For the girls

For the girls

The Official Blog of Here for the girls

, July 07, 2015 | More Post by

Chuck & Payton Park

Chuck Jarrett’s wife, Shae, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2010. A few months later a friend and breast cancer survivor told the Jarretts about Beyond Boobs! and suggested they get involved. Chuck and Shae thought joining the group sounded like a good idea. As a Boober! Shae participated in support groups and went on fun outings. She was selected as one of the calendar models for A Calendar to Live By 2012 and attended the Pink Carpet Gala on her husband’s arm when the calendar was unveiled in September of 2011.

“Beyond Boobs! was a great group for Shae to be a part of,” Chuck said. “Everyone around her – her parents, her sister, me – we were all telling her that everything was going to be OK, but she was hearing that through a prism of people who were not going through what she was going through. Being with Boobers! and hearing from women who had been there and lived through it was very important.”

Shae was diagnosed with breast cancer again in 2012.

“We thought after the first time that she would be cancer-free and healthy to enjoy the rest of her life,” Chuck said. “We had hoped she would live for many years and we would be able to manage her condition. When she was re-diagnosed we realized it would be something that would take her life.”

Shae, Chuck’s beautiful bride of almost seven years and mother of their young daughter, Payton, passed away on January 4, 2014. She was thirty-three years old.

The Gift

After Shae’s death Chuck was a 37-year-old widower and single father.

“I grieved for Shae multiple times,” Chuck said. “I grieved when she was diagnosed the first time, and I grieved when she was diagnosed again and we knew it was only a matter of time. Then she passed, and I have been grieving for 18 months.”

Chuck admits that he grappled with his grief on his own when Shae was ill. “I didn’t want to burden her with my grief,” he explained. “That was something I felt I had to bear by myself.”

After Shae’s death Chuck went to counseling sessions at his church to come to terms with his loss and his emotions. He also turned to family and friends for support. “I have great people in my life who provide great support,” Chuck said.

“Shae was beautiful inside and out,” he continued. “She really cared for other people. It was a gift that we had that time together. Many people go quickly, but I was able to be with Shae and tell her how much I loved her. My life is better because she was in it. I was grateful for that opportunity, but I am sad it couldn’t have been longer.”
The Healing

In addition to a strong network of family and friends, Chuck also received a lot of support from Beyond Boobs!

“I received a lot of phone calls after my wife passed, with Boobers! checking on Payton and I,” he said. “The group provided a lot of physical and emotional support for us.”

One Boober! volunteered to watch Payton while Chuck was at work during the summer. When she was no longer able to baby-sit, Beyond Boobs! Cofounder and Executive Director, Mary Beth Gibson, referred Chuck to a nanny agency that he has worked with ever since.

“Getting connected with that agency was a significant help for us,” Chuck said. “When they found out our story they searched for someone who would be a perfect fit.”

Hiring a nanny to look after his daughter while he is at work has not been easy for Chuck. “I took baby steps,” he said. “At first we started with an hour or two a day. My comfort level rose as time passed and the nanny we worked with came to understand the way I run my household. This arrangement has worked out well for us.”

As the newly single dad of a little girl, Chuck knew he had a steep learning curve ahead of him. Prior to her death, Shae had instructed Chuck on how to braid hair and other tasks a little girl might need help with.

“Shae was smart,” Chuck said. “She made me do a lot of things with Payton in case something happened. I continued to help out, but it was evident I needed to learn more.”

Payton is six years old and will be starting first grade in the fall. Chuck sees so much of Shae in Payton. “As she continues to grow into a beautiful young woman, there is no doubt she will resemble Shae,” Chuck said.

The Future

Although his wife has passed, Chuck remains actively involved with Beyond Boobs! He participates in the annual “Breast” Ball Golf Tournament and this year volunteered with Vicki Vawter, BB!’s marketing and events manager, to help plan the event. He attends the Pink Carpet Gala and the parades in Williamsburg, even going so far as to don a feathery pink boa to support the group.

“Beyond Boobs! will forever be a part of us,” Chuck said. “We will always support them and participate in their events and fundraisers. They won’t be able to help Shae anymore, but they will always remember her and keep her memory alive.”

Sometimes it is hard for Chuck to attend Beyond Boobs! events without Shae. “It will always be hard for me,” Chuck said. “But it is also a way to remember my wife.”

Chuck wants Payton to be involved with Beyond Boobs! and to benefit from all the group has to offer.

