, March 18, 2015 | More Post by

Mother’s Memory, Family’s Support Guide Cancer Journey

Kate Goddin was a sophomore in college in 1997 when she found out her mother, Christine Garvey, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Kate, a theater major, was backstage preparing to put on a production of the play Sunday in the Park with George when she heard the news.

“I remember standing backstage with my headset, while everything was going on around me,” Kate said. “I was sad and stunned.”

Shifting Priorities

After Chris’s cancer diagnosis Kate went home as often as possible and spent more weekends with her parents. She even chose to spend the summer of 1998 at home rather than stay on campus at the University of Mary Washington.

Although a lot of her mother’s cancer treatment is a blur for Kate, she does recall certain memories from that time. “I remember my mother went through many treatments at Portsmouth Naval Hospital,” she said. “I also remember visiting her in the hospital after chemotherapy.”

In early December Kate was home to celebrate her mother’s 47th birthday.

“She had a phenomenal birthday weekend,” Kate said. “She was able to do so many things she hadn’t been able to do before. We ate dinner together as a family and she actually enjoyed her meal without feeling sick. We acted silly and teased my dad, just like always.”

Kate was home with her family the next weekend, too. On Friday her dad, Pat, took her brother Kyle to soccer practice. Kate stayed home with her mom and her Uncle David. Chris was resting on the couch when she asked her daughter to bring her a blanket.

“She was struggling to breathe,” said Kate. “She looked me right in the eyes and took her last breath.”

The family had been working with hospice so Kate called them instead of 911. When the hospice workers arrived they comforted a shocked Kate, still wearing her pajamas and robe. “The hospice workers were so kind to me,” Kate said. “They even pulled my clothes from the dryer so I could get dressed.”

Seventeen years later, Kate is grateful she went home to visit that weekend and that she was able to be there with her mom when she passed.

Another Cancer Diagnosis

Kate was happy for her father when he met someone new and decided to marry again. “It was a bit disconcerting to see my dad with someone who wasn’t my mom,” Kate recalled. “But my dad was very young when my mom died and he didn’t need to spend the rest of his life alone.”

Kate’s stepmother, Jane, had also lost her first husband to cancer. Kate remembers what she thought when she learned Jane, too, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. “I was worried for Jane,” Kate said. “I also wondered why this was happening to my dad again. It was totally unfair.”

Kate believed Jane was in good hands and kept repeating to herself “Jane’s cancer was caught early, she’ll be fine.” To help her dad and Jane, Kate delivered meals to their home. “It was the only thing I knew to do,” she said.

The Unlucky Side of Statistics

In October 2014 Kate went in for her first mammogram. A friend accompanied her for the testing. “I was concerned about getting a mammogram, but I wasn’t terrified,” Kate said. “I thought of it as just another test.”

The first mammogram showed microcalcifications in Kate’s breast. Microcalcifications are small calcium deposits that appear as white flecks on a mammogram. Usually they are benign, but because of Kate’s family history, the doctor decided to perform a biopsy.

During the biopsy Kate was positioned flat on her stomach with her breasts hanging through two holes in the exam table. Using a large needle, the doctor extracted a tissue sample from her breast. The biopsy results came back as non-invasive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

“I was diagnosed with stage 0 DCIS,” Kate said. “The doctors said it was in my milk ducts and that it hadn’t spread.”  When Kate had an MRI performed on her breast, the doctors discovered the DCIS was larger than they thought and a small nodule was located near the DCIS. She had a second biopsy done, but this time she was able to lay on her back and watch the ultrasound screen along with the doctor. Her breast was numb so she couldn’t feel the large needle penetrate her skin, but she could watch as the doctor maneuvered it to obtain a sample.

For many, this might be uncomfortable or even unbearable. But Kate is a third-grade teacher, so not much rattles her. “I actually thought it was pretty cool to watch,” she said.

The results of the second biopsy showed that Kate had invasive ductal carcinoma. “It was a whole different ballgame after that,” she said.

Kate’s Journey Begins

Kate spoke with a guidance counselor at the school where she teaches about how she should tell her daughters, eight-year-old Charlotte and 10-year-old Beth, that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.“The guidance counselor told me that I should give my daughters the facts so they wouldn’t imagine even worse scenarios in their heads,” Kate said.

Kate wasn’t afraid to tell her father, Pat, about her diagnosis, but she knew this time would be even harder for him than the first two experiences because she was his child. “I knew my cancer diagnosis would be the most difficult of the three,” she said. “It would be like taking away a piece of himself.”

