her story.

 

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Being diagnosed with anything is always a tough pill to swallow and considering I can’t really swallow pills, hearing I had stage 2 cancer at the age of 31 was unbearable. I was having issues with my period so I was going back and forth to the doctor and it just so happened to be around my annual. I went in like regular, but when the nurse practitioner was doing her check she asked me when was the last time I did a self breast examination. I had no answer. I was like “umm” , before I left I was scheduled to go in for a mammogram the next day. I really didn’t think too much of it. I went to the appointment and from there my life changed. A week later I was told I had stage 2 breast cancer (invasive ductal carcinoma). How could this be? Isn’t this disease just for older women? I was devastated! There wasn’t anything I could do when I heard the news but get off the phone and call my pastor. He encouraged me to call my family. I did and I informed my boss. He gave me the week off to decide what I wanted and needed to do. My aunt and grandma went with me to talk to my doctor to try to get further understanding but to be honest I didn’t hear a thing she said. My aunt and grandma took notes and asked all the questions. My doctor was in tears cause she couldn’t understand either. Was I about to die? No, I can’t. I’m not ready!

Over the next several weeks, I can say I had never been to that many doctors appointments in my life! When they told me I would have to go through chemotherapy I was really scared. How am I going to be a public figure and go through all this? I’m a midday radio personality for the local hip hop and r&b station and though people don’t see me much I still couldn’t figure out how I was going to be and be me going through all this. I was super depressed and sad, but what I didn’t do was stop living. I went to work every day! I never took that week off my boss gave me. Being at home for that one drove me crazy. I needed a distraction and work was that. I started chemo June 6, 2013. It was a 3 hours process I had to endure once every 3 weeks for 18 weeks. After the first round I started loosing my hair. I was like what? Already? So I once again called Pastor AD and he was like ” that just means the chemo is working 6″. I was like really? Is that what it means? Ugh! He was right tho. I called my parents and my dad was like “hit that barber shop baby girl” I did just that. My boy Mike Lowe, met me up there and it happened. I was a baldie! It was weird, but I embraced it and I’ve been rocking it ever since. This journey has been interesting. A year ago I asked God to increase my faith in Him, make me more active in the community and use me for His will. Well I didn’t realize it at first but He definitely answered my prayer… Not like I thought but He answered. God will sometimes answer your prayers but not in the way in which you thought or expected. I have never been closer to God in my life and I’m extremely grateful for this experience.

My friend Kyle told me to call his mom and let me tell you Ms. Rita, who is a cancer survivor, helped me so much! When I first cut my hair a lot of people thought It was a fashion statement. I thought that was funny. It took me awhile even after I cut my hair to share my story but once I did I felt free. Love came from everywhere and the prayers are definitely working. I was so busy with events and I met so many amazing people with and without cancer. My doctors and nurses at CCI were awesome! I spent majority of my time there. I never got a second opinion I was fully confident with my doctors and I saw the lump. All I could do when I saw the lump was say “wow I have stage 2 breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma. This can’t be life!” Thing is… It was! They found a 4 centimeter lump and it had to go! My process was chemotherapy, surgery, radiation everyday for 6 weeks, and then I have to take a pill for the next 5-10 years. The tumor shrunk to 1.5 centimeters half way through my chemo therapy treatments. See how God works! I managed to maintain my weight even though I didn’t eat much and all my test results came back great. I had a lumpectomy, which means I got to keep my breast.

You see, breast cancer doesn’t run in my family and all my genetic test came back negative so my doctors were confused as to why. I simply said this is beyond any of us. This is between God and I. Cancer does not discriminate. Go get checked! This is not our grandmothers or mothers illness anymore. It is happening to women younger and younger. Go get checked and do personal checks! Know your body. If you feel or see anything that makes you say hmm… Don’t ignore it. Knowing and going to the doctor can save your life. It’s not an easy pill to swallow when you first find out or when those physical side effects start happening. I suggest before you do anything take the time to process everything in your time in your way.

Everyone will try and come at you with all sorts of remedies and stories. I know I had to cut a lot of that off. It’s overwhelming and actually kind of scary. Stay close to God and find something that brings happiness to help you through. This illness, as with most has a lot to do with your metals. Stay positive and don’t be defeated or discouraged. You will get through this!

