hereforthegirls | Here for the Girls Blog
breast cancer, breast cancer support, breast cancer stories, inspiration
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For the girls

For the girls

The Official Blog of Here for the girls

, July 06, 2017 | More Post by

Jamin Riley is the husband of Victoria Riley, our Business Development and Operations Manager. He explains why he is “Here for the Girls”:

This past October, I was fortunate enough to volunteer at the annual “Run for the Hills” event on behalf of Here for the Girls. The spirit that was present was something else all together. Teams festooned with all manner of sparkle and shine chugged along in support of an organization unlike any other.

As a marshal for the race, I manned one of the checkpoints on the course and watched as group after group of uniquely exuberant racers walked, jogged, trotted, and even skipped along. I ran cross country in high school, but I had never seen a race quite like this. Spectators and runners alike were out of breath. Not from the race itself, but from cheering and uplifting. Every time a new group sprung from the woods, they echoed the screams of the volunteers and were given new life while rounding the turn.

I watched all of this unfold and couldn’t help but draw a comparison to the organization that we were all there to support. Here for the Girls makes a real difference in the lives of the women it embraces. This unique organization, festooned with all manner of sparkle and shine, gives Boobers! the breath they need to keep running each and every day.

, June 28, 2017 | More Post by

Welcome to our “Pink Link Stories” blog series! These stories are from women who are a part of (or support) our virtual Pink Link community for breast cancer survivors (pinklink.org). Each quarter, we offer a new writing prompt — this quarter, we asked women to share a story about helping another woman with breast cancer. We will publish a few of those entries* here (lightly edited for length and typos), and we’ll also be randomly selecting one entrant each quarter to receive a $50 gift card! If you want to keep up with future writing prompts, sign up for our newsletter here. (* Due to the number of entries, we cannot guarantee all entries will be posted on our blog and we reserve the right to post based on our discretion.) 

The morning my colleague, Mary, came to my desk and asked if she could speak to me, I knew something was terribly wrong. I saw fear in her eyes — the same emotion I had experienced upon receiving my breast cancer diagnosis several years earlier. Mary confirmed then what I had suspected — she had just recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and needed to speak with someone who had been through what she now faced.

I recalled the early days of my diagnosis and the positive support, offers of prayers and encouraging words from friends and family that carried me through diagnosis, treatment and recovery. I knew Mary had to hear encouraging words and though my heart was aching for her that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, I imparted words of encouragement and comfort to her as best I could. We spoke about treatment and what she might experience while undergoing chemotherapy. I shared with her how I handled hair loss, appetite loss and other debilitating effects of chemotherapy. We spoke about undergoing a mastectomy and subsequent reconstructive surgery. We joked that reconstructive surgery was the ‘up’ side of having breast cancer.

While Mary was going through chemotherapy, she often shared with me the symptoms she was experiencing and I told her I had experienced similar symptoms but that she wasn’t to worry, the side effects were temporary. I told Mary that in a year’s time, it would be she who would be supporting a breast cancer survivor. So, Mary bravely forged ahead in her battle against cancer and while she continued treatment, we shared happy moments even through the rough times.

Then, Mary was dealt a devastating blow. Her cancer, a particularly aggressive type, was not responding to treatment and had metastasized. In just over a year of receiving her diagnosis, Mary lost her battle and passed away. I was heartbroken.

At her visitation, I stared at Mary’s face in the collage of photographs her family had compiled, trying to formulate an apology to her. I thought I had let her down, given her hope where none existed. Then, I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. It was Mary’s sister, Kelly. “Francine,” she said. “Mary often spoke of how she drew strength from speaking with you.” I started crying then, not only for Mary but because, as Kelly explained, Mary never gave up hope, right to the end and I felt comforted that, in some small way, I had contributed to her courageous battle.

-Francine

, June 22, 2017 | More Post by

Victoria Riley is our Business Development and Operations Manager. Here’s why she’s “Here for the Girls”:

Victoria is pictured here on the left — she’s hard to recognize when she’s in disguise!

Being here for the girls started as a family affair back in 2008. My mom, who was volunteering at the time, asked my sister and I to help out. We were both undergraduates in college and until that point had only been volunteers to fulfill requirements for school. It was not until then that I realized what it meant to serve others.