“My daughter will benefit from her involvement with Beyond Boobs! because, no matter how old she gets, as long as she is connected they can pass on stories about Shae to her. Since her mom had breast cancer, that means there is a higher risk for Payton to develop the disease, too. So long as she is surrounded by Boobers!, she will learn about this horrible disease and how to help others, so that maybe in her lifetime she will see a cure for it!”

Chuck displays photos of Shae all over the Jarrett home in Williamsburg. He encourages Payton to talk with her mom whenever she wants. “I tell her that her mommy is always here with her,” Chuck said. “Payton goes up to her pictures and I tell her that she can talk to her mom because her mom can always hear her.”

Right now Payton doesn’t understand everything that her parents went through. “She understands that her mom was sick and that she didn’t feel well,” Chuck said. “Payton knows her mom is looking down on her from heaven.”

Chuck is grateful for the friendship that Beyond Boobs! provided to Shae during her time as a Boober!, and he is thankful for the love and support the group has shown him and his daughter as he adapts to life after his wife’s death.

“Beyond Boobs! is truly following their mission of supporting young women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and their families,” he said. “With their help, I will be able to keep Shae a part of my daughter’s life and not just a memory.”

If you would like to learn more about Chuck and Shae’s experiences, please click here to read the touching letters they wrote to express their love to each other.

Category: Blog

, June 30, 2015 | More Post by

Joshua Banks is a very busy man. He works full time as an X-ray/CT technician at Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center in Norfolk at night and by day he is the owner of Flex Your Fitness, a company that sells athletic apparel and sports products. He and his wife Cristina are parents to two active little girls, Savannah, 4, and her younger sister, Isabella, 8 months.

Joshua is also royalty. On May 9th he was crowned Mr. Breast Fest 2015 at the annual event held at Hunt Club Farms in Virginia Beach.

It all began when Flex Your Fitness teamed up with Juice Bar to hold a dance-a-thon to raise funds for Beyond Boobs!. Joshua decided to look into the group to find out more about who he would be supporting.

“The money donated to Beyond Boobs! is going to people who need the support,” Joshua said. “I also found out that one of the women who participates in a Flex Your Fitness boot camp is a Boober! and I have seen how BB! has given her great support. They are like family to her.”

So when Juice Bar’s marketing director e-mailed Joshua about competing for the title of Mr. Breast Fest 2015, he was all in. But then Joshua took a closer look at the details included in that e-mail. “I gotta do what?” In all of his excitement, Joshua had not noticed he would have to wear a bra and schmooze with attendees to win votes for the coveted title of Mr. Breast Fest 2015.

Even though Joshua works with patients every day and runs his own business, he still considers himself a shy person. And it was his first time wearing a bra.

“I had to let go of my shyness and shake it off,” Joshua said. “The event was a lot of fun. Everyone was so nice and welcoming. There was a hula hoop competition and a doughnut-eating competition. All of the guys competing had a blast.”

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Joshua pictured with co-founders Mary Beth Gibson and Rene Bowditch

In addition to showing the crowd he knew his way around a hula hoop and a doughnut, Joshua had to mingle with attendees and answer questions on the stage. “I was just being myself,” he said. “I was personable and interactive and I did my best. I think people paid attention when I talked because I am very passionate about the Beyond Boobs! mission.”

When the awards were handed out Joshua was nervous. He watched as a fellow contestant was named Mr. Congeniality and he applauded when the man who raised the most cash that day was named Mr. Money Bags. But as he watched his competition accept their awards he wondered what he had done wrong.

“After they gave out all the prizes I thought I had lost,” Joshua said. “I was about near tears. I was busting my butt out in the heat and I love BB! so much. Why hadn’t I gotten an award?”

When Joshua heard his name called as the winner of the Mr. Breast Fest 2015 title, he fell to his knees with joy. He was speechless as the crown was placed on his head and everyone crowded around him. All he felt was love.

“My celebration was to live in that moment,” Joshua said.

On the way home after the event he called his wife and told her that he had lost. “When I walked in the house with that crown on my head she was so happy,” he said.

Joshua takes his duties as Mr. Breast Fest 2015 seriously. “This is all brand new to me, so I am still feeling it out,” he said. “I have to show my face at BB! events and represent the group. I want to raise money and awareness and help out however I can.”

Joshua plans to sit down with the director of radiology at the hospital where he works to find a way for them to team up with Beyond Boobs!. In his job as a technician he sees a lot of patients who are suffering from the effects of poor health and he wants to help people live better, healthier lives.