My surgery was October 22, 2013 and it was first surgery…ever!! I wasn’t scared because I knew all this is for my good. God had me going through that for a reason, so who was I to worry about it? I was declared cancer free October 25 2013, but it wasn’t over I still had 37 radiation treatments. I must admit that process was tough on me, emotionally more than anything. I was just tired of going to the hospital every day. It was finally all over in January of 2014!! This process is different for everyone. I was blessed to not have had a horrible one. Did I have bad days? Yes! I also had good days, more good days than bad. I was determined to live a great life throughout my process and I did! I had cancer it didn’t have me! ~ Micha

 

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Six young breast cancer survivors had the time of their lives in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Girl 6 Getaway 2015

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Reflecting on my trip to DR and my life up to this point. It’s been a rough road but I have never been happier in my life. I would not change or trade my walk with anyone…what God has for me is for me!! I will continue to walk this path with my head held high knowing that God is a lamp to my feet and light to my path! Being able to take this trip with my pink sisters was beyond amazing and I am forever grateful to everyone who donated and supported us! ~Tameka

 

 

 

 

 

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It is truly amazing how I went my entire life thus far not wanting to see the world. My breast cancer has changed me in ways that I never could have imagined. For cancer to bring these beautiful five ladies into my life has truly been a blessing. Six strangers with one thing in common, cancer, had the greatest time together. This trip has brought us closer together and now a new found sisterhood has been formed. All of our stories are different but fascinating.

This vacation made me appreciate my life even more. I have done things that I never would have imagined doing. I swam in the ocean with the fishes, I drove doom buggies exploring the DR’s native land, and my crazy butt jumped into water that was 25ft deep inside a beautiful cave. This trip has been a wonderful experience. Now I am ready for our next “Survivor’s Vacation.” ~ Glee

 

 

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This was the most amazing experience, the trip of a lifetime. I am so thankful and blessed to have been a part of this survivors getaway. I have a special bond with each of these ladies and I love them dearly. I have had conversations with them that well never grace the ears of another. We truly know and understand the meaning of #iammysisterskeeper. God bless those of you who donated and contributed to help make this possible. I understand my purpose now more than ever before. God’s grace and mercy forever be with you. Life is good and God is Great! ~Charlene

 

 

 

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They said we were too young for breast cancer… THEY LIED!

I am so proud of the beautiful young women in this picture! About a month ago, a couple of the young women mentioned that they needed to get away. We all had so much going on so it felt like a great idea. One problem, everyone didn’t have money to go. Three young women had their money in full, another young lady had most of her money, the other two women had no money at all. Instead of leaving the two young women behind, everyone raised funds to help pay for the other two women to attend, even the young women who paid their trip in full. Unfortunately, we didn’t raise the full amount, but one of the young women, voluntarily, put up a little extra to cover the gap. She didn’t ask to be repaid, she didn’t hold it over their head or mention it once during the trip. How cool was that? The unselfishness shown by these young women over this past week, in Punta Cana, was simply amazing. The true meaning of being my sister’s keeper. I truly enjoyed myself and I look forward to my next getaway with these beautiful women. xoxo ~ Madame President

Young survivors share their BC stories as they prepare to launch a fundraiser to aide in a much needed getaway!

Help send 6 Young Breast Cancer Survivors on a much needed getaway, next month. (We’re hoping to send them on an all inclusive trip to Punta Cana) You can make a donation via https://www.crowdrise.com/youngbcsurvivorgetaway/fundraiser/shaysharpespinkwishe.

 

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•   At the age of 13, I was diagnosed with osteosarchoma (bone cancer). The tumor was located in the lower part of my thigh, in the distal femur area and was the size of a baseball. During that time, I underwent 1 year of chemotherapy, a total knee replacement, and several sessions of physical therapy. Since then, I have had 3 knee surgeries to adjust the prosthesis in my right leg. Before being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, I had been in remission for almost 20 years.

At the age of 31, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer and started my 2nd battle with cancer. When I found out that I had breast cancer, I immediately thought about my daughter who was 5 at the time. Being a single mother is hard and when you are sick, you are still mommy and on mommy duty no matter what. I knew the battle I had to fight, so I fought it and by the grace of God I won! I beat cancer for a 2nd time! God has blessed me with life and I am trying to live it. Being able to go on this trip with the other survivors would give me the opportunity to do just that. ~ Tameka

 

 

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• My name is Anglecia Edwards but I go by the name Glee. I was diagnosed with having breast cancer at the age of 31. I was stage 3 HER2 positive and my cancer had spread to my lymph nodes near the breast that was affected by the cancer. The things that I’ve experienced during my breast cancer journey has been life changing for me. The hardest change that I experienced was losing my job. I loved my job and you rarely hear people say that. My FMLA was exhausted and by the time I fully healed from having my breast removed (bilateral double mastectomy), my position was no longer available. I cried and I was angry. How was I suppose to live, take care of my son, and pay my bills? I had so many questions but God was there to place the right people in my life to give me the answers. I’m currently still not working due to the side-effects of my breast cancer treatments but I’m enrolled in school full-time taking online classes.

