, February 13, 2018 | More Post by

At Here for the Girls, we are not an advocacy group — however, we absolutely encourage our supporters and our survivors to equip themselves with knowledge about laws that affect them and to become strong advocates for their own health. In order to help our blog readers do these things, we invited our friends at the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation (VBCF) to share their knowledge and information about their advocacy efforts so far this year with the Virginia General Assembly.

In February 1991, five women met in an MCV support group. Stunned by a lack of research and progress in breast cancer treatment, they planned a Mother’s Day Rally at the Virginia State Capitol to bring attention to this devastating disease. The activist seeds of the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation (VBCF) were sown that day, and VBCF was incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit in October 1992. VBCF seeks to educate Virginians about breast cancer to encourage screenings to improve early diagnosis and treatment outcomes and to advocate for improved public policy to enable Virginians affected by breast cancer to receive the best quality of healthcare while on their treatment journey. We work to provide Virginians with knowledge and a voice when affected by breast cancer.

Each year, VBCF hosts a breast cancer advocacy day at the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond with training for volunteer advocates so that state legislators hear directly from their constituents impacted by breast cancer. At our January 30, 2018 Advocacy Day, our breast cancer advocates met with over 20 state legislators to make their voices heard on the following legislation:

VBCF Priority Legislation 2018:

Increase Access to Healthcare for ALL Virginians – Support for HB 348

Expanding access to health insurance through Medicaid expansion will mean that more women will be able to secure breast cancer screenings and treatment. Every month Virginia loses an average of $142 million in federal funding. Since 2014, the Commonwealth has forfeited over $10 billion in federal funds, which could have been used to help uninsured adults, hospitals, and businesses. Most states have expanded their Medicaid programs. While Virginians suffer without coverage, 31 states and the District of Columbia are providing health insurance to uninsured adults. Those states are seeing significant health and financial benefits.

The Latest: Current debate centers around adding a work requirement for those receiving Medicaid.

Use of Medical Cannabis for Cancer Patients – Support for HB 1251, SB 726.  Based on The National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute information, “the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis for people living with cancer include antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep.”  HB 1251 and SB 726 provide for a practitioner to issue a written certification for the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil or THC-A for the treatment or to alleviate the symptoms of any diagnosed condition or disease.  These bills in one form or another provide an affirmative defense to prosecution for possession if a person has a valid written certification issued by a practitioner for CBD oil or THC-A oil. Under current law, only the treatment of intractable epilepsy is covered by this defense.

The Latest: As of 2/5/18, both bills were passed by their respective chambers. Since the bills are identical, the steps forward are largely procedural: the bills will “crossover” to the opposite house for a vote, before heading to Governor Northam’s desk for signature. Governor Northam, also a doctor, is already on record in support of “Let Doctors Decide” medical marijuana laws in the Commonwealth. Passage of this historic legislation would make Virginia the first state with a hyper-restrictive program to adopt such a broad expansion.

Improve Protocols for Step Therapy – Support for HB 386, SB 574 to make step therapy better and safer for Virginians – Step therapy occurs when a doctor prescribes a medicine, but the insurance company requires the patient to try alternate, cheaper drugs first, with no clinical justification. Step therapy can delay patient access to medication, causing adverse reactions and allowing their health to deteriorate. HB 386 and SB 574 put an online process in place for health care providers to request overrides for step therapy protocols for patients for whom the insurer- mandated drug is clinically determined to cause adverse health events or be ineffective, as well as those who have already met step therapy requirements and ensures that providers are notified in writing if their request is denied.

The Latest: On 2/1/18, the House Commerce and Labor subcommittee voted to recommend to the full committee that HB 386 should be “passed by indefinitely” meaning the bill is dead for this session. On 2/6/18, the House Finance Committee voted to recommend that SB 574 be “continued until 2019 in Finance” meaning it will be considered during the next General Assembly session.

If you would like to actively support breast cancer legislation at the state and national levels, SIGN UP FOR VBCF’S ADVOCACY ALERTS. These brief email alerts are sent periodically – when your advocacy is needed the most. The Alerts will keep you up to date with the latest breast cancer legislation and provide the tools and information you need to take action.

