My Friend Dana

I met Dana at a meet up in San Diego for her resort wear collection.  Here is her story…
Tell us your story / stats:
I am a thriver…meaning I am currently living with breast cancer. I was originally diagnosed in 2011 with Stage III breast cancer. I had my right breast removed without reconstruction. After six months of intense chemo and radiation to follow, I would find the cancer would return in my clavicle area. The doctors did not want to surgically remove the tumors because they were next to nerves that would make me lose the ability to use my arm. The only option was chemo. I did three months of chemo followed by radiation to my neck. The cancer would disappear. I then got to live close to four years enjoying my life. The cancer would return in my neck yet again and since then I have been on and off from treatments. The cancer goes away then when I stop treatment, it grows back within months. The doctors do not quite understand my breast cancer as it always seems to grow back in my neck. I say it is good to not be normal in this case.
C aside, tell us about yourself. What makes you, YOU!
I love living! I used to be very very very type A and everything had to be planned and done a certain way. I still have the same tendencies but I now relax and know that not everything is going to go the way I plan. That is ok…most of the time. I like to be a mom to my son and in my free time I like to ride horses and sew for my resortwear collection Hulabelle.
What went through your head when you were first diagnosed?
I was in shock and did not believe it at first. I honestly waited for the doctor to say it was a mistake. I then moved on to grief and feeling like I was going to die. I couldn’t make any plans and I stopped living for a bit.
What are some of your personal coping skills during difficult times?
I have grown up with a very deep seeded faith. I keep close to it and know that I don’t have to try to control things and it alleviates the stress. I also love to create and that takes my mind off of the reality of my situation, it is an escape.
Tell us about your support system. Or lack of. Where do you get your support from?
I have experienced both in some ways…there have been some major disappointments but I have always had support from my husband. He works so hard and then he does whatever he can to help me, if that means taking a day off to sit with me at chemo or driving up to LA to get a second opinion. I feel very fortunate.
Many people are unaware that you can do chemotherapy while pregnant. Thoughts and personal experience?
I actually have a a close friend of mine who had to undergo chemo while pregnant with her daughter. She was the only mom in the labor and delivery unit with a bald head. Her daughter is now six and very healthy and active. It is a surprise to many but it can be done at a certain stage in the pregnancy.
What have you learned about yourself since dx?
I am stronger than I thought I was and that I can get through each process.
What do you believe is a common misconception about being diagnosed? Or something that you’d like the general population to know about C.
That life goes back to ‘normal’ when ‘finished’ and there is not going back to things, oh how I wish there was somedays but I have kinda forgotten that person from before. Also there is no pink ribbon finish line for us, we have to keep worrying, keep having our check ups and scans. It is a constant reminder.
Thoughts on the pink… 
Please donate to the three following places: METAVIVOR; Living Beyond Breast Cancer; Haus of Volta. These are all very stand up organizations and they won’t drown you in pink.
Where are you at in life now?  Mentally, physically, emotionally…
I am all grown up from my original diagnosis I feel…I used to be so scared and depressed. I now realize life keeps moving with or without me so I have decided to keep going. I like to travel and try to do things I normally would set aside before. Also that, yes death is inevitable, it is for all of us so why fear it..enjoy this ride and then when it is time to move on then it is time.
Do you have any lasting side effects- mental, physical, etc.?
Yes, chemo brain is real and I forget things quite easily. It is quite frustrating and sometimes people who don’t understand, think there must be something wrong with me.
Have you noticed any lasting effects on your families and friends?
I think my family and friends all want to see me move forward with life even with the understanding that I am not necessarily cured. They try to encourage me to live. I think my son I am most concerned about. He is 7 and he has had to deal with this since he was only 10 months old. He would like for me to be like the other moms, such as not losing my hair or unable to take him places during treatment. Yet he has also learned some things about life many of his peers may not see or understand until they are adults.
If you could send a message to yourself from 10 years ago… how would that go?
Enjoy this life! Enjoy your energy, don’t take your body for granted!
What are you passionate about? Is this different than what you were passionate about before dx?
I am passionate about living and being with my family. I cherish the outings we do and the funny conversations we may have. I am very passionate about helping others too. I want women in the future generations to not feel as if they are not being heard. I want them to know they have a huge support system. It is a sister hood.
Do you have any short term or long term goals that you are actively working towards?
I am currently in chemo and hope it will shrink my tumor once again in my neck. This time I do get the option of surgery as the tumor is in a different spot. I hope to be able to remove the lymph nodes in my neck. The long term goals are to live my life, enjoy my family, keep creating collections that will be well received everywhere and acknowledged as something to help women.
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, phrase, or curse word?
Yes, look for the silver lining…it is always there and it shines bright! My favorite curse work is the ‘F’ word which may surprise some…it is very useful in getting negative energy out!
Whenever the day comes to travel to the “great beyond”, what do you hope people remember about you?
I hope my son remembers me. I hope he takes the Daily lessons that I have taught him and uses them to his benefit in the future. I hope he goes on to help others and be compassionate towards all people.
Would you like to share one of your shittiest moments/memories? The raw side of C.
Getting the confirmation it was cancer and in the next room my son was waking up from his nap. I didn’t want to see him, I felt like I had let him down. It was a very dark moment for me.
What’s the latest happenings in your life now?
I love Instagram and so if anyone wants to chat or see what is happening, check it out @hulabelleresortwear and I also have a blog that I just dropped and it is called daycurve.wordpress.com
If people take away anything from your story, it would be…
You can face your darkest moments and say I am going to keep going and enjoy my life. I can get through this, moment by moment and it too shall pass.
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My Friend Kathleen