I have days that are really great but I have days that are bad. I need this vacation because I haven’t had the opportunity to travel. I got smacked with this awful disease and I’ve never been on an airplane. After everything I went through, I deserve a great vacation. This is my time to live my life to the fullest because as I write this, you know that cancer couldn’t stop me. I just want to enjoy my new life. ~ Glee

 

 

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• At the age of 42 I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my left breast. There was no lump, just a routine mammogram. Suddenly I was faced with some of the most important yet difficult decisions of my life. Mastectomy or lumpectomy? Single mastectomy or double mastectomy? Radiation therapy? Reconstruction? Implants or flat and fabulous? TRAM flaps vs. LAT flaps? Whew, talk about stressed! I had many a sleepless nights and lots of prayer sessions. I was in constant conversation with God. Believing that I had one healthy breast left I opted for single mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. After 6 weeks of healing and lots of doctors appointments I choose to have breast reduction on my right breast, which probably saved my life, because it lead to my second breast cancer diagnosis.

Yup, 6 months after my first breast cancer diagnosis I was diagnosed a second time. I’m a mom of 3 and my youngest was a year old at the time of my first diagnosis and now here we were again, more doctors, more surgery, more drains, more pain and more stress. I’ve had more surgeries than I care too and more scars than I’d like but I’m truly blessed to be here. I’m ready to just be able to take a deep breath and exhale slowly, let the sun shine on my face and wiggle my toes on a nice sandy tropical beach! ~ Charlene

 

 

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• In August 2004, at the age of 26, I was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. My diagnosis, couldn’t be true! Young women don’t get beast cancer, only older women, thats why you have to wait until age 40 to get a mammogram.  Boy, was I wrong!

These past 10 years have been filled with so many obstacles, including numerous life changing surgeries, negative side effects, hospital stays, thousands of pills, hundreds of doctor appointments, needle sticks, thousands of dollars in copays, tolls, scans, labs and parking expenses. Even with all of these life altering events, nothing could prepare me for what happened next.

In August 2014, at the age of 36, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, AGAIN! Unfreakingbelieveable! I thought this time would be easier, considering Ive been through it before. Nope! It’s so much harder. My body isn’t rebounding as quick as I would like, I’m gaining a lot of weight and my mastectomy area is extremely tender. I’ve experienced one challenge after another. I’m sick being sick!

I started Shay Sharpe’s Pink Wishes in 2011, to educate, mentor, grant wishes and assist other young women who have been affected by breast cancer. I’m the philanthropist, I’m the helper, I grant the wishes! I’m not supposed to be sick!! I’m not supposed to need help! The tables have turned.. The young ladies who I have touched throughout the years, are now holding my hand through my journey. We are truly each others keeper and I look forward to getting away with my Survivor Sisters! ~Shay

 

 

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• In June 2011 at the age of 34 I felt a lump in my right breast. I instantly knew something wasn’t right. I went my doctor she asked me if I had a family history of breast cancer, I answered “no”. At that time I was completely unaware of the fact that the paternal side of my family did in fact have a history of breast cancer. I just assumed having a lump in my breast was sufficient enough for my doctor to refer me to get a mammogram. To my shock and dismay she said there was nothing to worry about. I was instructed to put a warm compress on the lump, that I’ll be fine, and she would see me next year for my annual physical. In my heart as much as I wanted to believe her, I knew that something wasn’t right. As instructed I put a warm compress on the lump daily and there was no improvement. Subsequently I persisted until my doctor wrote an order and sent me to get a mamogram. My doctor was very upset that I doubted her medical expertise but I had to press forward because my life depended on it.

On October 25, 2011 I was diagnosed with Stage 1A Breast Cancer (Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma). November 2011 my scans showed my 1 spot was now 3 spots so ultimately I had a radical double mastectomy in December 2011. I’ve had several reconstructive and corrective surgeries. When I was finally diagnosed with breast cancer it was a relief as well as devastating. Breast cancer has been the hardest most painful process that I have endured in my life. Surprisingly life after cancer has its own set of struggles but GOD has carried me thru this process, without my faith I wouldn’t be alive today. My daily prayer is GOD please allow me to live and raise my children. I’ve learned tomorrow is not promised and I must live my happiest life now. I didn’t know my strength until being strong was my only option. I’ve also come to learn that I am blessed beyond measure to have the support and prayers of my family and friends. ~ Chanel

 

 

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• I was first diagnosed with cervical cancer May, 1994; just 2months shy of my 21st birthday. My Dr. decided surgery would be best. After the surgery I spoke with the Dr. and he said he got it all. I didn’t have to go through chemotherapy or radiation but I would never have kids. I was devastated! On April 23, 1995 I gave birth to healthy baby boy. I tried to breastfeed him but he wouldn’t latch on. I mentioned it to my Dr. when I went back for my 6 wk. checkup. He checked my breast and noticed a lump. I went and had a mammogram, a sonogram, and the dreaded biopsy. My Dr. confirmed it was stage IIB breast cancer. I was devastated once again. I was a new mommy and again had no one to talk to. So I talked to my son’s father and he said whatever you want to do or decide to do I’ m behind you 100%. It was decided that I would have a lumpectomy. I started chemotherapy 2 weeks after surgery.  No one told me everything I would go through. (Body changes, loss of appetite, the dreaded hair loss) I kept working and pressing on . 2 weeks after finishing radiation my Dr. ran test, then I was told my cancer was in remission. I did my happy dance.

