, April 23, 2015 | More Post by

On Volunteering: An Ode to Nipples and Nose Hairs

Last summer I began writing for the Beyond Boobs! blog. I am a freelance writer and I wanted to donate my services to a few nonprofit organizations in Hampton Roads. During an Internet search I stumbled upon the Beyond Boobs! website. I had very little experience with breast cancer, but the group’s fun vibe appealed to me. I sent an e-mail to co-founder Mary Beth Gibson to offer my services and later spoke with Managing Director Chris Schwab about ways we could work together. Chris’s enthusiasm and excitement showed me I had made a great choice in reaching out to Beyond Boobs!JamieMcAllister

I work with the BB! staff to generate story ideas for the blog, I interview Boobers!, family members, Bustiers, and everyone in between, and then I bring everything together in posts for the blog. Over the past year I have shared many stories about the impact BB! has made on the individuals who make up the BB! universe. Now I would like to share mine.

Invasion of the Booby Snatchers

The first blog post series I wrote was about the models for the 2015 A Calendar to Live By. I won’t forget the phone conversation I had with one of the models. While telling me about her breast reconstruction she said, “I don’t have nipples.”

I was stuck on that one short sentence. My hands flew up to my areolas. No nipples! I tried to imagine a world without those ever-changing bits of flesh, at times soft and smooth and other times puckered peaks of passion. I recalled many lovely sensations brought to me courtesy of my nipples. I had never once thought of living life without them and the idea of NOT having them was almost more than my brain could process. Intellectually I know that mastectomy is another word for “gone,” but I guess I just assumed that nipples would be part of the reconstruction process.

I managed to yank myself back from my musings and focus again on the phone conversation I was having. I needed more details! I asked this particular calendar model if I had heard correctly, that she indeed did not have nipples. She confirmed that and said some women, after reconstruction, opt for getting nipple tattoos. She suggested I search online, and that was exactly what I did.

God bless Google. I searched the term “breast reconstruction” and looked at the photos that popped up on my computer screen. Seeing reconstructed breasts without nipples reminded me of the old movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Only in this case, it was “Invasion of the Booby Snatchers.”

One of the things I share with the women of Beyond Boobs! is an attitude of gratitude. Sometimes, to help myself drift off to sleep, I engage in a meditation of sorts. I start at the tips of my toes and give thanks for every part of my body. I think of running through the grass barefoot as a little girl, drawing my attention to my feet. I give thanks for kneeling and sitting cross-legged as I guide my thoughts up toward my knees. I continue the process all the way to the top of my head, focusing on each body part in turn. In the past I had, of course, given thanks for my breasts, but I had never focused exclusively on my nipples. Now, thanks to my work with Beyond Boobs!, my nips are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

Nose Hairs Finally Feel the Love

Several months after that nipple realization rocked my worldview, I spoke with Chris about topics we wanted to cover on the blog. I mentioned my newfound appreciation for my nips and Chris brought up something else to be grateful for – nose hairs. During chemo, many women experience hair loss. For most people, the first hair they think of is the hair on their head, with eyebrows, eyelashes, and other body hair springing to their minds later. Chris explained, though, that women undergoing chemo treatment can also lose their nose hairs, causing them to have a runny nose during treatment.

Nose hairs! Talk about an unloved part of the human anatomy. Has anyone, in the history of ever, complimented another person on the hair sprouting out of her nose? I think not. Men may be able to get away with a few stray hairs poking out of a nostril, but most women would die of embarrassment if they had jutting nose hairs. Yet those tiny follicles perform a valuable service, don’t they? I have now added nose hairs to my list of body parts to be thankful for.

Unwrapping the Pink Ribbon

Volunteering my writing skills for Beyond Boobs! allows me to speak with so many people whose lives have been changed forever by a breast cancer diagnosis. Like everyone else, I have seen the pink ribbon stuck to the backs of cars and used as decoration every October to bring awareness to the disease. I heard terms like “chemo,” “radiation,” and “mastectomy,” but I only had vague notions of what those words really meant for someone going through the treatments. Sometimes, for those of us on the outside looking in, breast cancer seems like a box where all of those cancer-related thoughts and words are kept, tied up neatly with a pink ribbon. The ribbon represents the stories of everyone whose lives have been touched by breast cancer, but it doesn’t tell their unique stories.

In my conversations with survivors, their husbands, their parents, BB! volunteers, doctors, and others, I have plucked at that ribbon, removing it and opening the box to peer inside. The stories of life, love, and loss that emerged from that box have changed the way I view breast cancer and the world. Breast cancer does not happen in a vacuum. Women who are diagnosed still have lives to live, people to love, and dreams to chase. Those who are important to them – spouses, children, parents, friends, and coworkers – are affected, too. Everyone has a story to tell, and it is my ongoing privilege to hear those stories and share them on the BB! blog.

The people I have spoken with and written about in BB! blog posts have touched my heart. Without having met me, and without even seeing me in person, people answer questions about their bodies, their hearts, and their souls. They trust me with their stories, and when I sit down to write I do my best to maintain that trust. My life is richer by far for my volunteer work with Beyond Boobs!

Category: Blog

, April 22, 2015 | More Post by

Volunteer Embodies Attitude of Gratitude

Four years ago Gail Gruen moved to the Williamsburg area and was looking for a new project to take on. She and her husband, Martin, had relocated from New Jersey to Virginia, where she had been a social worker for close to three decades. One of her neighbors in Toano invited her to volunteer at BB! and Gail agreed to help out. After getting to know her personality through her volunteer work, BB! staff came up with a position that would use Gail’s talents as a people person to the fullest – Gratitude Ambassador. Gail writes thank-you letters to everyone who donates to BB! and is also on hand at events to thank volunteers and those who come out to support BB!’s mission.