, February 11, 2018 | More Post by

Our “A Calendar to Live By” features 11 survivors we serve through Here for the Girls programs and their inspiring, uplifting stories about their cancer journey. Get to know this month’s model, Laura! (If our calendar isn’t hanging on your wall right now, click here to get one.

Laura, Ms. February

37, Diagnosed at 34

3rd degree family history – known genetic mutation

In September 2014, Laura awoke one day with an odd feeling. A small voice in her head told her to do a breast self-exam. She raised her right arm and, indeed, felt a small bump. That same inexplicable voice—call it intuition—prompted her to call her doctor. Just one day before her 34th birthday, this loving wife, mother of two and government project assistant found herself in a patient room waiting for her OB/GYN to examine her breasts. Assured it was probably nothing serious, Laura was referred for a mammogram. One week later, she was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer. Laura tested positive for the BRCA1 breast cancer gene and learned after her father was tested that he carried the gene also. By the next month, she’d had a bilateral mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and a total hysterectomy. Laura credits her faith, family and friends—and all of her “sisters” at Beyond Boobs!—for helping her through. “I was shocked when I went to my first support group meeting and felt all that love, and then I was blown away when they showed up at the hospital—after just one meeting! The Boobers! were there for me and have been ever since.”

, January 25, 2018 | More Post by

Each month this year in our Monthly Message email, we’re sharing a writing prompt with our readers. This month’s prompt had to do with “bucket lists.” We select a few entries to appear here on our blog, and each month we will also draw a random entry to win a $20 Amazon gift card! If you don’t receive our Monthly Message program news email and you’d like to sign up for it, visit our website hereforthegirls.org and scroll to the bottom. Below is one entry we selected from this month. Note: Veronica’s post originally appeared in her blog, “Solar Gypsy,” and is shared here with her permission.

Not long after I finished surgery, chemo, surgery, radiation, surgery, surgery, post-op infection with emergency surgery, surgery, and final surgery… I was faced with the dreaded “new normal.”

If you are someone who has:

  1. earned your unofficial medical degree in preparation for doctor’s appointments,
  2. saved up for new flooring in your old house, only to find yourself spending all the funds on co-pays for prescription medications that cost more than a used car, but don’t really take away all your symptoms,
  3. learned to recognize a stranger in the mirror who keeps changing, or,
  4. all of the above,

then you probably know that rushing river called the “New Normal” flows throughout everything during all the cancer activities, but gets especially choppy after active treatment ends.

The river New Normal swirls with a mix of fluffy white water that’s fun and comes in the form of relief that the grueling torture (read treatments) are over or that you now have energy for a short vacation, but around the bend, that same fun white water changes quickly and nefariously traps you under the rocks of anxiety when a symptom shows up and you don’t know if it’s a headache because work is driving you crazy or brain mets. Sometimes the river of New Normal is calm and pleasant as you drift along just happy to have hair again and then other times there’s some storm, like laboratory tests, that causes the waters to change when the results are unexpected or slightly abnormal becoming big tree limbs in the water that you have to carefully steer around them as they could be dangerous.

For me, navigating that New Normal river required finding a sweet spot in the boat that’s my life. I had to discover that delicate balance needed to navigate the ever elusive “living for today, while still planning for tomorrow.” After active treatment and surgeries ended I was unsettled and, like many of my cancer friends, I came in and out of a few philosophies to inspire resiliency while picking my way through the rocks, rapids, and eddies of the river of New Normal.  One thing that came into focus for me was the idea of a Bucket List.

People regularly talk about bucket lists and fantasize about trips or purchases and those sorts of things, but when it comes down to it, many people don’t really act on those ideas.  In my opinion, people usually don’t act because of two main reasons: (1) deep down people are scared of change/the unknown and/or trying daring things, and (2) they always think there will be more time. However, if you are like me, and you have really studied to understand those SEER survival statistics and made life decisions based on those at an oncologist’s office, signed a 20+ page release about all the bad things that might happen in the future as a result of the treatments intended to cure you today (hello heart failure and leukemia as not-so-rare side effects), and your on-line support group friends start dying, you really start to re-evaluate the things that truly scare you and the idea that there will always be more time.