I went on with life. Being a new mom and wife. Everything was great! Then I started not feeling well. I went to the Drs. and my blood count was little funny. He ran more tests and in March, 1996 I was told my breast cancer had returned. The only person I had to talk to was my husband. My Dr. wanted to do a breast mastectomy. I had to think about that. A new wife and no one my age to talk to so I began to talk to God. My husband said that whatever I decided he would be right there as he has been. I opted not to get the mastectomy. I had made up my mind that whatever I came in this world with I was leaving with. I had surgery to remove the cancer with lymph node removal and started chemotherapy. I completed my 1st round of chemotherapy and was about to get my 2nd dose when I found out I was pregnant. Against Drs Orders I decided to stop chemo in order to have my baby. On December 31, 1996, I gave birth to another healthy baby boy. After I gave birth I started back on chemo.

In 2010, at the age of 36, my cancer had metastasized to my lung, bone, and brain. I decided at that time, I would fight until I can’t fight anymore. Now at the age of 42, my cancer is TERMINAL. I recently found out that I have a mass on the left frontal lobe which wouldn’t be considered bad if I was able to have surgery but to my cancer being other places on my brain there is nothing they can do and a tumor growing on my chest wall.
Both my boys are graduating from high school this month and I couldn’t be happier. I think I’m ready for a vacation with my pink sisters to just get away and not have to think about what’s next. I try to be a source of energy and inspiration to my loved ones and everyone I come into contact with. I want my boys to know that I didn’t let this disease stop me from living and being me. I am fighting with all my heart and all my energy.

As I always say CANCER PICKED THE WRONG DIVA! ~ Charelle

 

Thanks for reading all of our stories! We hope that you can assist in making the wishes of these young women come true! You can make a tax deductible donation via: https://www.crowdrise.com/youngbcsurvivorgetaway/fundraiser/shaysharpespinkwishe or you can mail a check or money order to: Shay Sharpe’s Pink Wishes * P.O. Box 11763 * Baltimore, Maryland 21206                                                                                                                                                     

Young Women Can and Do Get Breast Cancer! Amanda shares her story.

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I was diagnosed with stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer on April 3 2014. I was 33. I have 2 children Vincenzo who will be 9 and my daughter Makenna who just turned 7. I think I have been in complete denial through this all and haven’t let myself believe or feel that I have cancer. I underwent chemo, mastectomy and lymph nodes removed, radiation and a targeted therapy. I have been handling this all very well and minimal side effects. I feel good and have finally lost a few lbs (gained about 25 through steroids and such) I have made some changes in my diet and exercising and I have tried to really limit my sugar intake! I am very glad and grateful to be alive and that they caught it when they did.

However. …I went the previous year to a well known hospital had a mammogram done at 32. The results were that there was questioning but it was benign (the non cancerous one I mean I may be confused ) but how the hell did they know that without a biopsy or bloodwork…aanything!! Of course now, in hence sight, I realize I should have been more persistent but I followed the instructions and had a follow up mammogram, 1 year to the day!! But I’m not upset…I am glad to be here and tell my story to others and be strong for others and for my family!! ~ Amanda

My Stage IV Cancer Story by Guest Blogger Danielle R.

danieller1In Dec of 2013 I, by the grace of God, found a lump in my breast and I put off going to get it checked out. At first I didn’t tell anyone about it. I was keeping an eye on it daily in hopes it would go away. After 2 weeks I noticed it was a bit bigger. I ended up telling my (at the time boyfriend, now husband) about it and he told me I needed to tell my mom. With the holidays things were crazy busy so in passing I briefly told her and told her I’d get it checked out. I honestly didn’t think much of it. So I made an appointment with my OBGYN to have it checked and see where we go from there. She checked it out and said she didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about but wanted me to get a mammogram and ultra sound just to be safe. I have aunts on both sides of my family who have had breast cancer and are now Cancer free (yay!) so I was ok with having it checked out. I went in on January 9th I believe it was and did the mammogram and ultra sound. Thankfully my parents took the day off to take me and be with me. After the ultra sound the Dr came in and said he saw something and wasn’t sure what it was so he wanted to do a biopsy just to be safe. I naturally was more than ok with that. They let my parents come back and see me so I could tell them what was going on then they performed the biopsy. The location of my lump was in an odd spot so they had to use the ultra sound to be sure they didn’t hit any blood vessels. They gave me a few shots around the site and then cut me open with a knife. It was a small cut nothing too terrible. The he showed me the needle. It was a weird needle that went is sucked down the pieces of the lump and put it in a tube then it was cut off and removed from my breast. At first I was doing well with it but after about the second or third pop of the needle I started to feel a little woozy. Didn’t help I hadn’t eaten all day. They stopped the biopsy so I could regain myself and not pass out on em. Then once I was ready he continued. They took 4 samples and put a tumor marker in me so anytime I get an ultra sound or mammogram I’m marked and they can see where it is and can keep track of the size. They put a steri strip on me and covered me with gauze, did another mammogram to be sure the marker was in place and then sent me on my way.

