For the girls

For the girls

The Official Blog of Here for the girls

, October 09, 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, Katy!

48, Diagnosed at 45

No family history – no known genetic mutation

Breast cancer doesn’t always reveal itself as a lump. Katy first noticed that her nipple had become inverted, followed a few weeks later by a rash around it, so she headed to the gynecologist, who ordered testing. Mammograms and ultrasound showed nothing, but a biopsy revealed stage III inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). Her treatment included chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, and radiation. Katy is an independent and private person and, although she and her husband often help others, wasn’t comfortable receiving help.  That has changed, however, because of the great support she received from her “rays of light,” which include her friends, two children, and husband, who has been by her side since day one. Early on, Katy connected with another Boober! with IBC. “She has really helped me navigate this journey with support and answering questions,” she says. In Katy’s eyes, Beyond Boobs! support is different because “Boobers! don’t just sit around and feel sorry for themselves. It feels more like friends getting together for a ladies’ night in. There is lots of laughter and hugs.” Now Katy hopes she will be a ray of light to others.

, October 02, 2018 | More Post by

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

This blog will be a three-part series on my journey with the diagnosis; my pain, my tears, my fears, my faith!

October 2017: A new month! So much has happened since my September 25th diagnosis. It’s now OCTOBER, the fall season. For me the most wonderful time of the year, when the air is crisp and the leaves are so beautifully colored.  When God paints His masterpiece and the world is beautiful. It’s also Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it’s MY BIRTHDAY MONTH! Yes, I said ‘month.’ I love birthdays; yours, mine, whomever, I just love them. I feel as though birthdays lift you up and gives you something to look forward to. October 2017, was my birthday month. In it, I was given a gift, and it was a gift like no other!

My first talk with God October 1, 2017, at 11:56 PM: It’s been a good day God. Service at church was a blessing and I was able to spend time with my fella; he always knows how to make me smile. I’m now on my way to my great-niece Laniyah’s Cheering Expo. I love my family and Lord I thank you for blessing me.  I know you’ve got this all in your hands and for that alone, I’m thankful.

We arrive at the expo and of course, the teams are recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with varied speakers, everyone wearing pink. I whisper over to my mom and say, ‘this time next year, I’ll be that person speaking to people,’ she said you’re right! I didn’t know at the time that I’d actually have a voice or the strength but here I am today; but God!

So where do I come up with The Month That Was All About Me?  Every October 1, I have two signs that I place at my desk, both given to me by former co-workers (Kelly and Denyse) because they knew that I celebrate the month!  One says Happy Birthday Vanessa the other says Birthday Girl! Visitors, parents, and students come in my office at the school and they all ask, did we miss your birthday?  My co-workers always say, no, Vanessa just celebrates for the entire month.

This October would be a little different. Still excited, but with a new feeling of celebration. This October included not just an age change, but also a life change. Beginning with my surgeon appointment on October 2, an MRI on October 11, then a lumpectomy October 19 and celebrating my 49th birthday on October 28.  Already this October is so much different from any other. But, I can’t not celebrate, because I’m alive, I’m healed and God has restored my body.  How can I not celebrate? I honestly said, “God, in His infinite Glory and humor, I know this month is and has always been about me, but in 2018 you can hold back some”!

My talk with God on the day of my surgery – October 19, 2017 at 7:15 AM: Today is my day of restoration. I am whole, my body is renewed and my mind is at peace. Thank You Lord! I’m now on the way to the hospital in the car with mom and she seems calm. Lord I already know that I’m healed. I know that you have already done what You said You would do and I’m grateful! Thank You Jesus!

As I was coming out of surgery, I remember the surgeon (Dr. Misti Wilson) saying, ‘Ms. Spurlock, everything went well and your nodes were all clear.’  For all of the confusion that was still going on in my head, I heard this loud and clear and all I could whisper was thank you Jesus!

When I think now on asking God to hold back, I have to retract that statement because I want Him to give me all that He desires me to have. I didn’t ask for cancer, but it came. I didn’t ask for the worry or the fear that came with it, but it did. What I’ll ask now, is that God whatever you have for me; for only me, I’ll take it. We sing a song “What God Has For Me, It Is For Me.” So yes, I’ll take your favor, your blessings, your healing, and your grace, all of it!

October 2017 I received more than a new season, more than the age 49, more than cake and candles. October 2017 I received the gift of restoration, of healing, of stronger faith and most of all a reason to truly celebrate.

