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For the girls

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, December 05, 2014 | More Post by

More than Words:  Husband’s Support Speaks Volumes

Bo Gibson admits he is a man of few words. Yet he doesn’t need to say much to convey his deep love and affection for his wife, Beyond Boobs! co-founder Mary Beth Gibson. His tender tone when he describes the moment he first saw her says it all for him.

“I took one look at her dark hair and fair complexion and I fell in love,” Bo said. He even remembers what she was wearing that day – a long dress with little flowers on it. “That dress is still hanging up in our closet after all these years,” he said.

Seizing the moment

Bo and a buddy were doing landscaping work in Richmond when the woman in the house next door came over to ask them if they would remove a shrub from under her deck. The two agreed and after the task was complete Bo knew he couldn’t just walk away.

“When I see something I want I go for it,” he said. “I knew that I might never have the chance to speak with her again, so I asked her out right then and there.”

Bo and Mary Beth had their first date at a restaurant called Mulligan’s. The man of few words suddenly found himself talking with Mary Beth for hours. That night they ignited a spark that flared during the good times – 16 years of marriage and three sons, and lit their way through the bad times – a breast cancer diagnosis and a double mastectomy.

The enemy within

Bo was terrified when Mary Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had encountered the disease before when her grandmother and mother were diagnosed, but for Bo it was his first time helping a loved one face the disease.

“Whenever I had been confronted with a problem in life before I always fought it head on,” Bo said. “With my wife’s cancer diagnosis I felt vulnerable, like everything was out of my control.”

Even though Bo struggled with putting his emotions into words, he vowed to be there for Mary Beth in any way he could. He went to every chemo appointment with her and the two would watch funny movies to help boost her spirits and keep her focused on recovery.

“I wanted to be there for her during her treatment,” Bo said. “The physical stuff didn’t bother me at all.”

When Mary Beth chose to have a double mastectomy, he was by her side. She did not elect to have reconstruction surgery, but her scars could never alter Bo’s opinion of the beautiful woman he fell in love with. “I didn’t marry her for her boobs,” he said. “When she had her surgeries that was the last thing on my mind.”

Same love, new journeyBo&MaryBeth

The couple’s direction in life took another turn when Mary Beth started Beyond Boobs! in 2006. She wanted to provide support for young breast cancer survivors and promote breast health information for all and Bo supported her completely. “I thought Beyond Boobs! was a cool idea,” he said. “She enjoyed being with other women who all had something in common.”

Like many couples, Bo and Mary Beth do their best to keep the spark alive while juggling work and kids. Their three sons, Cole, Clay, and Lance, keep them on their toes. “When it comes to staying connected, we’re still trying to figure that out,” Bo admitted with a laugh.

Bo’s experiences with his wife’s breast cancer reaffirmed his belief that family is the most important thing in life. “From the bottom of my heart, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my family,” he said. “After everything that we have been through, my love for Mary Beth hasn’t changed. Every day is a good day for us and I can’t imagine being married to anybody else.”

 

Category: Blog

, December 01, 2014 | More Post by

Breast Cancer Can’t Break Bond between Mother and Daughter

Stephanie Graves remembers how she felt while pregnant with her first child and the doctor tried to determine the baby’s sex by the heartbeat. She wasn’t sure whether she would be having a boy or a girl but she just had a feeling she was going to have a daughter.

Stephanie was far away from her family in Germany when she gave birth to her first child in the States. She held her little girl and so many thoughts crowded into her mind.

“I wanted her to have a better life than me,” Stephanie said. “I wanted her to have a great career and be a great young lady. I wanted everything for her.”

A childhood full of great memories

It seemed Stephanie’s little girl, Boober! and 2015 calendar model Michele Yepez, was always making her mother laugh. One time the family took a trip to Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. Stephanie made a detour to the restroom and when she returned Michele had scampered onto the stage at Festhaus and was performing the Chicken Dance, waving her arms and wiggling her bottom as the packed house cheered her on.

“Michele was an outgoing little girl,” Stephanie said. “She hated baby dolls but she loved animals, especially dogs. I remember her running over to the fence and sticking her little hot dog fingers at the neighbor’s Doberman. I was worried that the dog would bite her but he loved her.”

Michele’s family owned a little mixed-breed dog and he had a doghouse in the backyard. Stephanie recalled how Michele would crawl into the doghouse while the little dog would stand outside of it.

When Michele was a little girl she and her mother watched her favorite movie, Lady and the Tramp, a hundred times together on the couch. Michele knew all the movie’s dialogue by heart.

A mother’s worst nightmare

Stephanie had just hung up after wishing her parents a happy anniversary when her daughter called her that December day in 2013 to tell her that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I couldn’t even think,” Stephanie said. “I couldn’t function. It was the worst day of my life.”

Two days after Michele was diagnosed Stephanie went with her to a follow-up appointment. She went with her daughter to all of her subsequent doctor’s appointments, too. Stephanie did not go with Michele to her chemo appointments. Instead she took her grandchildren, Mathias and Elise, for the weekend so their mother would have time to herself to recuperate and rest.

