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 31, 2015 | More Post by

Rebecca McNeal (Ostman) was 32 years old when she was diagnosed with Stage 2A ductal carcinoma in January of 2012. She lives in Chesapeake with her life partner of two years, Tiffany Foster; their four children, Savannah, 17, Rebeckah, 14, Joshua, 11, and Noah, 7; and several felines, Jasmine, Bones, Billy, Nip, Tuck, and Miss Kitty. She works at Old Dominion University as a vessel captain/engineer. She runs her department’s research vessel and performs all of the maintenance on it.

Rebecca has been selected as one of the calendar models for A Calendar to Live By 2016. In her unique and humorous tone, Rebecca describes how her breast cancer was discovered, her involvement with Beyond Boobs!, and why Soleil Moon Frye and Sara Gilbert, in her opinion, are better than a Baywatch beefcake.

What led to your diagnosis?becca

I felt a lump and my primary care physician sent me to by OBGYN, Erin Kann, who rocks. She got me to Jenny Reed, who cut that sucker out with a quickness. The pea-sized lump had grown to egg-size in two weeks.

How did you find out about Beyond Boobs!?

Sara Jones, a Boober!, former calendar model, and long-time friend who has since passed away, got me to reach out to the group, and Boober! Charlene Cattoi explained to me why I needed them and welcomed me into the fold.

What is your favorite healthy food/dish?

Homemade organic pizza, salad, hormone-free chicken on the grill, and homemade Thai food.

Who are your biggest supporters?

Tiffany, Savannah, my mom, and my sisters.

Who was your teenage celebrity heartthrob? How did you show your undying love?

My embarrassing boy crush from before I knew I was gay was Jeremy Jackson, who played Hobie on Baywatch. I still have three of the posters that adorned my wall in my “life treasures box” and I still rock his Always CD that I had imported from Germany, LOL. My unyielding love for Punky Brewster and Darlene from Roseanne should have tipped me off, though. Eventually, Darlene posters replaced Jeremy, LOL.

One word to describe yourself:

Polarizing.

What does being selected as a calendar model mean to you?

It means representing Beyond Boobs! in yet another way. It means representing my age/orientation/cancer type/lifestyle/reason for diagnosis in a place that reaches a wide audience, hopefully to educate other women like me that they ARE at risk. It is the first reason to buy a new dress since high school prom. And it is a way to celebrate my health and future with those I love.

What was the most impactful moment of your calendar model photo shoot?

Teaching the awesome videographer how to use one of my “accessories.” My photo shoot made me feel like one of my ancestors and I hope it echoes them and my heritage beautifully.

, July 24, 2015 | More Post by

When Brittany Pronia felt a lump in her right breast accompanied by sharp pain, her primary care physician ordered an ultrasound that was performed on her 29th birthday. The results came back as abnormal and in October 2014 she was diagnosed with Stage 1A, triple-negative, invasive ductal carcinoma with spots of ductal carcinoma in situ throughout her right breast.

After her diagnosis at Langley Air Force Base’s medical group, Brittany received a handout with a list of local breast cancer support. The handout described Beyond Boobs! as a meeting place for women who were diagnosed at a younger age. Two years later, Brittany is now an enthusiastic Boober! and will represent BB! as one of the models in A Calendar to Live By 2016.

Brittany and her husband of six years, Phillip Jr., live in Hampton with their children, daughters Piper, 5; Presley, 2; brittanyand Alexys, 13; and their son, Anthony, 10. Their pit bull, Hazmat, and their cat, Jax, add plenty of fur and love to the family. Brittany works as a reliability engineer at Caterpillar Marine Asset Intelligence.

Here Brittany shares her summer plans, the lengths she went to as a teenager for Backstreet Boys concert tickets, and how she feels about being selected as a Beyond Boobs! calendar model.

What is your favorite Beyond Boobs! event or activity?