While that overall thought process was beginning to dig its way into my brain, like most every young adult facing a serious health condition, I was just trying to keep a normal life together. I never really wrote down my bucket list before cancer because, let’s face it, I was just working, raising my son, getting groceries, going to soccer games, etc.  Having had a child when I was only 20, I also felt that I was a long way off from getting the freedom from day-to-day life to even really daydream about what would go on my bucket list. Was it an interrupted afternoon nap or an epic trip? I think that most of the time one’s current life sort of dictates the dreams one believes are even remotely possible. I mean, if I was only dreaming of a house that stays clean for more than a few hours, then I couldn’t even begin to fathom setting up a loftier goal like trekking in Nepal to Everest Base Camp (yes, that made it to my Bucket List & got checked off!).

However, it was during this period of coming to grips with the fact that I might not really have plenty of time left, but I also still had to keep my normal life in tact that I decided: 1) I really did need to figure out what I really did want and literally write down some bucket list items, and 2) my bucket list didn’t have to be stable, it was fluid and I was allowed to change my mind to remove things that no longer drew me in or add things that were newly discovered passions or ideas.

So I decided to make my Bucket List in PENCIL. To me that felt like a compromise and a way to be able to erase things that might prove too difficult if my health failed and they wouldn’t mock or hurt me. Now, 11+ years post diagnosis, I’ve checked off about half of those original items. I’ve removed some entries over the years that no longer interest me and I’m always adding things that spark my interest.

Meeting and marrying my current husband is one of the best things I’ve checked off my Bucket List although it wasn’t exactly worded that way on the list. Moreover, he’s helped me check off a bunch of things on the list too so he’s had a multiplier effect. A few years ago, I made one of the biggest additions to my list after several daydream-type talks with my husband: to take off work for a year or so after he retires from the Navy to travel the US and Canada in an RV. This item on my Bucket List started as a tiny seed about what it would be like to travel uninterrupted for a while, finally considering that one day I might make it to a real retirement age. That seed flourished into a real item on the list and plan with my husband that we would travel the US and Canada in an RV.  But that nagging river of New Normal coupled with my age and BRCA1+ mutation had me thinking: could we really wait until we were in our 60s? We pondered the pros and cons of all sorts of ways to accomplish this item on my Bucket List. My experience with cancer, helped us land on the decision that we really couldn’t wait for many reasons, but mainly because good health and physical strength was necessary to pursue the work involved and assure the activities we would want to do along the way.

Today, we are now less than 160 days away from departing on this epic Bucket List adventure that has spawned its own sub-bucket list of places to go and things to see and do. That sub-bucket list isn’t written in pencil in my old purple journal, it’s a spreadsheet with links and dates and ideas but still maintains the spirit of being flexible as if it was in pencil.

If you are reading this as a newly diagnosed person or as someone trying to navigate that swirling river of post-cancer life, I hope this gives you some insight into how I approached a Bucket List and you can take time to figure out what works for you and know that your Bucket List can be as rigid or as flexible as you desire. You list crazy adventures like caving (yup, did that too!) or really achievable regular life things that others my take for granted (like seeing my son graduate from high school – yes that was a big item to check off!).

-Veronica M.

, January 22, 2018 | More Post by

Each month this year in our Monthly Message email, we’re sharing a writing prompt with our readers. This month’s prompt had to do with “bucket lists.” We select a few entries to appear here on our blog, and each month we will also draw a random entry to win a $20 Amazon gift card! If you don’t receive our Monthly Message program news email and you’d like to sign up for it, visit our website hereforthegirls.org and scroll to the bottom. Below is one entry we selected from this month.

One thing on my list that I have done is work with children, teaching them to become magnificent people.