Over the next eight years, I helped out here and there in various ways. In 2016, with the support of my husband, we turned our lives upside down and relocated to Williamsburg, VA. I accepted a full-time position with the organization. Since then, I have gained a new perspective of what it means to wake up each day and go to work. I am not here to punch in a clock and to collect a paycheck, but rather to support young women. The behind the scenes work, where I typically find myself on a day-to-day basis, keeps me going especially after losing three women in my first year.

The love, support, and togetherness displayed has been that of true sisters, much like the love, support, and togetherness shared with my own. We fight everyday because they fight everyday. That is why I am here for the girls.

, June 08, 2017 | More Post by

Colleen, on left with white top and blonde hair, with women who attended her session at the 2017 Renew, Restore, Retreat.

Colleen led our session on self-care at our 2017 Renew, Restore, Retreat. Here’s why she is “Here for the Girls”:

When I was asked to be a speaker at the 2017 Annual Retreat Weekend for Here For The Girls, my heart responded with a resounding ‘YES!’ Why am I ‘here for the girls’? I strongly believe all women are radiant, powerful and alluring creatures. Born with an intuitive wisdom and the innate sense to lead with their hearts, women have incredible power. And when women come together, combining those forces, something truly magical happens.

For ages women have circled together, in sisterhood, to inspire and encourage one another. In our world today, these circles, these support systems are more important and more needed than ever. Our culture, the stress of the daily grind, disease, abuse and competition have dimmed our feminine light and caused us to forget our innate gifts as women. But I’ve come to see that sometimes all it takes is a little reminder, a whisper, a gentle touch on the shoulder from a sister who cares to reignite that undeniable spark within and illuminate a fiercely radiant woman.

The immensity of women’s love, their capacity for hope, the resilience of their hearts never ceases to amaze me. Being surrounded by 80+ Boobers! at the retreat weekend, I was reaffirmed of this magic. Throughout the weekend, these women transformed before my eyes, fueled by sisterhood and their own inner flame. Given the permission to shine these women were ablaze. They were so full of life, love, light and joy – truly radiant beings. Being in their presence was such a gift, a true honor. Seeing their greatness reminded me of my own.

Sometimes all you need is support, someone to recognize you, to see you for who you truly are, to show you their true self so you know it’s okay to be your most authentic self. Sometimes all you need to hear is that you are beautiful, that you are strong… appreciated…loved.  And sometimes it’s just that arm around your shoulder, letting you know that you’re going to be alright, that is all you really need. And that is what Here for the Girls is all about. They aren’t here to save or fix anybody. They are here to acknowledge each other as complete and perfect beings just as they are. It’s a place to feel honored, to feel loved, to feel empowered. It’s a place to raise each other up, a place to rise above all that life throws your way. Here for the Girls cultivates and nourishes a genuine sisterhood, which in my opinion is a force to be reckoned with. I am here for the girls, and always will be.

, June 01, 2017 | More Post by

Welcome to our series, Co-Founders’ Corner! These are posts by either of our two Here for the Girls Co-Founders, Rene Bowditch or Mary Beth Gibson. Enjoy these (sometimes funny, sometimes serious, always interesting) reflections on life!

There are lots of different ways to put people into categories – like introverts or extroverts, spenders or savers, glass half full or glass half empty, cat lovers or dog lovers. You get the drift. I have fun putting people into categories, and I do it without judgment. People are just who they are.

One way I like to think about people as they travel along the river of life is in terms of speed boaters or kayakers. The speed boaters know what they want in life, they have set goals, and they have a route mapped out for getting there. They are full speed ahead. An example would be my brother. He knew by the age of 40 that he wanted to be a successful business owner, marry, and have children. And he did. I admire him greatly. I am so not him.

I am more like the kayaker. I am along for the ride, drift with the currents, steer when necessary, and paddle through the rapids. Here is an example:

I was in my late 30s and living a very contented life. Somehow the river had taken me to a nice smooth stretch where everything was just flowing along so comfortably, and I was enjoying the pleasant view along the way. I had an awesome job as a human resources executive in a Fortune 500 company. I was part of a successful team rolling out innovative strategies in our division that was being recognized across the company. I worked hard but was rewarded well – well enough that my husband was able to be a stay-at-home dad. He actually had the harder job – taking care of three boys under the age of 5 – but he enjoyed it, and he was good at it.

