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 Karina

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

Tell us your story / stats: 

31, Stage 2A now metastasized one year post dx, married and 5-6 weeks pregnant with our first child. I found my lump during a movie after feeling a dull pain in my right breast. We did an ultrasound and biopsy to dx that it was IDC grade 3.
C aside, tell us about yourself. What makes you, YOU!

I used to be very outgoing and social. Since my cancer has metastasized, it’s been hard to keep this up because I cannot leave my bed much these days without severe bone pain. But I love my loved ones and I hate to see them hurting because of my dx. It’s gut wrenching. My world lives under my roof – my amazing, supportive husband Taylor and my fearless warrior baby Evelyn. My baby girl is 20 months and the best medicine on the market! If I’m down, she lifts me back up within minutes!! My support system has helped to keep me afloat and I hope in years’ past, I did the same for that at some point.
What went through your head when you were first diagnosed?

I was so scared that we wouldn’t be able to keep the baby. We had been wanting to have a baby for a long time and it took us 6M+ to finally conceive. We had a positive pregnancy test 10 days prior to my dx. Over those 10 days, we became VERY ATTACHED to our “Nugget.” My first surgeon was not very knowledgeable on BC treatment during pregnancy so we set up a 2nd opinion at Moffitt, whom handled most pregnancy cases in SE region. Until that appointment over a week later, there was so much fear and uncertainty on her future. I think in my head, I naively thought that I was “safe” as long as I followed the treatment regimen because it was caught early stage; therefore, all I did was worry about my baby that first week. Fortunately Moffitt assured us that we could safely treat and have a healthy baby. Unfortunately, I was very wrong about my own safety.
What are some of your personal coping skills during difficult times?

I try not to wallow. Upsetting thoughts are going to creep in, it’s just going to happen. So when it does, I give that thought the respect it deserves and have a good cry for 5 minutes. After that, I move on. I can’t live my life and enjoy the good days if im constantly depressed and stressed. It’s just not possible. But I choose to not allow my fears to overcome me and ruin my life that I have left. I will NEVER tell another person suffering through BC to “just stay positive” because that just trivializes a very serious and scary disease. But I will tell them that stress does nothing to help them; in fact it will lower their immune system. Depression and fear and wallowing can be debilitating, so don’t let it overcome your life and rob you of any happy days. Because then what’s the point of living???
Tell us about your support system. Or lack of. Where do you get your support from?

My support comes from family, friends, and even acquaintances. It’s been a true eye opener of how beautiful humanity truly is!!! I think this is one of Cancer’s “gifts;” prior to cancer, I was depressed watching the news, watching people be selfish and vain, and seeing others have no regard for other people unless they had a personal relationship (even then, it could be questionable!). Post-Cancer, I have received more offers to help than I could probably handle. Friends that I hadn’t seen or really spoke to from college (13 yrs ago) or that I worked with (10 yrs ago) came out of the woodwork to come help me. It could be rides and company to chemo (all day event!), offers to make lifestyle video of our family for memories, driving 4 hrs and staying the weekend for a trial I joined… offers for massage and visits. And these are just from the friends I hadn’t seen in ages!! I couldn’t possibly summarize all of the insanely generous things my close friends and family have done. Even some strangers have reached out during my outings. My heart has been warmed and my faith restored in humanity. I do not go without love and care. Then there is my superhuman husband who LITERALLY does everything for our household (baby rearing, house repairs, cleaning, shopping, etc) along with working full-time AND taking care of a broken wife. And guess what? He never complains. He very rarely gets frustrated. He only gets mad if he thinks I’m overexerting myself. I haven’t contributed anything in over 6M+. And while some may say “as it should be” quite naively, it is not what I’m seeing on my support groups. Many of the women I interact with don’t feel loved and supported as they once did. And it’s very sad, but being a caregiver is extremely hard. It’s taxing. It’s stressful. It can be thankless. You get no breaks. Not everyone has the fortitude to handle it!! It’s a sad truth because it is our darkest hour and the time when we need the support the most!
Many people are unaware that you can do chemotherapy while pregnant. Thoughts and personal experience?

It was a VERY hard decision to do chemo while pregnant. My oncologist told me after my lumpectomy that I was “cancer-free.” If that is true, why did I need the chemo now? Could I wait 8.5 months to start chemo? I consulted with Dr. Cardonick, who is a research MFM OB that tracks women and babies throughout pregnancy (and life) if they’ve received treatment during pregnancy. She’s been tracking for over 10 years and looks for trends to ensure safety of drugs, surgeries, etc. She gave me a resounding NO! I could not wait. While the cancer cells that had grown and formed a tumor have been removed, all of the microscopic cancer cells that could be remaining would not be detected in any ultrasound; and since I was pregnant, I couldn’t receive any scans either… not that that would matter because those also have limitations on cell detection.

I did some additional research, consulted my online cancer mamas group and decided that it was just as important to save my own life as it is to save my developing baby. I wanted to do everything in my power to lesson the risk of leaving her motherless.
What have you learned about yourself since dx?