As a child I wanted to become a teacher, but life went in another direction. When I graduated high school, I realized I  could not afford to complete college on my own so I joined the military. I told myself and others it was for the opportunity to travel, and for twenty four plus years I traveled the world. It took a very long time to complete a degree that I could use to transition into the civilian world of teaching. I was in my forties when I completed my bachelor’s degree. Traveling the world and learning about different people was a wonderful experience. So much so that I did not really think about teaching for a very long time. As I progressed in my military career I was called upon to transfer my skills to the people who would one day replace me. Yes, I became a teacher/instructor, trainer. For several years before I retired I trained others in military professional development. My students were not children but, most of them were just starting their careers in the military and I was there to help guide them to a successful military career.

When I retired from the Air Force in 2005 I was asked to become a part of  an  amazing program at a then all boys military academy. The school was about to enroll their first ever female cadets and I would be one of the first female Tactical Officers. My job was the care and well-being of each young lady attending this school. It was more than just a job. I was there when they returned from classes in the afternoon and was there for many of their first experiences. First time away from family and friends, first boyfriend, first heart break etc… I was there to teach them how to deal with so much that life would send their way. As a mother of boys I was thankful for the experience since I did not regularly deal with issues that girls of their generations faced. It was a learning experience for all of us.

After two years as a Tactical Officer I decided to take the plunge. A real teacher in a real classroom with students who required more that extremely well timed pep talks. There were lesson plans, text books, homework, and lectures. My first school was in an underserved neighborhood with kids who had to struggle just to get to school in the mornings. They were dedicated and determined and we showed up every day.

I have been in a classroom now for the past nine years.   love teaching. It is what I was born to do. I work with some of the most amazing children in the world.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 my students kept me going. I would not have been able to fight as hard as I did if it were not for the support of my students. They challenge me and I appreciate the people they become each day. Teaching gives me something new to look forward to every day.

I can’t say that I have crossed it off my bucket list. Each new year brings with it a new set of students and a new adventure to continue to fulfill my dreams.

-Hope S.

, October 26, 2017 | More Post by

Fine jewelry company ALOR has been a supporter of H4TG for several years. Here, they share why the company is Here for the Girls:

The younger generation is our future, we at ALOR see importance in that. Here for the Girls take young women under their wing to give support to those affected by breast cancer. Can you imagine being in your twenties and finding out you have this disease? No, neither can we. Being young and hearing the word cancer would scare anyone. It can be hard or even intimidating to reach out to others to express what you may be going through. Women can receive the help they need through this organization, which is why we wanted to be a part of it.

Here for the Girls, in our eyes, is like an extended family. Yes, these young women with breast cancer have families of their own but it is great to have outsiders who understand as well. To have this resource to reach out to others with breast cancer can be easier than a talking to an immediate family member. Having someone there for you who understands what you are going through gives you a feeling of comfort. With the combination of family and Here for the Girls, you have an abundance of support and love.

We at ALOR want young women to not feel alone when it comes to the dark side of breast cancer. Being young and experiencing life on its own is scary, but throwing in this type of curve ball is devastating. We want the curveball to feel like an obstacle that you can come out of on top. Here for the Girls showed us the light and their overall mission to help these young women in more ways than imaginable is why we chose to become a partner.

, November 16, 2016 | More Post by

Body artist Wendy Harris is on a mission to make bald beautiful. For the past harris-henna-2several years she has volunteered her time and talents with Beyond Boobs! to design henna crowns for women battling breast cancer. The henna crown designs are painted directly onto the scalp using an all-natural henna paste that Wendy mixes from scratch. The henna is temporary and lasts anywhere from one to three weeks.

Wendy met the women of Beyond Boobs! at Art Inspired, an art and wellness studio in Newport News, Virginia. “At that time, I didn’t know a lot about breast cancer,” Wendy said. “I had no idea how many people around me were dealing with the disease.”