Stephanie drove Michele to the hospital for her mastectomy surgery. “That morning I felt like I just couldn’t take her there,” Stephanie said. “I couldn’t bear that thought that my child was going to have a part of her body taken off. That was the second worst day of my life.”

Supporting the supporters

Stephanie grappled with guilt after her daughter’s diagnosis and during her treatment. She had had a breast biopsy prior to Michele’s and hers had been negative. “I wondered why did it have to happen to my daughter?” Stephanie said. “Why couldn’t it have been me instead? I was older and didn’t have little children to take care of like Michele did. Why did it have to happen to her?”

Stephanie relied on support from her mother and sister in Germany to help her through her daughter’s treatment and diagnosis. Her husband Ray was there for her to talk to and lean on. Her friends and coworkers also provided lots of love and support.

After everything she went through with her daughter, Stephanie’s advice for other moms facing a similar situation is to be there for their children. “Go to as many of the appointments with them as you can,” she said. “Listen to the doctor – be your child’s ears. You are stronger than you think at that moment.”Stephanie&MicheleCurrent

 

Category: Blog

, November 22, 2014 | More Post by

Not Another Appointment: Inside a Mastectomy Boutique

 

Teresa Kelly BrasThe women who walk through the door of the Silhouette Mastectomy Boutique in Newport News, Virginia, have lost so much to cancer – their sense of security, their self-confidence, one or both of their breasts. Teresa Kelly, manager at the boutique, considers it her job and her privilege to give back to those women what cancer has taken from them. Every day she puts her 36 years of experience in the medical field to work, giving women who face the ravages of breast cancer the power to feel normal.

More than a job

Working at the mastectomy boutique is more than a job for Teresa, it’s a calling. She remembers the fear and isolation her mother felt when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1960s. When she works with women at the boutique she provides a relaxing, fun shopping experience to help them get the items they need that will also make them feel good about their bodies.

“All those years ago, women diagnosed with breast cancer did not have the support they do now,” Teresa said. “There were no stores like ours for them to buy prostheses and specially made clothing.”

Even though Teresa’s mother did not have a great deal of support or resources when she was diagnosed, she was a strong, determined woman who taught Teresa the meaning of surviving and thriving.

“The doctors gave my mother three months to live. She told them they weren’t the boss of her and she lived another 40 years,” Teresa said. “As a matter of fact, she outlived three of her doctors.”

Teresa acknowledges that doctors do the best they can but admits they don’t know everything. When she was in her 30s she underwent a lumpectomy to remove a benign lump. After watching her mother and going through pain herself, Teresa feels like she can be a trusted advisor to the women who come to the boutique.

“Most women don’t pull a blanket over their head and cry because they want to be strong for those around them,” Teresa said. “At the boutique they feel like they can let it all out because the employees understand what they are going through. We strive to make their new normal work for them. Most of the women want to make the most out of every moment post-diagnosis and we are able to put a positive spin on everything.”

Same war, different battle

Teresa has a long history of helping people regain what circumstances and illnesses have taken away. Prior to working at the boutique, she worked at an orthotics and prosthetics facility where she fitted men and women who had lost limbs with prostheses.

“When I worked at that facility it was more of a medical environment,” Teresa recalls. “People were there for all sorts of reasons. For example, a patient may have lost a hand, and once I fitted a nurse with a prosthetic index finger. The boutique’s atmosphere is different because it’s not another medical appointment. The women I work with are shoppers, not patients.”

Teresa pointed out that there are many similarities between the work she did at the orthotics and prosthetics facility and the boutique. In both cases she worked with individuals who had lost a body part and were learning how to live life differently. The boutique, however, offers an array of products and options for both cancer patients and non-cancer patients.

“Some of our customers come in for non-cancer related purchases,” Teresa said. “Others come in for custom-made wigs as a result of cancer treatments or unrelated conditions like alopecia, which causes hair to thin or fall out completely. We also sell bras that are more comfortable for a person who has had open-heart surgery or breast augmentation surgery to wear.”

A fellow survivor

Teresa knows better than most just how precious every moment of life truly is. In addition to her lumpectomy, she had surgery to clear a 98% blockage in her heart. She also had breast reduction surgery, going from an F cup to a C+ cup size.

“I know what women who have had reconstruction are going through,” Teresa said. “I visited vendors to try on bras and every one was painful. The exact spots where I had had cuts were where the bra would rub against my skin. There was no bra that was comfy for a woman post-reconstruction so I worked with vendors to design a bra that those women could wear and enjoy.”

Teresa makes it her goal to help every woman who walks through her door, whether she is in her 20s or her 80s. She knows that every woman is different and wants to make sure each one has a great experience at the boutique. She researches the newest prosthetic items, clothing, and wigs and keeps up-to-date on all of the new trends. She and her staff members are trained fitters who regularly participate in continuing education.

