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Surviving is what I do

In July 2007 at the age of 38 I was diagnosed with estrogen positive breast cancer-unbeknownst to me the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes as well. I had a lumpectomy the following month in August 2007 after diagnosis and was back in surgery the next month of September for cancerous lymph node removal. This was followed by several rounds of chemo and radiation and a roller coaster of emotions.

Moving forward 2014 seven years after my diagnosis and nearly two years off my hormone replacement meds a routine mammogram detected a spot that was eventually confirmed to be a reoccurrence of the same cancer. I opted to have a double mastectomy with breast reconstruction. I am blessed that I have had such a wonderful support system. Maintaining a positive attitude is the primary key to overcoming a cancer diagnosis. This is the advice that I pass on to anyone that's faced with this dreaded diagnosis-cry, cuss, scream, do what you must; but get it out and get over it. It's ok to have your moments-you are human. You have the power over this so wipe those tears, get up, get dressed put on your scarf, wig, hat or just go bare-headed but get up and live your life. My continued prayer is that cancer will soon be a thing of the past. Praying for a cure!!!!

Felicia Wilkes
Raliegh, NC

I will stay positive.

I was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in March 5, 2015, and I underwent surgery to remove the 1cm cancer in March 31.

I found out after my surgery through the pathology tests that I had triple positive HER2.

I’ve just completed my four rounds of chemotherapy in August 4.

Now onto 18 sessions of targeted therapy Herceptin, 5 weeks of radiation therapy, then hormonal therapy for 5-10 years.

All of this for a 1cm cancer that’s supposed to be gone..

My daughter is currently in the US for college, and although I'm truly sad that she only gets to visit me here and there throughout the year, I know I will get through this. My daughter tells me to fight on, so that's what I'm doing! Fighting on like a Trojan!

Looking forward to when I can visit her in the sunny California again like I did last year.

I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me. I’m a patient now but I’ll soon be a survivor in the near future.

I will stay strong!

Yoshiko
Tokyo, Japan

"Surrounded by Love"

My story begins like many others. In late December 2012, after receiving abnormal results on two mammograms and ultrasound, my husband and I decided to get a second opinion at MDAnderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. We made the six hour drive and after more mammagrams, ultrasound, and needle core biopsy, on January 14, 2013, my 50th birthday, I received the phone call that changed my life and that of my family's. I had stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma. It was a very scary time and the beginning of a difficult journey. "Why me?", was a question I never asked myself. I felt that if I asked that question, then I would have to ask, "Why not me?". I accepted my diagnosis and with a positive attitude, fought it head on. After a partial mastectomy, removal of lymph nodes, and 20 rounds of radiation, I have now been cancer free for 2 1/2 years. I will continue to have regular checkups and will have to take a hormone blocker for the next five years.

The journey has not been an easy one but, it has turned out to be an extraordinary one filled with many blessings that far outweighed the bad. It was made easier due to my wonderful support system and the numerous prayer chains that were started for me. I know that the overwhelming sense of peace and tranquility that I felt throughout this difficult, yet amazing journey, was the result of all the prayers and Gods presence in my life. My husband, Richard, has been my rock and the person whose faith never waivers. As my niece once said to me, "you are surrounded by love".

The most important thing about sharing my story is to stress the importance of annual checkups. There was no breast cancer history in my family, however, my commitment to getting my annual mammograms saved my life. I strongly urge all women to make a commitment to get their annual mammograms and to encourage others to do the same. May God bless each and everyone of you always.

Rosalinda Mendez
Mission, TX

Proud of my mother!

My mother is a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in early 1999 and was then when she became my hero.

She took the news very well and the only she was asking was: ‘OK, what we can do, because I will fight back’!!

She is an inspiration to our family and friends and every day tries to help other to cope with the news.

Irini Kalodimou
Nafplio-Argolida, Greece

Triple Negative and BRCA1+

Mid-February of this year, I was doing laundry when I first felt the lump. I had a pain in my right breast, which prompted me to feel the area. It felt like a jelly bean. I thought it was odd - but didn't think much of it. 32, with 2 children, it can't possibly be cancer.

For about a week I stewed over my next steps – is going to the doctor really necessary? I decided to get my husband’s advice, maybe he won’t even feel it and it will be proof I don’t need to do anything. Needless to say the next day I was making an appointment.

Friday March 13th, I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. A month later I also learned that I am BRCA1 positive.

To date, I have undergone 4 treatments of Cytoxan and Adriamycin and 8 of 12 Taxol treatments.

After chemo is finished I will be having a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery as well as a full hysterectomy (due to the BRCA gene). Every new day is a day closer to winner the battle.

The last 5 months have been the longest months of my life. However, though long, I can’t say they have been bad months – just not easy months. I have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people that I will forever treasure and do cool things that I would have never done– like wear Henna proudly on my bald head. I said it when I was first diagnosed and continue to live by it, with the astounding support of my family and friends - This cancer will not define me, I will be the one defining it!!

You want to define me,

I will be the one defining you.

You want to knock me down,

I will get back up.

You want to make me weak,

I will only become stronger.

You want to destroy me,

I will destroy you.

You are not my friend, you are not who I am, I will come out on top and you will come to an end.

Nicole Frisby
Lake Stevens, WA

LEMONS INTO CHAMPAGNE

How did I turn that dreaded phone call telling me I had invasive ductal carcinoma into the non-profit Sparkle Caps Project during my first year of treatment?

How can I say that I was blessed to have breast cancer?

How did I go from an employer who tried to fire me once I told the firm I had breast cancer to working for the best boss ever?

February 2010 - I was at my office when I heard the angel whisper, “Get your mammogram.” When I got home that evening, key in the front door lock, I again heard the angel whisper, “Get your mammogram.” I put my bags down in the open doorway and went to my den, where I retrieved the order for my nine-month OVERDUE mammogram.