So far, my favorite Beyond Boobs! event has been Breast Fest and Mr. Breast Fest is definitely the reason why! I’ve only been with Beyond Boobs! for about seven months, so I haven’t been around to attend everything, but I definitely enjoyed the guys strutting their stuff in custom-made bras, trying to raise some cash for this awesome group of ladies, myself included.

What are your summer plans?

Family, family, family! Living far away from everyone turns vacation time into time spent visiting family. I plan on spending the Fourth of July with my parents, brother, and niece back home in Alabama while visiting others, as well. I’m also taking my girls to a family reunion for my husband’s family in Arkansas that, unfortunately, he will miss since he is on deployment.

What is your favorite dessert indulgence?

I *bleeping* love ice cream!

Who was your teenage celebrity heartthrob? How did you show your undying love?

My teenage celebrity crush was Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys. I had a wallpaper of posters and magazine pages covering my bedroom walls and was even fortunate enough to get tickets to their Millennium tour for my 14th birthday by camping out overnight at a Blockbuster to be the first in line to purchase them. At the concert, I showed my love by writing (in Sharpie) “I LOVE YOU, NICK!” across my stomach and lifting my shirt up as he flew over me on some sort of surfboard thing on his way to the stage. I was able to snap a picture, and I’m pretty sure he was looking at me, LOL. 

What does being selected as a calendar model mean to you?

As a calendar model, I feel I represent those who should NOT get breast cancer, but, somehow, still do. I started my period at 13 (not too young); I had my first child at 24 (not too old); I breastfed two babies for a total of 18 months; I haven’t gone through menopause; I’m a healthy weight; and I have no family history of breast cancer. I feel that seeing my story will make other young women more aware of their bodies and help them to become better advocates for the health of their breasts. If, in the least, that leads to one more self-exam or, at the most, that helps save a life, then being a calendar model means everything to me.

What was the most impactful moment of your calendar model photo shoot?

The most impactful moment of my photo shoot was filming the video. I was asked by the videographer what I would say to one of my daughters if they were diagnosed with breast cancer. Of course that thought had crossed my mind, and continues to do so, but I had never had to vocalize that to anyone else before. It led to an overwhelmingly emotional response that I was not expecting, especially since I had been so strong through everything else.

, July 17, 2015 | More Post by

Mary Ashby didn’t mess around when she felt a golf-ball-sized lump in her breast while performing a self-exam in the shower. Her mother was a breast cancer survivor and Mary took her higher risk for the disease seriously. She went straight to the ER to be checked out and to request a mammogram. Right after her 35th birthday, in late August 2013, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma.

Mary is thrilled to be representing Beyond Boobs!, along with ten of her Boober! sisters, in A Calendar to Live By 2016. She resides in Williamsburg with her husband, Vernon, her seven-year-old daughter Mary, and her mom, also named Mary. She works as an IT specialist for the Department of Defense. Here she talks about her involvement with BB!, shares her favorite recipe for kale salad, and explains how much it means to her to be a calendar model.

How did you hear about Beyond Boobs!?ma

I have a friend who knew about Beyond Boobs! She passed my information to the executive director, Mary Beth Gibson. The rest is history.

Who are your biggest supporters?

My biggest supporters are my husband, my daughter, my mom, and my closest friends, Jackie and Erica.

What is your favorite healthy food/dish?

Currently my favorite health food is kale salad. I first tasted it at the Beyond Boobs! retreat. One of the Boober! sisters brought it. My husband and I now eat it every day for lunch. It has kale, carrots, red onions, cherry tomatoes, craisins, and a light vinaigrette dressing. It’s practically all raw and delicious!

Who was your teenage celebrity heartthrob? How did you show your undying love?

I’ve never really been star-struck. I did love to watch Scottie Pippen play basketball when he played for the Chicago Bulls and I had a poster of him on my bedroom wall.

One word to describe yourself:

Happy!

What does being selected as a calendar model mean to you?