A healthy dose of laughter

Teresa has a treasure trove of amusing anecdotes from her years working at the boutique. She laughed when she told the story of the woman who had taken her breast prostheses out prior to exercising at the gym and placed them in a brown paper bag in her truck. Later she thought she had lost her boobs at the gym when, in reality, her son had borrowed her truck and tossed the bag into the backseat, not realizing that it contained his mother’s fake bosoms.

Then there was the older woman who had had a mastectomy 20 years prior but had never been fitted for a prosthetic. After her husband passed away she started attending a singles group and met a man. She came to Teresa because she didn’t want her new beau to discover what she kept in her bra in place of her breast – a sock filled with dried beans.

“When I fitted her with a prosthetic I told her she needed to tell her new boyfriend that she was a breast cancer survivor and that she had had a mastectomy,” Teresa said. “Later she told me that as she told him, he laughed and clapped his hands. When she finished, he told her, ‘It’s Ok. I’m an ass man!’”

Her favorite part of her job is when she sees the expression on the face of a woman who has been correctly fitted with a breast form.

“There is such a look of relief,” she said. “The right bra and forms can make all the difference. I love helping women regain their self-esteem and realize they are beautiful even in the face of illness.”

Spreading awareness

Teresa travels to different hospitals and clinics with her rolling suitcase to show women the latest in mastectomy designs and fashions. She also works with several support groups in the area, including Beyond Boobs!

“There was instant love when I met [Beyond Boobs!] co-founder Mary Beth,” Teresa said. “It is so different to have a group for younger women. I have met several of the members and it’s like having family, church, best friends, and a support group all rolled up into one.”

Teresa is a Beyond Boobs! Bustier and supports as many of the group’s fund-raising activities as she can, including events involving the Old Dudes Motorcycle Club.

“What I really love about Beyond Boobs! is that they care about people unconditionally. They realize that we are all fighting the same disease in different ways,” Teresa said.

The Silhouette Mastectomy Boutique is located at 12715-V Warwick Blvd. in Newport News. All of the staff members are trained, compassionate fitters. Many insurance plans cover the cost of items the boutique sells. If you bring a current prescription from your doctor with you to your fitting, the staff can call and determine coverage. If you would like to schedule a fitting session with one of the boutique fitters, call them at 757-930-0139.

 

Category: Blog

, November 14, 2014 | More Post by

Faith Unites Mother and Daughter

 

Joanne Cox was stunned when her daughter, Boober! and 2015 calendar model Donna Matherne, told her she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Donna fought to get a correct diagnosis for more than a year before she was diagnosed in 2009. Up until then the doctors had told her she had inflammation in her breast from nursing her newborn son.Joanne&DonnaCurrent

“The doctors had told her not to worry and that it was nothing, so that’s what I believed,” Joanne said. “Hearing her tell me she had breast cancer was scary.”

Joanne has always placed her faith in the Lord and she knew her daughter was a strong woman. “When Donna was diagnosed, she told us she was going to get better and that was all there was to it,” Joanne recalled.

All-American girl

Joanne’s husband Don worked for the government and Donna, her second child, was born in a British nursing home in Bangkok. “While I was pregnant I thought I was going to have another son,” Joanne said. “But I prayed for a girl and I was ecstatic when my daughter was born.”

From her earliest days Donna showed signs of growing up to be a strong, independent adult. “When she was a toddler, I would always tell her, ‘I don’t know what you’re going to be, but you’re going to be the boss of it,’” Joanne said. “Donna was very determined. She didn’t even bother with crawling. When she was 14 months old she just started walking.”

Being with her children always made Joanne happy. “It’s an amazing thing to think of a child growing inside of you,” she said. “When I was pregnant I would sing and talk to each of my babies and wonder what they were going to be like after they were born.”

Joanne described Donna as a quiet, observant little girl. As Donna got older she had lots of friends and was involved in several activities, including Girl Scouts and running track in high school. “She was a very involved, sweet girl,” Joanne said.

Conflicting roles

Donna’s first cancer diagnosis came as her father struggled with kidney failure. Joanne had retired from her job as a schoolteacher in Northern Virginia so she could care for her ailing husband. When her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer she felt torn in two directions. Should she stay with her sick husband or should she travel to Germany, where Donna and her husband Chris were stationed with the Army? Her daughter had just been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and she wanted to be with her child. However, her husband was battling a terminal illness and she wanted to provide love and comfort to him, too.

Joanne decided to make a brief trip to Germany to be with Donna while she was undergoing chemo. Donna also had her first mastectomy surgery in Europe after Joanne had returned to the States. Even though she wanted to be with her daughter when she had her reconstruction surgeries, Don had taken a turn for the worst and Joanne wasn’t sure if she could leave her husband’s side. Ultimately Donna came back to Virginia for her reconstruction surgeries and had the first one at Portsmouth Naval Hospital shortly before her father passed away.

Life after loss

For six months the whole family was together, and then Don decided he no longer wanted to undergo dialysis. Donna, her brother Carl, and Joanne sat with him at the house, talking to him and telling him what a good dad and husband he had been. When Joanne briefly let go of Don’s hand, he passed away.