I met Kathleen through the Kick Ass Cancer Mamas Facebook group.  Here is her story…

Tell us your story / stats: 
I was 29, married 2 years and expecting our first child when I was diagnosed with stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer. It started as a red swollen breast and I ignored it thinking I was just getting ready to make milk. I found a lump months down the road which I had my OB check out and she sent me for an ultrasound immediately, which led to a needle guided biopsy and skin punch biopsy, then diagnosis. We did a baseline ultrasound on baby prior to chemo and found cancer in my liver as well. I had one chemo and then was induced. I did weekly chemo for 7 months before achieving no evidence of disease. I had my ovaries and breasts removed and will continue to get treatment for life, including daily pills, infusions and shots every 3 weeks, along with scans to check my heart due to potential damage from infusions. I have had no evidence of disease for over 3 years now.
C aside, tell us about yourself. What makes you, YOU!
I’ve always been a relentlessly positive person. I quit my job as a wedding cake designer in Seattle to spend more time with my son.
What went through your head when you were first diagnosed?
How unfair it was, getting to bring a little life into the world without getting to stick around to get to know who that kid would become.
What are some of your personal coping skills during difficult times?
I think I am still working on that… I try to talk about it but end up putting walls around the problem and not dealing with it. I try and breathe and stay in the moment, remember all the good.
Tell us about your support system. Or lack of. Where do you get your support from?
My family and friends. Some people came out of nowhere to be big supporters, other people dropped out of my life. I try not to take it personally and realize how hard it would be to be witness to the situation. I am super thankful for my husband, mom, and sister in laws. My son is obviously a huge motivation for me.
Many people are unaware that you can do chemotherapy while pregnant. Thoughts and personal experience?
I trusted in my oncologist. I remember the nurse administering it said she made my onc swear up and and down she wouldn’t be hurting my baby. My onc said it wouldn’t cross the placenta and it didn’t. I was bald when my son was born and he had a full head of hair, that was really reassuring to see.
What have you learned about yourself since dx?
That you don’t realize how strong you are, how much you can endure, until you don’t have a choice.
What do you believe is a common misconception about being diagnosed? Or something that you’d like the general population to know about C.
I had no idea about stage 4/metastatic cancer. I thought breast cancer wasn’t a big deal anymore. Got a huge reality check when I was told metastatic was incurable. I also didn’t know there was a breast cancer without a lump.  I would urge everyone to be aware of any changes in their breasts and to always get it checked out.
Thoughts on the pink… 
I hate the pink washing that is still occurring. We need real awareness, awareness of the different forms, and stages, but more than that, we need research for metastatic cancer, it is the only breast cancer that kills. It kills when it spreads, yet it gets a tiny % of research funding. Wouldn’t you think the majority of research funds should go to the part that actually kills us?
Where are you at in life now?  Mentally, physically, emotionally…
Fairly healthy, I’m at a healthy weight and recently had reconstruction. I spend my days trying to make sure my son will grow up to be a good little person, toughest job in the world, being a mom, and that takes its toll, but I am working on taking good care of my mental health.
If you could send a message to yourself from 10 years ago… how would that go?
I would tell me to cut off my boobs! I don’t have genetics for cancer, just bad luck.
What are you passionate about? Is this different than what you were passionate about before dx?
I’m passionate about raising a good kid. Before C, I was passionate about making good cakes. I had a few in magazines, I was starting to feel like I had “made it” in the cake world, and then I decided it was a waste of time. I don’t know how much time I have in this world, I want to spend it with my family.
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, phrase, or curse word?
“Hope always” and “time is precious, waste it wisely”
Whenever the day comes to travel to the “great beyond”, what do you hope people remember about you?
My smile and dedication to my family.
Would you like to share one of your shittiest moments/memories? The raw side of C.
I found out my cancer was “incurable” the Friday before my baby shower. I got to open up all these gifts thinking I wouldn’t be around to see the little man these things were for. I got a 9mo suit and wondered if that is what my son would wear to my funeral. The next day was our maternity photo shoot where we had to be all smiles when really we were devastated on the inside. When we got home from that we let ourselves break down. It was a very raw moment.
What’s the latest happenings in your life now?
Life is mostly good… I have a “Metastatic Mom” Facebook page but I don’t update it much since fortunately I haven’t had much to update! Clear scans every 4 months is what usually gets posted these days.
If people take away anything from your story, it would be…
Be aware of any changes in your body, be your own advocate, don’t waste your time on stupid shit.