 

Pat knew immediately who his daughter should contact for help. A few years ago he partnered with Beyond Boobs! for the Christine Garvey Memorial Soccer Tournament. The tournament, now in its 16th edition, donates a portion of the funds it raises to the nonprofit. After working with cofounder Mary Beth Gibson, Pat knew Kate would find the support she needed with the Boobers!

“My dad has been so incredible and supportive,” Kate said. “The first thing he told me after I told him my diagnosis was that I should call Mary Beth.”

When she was first diagnosed Kate didn’t feel like it was a big deal. She didn’t think she really needed Beyond Boobs! “I was stage 0. I thought it would be quick, easy, and over,” she said.

When she was ultimately diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma she had so many thoughts swirling in her head. She decided to call Mary Beth back to speak with her about how she was feeling and what she was going through.

“We talked two or three times,” Kate said. “Mary Beth is a phenomenal listener. She gave me some great advice about moving forward. I am glad I finally listened to my dad.”

The Next Steps

Kate elected to have a bilateral mastectomy and on Christmas Eve 2014 had her first surgery. “The surgery went well, but afterward I was uncomfortable and in pain,” Kate said. “I had to wear a drain for two weeks. I wasn’t allowed to take a shower and it was strange to have medical equipment coming out of my body.”

After Kate’s first surgery, inflatable breast implants, called expanders, were inserted under the skin on her chest. “I am not completely flat, but I don’t have nipples anymore and I have huge scars,” she said. Reconstruction is not an easy process. The expanders in Kate’s chest will be filled gradually until her skin has stretched enough to accommodate implants. “I can’t wait to get rid of the expanders,” Kate said. “They are hard as a rock. It’s like wearing an iron bra all the time.”

It will be close to a year before her breast reconstruction will be finished. Kate wants the final version to look as natural as possible for her husband, Gus. When all of her surgeries are done Kate wants to take her family to Baltimore to celebrate and to get nipple tattoos from Vinnie Myers, who is skilled at crafting three-dimensional nipple tattoos.

In January Kate underwent her first dose of chemotherapy. “I felt fine, but it was nerve-wracking to think that I had poison coursing through my veins,” she said. “Even though I feel OK, I just don’t feel like myself. I’m hungry but I have no appetite. I know it won’t be an easy road to travel.”

Kate’s stepmother, Jane, went with her to her first chemo appointment. Jane knitted a sock while Kate watched an episode of How I Met Your Mother. While she was there she saw someone her own age also getting treatment and the three women struck up a conversation.

“Once I was there, it was easy,” Kate said. “Now that I know what to expect, I feel better. The anticipation was the worst part.”

Category: Blog

, March 13, 2015 | More Post by

Can Having Breast Cancer Be Lucky?

Now that St. Patrick’s Day is upon us, we wish for the the luck o’ the Irish. We look for lucky symbols, like four-leaf clovers or horseshoes. However, can anyone diagnosed with breast cancer really consider herself lucky? We recently posed that question to our Boobers! on Facebook and we would like to share with you some of the heartfelt responses we received.

four leaf cloverFor the Luck of Cancer

By: Melissa Powell

If you were to see the scars that rest on my now flattened chest, you might not consider me lucky. But you are not looking deep enough. If you were to watch me climb out of bed each morning, stiff from the medicine that continues to keep the stalker at bay, you would not consider me lucky. But you are still not looking deep enough. If you were to sit with me as I wait for the next scan that could determine whether or not I will see my children grow, you would not consider me lucky. But you have yet to see the miracle that has occurred.

Before cancer I raced through life, running toward an invisible finish line. I often neglected to stop and look at the change in scenery, the changes in my children’s faces, or the amazing beauty this life has to offer. Before cancer I would often put work before family, obligations before fun, and daily life before living. Before cancer I was in a dark room with only a flashlight to see the things that surrounded me.

Cancer has flooded my once dark room with light. I can now see all of the beauty that encompasses my life. I see my children snuggled close beside me, telling me of their dreams. I can see my beautiful partner, who I barely knew these last thirteen years. I can see that quiet meditation calms my once racing mind. I can finally see that life is now – not yesterday or tomorrow – but is unfolding as quickly as I type these words.

I was lost before cancer, floating through life like the last leaf falling from a barren tree. I found myself in cancer and found that luck is something that surrounds you every day – you just have to turn the lights on.

Luck as a Way of Life

By: Michele Yepez

Luck is more than a simple word for many women who find themselves subjected to the big C. For some, it becomes a way of life. The entire idea of finding out you have cancer is considered an incredible stroke of bad luck, and yet so many women feel the luck they have to get them through it far outweighs what got them there in the first place. The support systems we have – friends by our side, new women who enter our lives – seem part of our lives because of luck as much as anything else. Are we lucky because of who we had when we entered our journey, and those whom we meet along the way? Are we any less lucky for having to face this journey in the first place?