“My children and grandchildren were my salvation after my husband died,” Joanne said. “They gave me purpose and kept me from sitting around feeling sorry for myself.”

When Donna was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in 2012 Joanne stayed with the family, helping Donna with housework and caring for her two sons, Nathan and Joseph.

“She is my baby and I wanted to do everything I could to help her,” Joanne said. “Donna is my hero. She felt so much pain and nausea during her cancer treatments. She lost a part of her body during her mastectomy and I just can’t imagine that.”

Lots of thoughts entered Joanne’s mind during Donna’s two bouts with breast cancer, but she placed all of her trust in the Lord and prayed to him for guidance and strength. “I pray for my family every day,” Joanne said. “I pray for each little issue in their lives and for their futures. I’m not young, but I am strong and I want to help my daughter in every way that I can.”

 

 

 

 

 

Category: Blog

, November 07, 2014 | More Post by

 

Cancer Diagnosis Can’t Diminish Couple’s Devotion

 

Mike Birgen and his wife Christy love each other so much they got married twice. They wed in December 2005, once on land by a Justice of the Peace and again on a Disney cruise by the ship’s captain.

Christy&MikeBirgen“Every year we celebrate two anniversaries,” Mike explained. “I give her roses both days. On the first day she chooses what she wants for dinner and I make a special meal for the two of us at home. The second day we go out and celebrate again.”

The couple met on Match.com. Mike saw her picture and read her profile on the site and decided to send her a message. The two hit it off and spoke on the phone every day. Mike lived in Virginia Beach and Christy was in Maine at the time so he would fly up to visit her every two months. After they got married Christy relocated to Virginia Beach. The couple has two teenage sons, Ryan and Jacob.

A heart-wrenching diagnosis

Christy was diagnosed with breast cancer in November of 2013. She underwent a lumpectomy and a mastectomy of her left breast. She had TRAM reconstruction surgery and is scheduled for more surgeries in the near future.

“My wife’s breast cancer diagnosis was heart wrenching,” Mike said. “She was at work when the doctor called to tell her the news and I told her she needed to come home right away. At that time we talked about what she was feeling and what her options were.”

Christy’s diagnosis was not Mike’s first experience with cancer. His grandmother was diagnosed and passed away when he was a teenager.

The couple decided not to tell their sons about their mother’s cancer diagnosis right away. They wanted to wait until after they had received more information from the clinic.

“The boys and I, all three of us, were wait staff for Christy after her surgery,” Mike said. “She had a phone by her bed and called the boys whenever she needed help. They didn’t complain and would drop whatever they were doing to help her.”

Mike admits that he often felt helpless during his wife’s cancer treatments and surgeries, but he did his best to be there for her and to hold her hand. “It was my job to be strong for her,” he said.

The darkest night

After her surgery Christy didn’t want to talk to her husband about her cancer. She would talk with him about other things, but whenever the subject of her cancer came up she wouldn’t discuss it. She told him that he didn’t understand what she was going through. Mike, upset and concerned about his wife, found Beyond Boobs! one night during an Internet search. He contacted the group and they called a few hours later to talk to Christy at 2:30 in the morning.

“I sat downstairs while she talked on the phone upstairs,” Mike recalled. “I owe so much to Shawni [Twyman] and Charlene [Cattoi] from Beyond Boobs! They gave me my wife back that night.”

Love after cancer

Mike feels that he and Christy have an even stronger bond after what they have been through together. “After her surgeries I still kissed her in all the same places,” he said. “I would kiss her where her breast used to be so that she wouldn’t feel the loss. I love her for who she is and her boob doesn’t make a difference to me.”

Mike advises other husbands whose wives face a cancer diagnosis to be there for their partners and to help guide them. “Be there for your wives however you can,” he said. “If you encounter problems, a cancer-support group can offer help. Beyond Boobs! is amazing and they have made all the difference in the world for us.”

 

 

 

Category: Blog

, October 31, 2014 | More Post by
 
Behind the White Coat ~ Cancer through an Oncologist’s Eyes
 

By: Jamie McAllister

Dr. Christina W. Prillaman drives 45 minutes each way every day from her home in Newport News to her practice at Virginia Oncology Associates in Williamsburg. In the morning she is eager to get to work and see patients. At the end of the day she takes those miles a little bit slower in order to give herself time to decompress and make the transition from her professional role as a healer to her personal role as wife and mother of two teenagers.

A Day in the Life

A typical day for Christina starts with arriving at the clinic and following up with 30-50 patients who are receiving injections or chemotherapy in the back rooms. She also sees new patients, spending a little more time with them as she gets to know their histories and conditions. Later in the day she is pulled over to the treatment side to see more patients and review pathology reports and studies. Several of the patients she treats are women from Beyond Boobs!

After a busy day at the office Christina heads home to dinner with her family. Henry, her husband of 22 years, is also a doctor. He too sees cancer patients at his urology practice.