I called the Breast Center the next day and received an appointment for that Thursday, February 4th, which was my birthday. What a birthday present!

When I returned to work on Monday, the breast center called. On my lunch hour that day, I had a repeat mammogram, two ultrasounds and three needle biopsies. Now that was a long lunch hour! Wednesday at work, I got that dreaded phone call. Two weeks later, I had a lumpectomy. Five weeks following surgery, I started the first of 6 chemos, followed by 33 radiation treatments and a year of Herceptin infusions.

During treatment, I asked God to use my breast cancer journey to help others. Using that trial, He allowed me to start The Sparkle Caps Project. We have given over 1,300 gift bags to date to women in treatment for any type of cancer. 1,300 Sparkle Caps Gift Bags: These are more than just words on paper. Sparkle Caps reaches into women’s lives, offering them support, love and hope—a soft touch on a difficult journey. We leave the rest up to God.

My boss and I, we didn't turn lemons into lemonade. We turned my lemons into CHAMPAGNE. I am truly blessed because I had breast cancer!

Susan "Victorious" Heimbigner
Sumter, SC

Keep the Faith

On February 27th 2015 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and I am currently undergoing radiotherapy. The whole thing has been a whirlwind since discovering the lump last December but I'm really lucky with the support that I have. The last few months have been gruelling at times. I have amazing neighbours, friends and family around me and my boyfriend has been my absolute rock. On my darkest days he still told me that I was beautiful. I lost my hair 14 days after my first session of chemotherapy. It was traumatic but I put on a headscarf and walked into town. I wanted to feel normal. Nothing is quite normal though. Someone told me that I need to find my 'new normal'. That's what I'm looking for but I know it's a long road ahead. There are so many questions ahead - will I get my energy back? Will we be able to have children? Will the cancer come back? When will I be able to go back to work? I'll get there though. My dad's motto was always Keep the Faith so that's what I'm trying to do. I'm 32 and I am fighting breast cancer with everything I've got. Thanks for reading my story.

Sarah Gleeson
Galway, Ireland

Who me? Breast Cancer?

I skipped my mammogram for 3-4 years and then I found that I had stage 1 grade 2 invasive ductal carcinoma. I had the Onctype Dx test and chemo was not indicated for my tumor but radiation was. So I had the Canadian protocol which is higher dosage and less time. So after the lumpectomy, that started in May of 2010 and I was done in July. Fast forward to January of 2014. My CA28/29 (tumor marker) test was higher by double digits. We scanned and scanned but nothing until November of 2014. Sesame seed sized metastasis to L1,2,3 of my spine. So on to letrozole and at last scan in March, in remission. Next scan is November. Fingers crossed. This is NOT how I planned to spend the last few years before I retire. Living life and enjoying every day.

barbara archer
palmetto, FL

The New Normal

I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer on January 16, 2015 and finished my last round of chemotherapy six months later on July 16, 2015. Hooray!

When I first found out I had cancer my biggest concern was maintaining a sense of normalcy for my little girls, ages 7 and 8. I wanted to make sure that no matter what I was going through, my kids could still be kids. And they have been. It's been such a joy to see them laughing, playing and embracing life just like always. It has brought many joyful tears to my eyes over the past 6 months.

But in the midst of it all, we have also found a new normal. There have been many challenges and difficult times, and my kids have felt them right along with me. We have learned a lot through this process. I have learned to let my kids do things for themselves that they have long been capable of doing. And they have learned to be more independent and self sufficient. They have risen to the occasion. They can fix their own simple meals, clean up after themselves, and even help with their own laundry. I have learned to admit that sometimes I need help, even from my kids. And they have learned to be eager and joyful helpers. Once again they have risen to the occasion. And perhaps greatest of all, they have learned to rely on each other and support each other in the midst of everything, something that I could have only imaged from two girls who previously thrived on sibling rivalry.

So I've learned that "normal" is a relative thing. And our new normal is pretty darn good. I've learned that life after cancer just might be sweeter than it was before. Pretty amazing if you ask me.

Laralee DeHart
Houston, TX

It is what it is.

My mother died of lung cancer when she was 54, 6 weeks before my daughter was born. I was 26. When two of her sisters were diagnosed with breast cancer, I asked for a mammogram and BRCA test at age 35, even though doctors continued to tell me I was too young to worry about cancer. The BRCA test was not covered by insurance and I didn't have the $3,000 to cover it so I was not tested. Life got busy and I never had another mammogram, though I was having yearly annual exams with my GYN. Fast forward to early April, 2015 when at age 38 I found a lump.

My significant other Tyler urged me to get a mammogram quickly. We went to the doctor together, and when they asked him to join me for an ultrasound–being the self-proclaimed WebMD I am–I knew immediately something was wrong. By mid-April I was diagnosed with Stage IIIa Grade II IDC (ER/PR+, HER2-, BRCA-). I opted for a left mastectomy May 1 and have started treatment of 16 weeks of chemo and 30 radiation sessions. Thankfully my PET scan was negative, and I will have reconstructive surgery after treatment is complete. I turned out to be BRCA-, so a test years ago would not have predicted my breast cancer diagnosis.

I consider myself lucky to have the support of Tyler, my kids, and countless other family members and friends around me. Lucky to have a team of doctors that moved swiftly and continue to be honest with me. Lucky to work for a company that has been very supportive of the days I feel like working from home.

It is what it is. I cannot change the fact that I have cancer, but I can continue to fight and remain positive. I tell my story to inspire others to trust your gut, be your own healthcare advocate and find a team of doctors you trust implicitly. Educate yourself about breast cancer. Be supportive of others and their decisions. Laugh every day. Speak up. Smile.

Bethany Rutter
Ashville, OH
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