I received a call from a colleague, Carrie, who had just attended a personal development conference, and she was pumped. Now this was someone I worked with but didn’t know super well; she was so moved by her insights, she wanted to share them with me. She asked, “If you could do anything, and success was guaranteed, what would you do?” Without a whole lot of thought I immediately responded with, “I would be a rock star, like one of the Go Gos!” Carrie said, “Well then why aren’t you doing it?” “I can’t sing.” “Okay, well seriously, what would you do?” Again, without a whole lot of reflection but from the heart, I responded with, “I would start a non-profit for young women to help them improve self-esteem.” “Why aren’t you doing that?” she asked. Hmmm… Well, let me count the reasons: I have a job I really enjoy working with a great team doing great things. I get paid very well to do it. I am the sole bread winner, and Bo would not be able to replace our income even if he did work. And on top of that, I know nothing about running a non-profit and no idea how to start one.

That was the end of the conversation. I thought. Little did I know there was white water ahead, and I was going to have to start paddling like hell to get through it.

Fast forward two years. There was a major change in the company, and the promotion I had been promised was gone, along with my position. Out of the blue, the successful, happy HR executive was on the streets. The job I loved – that was my identity and that supported my family – was gone. I was shaken, scared, depressed, angry, confused, lost. Equipped with a decent severance package, I took some time off to enjoy my family before initiating a job search. A workshop I attended for people in transition presented the benefits of starting a franchise. I was hooked. I could start my own company and if I worked my ass off, could replace the income I had lost. I was used to hard work. I could do this, so with equal parts of trepidation and daring, I purchased a coaching franchise called The Entrepreneurs Source.

The stress of it all had taken its toll, however, and more rapids loomed ahead. Six weeks after investing most of our life savings in this franchise, I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and immediately embarked upon a grueling, year-long treatment regimen that included intensive chemotherapy followed by a double mastectomy and then radiation.

My comfortable existence was now completely shattered. I worked the new business while undergoing treatment, but it was hard having the energy to learn a completely new career while fighting for my life. Not to mention, the things I valued before, like money and professional success, weren’t high priorities any more.

It was during treatment that I met the woman who would ultimately become my friend and co-founder, Rene Bowditch. We began hosting a group for young women with breast cancer to offer them love, support, and encouragement while they were going through a life-transforming journey. That small support group, initially six women in Rene’s home, is now a ten-year-old non-profit that is continuing to grow and spread a special brand of love to young women all over the country affected by the devastating disease of breast cancer. And you know what? One of the most important things we do is help these women rebuild their self-esteem after breast cancer, and if they never had self-esteem, we help them build it now. Somehow the river had brought me to the thing that I said would do but was too afraid to.

I don’t know what else life has in store for me downstream, and my kayak may have dents, but I have my paddle and my helmet, and I know I will be okay.

, May 23, 2017 | More Post by

Welcome to our “Pink Link Stories” blog series! These stories are from women who are a part of (or support) our virtual Pink Link community for breast cancer survivors (pinklink.org). Each quarter, we offer a new writing prompt — this quarter, we asked women to share a story about helping another woman with breast cancer. We will publish a few of those entries* here (lightly edited for length and typos), and we’ll also be randomly selecting one entrant each quarter to receive a $50 gift card! If you want to keep up with future writing prompts, sign up for our newsletter here. (* Due to the number of entries, we cannot guarantee all entries will be posted on our blog and we reserve the right to post based on our discretion.) 

In June of 2015,  I was diagnosed with stage 2a, triple negative breast cancer. While fighting this battle, I met a young lady who was battling not only breast cancer, but also Stage 4 lung cancer. Before I got to know her, I observed her daily activities through her posts on Facebook and thought to myself, how in the world does she do it? She instantly became my SHE-RO. After treatment she would hit the gym or the track to work out. Meanwhile, I was too sick to do anything.