“Having two doctors married to each other isn’t for everyone,” Christina said. “For us, though, it works. We try not to dump too much on each other, but we know we have someone there if we need a sounding board. There is also a lot of understanding between us about being late and appreciating what the other goes through at work.”Dr. Prillaman & Son

Dr. Prillaman & DaughterChristina and Henry have two children: Grace, a high school senior, and William, a freshman. Grace has been applying to colleges and recently told her mother that she wants to pursue a career in medicine, too.

A View from Both Sides of the Bed

Christina understands what her cancer patients and their families go through because she was in their shoes – twice. When she was in college her mother was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer from a blood disorder and her father developed cancer of the pancreas and kidney. He did not survive.

“My experiences with my parents’ illnesses frame my practice,” Christina said. “In my lifetime I have found myself on both sides of the patient bed and that has given me a deeper understanding of what my patients and their family members are going through after a cancer diagnosis.”

She wants her patients to feel in control of their treatment and their lives, with or without cancer. She believes that the patient is the captain of the ship and she is the rudder, offering guidance and helping to steer treatment.

Pyramid of Perspective

Christina joked that she is better at hooking and unhooking a bra than a teenage boy. She uses humor to keep her job and her life in perspective.

“People are amazing,” she said. “I love seeing my patients and staff every day. I had a medical student with me one day while visiting a patient who had had breast reconstruction and she flashed her new boobs to the student. I love seeing how humor and the human spirit can help people overcome.”

Even though Christina strives to keep up her patients’ spirits as well as her own, there are days that are just miserable. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a living nightmare for patients and their families, but it is just as heartbreaking for the doctor who has to deliver it.

“It is miserable to give someone a cancer diagnosis,” Christina said in a quiet voice. “The sadness is overwhelming. If a patient suffers a relapse I have to try to buck up and deliver a message of hope to that person.”

Even though she knows that she did not put the cancer in that patient’s body, when a patient suffers a relapse she often blames herself.

“I wonder if I missed something or if there was something more I could have done for that patient,” she said. “I have to remind myself that just because I feel pain and grief doesn’t mean that there were errors.”

When Christina was deciding on whether or not to pursue a medical career in college she spent time with a relative who was an anesthesiologist. One of the first things he did when she visited him was draw a big triangle on a piece of paper. He said that at times in her career as a doctor, it would seem like everyone in the whole world was sick. He pointed to the wide base of the pyramid and said that that represented the entire population of generally healthy people. At the tip was the patients she would see. He told her that, while some people are sick, the majority are well. Christina took that lesson to heart and, on bad days, recalls that pyramid of perspective.

“When I am having a really bad day I will try to keep things in perspective,” she said. “I believe that knowledge is power and I try to arm myself with a plan to get through whatever is troubling me or my patient.”

A Doctor’s Advice

Christina sees cancer in all of its forms every single day. She cheers her patients through the highs and cries with them during the lows. She has a deeper appreciation for life in general and doesn’t sweat the small stuff.

“I encourage all of my patients to live life right now,” she said. “You’re well now and you need to enjoy that. I want everyone to be involved with life and not be absorbed by the minutiae of a cancer diagnosis. Take care of yourself, do what you can, and enjoy life.”

Category: Blog

, October 24, 2014 | More Post by

Welcome to our new Blog series, Beyond the Boobers!, Stories of  Support.   We begin with The Mammosphere, reflections from one of our Boobers! as she shares some of the feelings and fears that persist after the initial treatments are over.  As we know, our Boobers! don’t walk through the Mammosphere alone, and friends, family members, and caregivers also are confronted with their own challenges when facing the disease.  The stories that follow expose the experiences of caregivers based on interviews our blogger conducted with a variety of individuals who have helped love our Boobers! through breast cancer.  

By Becca Ostman

As I stroll leisurely through the doors to the Breast Center, the stark contrast of my current self, to the me that walked in here almost three years ago, is overwhelming. I barely remember that scared little girl, shaking, nearly crying, touching my lump every 30 seconds hoping to find it gone so I could cancel the appointment and run out. If I met her today, oh the things we would talk about! So many things I would share with her, warn her about, comfort her on. But today, I’m not that girl. That girl was shipped off with my right breast to pathology in a biohazard bag.becca for blog

I’m a different woman now, a phoenix, a recreation arisen from the ashes of my cancer journey. I’m confident, armor plated, irreverently fearless. The results of this mammogram don’t matter because I’ve done it before and I could do it again. I know what “you have cancer” sounds like, and what follows it, so the thought of hearing “you have cancer again” isn’t scary. I liken it to going in for an oil change and being told I need a new transmission. Ok, well get on with the repairs then.

The Waiting Room: “I can’t bite my tongue on her crappy sales pitch.”

In the main waiting room, I chat with the other women. The front desk lady says I don’t have to fill anything out, they have all my info. The women waiting, filling out their endless forms, look up, perplexed as to why. I joke that “I have a cancer fast pass past the paperwork. It’s like Disney, but the rides are less fun.” Their faces relax just a bit, their shoulders slip down, they seem to breathe a little deeper. They smile and giggle at my off-color humor and flippant joke.