My talk with God on my 49th Birthday, October 28, 2017 at 7:00 AM: 49 years old today and Lord I thank you. This morning I woke up thankful but emotional crying tears of joy and of praise. Lord this birthday could have been so different, but You kept me! Breakfast with mom, Gayle and Laniyah. Just to be able to spend this time with my family I thank You! Dinner with Fred; Oh Lord, he’s so good to me and he’s truly a blessing in my life. Thank you for his kindness and his strength and just for being here for me. This day October 28, 2017 I will remember forever!

October 2017 was a challenge; but I came through. I was given a gift like no other and yes, I will continue to celebrate ‘me’! Not just because it’s my birthday month, but also because now I have reason to celebrate just a bit more. I never thought that I took days for granted until I was faced with not knowing what was to come the next day and the day after; and the day after. Now, I take each day, one day at a time. I remember moments differently. I look at things differently and I think in some ways I am different.

I know that we are only given one life to live, but sometimes I feel as though I’ve had two. The life I lived before diagnosis and the life I’m living after. October 28, 2018, I’ll be celebrating my 50th birthday. Many have asked what my plans are; I tell them ‘I just plan to be here!’  I don’t know the plans that God has for me; but what I do know, is that I will continue to live my best life!

My final blog in November:  Just Being Thankful

Vanessa Spurlock

About me:
Richmond, Virginia, Here For the Girls Boober!
Diagnosed: September 25, 2017
Age: 49
ER/PR+ Her2- / BRCA-
Lumpectomy: October 19, 2017
Radiation: November 29 – December 27, 2017
Tamoxifen: January 1, 2018 – present

, September 14, 2018 | More Post by

Peggy (left), her daughter, and her infant grandson (taken five years ago).

“I feel a lump.  I want you to get an ultrasound along with your mammogram.”

This was Spring of 2002. I was 45 years old. It wasn’t the “norm” to have a breast ultrasound ordered along with my mammogram. I felt fine. I was physically fit–went to the gym three or four mornings per week and stayed away from junk food. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me, but when the lump was felt, something inside me knew what it was. Colon cancer was what I was supposed to get since my mother and sister both passed away with colon cancer. Breast cancer??? No. It couldn’t be, and I wouldn’t let it. I went to the Radiology office to make my appointments. I wanted both tests done on the same day, and because of that, I had to wait two weeks. I was glad to have those two weeks because I wanted life to be “normal” for that time. I didn’t even tell my husband. I somehow knew that those two weeks would be the end of life as I knew it.

At this time of my life, I was busy working as an RN with another RN running our own case management company. I loved my work. I loved making my own hours and working out of my home. I told absolutely no one. I think that I was able to start working through the stages of grief, and I felt that I needed to do that so I could think more clearly in a few weeks when the shit hit the fan. I stayed busy—taking more classes than usual at the gym, meeting friends for lunch, making sure our couples’ group kept to our usual pattern of going out for Friday night dinner and game night on Saturday night. It was Spring, which mean both daughters were beginning to wrap up the school year. Prom, finals, plus whatever else came our way.

Those two weeks flew by and before I knew it, mammogram day had arrived. I was relatively calm, even though I understood what the doctor would find. My mammogram showed a lump (big surprise) and I was hustled over to sonography. As I laid on the table while the tech slid that camera over my chest, there was no conversation between us at all. She kept sliding back over to the right side of my breast and pressing harder until it hurt. The tech finally stopped and told me that she had to bring the Radiologist in. In the few minutes she was gone, my heart started thumping and my brain was running through all kinds of possibilities. The physician came in, introduced himself, and then he and the tech turned their attention to the sono screen. He took the camera and honed into the spot that by now was very sore. The two of them kept low voices and talked like I wasn’t even in the room. I finally had enough and pushed the doctors hand off me to sit up. I looked at the screen and saw a “monster” on it inside my right breast. I asked what is going on. The doctor told me that I had a lump and that I should come back in 6 months. OH NO!!!!  DON’T TALK TO ME THAT WAY!!!!

I said to him, “if I was your wife, mother, sister, or daughter, what would you tell me to do?” His reply to me was, “Go see a breast surgeon as soon as you can.” When I asked him why was he not saying that to me, he shrugged and left the room. I got dressed and asked for my X-rays. I could pick them up in a few days. This was long before there were digital images and I just needed a disc!