I am really excited to represent this organization. I’m also excited to be able to share my story with other women who need to know that breast cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence. I am excited to have this platform to share that, despite how scary this road can be, there are others here for you if you let them.

What was the most impactful moment of your calendar model photo shoot?

It was probably the “joy” of trying to get the photo shoot just right. That will be an inside joke until September. I was impressed with the creative thoughts. It meant a lot that Beyond Boobs! wanted to perfect the moment.

, July 10, 2015 | More Post by

Jennifer Holub Cherry was already familiar with Beyond Boobs! when she was diagnosed with Stage 2B ductal carcinoma in situ in late January of 2013. She had learned about BB! when she saw the group at several different community events. When Jennifer was diagnosed after the first mass in her breast was found during a routine annual mammogram and a subsequent MRI found the other two, she knew she needed and wanted to be a part of BB!. She attended her first meeting within two weeks of her diagnosis and since she was joining such a loving, dedicated group of Boobers!, it was only fitting that her first meeting took place on Valentine’s Day.Jenn Cherry

Jennifer works as a business and facilities manager and has a 16-year-old daughter named Katelynn. Three fur babies also have free roam of the Cherry home in Newport News: Buddy James, a pit bull/boxer mix; Tyler John, a miniature pinscher; and Bella Bean, a spoiled rotten nine-month-old kitten.

Today we get a chance to peer behind the curtain to learn more about Jennifer, including a must-have item for her beach bag, her teenage fantasies about John Stamos, and her involvement with Beyond Boobs! as a model for A Calendar to Live By 2016.

What is your favorite summer beach read?

Any romance novel. Throw in a little comedy and I’ll have it finished in no time, ready for the next one!

What is the best advice you have received about living beyond breast cancer?

Everything is YOUR decision. Listen to what the doctors advise you to do, listen to what your family and friends advise you to do, but at the end of the day, it is ultimately YOUR decision what you will do, because IT IS YOUR LIFE and YOU HAVE TO LIVE IT!

Who was your teenage celebrity heartthrob? How did you show your undying love?

John Stamos!! He first played “Blackie” on General Hospital and I was hooked. Even though we weren’t supposed to watch soap operas, my grandmother would let us get away with it and we could watch them with her. I just wanted to run my fingers through that silky black hair and have him sing to me all night long!

What is your favorite BB! event or activity?

The Old Dudes Motorcycle Club Poker Run is one of my favorite BB! events. Spending time with such an amazing group of Dudes and Dudettes who give so much of themselves to help us is truly priceless. They give of their time, talents, and money and ask for absolutely nothing in return. They are truly an inspiration and I can’t thank them enough for what they do for our wonderful survivors! Thank you and we love each and every one of you!!

What does being selected as a calendar model mean to you?

Being selected means I can spread the BB! mission that much more than I already do. I will be able to make more people aware of why we are here and what our goals are for young women diagnosed with breast cancer. I can help educate more and more people and have a larger impact in the breast-cancer community. God kept me around for a reason, and spreading the message of BB! is part of that reason.

What was the most impactful moment of your calendar model photo shoot?

The beautiful [videographer] Alexis [Kikoen] was asking me questions for the video when I suddenly got emotional. I was talking about someone extremely important to me and I couldn’t look at her even though she was standing right there next to Alexis because I knew if I did, I would totally lose control. As everyone knows, I don’t like to lose control! When you see the video you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

, July 10, 2015 | More Post by

pink carpet logoThe wait is over! The 2016 calendar models have been selected and will soon stroll into history at the Pink Carpet Gala in Williamsburg on September 19th. Click here to purchase your tickets for this amazing night of glitz, glamour, and inspiring stories. As we prepare for the big reveal in September, join us for the next 11 weeks for the “Calendar Girls 2016” BLOG Series. We will hear from the ladies, in their own words, as they talk about life, survival, and the honor of representing BB! as calendar models.

Category: Blog

, 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.”

IMG_2032

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