Luck is subjective. Some of us feel that luck, as it is most often discussed, does not really exist. One woman recently stated she believes “Everything happens for a reason.” It could be that this is a different way to define luck. Others refer to their luck as a blessing, or fate. When talking about luck in these terms, we zero in on the positive influence of the word. Even if you don’t believe luck exists, or that the word has any particular power, for the most part, and on some level, we believe in the concept as a whole. Whether we work for our luck or it is through some divine force, we all seem to agree it is there.

There is another side of luck when we are faced with a diagnosis that shatters our reality. The word can morph into a frustrating epithet instead of the uplifting validation it was meant to be. Once we face our “luck” – or whatever we call it at the time – phrases like “You’re so lucky to have found the tumor now!” or “How lucky to have so many people to help take care of you!” aren’t always regarded in the inspiring way they are intended. And then, a feeling of guilt. Before the diagnosis, this wasn’t something we struggled with. Outside positivity didn’t come with the grains of salt they seem loaded with now, and the bright side coming from someone across that invisible line never seemed anything but kind. Yet, we agree, and even tell others the same things as they go through their struggles. But one major thing is different. When a person has not gone through what we have, they can’t see how a little word like “luck” can take on a whole new significance.

While there is plenty to go back and forth over when it comes to this four-letter word, one thing everyone seems to agree on is this: If there is nothing else to feel lucky about during this journey, we are all incredibly lucky to have found each other because beyond the boobs, surgeries and treatments we endure, our sisters are a huge part of saving our lives. We are, truly, lucky to have each other.

Finding Luck

By: Charlene Smith Cattoi

Yes, I was diagnosed with breast cancer! This is my story . . .

I am now 57 years old. Oops, I mean young! On Tuesday, October 9th, 2001, while I was at work, I received the phone call. The voice on the other end of the line told me “Charlene, I’m sorry. You have cancer.”

NO! I didn’t feel lucky then, however . . .

About five years after the diagnosis, I found Beyond Boobs! Through this breast health group I started to find my luck. I wish I could say I always felt lucky; however I have felt F.U.D. – FEAR, UNCERTAINTY, and DOUBT. That feeling of luck was hidden under the FUD. Through the support of Beyond Boobs! and the many faces of breast cancer that came into my life through this amazing group, I dug deep past FUD. I was shown strength and courage.

When I felt “Why me!” I thought . . . Then who? Why not me?!  I let my cancer show me humor, beauty, love, support, more humor, friends, family, life . . . Like I had never seen before!!!!!

I am LUCKY that I have been able to give back in some small way, I hope! Thank you, Beyond Boobs!, for helping me find my LUCK through great people who give from their hearts, minds, and souls! These are the Boobers! (survivors) and Boostiers! (supporters). Because of YOU I am truly LUCKY!!!! And I have a life list!

Yes, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and yes, I am lucky!

 

, March 11, 2015 | More Post by

Love in Three Acts: Confronting Cancer as Husband and Father

Pat Garvey fell in love with his first wife, Chris, in Arnold Hall at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Pat was a cadet at the academy in 1970 when Chris’s best friend set them up on a blind date. Pat hadn’t dated much, but he felt comfortable talking with Chris and he liked her smile. He remembers walking back to his room that night and telling one of his classmates in his hall that he had met the woman he was going to marry.

Act One: Whirlwind Wedding

Pat and Chris were married in June of 1972 in Farmington, New Mexico, in a Catholic ceremony. Pat had graduated from the Air Force Academy a few days prior to the wedding. After the reception the newlyweds traveled to Corpus Christi, Texas, for their honeymoon, on their way to Lubbock, where he was to be stationed.

“So much happened in my life in a short period of time,” Pat said. “It was all a whirlwind.”

While Pat pursued a career in the Air Force, Chris worked as a nurse. The couple had three children: Kate, Maura, and Kyle. In 1997, when Pat was traveling for work, Chris felt a lump in her left breast during a self-exam. It wasn’t until he returned from his trip that she told him about the lump.

“She tried to spare me,” Pat said. “I was a little upset and frustrated that she hadn’t told me right away.”

Chris went to the doctor and had a biopsy done. The cancer was malignant and she underwent a lumpectomy, during which part of her breast was removed. After surgery she went through chemo and radiation therapy.

“I wanted to push through and solve the problem,” Pat said. “I had a ‘we’re gonna lick this’ mentality.”

All of Chris’s hair fell out during her chemo treatments. Pat recalls that she was given a full dose of Adriamycin, a chemotherapy drug often referred to as “the Red Devil.” The doctors weren’t proactively treating Chris for loss of white blood cells, as they do now, so any illness she might have after chemo was a concern. One night Pat rushed her to the ER when she ran a fever.