One woman asks the front desk lady if she needs 3D mammography as she encounters a form about it. The lady says, “It’s an additional diagnostic tool, it’s optional and insurance doesn’t cover it.” I can’t bite my tongue on her crappy sales pitch. Post-cancer Me KNOWS the correct answer to her question. This Me isn’t sitting there agreeing to whatever the nice people in scrubs say because they HAVE to be leading me in the right direction, right? I tell her how 3D can see things that regular mammo can’t. I tell her how my own tumor could be seen from across the room through my shirt like a third boob, but did not appear on a mammogram or ultrasound. I tell her that good old-fashioned self-inspection is still a monthly must do, but 3D mammo has been shown to detect tumors that regular mammo can’t and it is very proactive and worth it if she can afford it.

As I’m saying all this, my arm flies up involuntarily like a breast cancer info-puppet on a string and demonstrates good self-exam technique. She tells the front desk girl she has changed her mind, she wants 3D. The lady next to her mentions that she does her monthly self-exams and every time she hits her pace maker, she freaks for a second. I tell her I have the same reaction to my scar tissue sometimes, but congratulate her on doing the self-exams monthly. They call my name and I wish them luck. As I walk to the next corral, I say a silent prayer that the one lady’s 3D is clean and the other lady always finds only her pacemaker.

The Inner Waiting Room: “Her eyes are bleeding unadulterated terror.”

I walk into the inner waiting room. I know where the lockers are, where to change. I don’t really hear the instructions from my escort nurse, because I am already scanning the faces of the other girls. I change, barely wrap my gown around me; keep my phone in my pocket, despite knowing I’m not supposed to. I lock up my stuff and sit down.

A soap opera plays on the TV as always, which annoys me, as always. Why play a TV show that overdramatizes EVERYTHING while a room full of scared women wait to hear if they have suspicious breast tissue? I wish I could put on animal planet or something relaxing for them. It is a silent room as usual. I smile chat with two women close to me until they mention Chinese food. I joke that they made me hungry. One says she is headed home to “eat the fridge.” I pipe up and say “fresh veggies and hormone free meat only right? It prevents cancer!” I realize I sound like an overbearing health food infomercial. But maybe they will do some Googling.

Two 20- and 30-something ladies sit in the corner, arms folded, scrutinizing their shoes. I know that posture. This is not a preventative mammo. They are here to further investigate something. I smile at them knowingly. There are a zillion things I want to say, but now is not the time. I wonder if I will see them at a meeting in the coming months, if they will pick up a Beyond Boobs! rack card on the way out. I hope not.

My own posture is relaxed. I stretch out sideways on a couch, like I live there, feet up, annoying one of the nurses. A new lady checks in. I see her face not register anything her nurse escort says, not because she is comfortable like me but because her eyes are bleeding unadulterated terror and all she can look at is the other women waiting. Her nurse scuttles off to get the next woman and the new patient stumbles around trying to remember what the nurse said. I get her a locker key and open the changing room door for her. “You can change in here,” I say, “then lock up your stuff and come join the party with us.” She finally exhales; I can see she feels a bit less alone despite the six other women here. Another woman’s name is called. It shakes the magazine right out of her hand. She goes to pick it up and I grab it saying, “I got you” with a wink. She smiles. I got you. I wish. I can’t get her anything to make this suck less.

Let the Pancaking Begin: “I feel tough, like a warrior, a soldier.”

They call me back. Everyone looks to my face; to know what to feel when their own name is called. I panic and buckle under the pressure. I fall back on what I always fall back on in this situation: inappropriate humor. “Let the pancaking begin,” I say with a confident smile, and storm through the doors like I have an “S” on my chest and a cape trailing behind me. I have no idea if this was comforting or scary to them, but it was all I could muster.

In the room, I am checked in by a sweet little lady whose long dead parents’ anniversary and my birthday share a date. This is enough for bonding and we banter. She seemed shocked by my calm demeanor. I see this in her expression and say it doesn’t matter what you find today, because I’m getting the left one lopped off anyway prophylactically in September. She looks shocked for a second, then smiles. Thankfully, she understands my unorthodox breast cancer humor. We go through my history, the usual questions that I should be able to answer instantly, yet I stumble around them. Unlike most survivors, I don’t know all my dates off the top of my head because of my faulty stroke/chemo brain. I ball park my dates, since I know they don’t matter that much anyway. I jokingly tell her not to pop my implant as she readies the mammo machine, my “funny” propelling me onward. We both laugh.

Then the fun begins. I am thankful for the numbness in the front of my breast, but my ridge of scar tissue hurts as she takes the pictures, even though I can tell she isn’t squishing me as much as she should. I wonder if she sees me as fragile and get indignant for a split second, followed by feeling thankful. My chin keeps getting in the way, because I am protective and I want to see what is happening to my body. I want to watch as the machine closes down on it to be sure it stops; to be sure she doesn’t hurt me. She tells me I have to look away to get good pictures. She is nice so I choose to trust her and I look at the ceiling art, keeping my chin out of the way. We take four pictures, chit chatting between shots.