Over the past several years, Wendy has painted hundreds of henna crowns on Boobers! She volunteers at the annual Pink Carpet Gala, and is also part of the retreat for survivors in Sandbridge in Virginia Beach. The henna booth is always one of the most popular attractions at the Gala, and Wendy loves being part of the retreat.

harris-henna“Volunteering with Beyond Boobs! has opened my eyes to breast cancer,” Wendy said. “The women have educated me about the importance of self-exams, and I have learned so much from sitting in on sessions during the retreats.”

Women can choose any design they wish for their henna crowns, from messages of hope and inspiration to images and memorials. “Henna crowns give women an extra boost of confidence,” Wendy said. “For that moment, they can be happy and not think about other stuff, like treatment and medical bills. I love giving them that moment of joy and hearing all the oohs and ahs when they see their crown.”

, November 10, 2016 | More Post by

After weeks of training with professional instructors, seven survivors will grace the stage at this year’s Starlets of Dance, to take place on November 13 at 2:30 p.m. at the Sandler Center in Virginia Beach. Stay tuned to the blog over the next few weeks to learn more about these incredible women who are poised to dance their way into Beyond Boobs! history.

We would love to have you join us as this inspiring celebration of life and dance. Click HERE to purchase your ticket today.

Melanie Georges has always loved to dance. She danced with her father, who headshot-for-melanie-georgesalso was a dance teacher, and as a teen she performed with a dance group at her Greek Orthodox Church. This year her passion for dance will light up the stage at Starlets of Dance.

Melanie was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004, and then in April of 2014 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She found out about Beyond Boobs! through her oncologist, and shortly thereafter attended her first Not Your Typical Support System meeting.

She is undergoing her third round of chemo, and she has had to adapt her training schedule for Starlets around her energy levels during treatment. “I’ve gotten it down to a science,” said Melanie. “Since I receive a steroid with my chemo treatment every Monday and that gives me lots of energy, I make time to practice Monday evenings.”

Lauren Kelly, Director of Music in Motion Dance Academy, is Melanie’s instructor. “Melanie and I come together for a little over an hour each week and jump right into moving and grooving,” Lauren said. “It’s the best part of my whole week. Sometimes it’s serious, but most of the time it’s just plain fun. Melanie reminds me of what it’s like to open up your heart and your time to a new friend, and all the amazing things that come out of support for our fellow ladies.”

Melanie is pleased to have been selected as a performer. She is also a little nervous about the big night. “First and foremost, I want to do a good job,” she said. “I want to entertain people and make my family proud.” She and Lauren will perform a number from the musical Chicago, and Melanie wants to send a message to herself and the world. “I feel like cancer has taken away my femininity,” she said. “I am struggling with my attractiveness, which is why I want to be sexy and sassy on that stage.”

Click here to see a video about what participating in Starlets of Dance has meant to Melanie.

, November 09, 2016 | More Post by

After weeks of training with professional instructors, seven survivors will grace the stage at this year’s Starlets of Dance, to take place on November 13 at 2:30 p.m. at the Sandler Center in Virginia Beach. Stay tuned to the blog over the next few weeks to learn more about these incredible women who are poised to dance their way into Beyond Boobs! history.

We would love to have you join us as this inspiring celebration of life and dance. Click HERE to purchase your ticket today.

Deirdre Matthews danced in a recital when she was in kindergarten, and she deirdre-matthews-head-shotcan still remember the pink dress with white polka dots she wore that day. She lived vicariously through her two daughters when they took dance classes growing up, and now it’s her turn to hit the stage again during Starlets of Dance.

“I have always liked to dance,” Deirdre said. “It’s going to be so fun to up on the large stage at the Sandler Center.”

Deirdre has chosen a disco song to dance to and has been busy putting together the perfect outfit, including a pair of bell bottoms. She has been training with dance instructor Regina Kalbacher and feels like she has her routine down.

Regina has been having a blast working with Deirdre. “Little did I know how much the women from Beyond Boobs! would inspire me,” Regina said. “Their stories really touch my heart. Because of this and many other reasons, I have taken part in Starlets of Dance for the last four years. Working with survivors is a way for me to share my passion and joy for dance with survivors who could use dance in their lives.