“The mission of Beyond Boobs! is something everyone can relate to,” Joshua said. “So many people go without the help and support they need, but Beyond Boobs! fills that need. I have seen firsthand that breast cancer survivors and their families who need help get what they need from BB!. It is a community of positivity, and who doesn’t want to be a part of that.”

Category: Blog

, June 23, 2015 | More Post by

Joe Mazzaferro is the man responsible for introducing Beyond Boobs! to one of the group’s biggest supporters. Dressed in pink and black, every year she travels through the heart of the Beyond Boobs! nation, from Portland, Maine, to Jacksonville, Florida, urging women to perform self-exams for early detection of breast cancer. She’s racked up about 400,000 miles and weighs upwards of nine tons, but she shows no signs of slowing down.

Who is this busy beauty? She is Ma’am O’Gram, a bobtail semi-truck, so-called when she does not have a trailer attached. She is owned and operated by Diamond Truck Lines, LLC, and JRC transportation broker/agent Joe Mazzaferro. After Joe’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer he searched for ways to support the cause and help other women facing a similar diagnosis. An acquaintance put him in touch with Beyond Boobs! co-founder and executive director, Mary Beth Gibson, about three years ago.truck &  Boobers

“I wanted to give more than a monetary donation,” Joe said. “I wanted to establish a long-term commitment. I offered to have Mary Beth decorate one of my trucks and she helped develop the pink-and-black design and the message of early detection.”

Joe’s mom, Ida, is 82 years old and is a 12-year survivor. Although Ida now lives in Delaware, she has seen numerous photos of Ma’am O’Gram and even got to see the lovely lady in person and meet her driver, Charlie Nowicki. Ida has also been a recipient of the love and support Beyond Boobs! is known for.

“My mom spoke with Mary Beth about her diagnosis and what she went through, including her surgery and treatments,” Joe said. “Making that connection and having that support means a lot to her.”

Ma’am O’Gram typically travels up and down I-95 and through western Pennsylvania on I-80. Currently she is hauling glass used to make many different types of bottles. She elicits responses wherever she goes and people often approach Charlie to tell him their stories of survival, or those of friends or family members. One woman on the road was so enthusiastic about the message of early detection that she decided to lift her shirt and show Charlie her mammaries.

“I guess she wanted to let him know hers were healthy,” Joe joked.

And what does Ma’am O’Gram do when she isn’t delivering goods up and down the East Coast and spreading the message of early detection? After hours the highway heroine sheds her working-girl image and takes part in competitions. In 2012 she earned third place in the working bobtail division at The Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, Texas.

“She’s a hardworking truck,” Joe said. “She doesn’t sit still.”

In addition to the decorated truck, Joe also supports Beyond Boobs! through donations and by purchasing sponsorships at events. Every year he dons a suit and tie for the Pink Carpet Gala, where the upcoming year’s A Calendar to Live By is unveiled and the calendar models are honored.

“The Gala is my favorite event because it is the grandest of all,” Joe said. “Everyone learns about the calendar models and hears their personal stories. There is a reason they put Kleenex on every table at the Gala. The stories are real and so touching. It’s not just a story in a book.”

Joe’s mom is not the only connection he has to breast cancer. His father’s mother passed away from breast cancer and his mom’s sister was also diagnosed. In an interesting twist of fate, the two women were diagnosed on the same day more than a thousand miles apart. When they spoke on the phone after their appointments to share their news they had no idea it would be the same devastating news.

“My mom was in Indiana and I was living in Williamsburg when she was diagnosed,” Joe said. “I didn’t feel like I was supportive enough. Before I teamed up with Beyond Boobs! I couldn’t talk with my mom about her breast cancer because I would just start crying. Now that I have heard all of the success stories, it isn’t as upsetting to talk with my mom. Mary Beth thanks me all the time, but I’m the one who’s thankful. Beyond Boobs! gave me my mom back.”

Category: Blog

, June 23, 2015 | More Post by

Since Father’s Day is June 21, we decided to dedicate the whole month to the fellas in our lives – husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. Whether they are offering words of encouragement, attending medical appointments, or donning a bra to raise funds for the cause, the men of BB! are stepping up to offer Boobers! their unwavering support.

In the weeks to come our BLOG will highlight the stories of several men in the BB! universe. Join us as we give thanks for the men in our lives and the important roles they play in treatment, recovery, and beyond. Let’s hear it for the boys!

Category: Blog

, 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.

 

 

 

, 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.”

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