As the days went by, I began to see less of her but thought of her always. Then one day we ran into each other. We hugged and exchanged information. Late at night we would have our chats about the journey and committed to supporting one another no matter what. I eventually finished my chemo treatments and moved on to surgery and later radiation, while she was still undergoing chemo treatments. During this time, we didn’t talk as often because radiation took a toll on me. When I was finally done with all of my treatments in March of 2016, it was time to heal.  Many did not understand this process, but I knew one person understood. We started back calling and texting each other as the days went by and then suddenly, I didn’t hear from her. No returned calls or inbox messages. I grew a bit concerned but I didn’t have anyone to connect with to check on her. Then one day, I saw a post on her page from her son. He was scared and needed help. I sent him a message and told him to call me. Earlier that evening while having dinner with her son, she had a seizure and was rushed to the hospital. After hearing this, I threw my clothes on and drove to meet him.

From that point on, I stayed with her. Her son didn’t know what to do and although she had a few friends by her side, no one really understood what was happening. They kept her in the hospital for a couple of weeks and then eventually released her… the cancer had spread to her brain rapidly and there was nothing else they could do. The last two weeks of her life, while trying to heal myself from the pain and stiffness that chemo left me with, I made sure to keep my word to her by helping her fight. Each day when she would wake up, her mother and I would pray over her and I would make her a breakfast juice or smoothie. Afterwards, we would get dressed and I would wheel her outside to get some sunlight for a few minutes and then bring her back in so that she could rest. Her mother eventually made her way down and was so grateful for my help. We agreed that I would stay and continue to help because it was needed as her health was declining quickly. It was challenging, but I remembered my promise to her.  I didn’t give up on her, even up until she took her last breath.

Since then, I have committed my life to helping others that have been impacted by can’t-cer; to be a light of HOPE, when at times it seems like there is none. I started a Facebook group just for women in my local area to help support one another.  From time to time we meet up to rally around each other because we have a special bond.

-Tiah

, May 15, 2017 | More Post by

Dave is a husband to one H4TG staff member, father to another. Here’s why he is “Here for the Girls”:

Beyond Boobs! has recently evolved into Here for the Girls in what has been an amazing transformation from a grassroots organization in Williamsburg started by two visionary survivors into a powerful voice for women’s health with a rapidly expanding national presence.

My personal attachment to this worthwhile cause has primarily been through the eyes of my wife Chris, who is the Managing Director at Here for the Girls. From the moment she first started volunteering for this grassroots cause to when she took over a leadership role in the organization, I have witnessed first-hand the impact it has had on her overall perspective towards life.

Coming from a tunnel vision approach to life as a private grade school principal, which is what is needed to get that job done in that work environment, she has been able to completely expand her horizons in her role with Here for the Girls. This personal and professional growth has been benefited Chris and myself as well as our life together.

I am extremely proud to be part of an organization that knows how to live its vision and mission statement every single day of the year.

, May 04, 2017 | More Post by

Welcome to the first in our series called Co-Founders’ Corner! These are posts by either of our two Here for the Girls Co-Founders, Rene Bowditch or Mary Beth Gibson. Enjoy these (sometimes funny, sometimes serious, always interesting) reflections on life!

Poor Monday. It has a real image problem. Most everybody loves Saturday. It’s the creamy filling in the Oreo cookie that is the weekend – sandwiched right in between the chocolate-ly goodness of Friday, the official launch of the weekend, and Sunday, the traditional day of rest and renewal. Thursday is pretty popular too as the prelude to the weekend. Wednesday’s claim to fame is as Hump Day gains it points and even the nondescript Tuesday has status as being the day after Monday, when one can breathe easy again. Poor maligned Monday.

Let me give you a few examples of just how bad it is. When I googled sayings for Monday, here are some of the ones I found:

If Monday had a face, I would punch it.

Go home Monday. No one likes you.

If each day is a gift, I would like to know where to return Mondays.

There should be a holiday for all the brave people who show up to work on Mondays.

Monday. How do I block you in real life?

Keep calm and pretend it’s not Monday.

Shortest horror story in history. Tomorrow is Monday.

Dear Monday. I think you should take a vacation. Seriously, no one will miss you.

I also unexpectedly discovered an interesting correlation between Mondays and coffee.

Too much Monday. Not enough coffee.

May your coffee be strong and your Monday be short.

Coffee. Because Monday happens every week.

Monday. I don’t think there will be enough coffee or enough middle fingers for today.

Apparently, if you don’t show up to Monday armed with massive quantities of coffee, you are doomed.