She politely asked if she can ask why I’m having a second a second mastectomy. These types of questions always amuse me, because she has effectively already asked. I tell her that it was recommended in the first place to remove both breasts, but that my partner at the time talked me into keeping one for the sake of our relationship, and then left me during chemo. She feels bad for asking the question and apologizes for dredging that up. I tell her it is OK and not to feel bad. I tell her it has made me stronger and now I’m making the right decision; the best decision for my breast health. I explain how I thought I would become very attached to my real breast and grow to hate my reconstructed breast, but that the opposite happened. I am protective of my reconstructed breast and completely emotionally detached from my real one. I see it as a bomb strapped to my chest, a disaster waiting to happen. I share that removing it is the right decision to lower my chances of recurrence. She looks at me for a split second like I have just said I plan to amputate my leg because my toe hurts, but then says “Good for you, girl, good for you,” as it fully processes. I feel tough, like a warrior, a soldier. I take a cell phone picture of the four shots, so I can self-diagnose in the waiting room. She tells me to go have a seat and she will let me know when I can go.

In the Lobster Tank

After sitting down, I immediately open my picture and start searching for anomalies. After two years of being a survivor, I’m pretty good at reading a mammogram. The first and second shots look okay. The third makes me a little nervous and I zoom in and out a lot. There are some spots I’m not very comfortable with. The fourth is just fuzzy. I start to wonder if there will be a retake. I noticed the other women watching me analyze the photo on my phone. I can see them longing for whatever knowledge I have that allows me to have an inkling of what to look for. I want to tell them what I’m doing and why, but I know it is inappropriate. I don’t want to scare them or encourage them to play doctor, so I stow my phone and smile a compassionate smile.

The women in the waiting room in the short time I was being mammoed are all different than the ones who were there when I was called back for my pictures. The turnover and a half an hour’s time is astounding to me. I have the abstract thought of lobsters in a tank and wonder if they think what we think when the lobster next to them is plucked out. The woman closest to me has the most scared expression I have seen today. I wonder if she has been called back for a second set of pictures or gotten the ambiguous letter that says the first results were inconclusive and to return for more screening or an ultrasound. I start to get a little nervous myself. The nurse had informed me that my doctor ordered immediate diagnostics on my images, so I know that a radiologist is back there scrutinizing the same dark spot that I am as I sit in the waiting room with the other lobsters. My nurse pops through the doorway like a groundhog popping out of a hole, bright and cheery, and says, “Come on back, Ms. Ostman, we’re going to take another shot.”

Another Shot: “Suddenly, I’m the Panicked Girl.”

The lump in the throat is instant. My jaw clenches. My arms fold instinctively. We are suddenly not old friends. The gown that has draped on me like an unnecessary jacket all morning, barely hiding the bumps I loosely view as breasts, I suddenly tied in a knot and a bow, as if to say, you’re not getting in this fortress lady. Not to my nurse, but to cancer. She escorts me into the room and asks if my mastectomy is already scheduled, I answer, “Not yet, I am planning for September unless these pictures necessitate it being earlier than that.”

She realizes I know exactly what is going on and cuts the crap. She tells me it is nothing like that and not to worry. She says she is sorry, but she is going to have to pinch harder because the scar tissue and implant are making it hard to read the third shot. I immediately eyeball the orders on the clipboard. She sees this and slides it to the far table. I begin strategically planning the moment I will take a peek at them when she isn’t looking. The breast cancer journey has taught me to get all the information I can no matter how it must be obtained. I have the tenacity of an FBI agent when it comes to my breast health. Beyond Boobs! has taught me to be observant, to gather intel, to question, to be aware. So I transform into a CIA operative instead of a frightened woman with her breast smooshed between two glass plates. She takes her shot; I cuss a little at the pain, and then walk over behind her, inching closer to the clipboard. She asks to see the screen shot I took on my phone earlier, saying, “who knew this would come in handy.” I show it to her and she compares shot #3 to the new shot and says, “Ok, just wanted to be sure we got everything I needed.” I don’t have time to watch her and see much on the clipboard other than the words, “continue screening.” This is no comfort and I silently curse my outdated contact lenses.

She escorts me to the holding tank again and I have no earthly idea what to conclude from the scraps of intel I have gathered. Suddenly, I am the panicked girl out there looking to other women for comfort, comfort that does not come as they stare back in equivalent blank fear. I lose track of time but begin memorizing the dirt spots on my shoes, arms folded, jaw clenched. How quickly I look like my pre-cancer self, how quickly the mighty phoenix, the Iron Boober!, shrinks into the chair in a puddle of worry.

Eventually my sweet nurse groundhogs out and says cheerfully, “Ok, Ms. Ostman, you are all set.” I say “thanks” way too chipper, like I have won a fruit basket. As we both exit in opposite directions, I know we both are aware that neither of us has a clue what either of us really meant, but that is how the game is played. Did her heart sink as she closed the door behind her, knowing I will get a call for an ultrasound? Or did she breathe a sigh of relief and smile, knowing I will share many more birthdays with her dead parents’ anniversary and my surgery will go as planned in September? Is she wondering if I bought it, and am strolling out into the sunshine to enjoy my day? Or does she know that I didn’t and I’m going to be a hot mess until I get my letter or call? Could the women watching tell anything from our exchange? This is the role we both must play, like spies, her betraying nothing to me or our audience of patients, I betraying nothing for the women looking to me as a confident survivor.