Then on January 15th I got the call asking me to come in to discuss my results. I let my parents know and we headed to the breast center right away.

Imagine being the most nervous you have ever been in your entire life, now take that times 100. That’s how it felt sitting in that waiting room at the breast center knowing I’d walk out of there my life changed forever. From the moment I got that call I knew this was not good and things were about to change. As I sat there with my dad, mom and sister waiting to see the nurse to discuss my biopsy results I knew I was about to walk through that door to hear the words no woman ever wants to hear. “You have breast cancer.” I tried so hard to be brave but how could I be? I just wanted to run out of there, to never hear those words. Maybe if I didn’t hear them then it wasn’t true. Maybe if I just ran and never looked back I wouldn’t have to face this! Then it happened, they called my name and with my heart racing so fast we went back and sat in the room waiting on the nurse. She came in as sweet as could be and introduced herself to us. She had some papers and pamphlets and all I could think was here it goes, my life as I know it is about to change. She sweetly looked at me, put her hand on my knee and said it “You have breast cancer”. I didn’t know what to think so many thoughts went through my mind and then I wasn’t thinking at all.

Was this real? Is this happening to me? After she left the room I lost it. Everything in me just gushed out. What was I going to do? Am I strong enough for this? Can I survive this? I’m going to lose my hair. So many things rushing thru my head. My mom and sister were crying as well. We all tried so hard to comfort one another but there were no words. There weren’t enough hugs. There was no comfort. I was numb. All I wanted to do was go home and not think. Not think about what was to come, not think about how my world was about to be flipped upside down. Not think about what’s next.

After we got the news of my cancer they ran many tests on my biopsy and blood and we learned I had Stage I Grade 3 Triple Negative Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and I am also BRCA1 Positive. Once we had all that info it was time to meet doctors and start planning where we go from there. From day one my parents have been there for me and continue to be. We went from Dr apt to Dr apt for the next week getting all the info we needed. We met my breast specialist, oncologist, and plastic surgeon.

The plan was go in for surgery on January 24th to have my port placed in my chest then January 31st we’d start chemo. I was set up to do 8 treatments then have a double mastectomy and hope to be cancer free after that. Then once I started my second medicine after 5 treatments I started having really bad chest problems and ended up in ER twice for them. The second time I went they saw a mass in my chest but didn’t know what it was. After talking with my Oncologist she decided we would stop chemo and get a PET scan done to see what was going on in there.

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On April 29, 2014 I had my first PET scan. I’m not gonna lie I was beyond nervous. I didn’t know what they were going to see in there. That same day I had an appointment with my oncologist and she told us there were two new masses in my lymph nodes in my chest wall. She said they were so active and hot on my PET scan that it was obvious cancer and she could tell without a biopsy. The biggest mass was 2.6 cm and was pushing against my trachea and causing me issues with swallowing.

Once we got news on April 29th that my cancer has spread and I learned I am now stage IV, I again went through all the emotions as day one. I felt all over again like I’d been hit by a truck, like it was all new to me and I was starting over again. The chemo I was on was stopped and a new regimen was started. That regimen didn’t have a set game plan. We did 3 cycles of aggressive chemo and then I had a repeat PET scan. This PET scan showed significant improvement in my tumors. The biggest one shrunk down to 1.2 cm and they weren’t quite as active as before. I continued with the same chemo since it appeared to be working. After 3 more cycles of the same aggressive chemo we did another PET scan this one wasn’t the worst news but I guess could have been better. I started having some pains again and thought for sure my cancer had grown or spread. Luckily that was not the case. The repeat scan showed no change. Everything was stable. I was happy to hear it’s not spread or growing. So since the chemo I was on was keeping it stable and making no change. My oncologist decided we would try me on another regimen. The one I was on had done all it could and the aggressiveness of it was making me pretty sick and exhausted. I am now on another regimen. We will do another repeat PET scan after 3 cycles and see if I’m reacting to this regimen any better, if its still stable and no change then we will try another medicine.