So who is responsible for this sad state of affairs? Well if we are going to assign blame, I guess we have to go back about 4,000 years. It was the Babylonians. They are the ones who decided to divide the 29 day lunar cycle into smaller periods of time and picked seven because it had mystical significance. And then beyond the Babylonians, we can attribute it to whoever decided in more modern times that Monday would be the official start of the work week and school week.

Because when you come right down to it, I believe the reason most people who resent Monday feel that way because it means they have to go back to either work or school. So the problem isn’t really Monday!! The problem isn’t even our attitude about Monday. The problem is we may not be content with what we have to do on Mondays – whatever our responsibilities are – and Monday is a reminder that we have to start it all over again until our next break from it. So here’s the solution. It is simple but may not easy.

We have two options:

We can change our responsibilities, or we can change our attitude.

I used to be one of the Monday moaners. And then I faced a serious health crisis that compelled me to reevaluate my life, my priorities, my values and also how I was spending my time versus how I wanted to be spending my time. That seismic shift resulted in a new attitude about many things including Mondays. Ultimately, here is what I believe is the most significant fact about Mondays:  They represent 1/7 of your life. So do you really want to spend your time dreading, complaining about, and wishing away 1/7 of your life? I know I don’t. So I embrace Monday as I do every other day of the week – with gratitude and the knowledge that I own it, and I am going to make it what I want it to be. Mondays are a gift I have no desire to return.

So I suggest we reconsider Mondays, and to help us, here are a few of the very few positive sayings I found in my Google search about Mondays.

Monday. A fresh start. Embrace it.

Monday, Funday. Live, Laugh, Love.

Monday is a new start of your life, new beginning, new perspective. Make today count.

Monday, just another day to be amazing.

Do what you love, and you will never dread Monday.

And of course, we can’t forget the coffee. It’s Monday. Grab some coffee and be awesome.

And if you are still not convinced, I’ll share this little-known fact with you: Monday is the only day of the week that is an anagram of a single word. And that word? It’s dynamo. So I leave you with this thought. When Monday rolls around again, and if you are lucky, it will continue to do so over and over and over again, just use it as a reminder that Monday is a special day for you to shine as the dynamo you are! And the coffee? It’s optional.

Mary Beth Gibson

, April 27, 2017 | More Post by

Julia is a Boober! who was invited to attend our “Renew, Restore, Retreat” this year and couldn’t make it. Since she’s many years out from her diagnosis, she had these thoughts to share about women who, like her, are at least a few years beyond treatment. We thought we’d pass along her insights and thoughtful words!

…I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 at the age of 44 (stage 1, estrogen receptor positive).

I had a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. I think no matter how good or bad your diagnosis is, it is a very traumatic experience and very frightening. Somehow reason and common sense don’t quite work anymore. It’s a challenge to find a balance and normalcy. But during this journey and through many doctor’s visits I had some words that stuck with me for years. You were probably told that the survival rate is 12 years. In your state of shock you don’t really understand the meaning. For me, it sounded like a death sentence in 12 years. I could not find any reason or sense in these words. I went on a search for survivors of more than that. I became obsessed with it. I joined Dr. Reed’s support group, I went to a retreat offered by Beyond Boobs! several years ago, and took part at the event “Dancing with the Survivors.” But I never met anybody who was a survivor for more of 4 or 5 years. I know it would have helped me to know at least one long-term survivor.

Today I am cancer-free for 9 years. My check-ups have been all good so far, and I feel good. Besides minor long-term side effects from radiation (times of fatigue, sudden pain attacks in the area of radiation), I have a normal life. I also learned that my grandmother had breast cancer in her 60s (which I never knew), and that she died of old age. Without knowing, I had a long-term survivor in front of me. She passed away over 30 years ago, so she could never tell me her story. There is a life after breast cancer, and there is a very good chance to live a long life and grow old. I don’t worry about numbers any more. I try things that I always wanted to do. After “Dancing with the Survivors” I continued with ballroom dancing and now I am competing with my new husband in Standard and Latin ballroom dance. My second dream is to have my own business and I just started to work as a freelance Graphic Designer.

I met a lot of other survivors who also struggled with the “12 year thing”. Don’t focus on this, it only means that today’s survival rates are very good. Every person and every diagnosis is different, but with today’s treatment options we all have (in general) the best chances.