The Heart of a Boober!

It is different for all of us based on our situation when we step out into the hot sun after the sterile air conditioning of the mammography waiting room. But as Boobers!, no matter what we walk away with, we know we are not alone. And the more Beyond Boobs! grows, the more we know that women will KNOW where to turn if they walk out of their Breast Center with bad news.

I go to my car and back inside to top off the rack cards in the waiting room about BB! before I leave. This is one of my jobs for Beyond Boobs!, to keep our information in the offices at the Breast Centers.

As the automatic glass doors open, I see the scared 20-something woman exiting, with a few silent tears on her cheek, but a strong determined expression on her face. She has a “What Now?” Beyond Boobs! rack card in her hand and sees the refill stack of them in mine. I smile the best I’m there for you smile I can muster and say, “I hope to see you soon.” She smiles back, but does not slow her gait. I don’t press.

As soon as the glass doors close behind me, I lose it completely for her. But I know as I cry and restock the cards, why we do what we do, why we spend our time in this way. And I know that this time spent, just like my pending second mastectomy, is without question, the right decision.

 

Category: Blog

, September 17, 2014 | More Post by

Tracie Tysinger’s mission in life is to offer help and inspiration to women with breast cancer. Six months after she was diagnosed she became a Boober! and she is now a co-facilitator for the Peninsula metastatic group that boasts a membership of 20 women.20140912_123307-1

“I want women to get access to the information they need to know their bodies,” Tracie said. “I want women to have this calendar hanging on their walls so we can get the message out there about breast health.”

Tracie, 41, had a lot of fun posing for the calendar and she loved getting to know the other women involved in the project. “This calendar means more to me than just having my picture taken,” she said. “Through my photo I want to give a smile to the women going through treatment right now and let them know that if I can get through it, anyone can. I am proof that there is life after breast cancer.”

Tracie lives in Newport News with her husband Kevin and their two sons, CJ and Trevor. She is employed at a local Orthopaedic Office.

Category: Blog

, September 12, 2014 | More Post by

As a member of the Air Force, Rashida Mahoney knows about strength and dedication. As a breast cancer survivor, she wants to share that strength with other women who are facing a similar battle.image

Rashida, 30, was diagnosed in 2013. After just being diagnosed, she was working out at a boxing club and saw that the club supported breast cancer awareness. She thought maybe the Zumba instructor was a survivor so she summoned the courage to confide in her about her breast cancer. The instructor introduced her to a Boober! and soon Rashida was a Boober! herself.

“The first time I saw the Beyond Boobs! calendar I thought the women in it were professional models,” Rashida said. “When I realized I could be one of the models I submitted my information but I had no idea how it would turn out.”

Rashida loved her time in front of the camera. She shared the experience with two other strong women in her life, her mother and her nine-year-old daughter Kiara.

“I loved the whole experience of modeling for the calendar,” Rashida said. “It was a lot of fun and everyone there made sure I felt comfortable.”

Rashida believes every woman should educate and empower herself. She attends seminars to learn about women’s empowerment and resilience. Through her own public speaking she spreads awareness about breast cancer and seeks to teach others about the disease.

“Being part of a support group has been a blessing for me,” she said. “Not all people can relate to the physical and mental changes that a woman goes through when she has breast cancer. Things change so fast and being with other women who have had the same experiences helps me feel normal.”

Category: Blog

, September 05, 2014 | More Post by

Janet Knode of Norfolk is proud of her ability to strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone. The 46-year-old Norfolk resident has been a delivery driver with UPS for 12 years and comes in contact with a variety of people every day on her route.Janet

“I love people,” Janet said. “I’m an outgoing person.”

But when Janet was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer on April 1, 2009, it was no laughing matter. A friend told her about Beyond Boobs! After she joined some of her friends who had been calendar models encouraged her to try the modeling experience herself.

“I wasn’t sure about being a calendar model,” Janet confided. “Even though I am an outgoing person, I developed low self-esteem because of my scars. Modeling for the Beyond Boobs! calendar was a kind of therapy for me. During the photo shoot I was able to let my inner spirit shine on my outward appearance, scars and all.”

Janet admits the photography session was difficult for her. “I was a little stressed and nervous,” she said. “I’m not good at having my picture taken. But it was great to do something different. Everyone there was laughing and supportive and they made the experience fun for me.”

When Janet was diagnosed with breast cancer she adopted a lab/Great Dane mix named Kemosabi. He and her 17-year-old dachshund Sparky were beside her every step of the way during her treatment and recovery. When she isn’t driving her delivery route or volunteering with Beyond Boobs! she coaches an adult rec softball team called the Loggerheads.

 

Category: Blog