“Showing gratitude is the simplest yet most powerful thing one human being can do for another,” Gail said.

BB!’s mission of supporting young women diagnosed with breast cancer is especially close to Gail’s heart. Her mom, Dorothy, was diagnosed with breast cancer and passed away at the age of 44.

“My mom was a fun lady, always reaching out to other people,” Gail said. “I inherited that from her and when I am volunteering with BB! I feel like I am honoring her and following in her footsteps.”

As a social worker in New Jersey Gail supervised a group of 40 volunteers, so she knows the tremendous impact they can make on an organization. “I love working with volunteers,” she said. “I so appreciated the role the volunteers played in my job in New Jersey, and now I’m a volunteer myself!”Gail & Martin

Gail and her husband Martin have been married for 39 years. They have two adult daughters, Danielle and Rachael. They also have two cats they adopted from the Heritage Humane Society, Mac and Cheese.

, April 20, 2015 | More Post by

Survivor Volunteers Full Support to BB! Mission

Almost three years ago Hannah Coakley battled breast cancer and won. A year ago she began volunteering with Beyond Boobs! She had attended breast cancer support groups in the past, but had just not been inspired. Discovering Beyond Boobs! fueled Hannah’s efforts to get involved and give back. She was diagnosed in her 60s and didn’t fall into the category of younger women typically served by BB!, but her positive outlook meshed with the group’s dynamic energy, so she chose instead to become a volunteer20150414_121918

“As a BB! volunteer I am really accomplishing something,” Hannah said. “I love it!”

Hannah spends her volunteer hours at the Beyond Boobs! main office preparing supplies for the group’s events and fundraisers. Currently she is working on putting together gift baskets that will be raffled off at the upcoming 8th Annual “Breast” Ball Golf Tournament. She has also helped out with other big-ticket events, including the Old Dudes Bike Ride and the Pink Carpet Gala, to name a few.

Hannah is originally from New Jersey and is a retired school secretary. She has lived in Williamsburg for nine years. “Like me, a lot of people are from out of state,” she said. “I love that the women at BB! look out for each other and take care of each other, just like family.”

Hannah has three grown children: Michael, Jonathan, and Erin. She is the proud grandmother of four grandchildren. In her spare time, she enjoys making goat’s milk soap. She also makes heating pads filled with rice and flaxseed and scented with French lavender and peppermint. She often gives her homemade creations away as part of a gift basket.

Category: Blog

, April 16, 2015 | More Post by

Beyond Boobs! celebrates our volunteers

We’re celebrating YOU!

Our Devoted Volunteers

On behalf of Rene, Mary Beth, the BB! Board, and the BB! Staff ~
Thanks to each one of you for your time, talents, and treasures.  You help this organization meet the needs of all the young women we serve!  It is because of you that these women have….

Hope for the Future   Inspiration to Overcome    Power to Thrive

“I alone cannot change the world,                                                                                                                                but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

~ Mother Teresa

Join us for the next few days to read about a few of our volunteers who continuously cast their stones.  Meet Kim, Hannah, Gail, and Jamie 🙂  Looking to volunteer with Beyond Boobs!, check us out!

, April 16, 2015 | More Post by

Volunteer Kim Coulter Pledges Full Support to BB! Mission

 

Every Tuesday Kim Coulter volunteers at the Beyond Boobs! main office in Williamsburg, placing orders for office supplies or searching online for event supplies. Lately she has been scouring the Internet, looking for just the right items for the upcoming 8th Annual “Breast” Ball Golf Tournament. Kim has been a volunteer with BB! for almost three years. She enjoys volunteering so much that she has also started coming in a couple of hours every Wednesday to work on the metrics that impact BB!’s end-of-year financial reports.

“The women at Beyond Boobs! have become like family,” Kim said. “We all get along so well together and I look forward to seeing everyone when I come in to the office.”Kim with Great-Niece

When Kim retired after 30 years working for the government in the CIA, she searched for ways to give back to her community. She discovered Beyond Boobs!, began volunteering, and now she is hooked.

“My mother had breast cancer in the 1980s and my maternal grandmother died from cervical cancer,” Kim said. “I always donated to cancer organizations, but after my grandmother passed away I wanted to get more involved.”

Beyond Boobs! and their work with young breast cancer survivors has made a big impact on Kim. “I have learned a lot about breast cancer,” she said. “One of the things I enjoy the most is talking with survivors and seeing how resilient they are. BB! is there for women, helping them find the resources they need. It’s a great place to volunteer.”

In addition to logging in volunteer hours at the Beyond Boobs! office, Kim also donates her time at Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center, where she helps out in the volunteer office and other places in the hospital. Kim also enjoys helping animals. While working at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, she met and adopted Tikka, a dog found roaming outside the building. Kim brought Tikka back with her to the U.S. and now the two spend lots of time together, getting in three or four walks a day.Tikka the Dog

“I named her after chicken tikka masala, a spicy Middle Eastern dish,” Kim explained. “The name fits her so well because she has such a spicy personality.”

Kim loves baseball and is a diehard fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates. She is a season ticket holder for weekend games and travels when she can from her home in Williamsburg to Pennsylvania to root for her favorite team.