There is obviously no cure for cancer but a person can be cancer free after going through chemo and even surgeries. At the stage I’m at I will never be fully cancer free. We can’t “cure” me but we can treat me and do everything possible to keep it stable. As long as we can keep my tumors small and from spreading then I’m doing good. I’ve got a long road ahead of me still with treatments but I’ll do all I can for as long as I can cause it keeps me on this earth. I have good days, I have bad days, I have dead days but no matter what I always have alive days so it’s all worth it.

To date I have completed 22 chemo treatments. Since it has metastasized (spread to another location in my body outside the original place) and is stage IV I will not under go any type of surgery. Once you get to my stage they say surgery is not beneficial nor does it make sense to put my body through that since it’s already going through enough.

Here I am 10 months later and yes my world has been flipped upside down and changed completely. I have the most amazing support group a girl could ask for and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this fight will not take me down anytime soon. I didn’t know if I could do this but I am. Most days I don’t think, I just act and do what I have to because I know in the end it’s what will keep me on this earth.

I say all of this to say yes this is the toughest journey of my life but I know it’s one I can make it through. I feel beyond blessed I accidentally came across the lump I found in my breast. Had I not, who knows where I would be. I was diagnosed at age 29. Yes, fighting this is scary and tough but early detection can save your life. Please at least once a month take a few minutes and feel those boobies!! You’ll be so glad you did. I wish I’d been more of an advocate on it than I am now, but I truly feel God had my back on this one and still does.

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Surviving the Fight! My Journey with Breast Cancer. By Guest Blogger Crystal G.

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I am a breast cancer warrior! My first battle with breast cancer began October 1, 2009 when I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. I didn’t know how to digest this information. I was only 26 years old, a single mother of two, working a full time job at a law firm as a legal assistant, a full time reservist in the U.S. Naval Reserves and a student in school trying to complete my bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. My life would suddenly come to halt due to surgeries and treatment and just being emotionally, mentally, and physically disconnected to everything around me. I opted to have the lump removed from my breast rather than a total mastectomy. The idea of that was just too emotionally painful to go through. I asked that treatments would start after the holidays and my birthday. I knew this would take a toll on my body so I just wanted to have this time with my kids. I underwent 6 rounds of chemo therapy. By this time I was unable to work or drill with my unit. I still attended class between my treatments. Once I was done with chemo, I had 35 rounds of radiation. I did this every day except on the weekends.

Having breast cancer was no walk in the park for me. After my first chemo treatment, I wanted to give up! I did not want to go through this anymore. This was such a horrible experience. But I had to find the strength and courage to push on and win this battle not only for myself but for my kids. I accomplished two great milestones in my life. I was able to graduate with my class and get my degree and form a breast cancer support group with two other survivors called the Pink Ribbon Divas. It was hard to get back into work but I went back to work after being out for over a year and a half. I fought and I won this terrible battle!

Now here we are at the five year survivor mark and my world has been turned upside down once again. In August 2014, I learned that the cancer had returned. This time I was diagnosed with stage IV “metastatic” breast cancer. The cancer had spread beyond my breast and lymph nodes, now to my brain, skull, lung, spine, pelvis and bones. This was so devastating! This was not what I was expecting to hear! This will be a forever and long process but I have three beautiful kids to live for. Not knowing what the future holds is the hardest part but my faith is what is getting me through every day. My cancer experience has not defined who I am now as a person; I will fight until the end. I know that tomorrow is truly not promised and life can change in an instant. My challenge is to live as long as well as I can and win this battle once again!! My only wish and goal is to inspire and educate other young women like myself that there is life beyond cancer to carry on with all your hopes and dreams!

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Only 9 days remain to donate to our # PrayForShay campaign!

SCAR Project by David Jay

SCAR Project by David Jay

Shay was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer at age 26 and unfortunately, she has just been diagnosed again, at age 36. In these past 10 years, Shay has underwent countless appointments & surgeries, including a bilateral mastectomy and DIEP flap procedure, dealt with numerous side effects, co-pays and currently takes 26 pills a day.

Shay is the President of Shay Sharpe’s Pink Wishes, an all volunteer, organization that educates and grants wishes to young women, age 40 and under, who have been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. We define terminal as having 1 year or less to live. Young women request a wish and we make it happen!

Shay has been a blessing, teacher, friend, mentor and shoulder to cry on, for women around the world. Now she needs our help. We think it would be awesome to Pay It Forward, as Shay embarks on this journey again. Let’s help ease the load, as her already costly medical expenses will increase drastically. After weeks of denied appeals and insurance red tape, Shay has decided to have her surgery out of network, so she can return to her initial cancer team from 2004. Being out of network, will make her responsible for at least 20% of her medical expenses. Returning to her old team, allows Shay to be cared for by an oncology team who is familiar with her condition, plus the convenience of having all of her appointments and services in one location, instead of driving to numerous locations all over the state for care.