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My Friend Emily R.

I met Emily through the Kick Ass Cancer Mamas Facebook group.  Here is her story…
Tell us your story / stats: 
I was diagnosed at age 32 and turned 33, 3 days later. Stage IIIa, 25 weeks pregnant. I had a lump for many years that was called a cyst. It would come and go with periods. When I was pregnant it got very hard and never went away. Then I small red streak appeared at the top of my breast. After trying some antibiotics for a clogged milk duct, I did the real tests to find out it was cancer.
C aside, tell us about yourself. What makes you, YOU!
I’m sarcastic, sometimes funny, I love fitness, I love the beach, I’m a PE teacher, wife and mother. I love dogs, hikes, acupuncture, yoga and to be around friends and family.
What went through your head when you were first diagnosed?
Honestly, just shock and fear, I think I cried every day for about two weeks. I saw death. But thank god, that hasn’t been the outcome for me, yet.
What are some of your personal coping skills during difficult times?
I write sometimes, I complain to my friends on Facebook, I go to acupuncture, I go to the gym.
Tell us about your support system. Or lack of. Where do you get your support from?
My husband is my rock, but I’m not big on verbalizing things until they are really bad. I could probably do better on that end. I wish my friends would reach out more and make more of an effort to spend time with me.
Many people are unaware that you can do chemotherapy while pregnant. Thoughts and personal experience?
I didn’t have too many weird situations when this came up, mostly people just asked if the baby was ok.
What have you learned about yourself since dx?
I cannot handle stress. Lol. I have learned that I’m not impervious to suffering and illness.
What do you believe is a common misconception about being diagnosed? Or something that you’d like the general population to know about C.
It’s not always a death sentence. But I wish people would support each other more. I had some great visits and people brought things to help us, but on the other hand you have close friends who never visited or anything. Just don’t get weird, be there!
Thoughts on the pink… 
I mean, I don’t feel a certain way, except it’s a club that I belong to. Not one that I want to belong to. I don’t wear pink every day, but my little pink ribbon tattoo reminds me of the shit I went through and what I was capable of. It’s not about who my money goes to.
Where are you at in life now?  Mentally, physically, emotionally…
At this exact moment I feel like crap. I stopped my meds that put me into menopause in hopes of having another baby. My hormones are so all over the place, I’ve been fighting this anxiety and panic attack feeling for about a week. But all together for a month on and off. When I feel good, I feel strong and healthy, but today I feel low and broken.
Do you have any lasting side effects- mental, physical, etc.?
I might. I’m still trying to see if my anxiety is from me or just the out of whack hormones. I may need to pursue some counseling in the future if this doesn’t improve.
Have you noticed any lasting effects on your families and friends?
I feel like sometimes that they have already forgotten. In some ways I never want to talk about it again, but other times I want to vent!
If you could send a message to yourself from 10 years ago… how would that go?
Change your diet, open your mind, push the doctors to do what you think, listen to your body.
What are you passionate about? Is this different than what you were passionate about before dx?
I’m more passionate about my personal relationships with people. I’m not good at them all the time but I’m trying.
Do you have any short term or long term goals that you are actively working towards?
I applied to a masters program, I’m hoping to be accepted into the next term! I want to teach at a community college.
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, phrase, or curse word?
If I die today, it was the best day of my life. To me it just means, live today happy, make today the best day of your life, so if you died today, you died happy!
Whenever the day comes to travel to the “great beyond”, what do you hope people remember about you?
I hope they remember the good things about me. I hope they learn from me too.
Would you like to share one of your shittiest moments/memories? The raw side of C.
It’s crazy how much of a blur that 6 months was. I tried to get pregnant for so many years and cancer just robbed my happiness. It took the one joy in my life and made it totally different. Being pregnant and going through cancer treatment is just so weird and fucked up.
What’s the latest happenings in your life now?
I feel like I’m fully back into “normal” life. Work, wife, mommy…doing everything I did before. I feel very happy with where I am, now I keep wishing for more and more, like there’s a big future still ahead of me.
If people take away anything from your story, it would be…
You can come out of this crappy situation and find one thing to “learn” from it, you learn what you truly value. It will be ok, but have good supports set up, take care of yourself too, that’s important and be a nice person!