“I was worried and nervous,” he said. “I didn’t want her to disappear.”

Ups and Downs

In March of 1998 Chris felt a lump under one of her arms. Her cancer had metastasized and she was put on Cytoxan, another chemotherapy drug. She eventually ended up at Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, because of her low white blood cell count.

“It was worry, worry, worry from the doctor all night long,” Pat recalled.

Chris made it through that illness and wanted to try a possible stem cell transplant. She and Pat traveled to Duke to begin the process, but she got sick again and ended up at Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth, where doctors discovered the cancer had traveled to her liver. She had a fever and fluid on her lungs.

“There were upsides and downsides,” Pat said. “She got back on Adriamycin and saw a little bit of progress; however, she had to take more narcotics because she was in more pain.”

Family Photo with ChrisOn December 11, 1998, Pat took his son Kyle to the NCAA soccer semi-finals. Chris stayed at the house with their oldest daughter, Kate, and Chris’s brother David.

“I told her goodbye, said ‘I love you,’ and kissed her,” Pat said. He and his son hadn’t been gone long when Kate called to tell them that Chris had passed away. “It only took us fifteen or twenty minutes to get home, but it felt like forever.”

Pat’s other daughter, Maura, was at James Madison University when her mother passed. He still remembers how she screamed over the phone when he called to tell her the terrible news.

After twenty-six years of love, family, and companionship, Pat found himself a single dad to three young adults. “I had to learn how to cook and handle the household chores,” he said. “My grief definitely affected my parenting.”

Healing through Soccer

To honor Chris’s memory and to help himself and his family through the grieving process, Pat started the Christine Garvey Memorial Soccer Tournament. The tournament, now in its 16th edition, brings together youth soccer teams from all over the Hampton Roads region. Proceeds from the event are donated to Beyond Boobs! and Edmarc Hospice for Children.

Pat recalls watching Chris’s expression when their son Kyle scored a goal during the last soccer game she attended at Wolftrap Park a few months before her passing. “Kyle scored a goal from the right side of the pitch to the upper left corner of the goal,” Pat said. “I can still see Chris sitting there, watching that goal being scored. I think that’s where my idea for a soccer tournament got its start.”

Act Two: Another Chance at Love

The mother of one of Maura’s friends told Pat that, when he was ready to start dating again, she had a friend she wanted him to meet. In early 2000, Pat called and told her he was ready. On another blind date Pat met his second wife, Jane. For their first date their mutual friend prepared a meal for them at her house, and then a week later the two attended a function together at Langley Air Force Base. “We talked and talked and ignored all of the people around us,” Pat recalled.Jane & Pat Boat

Jane understood what Pat had been through with Chris, as she lost her first husband to renal cancer. Three weeks into their relationship, Pat asked Jane to marry him. “We had both had been a part of strong marriages, and we both knew that we wanted to be with each other,” Pat explained. “We were talking and kissing, and kind of on the flip I asked her to marry me.”

Jane said yes.

In 2008 Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer. She, too, detected a lump and went to her doctor.

“I was floored,” Pat said. “I didn’t want to deal with it again. I pulled away a little bit to work through my emotions, even though I know that Jane wanted more from me emotionally. I wondered why I had to visit this experience twice.”

Jane went through chemo and radiation and Pat is proud to call her a survivor.

Act Three: The Third Cut is the Deepest

Pat’s eldest daughter, Kate, went in for a mammogram in October of 2014 and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 38 years old.

“It is hardest to watch my child go through this,” Pat said. “I hurt for her and I wish there was something more I could do.”

Kate had a bilateral mastectomy and underwent her first reconstruction surgery on Christmas Eve 2014. She started chemotherapy in February and will also undergo radiation.

“I know she’s scared,” Pat said. “Her mom did everything she could and she’s not here. She is also obviously worried about her two children.”

Kate’s cancer diagnosis was similar to Jane’s and she is being treated by the same doctors who successfully treated Jane’s cancer. “Kate wants Jane with her during her treatments,” Pat said. “Jane’s been a blessing to Kate as she deals with her diagnosis. In an ugly way, cancer is bringing the family closer together.” Kate&Daughters

Lending a Hand

When Pat learned of Kate’s diagnosis, his first phone call was to Beyond Boobs! executive director and cofounder Mary Beth Gibson. He was at a loss as to what to say to his daughter and he wanted Mary Beth to speak with her.

“When Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer I felt helpless as a dad. I can’t fix this for her,” Pat said. “The women at Beyond Boobs! can give advice that others can’t. The support they give is invaluable.”

 

 

 

 

 

Category: Blog