The #PrayForShay campaign ends on October 31st. Please assist us in helping Shay reach her goal of $25,000. No amount is too small. Donations can be made via Crowdrise until October 31, 2014 at www.crowdrise.com/PrayForShay.

We thank you in advance for your support, and don’t forget to Pray For Shay!

The Stranger in the Mirror: Dealing with Hair Loss as a Cancer Patient by Guest Blogger, Sylvia Soo.

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My cancer diagnosis startled everyone in my life, including myself. The first question I asked my doctor was if I would need chemotherapy. I was concerned that I would lose my long hair. I received a definitive yes to my question. And as with most chemotherapy treatments, it was confirmed that mine would induce alopecia (hair loss). Knowing that I was going to lose my hair broke my twenty-five year old heart. The cancer and treatments would compromise my life, my health, my fertility and so much more. And here I was crying about my hair. Like many other cancer patients, losing my hair seemed like a big deal.

Studies have shown that alopecia is one of the most painful side effects of chemotherapy, and it often ranks among the first three most important side effects for breast cancer patients (Sitzia and Huggins, 1998; Duric et al., 2005; Lemieux et al., 2008).

After the shock of my cancer diagnosis wore off, I became excited. I was going to buy a multitude of wigs; I could be a different person every day. After all, that is what the support navigators told me. I could be a blonde one day, a redhead the next. One participant (in our group session) candidly pointed out that her husband loved the mystery of not knowing whom he was coming home to. There was one problem. I did not have a husband who I could seduce with a gamut of hairpieces.

When my hair actually began to fall out I was surprised. In the back of my mind, I had convinced myself I would be the exception. But just as the doctors had warned – my hair fell out. It fell out in handfuls. Hair was everywhere and clumps of it clogged my bathroom drain. The situation was a horrible, messy nightmare.

I slowly began to despise cancer. I hated what it was doing to my body.

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The social stigma of being completely bald began to play on my mind. I was transported back to junior high; I wanted the acceptance of total strangers even though I disliked their stares. Their imaginary conversations (that played repeatedly in my mind) distorted my reality. I was an imposter trying to be someone that I was not.

At first, the wigs were entertaining, but the thrill wore off. In the summer heat, the wigs were uncomfortable and made my head itchy. The hairlines were impossible to get right. Wearing a wig made me feel self-conscious and I was constantly adjusting my “hair”. I did not have the financial resources to buy a quality wig and have it custom fitted for my head. I was fearful that my ill-fitting wig would slip off or the wind would blow it away.

I became tired of being the bald cancer girl. I longed for my old self. No wig, scarf or hat seemed to bring her back.

As time continued, the treatments began to take their toll on my body. More hair fell out. It became increasingly difficult to recognize the stranger in the mirror. I loved that I did not have to shave my legs, but I hated that I had to lose my eyelashes. I would apply thick coats of mascara on the three or four lashes that remained. It may not have been particularly attractive, but it was my attempt to look normal.

A 2013 Needs Assessment report conducted by Rethink Breast Cancer notes, “the challenges a breast cancer patient faces does not end with the conclusion of treatment. Women may still experience physical pain, isolation, depression and anxiety.”

When I completed my chemotherapy treatments I had a goal in mind. I was going to grow my hair back. If I could get my hair to look the same as it had prior to cancer, maybe my life would return to normal. I struggled for years trying to achieve this. I endured too-short hair, curly hair, and dry damaged hair. Finally I was able to achieve a look that was similar to my pre-cancer self.

But when I looked into the mirror, my reflection did not give me the resolution I had thought it would.

Looking back on my experience, I can see I was continuously grasping for my former image. I did not recognize my hair loss as a valid source of grief. I was stuck between the past and the present. I needed to accept my present reality.

My reaction to my chemotherapy-induced alopecia may seem trivial to some, but losing my hair significantly impacted my life. The loss of my hair had a tremendous impact on my psyche. I still have issues with self-worth and self-image. However, when I look in the mirror, I no longer search for someone that once was. I am learning to accept the woman I have become both inside and out. I have realized that life is best lived when I am present. And being present means letting go of the past.

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18. In College. Cute Boyfriend. Breast Cancer. No Insurance! By Guest Blogger Leah W.

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Around November 2010, I found a lump in my right breast myself and, I went to the doctor as soon as I could. We didn’t have insurance at the time so I had to wait on some things until we had to money for it. I had ultrasounds, mammograms, and a biopsy and they found another lump in my right breast. They all came back as me having Breast Cancer. The larger lump was 5.0 cm the other, 1.3 cm. I started college in January 2011 and I got Diagnosed later that month. Once I found out that I had Breast Cancer I have to withdraw from college.