It is okay to worried and to be scared. Don’t let anyone tell you how you have to feel. You can grieve as long as you need to, and then you are ready to move on. This is your life, and you set the rules. You need to let out your grief and sadness to get your strength to fight. Beyond Boobs! is an amazing group of extraordinary women and I can’t thank you all enough for the support you give to each other.

Hugs and Love,

Julia

, April 20, 2017 | More Post by

I am not a doctor, only a Lymphatic Fanatic. I am a 10-year breast cancer survivor with Lymphedema in my right arm. I am one of the 30% of women who will get Lymphedema as a result of a compromised lymphatic system due to surgery, removal of lymph nodes, and radiation. In fact, all breast cancer patients and survivors are at risk if their lymphatic system has been compromised from any of the aforementioned treatments for breast cancer. I know this because I have done my research. Like some of you, I have thoroughly researched everything to death!

Research can be good. Being an informed patient is tantamount to recovery. Being your best advocate and striving for risk reduction and prevention of further disease and illness is our global goal and responsibility.

Like everyone else, I have a busy life and many goals. One of my goals is to exercise more because we all know that exercise plays a huge part in lowering our risk of recurrence. But does exercise conflict with people who have Lymphedema?  Is it recommended that we not do “too much?”

While it is true that not all individuals who have had lymph node disruption (surgical or radiological) will develop Lymphedema, until physicians can better predict who is at greater risk for Lymphedema, a slow and progressive approach to exercise is advisable. In fact, working up to a level of exercise that promotes fitness while avoiding exacerbating the Lymphedema is a good goal.

Exercise for Lymphedema may be beneficial, however the question is how much is too much? That is very individual. It is important that any exercise program be gradually progressed to avoid sprain/strain. More importantly, a slow progression allows the individual to monitor their affected limb or limb at risk for any sensation of aching or fullness that could indicate an overwhelming of the lymphatic system. I love yoga. That is my favorite exercise. Sometimes, however, I notice my arm swells more or begins to feel heavier than usual. It is at those moments that I reel myself in and weigh the benefits of either changing my pose to accommodate my arm or possibly suffer consequences of too much strain and eventual additional swelling. Over the past years, I have learned my body and specifically the cues it sends me. We all must learn and listen to our own bodies.

One fact is certain…. exercise for Lymphedema is best done with compression on the affected limb. Compression garments actually provide a new “tight” skin for the muscles to contract against, assisting in pumping the lymph out of the extremity into the central circulation. When Lymphedema exists, the remaining lymph vessels that are functioning are working double time to try to carry the load. Wearing compression bandages/garments provides support to the skin and to the lymphatic vessels directly under the skin, called the superficial lymphatic network. It is these vessels that help to carry the load when the larger vessels have been cut away from the lymph nodes or have been damaged.

Cancer gave me a whole “New Me.” I may not be able to play tennis anymore, but I can certainly achieve my exercise goals nevertheless. Become informed about Lymphedema if you are at risk.  Recognize that certain types of exercise are considered higher risk than others for individuals with Lymphedema. For example, high speed activities like tennis, bowling and racquetball, place more stress on our arms. In my case, tennis was “too much” for my affected arm.

Unfortunately, even the guidelines put forth in the “Risk Reduction Guidelines” of most Lymphedema Centers and Research Facilities are “anecdotal” at the present time, because of the lack of controlled double-blind studies to prove their efficacy.  In addition, some medical professionals have taken the position that the individual with a limb at risk (or with Lymphedema) should go ahead and pursue whatever exercise/activity they wish and “see what happens.” What they fail to tell us is that, Lymphedema is a chronic condition, which, presently, has no cure.

So as you strive for a better “you,” strive to be informed about Lymphedema and ways to lower your risk as it pertains to exercise.  Always be aware of your arm and any possible changes after exercising and for goodness sake, wear your compression garment!

Peace and Veggies,

Carolyn I. Newman

(Carolyn is the President of Warrior Wear, Inc. (www.warriorwear4u.com), and graciously shared this post with us.)*

 

*Here for the Girls is grateful for our guest bloggers and by sharing their experiences is not promoting or endorsing any particular products or services.