I find myself yearning for more experiences and memories than I am for things. I wasn’t SUPER materialistic prior, but I definitely enjoyed buying things. Money spent on things I don’t need leaves less money for family vacations, lunches with friends, walking around a beautiful garden. Those moments will exist forever but that dress you bought that you might wear once? It’s going to be given away when you’re gone. It’s not important.
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 mammograms save lives because of early detection. First of all, mammograms are TERRIBLE for dense tissue breasts. If you have dense tissue, please also demand an ultrasound. Second, the science shows that no matter how early cancer is detected, it can still metastasize… even at Stage 0 ( I have seen a few cases in my metastatic group ). This isn’t meant to scare anyone; it is meant to educate and ensure that society is taking this disease seriously. Because the only time breast cancer kills is when it spreads (metastasizes) to something (organ/bone) outside of the breast. Awareness is not sufficient. It says “be aware, touch your tatas! Catch it early and you’ll live!” This sends most BC funds to awareness campaigns that funnel a lot of their donations to CEO paychecks and awareness events. That’s unacceptable! Knowing that 30% of early stage patients will progress should light a fire under everyone’s butts to raise funding FOR RESEARCH! We need a cure, not a pink ribbon. It’s serious everyone, it’s really serious. Donate to Metavivor.org if you want to make a true difference and steer clear of pink campaigns which give pennies to actual charities.

Another eye opener that I’ve learned is that someone who was once Stage 2 (me!) is always considered Stage 2 even when cancer kills me. But my passing will never be counted in the statistics that reflect Stage IV deaths. This is due to semantics; I’m considered Stage IV now unofficially but for statistics I’m considered Stage 2A metastatic. What does this mean? It makes it look like less people are dying from metastatic breast cancer than there truly are. It’s deceiving.
Thoughts on the pink… 

I do not support Pink Campaigns (see above). When you buy a bracelet that is pink touting proceeds go to Breast Cancer… you’re really donating maybe pennies to a charity. Many do not even provide details on packaging (proceeds % or charity affiliation). When you donate to Komen direct, a LARGE chunk of their annual funds go to executive salaries. They also throw events to bring awareness or raise funds that actually cost money to host. And for what? Awareness? Do you know anyone that doesn’t know what BC is anymore or whether they needed to get mammograms and do self checks? I think we are past awareness and need to move on to the uncomfortable conversations about metastatic BC because if we cure that, we cure early stage BC.

Metavivor.org puts 100% of proceeds into research. I like those numbers!!!!!
Where are you at in life now?  Mentally, physically, emotionally…

Since my MBC diagnosis, things have changed. Mentally I am doing ok actually. There are some days worse than others, but overall I keep myself above water.

Physically I have deteriorated significantly. Mostly I deal with severe bone pain. It forces me to stay in bed most of the day which is hard when you have a toddler that looks to you to play and a husband who just wants to go on a date with his wife. I can’t help raise my baby and that hurts.

One thing I used to naively say and that I hear often is “if I had terminal cancer, I wouldn’t want to do that awful treatment and make myself sick and in pain and put my family through that burden.”
Well until you’re facing your baby at 33 years old trying to get past a goal line where she will actually remember you… and until you feel the EXCRUCIATING pain from liver and bone (and insert organ here) metastasis which only opioids, CHEMO OR RADIATION treatment can touch, you might think twice. Yes, side effects suck, but so does intense and debilitating pain. Just try to remember that it’s never a black or white decision. You won’t know what you’ll do in this situation so perhaps keep that opinion to yourself because expressing it can be hurtful to someone actually living it.
Do you have any short term or long term goals that you are actively working towards?

I’m working towards building a legacy for my daughter to remember me by. I write her letters, set up photo shoots, make videos, etc. I suggest this even for the healthiest of parents. It’s neat for your child to receive these things as they grow and learn more about mom and/or dad .
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, phrase, or curse word?

“Their story is not my story.” (No matter how close your dx is to another patient and how similar your treatment path is, your bodies are SO COMPLETELY different. You will never see them play out the exact same, so don’t make comparisons.)

“Fuck.” (Because cursing is cathartic! It’s been scientifically proven that cursing when in pain helps to minimize pain response. PLUS, who doesn’t love a little cursing? If you can get away with it at any point in life, it’s now! Carpe Fuckdom!!!)
Whenever the day comes to travel to the “great beyond”, what do you hope people remember about you?

How much I loved and appreciated them.
Would you like to share one of your shittiest moments/memories? The raw side of C.

Having diarrhea 12X in one day cannot be glamorous. If you have a SO, don’t bother trying to hide the hideousness that is your side effects. They want to help, let them! My husband has done research on how to cure painful hemorrhoids, buying laxative suppositories, etc. it’s not sexy but it’s love.
If people take away anything from your story, it would be…

Honesty about your dx and it’s difficulties can be a gift to society. I try to share what’s going on via my FB so that I keep everyone updated and I am providing awareness of the ugly side of BC that is completely invisible to the general population. Though it was never my intention, I’ve been told that it’s inspirational and have been thanked for broadening their knowledge. If I educate 10 people and they educate 5, I’ve lived a successful life, haven’t I?