I went to UAB In Birmingham and they set me up with a team of Doctors. They told me even though the cancer is just in my right breast its not a matter of IF I get it in my left breast it was a matter of WHEN I get it in my left breast. I had to take chemo for six months, every Monday. I lost my hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows. I got very sick at first but it seem to get a little easier when I switched from A/C to Taxol. After Chemo I went in for surgery on 7/29/11. I had my right breast removed along with my lymph nodes.

My larger lump went down to 1.1cm and the other lump was not longer there(thanks to chemo). When they did my surgery they put in a tissue expander. After I started to heal I got liquids put in my expander every other week. A month or so later I started radiation. I stayed in the Hope Lodge in Birmingham for 6 weeks. I had radiation everyday, other then weekends. I came home on 11/16/11 and I was done with radiation.

A few days after I came home I got very sick. I was rushed to UAB at 3am. My tissue expander was infected. I had to have an emergency surgery to remove the expander. I lost my insurance a few days before my surgery. I had to wait a year to get approved by Medicaid. I went a over a year with one breast. I finally got approved by Medicaid and I had my reconstruction surgery. I had a tram flap surgery. I had a tummy tuck and they used the left over skin to do a patch job on my right breast were they took my expander out. They used the fat and muscle from my stomach to make me two new breasts.

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On 5/8/14 I had a small touch up on my breasts that my doctor wanted to correct. As far as I know, I’m healthy now. I know that I’m a survivor. I never in my life thought that I would get Breast Cancer. Of course, I knew that women had it but never at my age. I was so unaware about everything. I had no idea what to do. I knew nothing about cancer at all. I have no family history. My cancer was estrogen based. I started to take birth control at 14 years old because of menstrual reasons. My doctors told me that my birth control made my cancer grow 5x the size. It was scary but, it might have saved my life. If my lump wasn’t noticeably large to were I could see it. That cancer could have spread and I could have never even known it was killing me.

I’m thankful that things happened as it did. No, I’m not happy that I got cancer but I learned so much on my journey. God had a plan for me. I had wonderful support from my friends, family, and my now husband. Me and Tyler meet in High School before I even knew anything about me having cancer. We were both 18 when I was diagnosed. He stood by me the whole time. He took care of me and called me beautiful everyday when I didn’t even have any hair. We got married on 5/18/13. We are both happy, healthy, and thankful. I’m so thankful to be alive.

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I Was Not Built To Break! By guest blogger Tameka J.

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At the age of 13, I was diagnosed with osteosarchoma (bone cancer). At that time I underwent a total knee replacement and 1 year of chemotherapy. Since then I had 2 knee surgeries and had been in remission for almost 20 years. This past May, something just wasn’t right. I felt a large lump on my breast and it was sore. Because of my previous cancer history any little thing and I’m at the doctor. I guess that’s a good thing because when the did the mammogram they saw that there was a large mass on my left breast. Same breast that I had two cyst in previously. Because I was about to have surgery to remove fibroids that same month the doctors just took the opportunity to do a breast biopsy.

At the age of 31, I was diagnosed with DCIS, and my 2nd battle with cancer. I was devastated! When I received my diagnosis, I remember just saying “no, not again”. I cried and I prayed, I even questioned God by asking him why. Why did I have to go through this AGAIN? Initially they thought that it was not invasive but after further test they saw that 2 inches of it was. Because of my cancer history I made the decision to have a double mastectomy done even though I was tested for the gene and did not have it, nor was there any family history.

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Three weeks after my diagnosis, I had a bilateral mastectomy (June 10, 2013) and in July of 2013, I started chemo. Making the decision to have the mastectomy was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make and one of the hardest producers I have ever had to go through. I had to have chemo twice a month for 4 months. It was the longest 4 months of my life! Losing my hair all over again, losing my taste, and having to be stuck in my chest to receive the chemotherapy brought back old memories and made me depressed. Some days I felt like I didn’t want to do it anymore but I knew I had to, not for me, but for my little girl! In May of this year, I completed my reconstruction process.

The devil thought he had me, he thought he won but my God’s word says different. God did it before and I knew he would do it again. Going through chemo and having a bilateral mastectomy was hard. Some days I felt like I could not do it anymore BUT GOD…God sent me strength in the form of my praying family and friends. They were/are my rocks! Where I am weak God showed me he was strong. I continued to have faith and sometimes it was as small as a mustard seed but God’s word says that is all we need. I trusted him to get me through and knew that no matter how bad or how weak I felt he was holding my right hand and covering me with his grace. I know that no matter what I have gone through, I was NOT built to break!!