“Dance has helped me personally get through some really tough times, and I’m honored to work with Deidre this year,” Regina continued “Her energy and excitement for the Hustle is a joy to watch. I’m so proud to see her improve each week and I look forward to her performance for all to see.”

Deirdre wants her dance to encourage all survivors to follow their dreams. “I hope my performance inspires someone to let loose and have fun,” she said. “Don’t let your diagnosis keep you down.”

Click here to see a video about what participating in Starlets of Dance has meant to Dierdre.

, November 08, 2016 | More Post by

After weeks of training with professional instructors, seven survivors will grace the stage at this year’s Starlets of Dance, to take place on November 13 at 2:30 p.m. at the Sandler Center in Virginia Beach. Stay tuned to the blog over the next few weeks to learn more about these incredible women who are poised to dance their way into Beyond Boobs! history.

We would love to have you join us as this inspiring celebration of life and dance. Click HERE to purchase your ticket today.

From the time she was a little girl, Lisa Marshall always wanted to take dance lisa-marshall-head-shotlessons, but her father couldn’t afford the extra expense. So when Lisa got involved with Beyond Boobs! in 2014, she knew right away she was going to one day compete in Starlets of Dance. For the first few years she could never incorporate the event into her schedule, but this year she is ready and eager to take the stage.

“Everything has worked out perfectly,” Lisa said. “The event is on November 13 and it is my thirteenth year as a breast cancer survivor. My father’s birthday is November 13 and I’m dedicating my performance to him. For some people, 13 may be an unlucky number. But for me, any number is a lucky number!”

Lisa is a retired schoolteacher, and she was thrilled when she found out her dance instructor, Melinda Trembley, is also a teacher. The two practice together after school at Melinda’s dance studio at Woodside High School in Newport News, Virginia.

“It’s so weird to walk through the school on my way to the studio,” Lisa said. “I love working with a fellow teacher, and I appreciate that she is willing to work with me after a long day of teaching.”

Lisa and Melinda developed the dance together, and Lisa is eager to tell a story through movement and song. “My first goal is not to make a fool of myself,” said Lisa, laughing. “I also want to entertain people. It’s a soulful dance, and people will realize that breast cancer is tragic, but I want to also tell them that cancer doesn’t have to overtake you. I am a thirteen-year survivor, and I want other women going through the same thing to take away the confidence to overcome their daily trials and tribulations.”

Click here to see a video about what participating in Starlets of Dance has meant to Lisa.

, November 07, 2016 | More Post by

After weeks of training with professional instructors, seven survivors will grace the stage at this year’s Starlets of Dance, to take place on November 13 at 2:30 p.m. at the Sandler Center in Virginia Beach. Stay tuned to the blog over the next few weeks to learn more about these incredible women who are poised to dance their way into Beyond Boobs! history.

We would love to have you join us as this inspiring celebration of life and dance. Click HERE to purchase your ticket today.

Shahana Keisler is no stranger to performing, but when she does she is head-shot-for-shahana-keisler1usually standing behind her trumpet. She currently plays in two orchestras in the area, and is ready to step outside of her comfort zone to perform during Starlets of Dance.

“I love to dance, and when I heard about this event it sounded like a great self-confidence booster,” Shahana said.

Shahana enjoys Latin rhythms, which is why she chose a tango for her performance. “Training has been very creative, fun, and challenging,” she said. “The dance evolves every time my instructor and I get together. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet that I will be onstage at the Sandler Center, though.”

DeDe Anderson has been working with Shahana on her moves and getting her ready for the big night. “I’m no stranger to the illness our starlets have experienced,” said DeDe. “Cancer has affected too many of my immediate and extended family, and just one is unarguably too many. Shahana is a strong, sincere and funny young woman whom I enjoy working with. After speaking with her, seeing her strength and undefeated quick smile, this unexpected opportunity came along allowing me to show my support for Beyond Boobs! I’m able to use my passion to rejoice with these courageous woman who fought and still stand. I do this for them, my family, and anyone fighting or surviving.”

Click here to see a video about what participating in Starlets of Dance has meant to Shahana.