I went home and told my husband (who is a former Radiologic Technologist) that my films showed a lump and that I was advised to see a breast surgeon. I also told him that for now, we would tell our daughters that a lump had been found in my breast, but I wouldn’t really know much more than that until after I saw the breast surgeon. I said, “let’s not get worried until we know what we are worried about.  I think that satisfied the conversation at that time. Heck, our younger daughter had prom that weekend, and our older daughter was coming home to help with make-up. I’m pretty sure my husband and I talked about it late at night, but we sort of had that same last piece of armor in front of the probable diagnosis. I had a good friend, also a nurse, who had gone through breast cancer and she gave me the information about who she saw. My husband did some research and gave me a powerful YES, that’s the best place. So, that afternoon, I picked up the phone and made my appointment for a date two weeks later. Sigh… more waiting, but this time I had my husband and we both understood.

Stay tuned for more of Peggy’s story in her next post!

Peggy S.

, September 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, Grace!

34, Diagnosed at 30

No family history – no known genetic mutation

Grace is proof that breast self-exams are important! While doing one in the shower, she found a lump. Seeing her husband’s concern, she immediately contacted her doctor who, thankfully, referred her for a mammogram. The radiologist told her it was probably nothing because she was young with no family history, but testing revealed triple negative breast cancer, stage II. She had a lumpectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy. Her diagnosis reaffirmed her faith and refocused her life. “My faith in the Lord is now stronger than ever. I want to take advantage of the second chance He has given me,” Grace says. “Cancer didn’t take my dreams away—it actually gave me courage to follow them, and to enjoy my life, my friends, and my family.” A mother of two and business owner, Grace is also the co-facilitator for the College Station, TX Beyond Boobs! group. Grace credits her BB! sisters with helping her cope after diagnosis. “BB! means so much to me because when I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone, I went to a meeting and instantly felt better! The support these amazing survivors give you is like no other because they have been through the same fear and pain as you.”

, August 31, 2018 | More Post by

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

This blog will be a three-part series on my journey with the diagnosis; my pain, my tears, my fears, my faith! My first story begins with my journal and my talks with God during the month of my diagnosis.

September 2017 started as it always has. I work for a school system and the teachers are in a flutter, the kids are excited and it’s business as usual. Each year during opening instruction we select “one word” — you may be familiar with the book written by Jon Gordon, Jimmy Page and Dan Britton (“One Word That Will Change Your Life”). It talks about the “one word” meant for you and when you find it, live it, share it. Well how ironic that my one word September 5, 2017, was choices! I had no idea in the days ahead how many choices I would not have.

It is now September 15th, and the day has started like any other. Prepare for the boob squeeze, no deodorant and do not forget to wear a top and bottom so that you don’t completely freeze wearing that fashionable robe.

You do the routine; verify your name and personal information, and then you are guided to the “squeeze machine.” Nothing felt different; everything felt the same. Until… The tech asks “have you ever had an MRI.” I respond no. She’s like, “oh ok.” Still nothing felt different as I had been told before I have dense breasts. I finish up and was told, “you can dress now and if we need to re-screen someone will give you a call.” Nope, still not feeling anything different. I leave, go to work and proceed with a normal Friday — just waiting for the end of day.

Monday comes and so does the phone call. From this point on my life as I knew it prior to September 18, 2017, was about to change. “Ms. Spurlock, we’d like for you to come in tomorrow for an ultrasound.” September 19th was the ultrasound, two days later, September 21st, the biopsy, and from there comes that life-changing phone call on Monday, September 25, 2017, at 3:00 pm: “it’s confirmed, you have breast cancer.”

Not knowing what to say, I was like, ‘are you serious, so what now?’ I think I heard what he said but all I kept hearing was ‘you have breast cancer’. In the office with a couple of my co-workers, I called my mom, my dad, my sister Gayle and my wonderful fella, and those were the hardest conversations I’ve ever had to face in my life. I stayed strong, but everything inside of me in just seconds was broken into pieces. I called a few of my prayer warriors and talked with my nephew Justin later that day. Each one of them said you are not in this alone. I knew that they would all be there for me, but I also knew that if I ever had to lean on Jesus, now is the time.

As I was leaving work, I called my pastor. He prayed with me and said “Vanessa, you are going to want to remember each moment because God has a plan for you. Get a journal, write down everything and talk to God in your words.” I did just that. My Journal is titled, “I SURVIVED – My Talks With God!” I did not know what to say so that night I just prayed. The next day I think I was still numb, but I knew that I had a journey before me and although my family and friends would be there, I knew that I would need God every step of the way. So I began to write.

My very first post was September 27, 2017, at 12:45 pm. I used the lyrics of a song “be blessed don’t live life in distress, just let go and let God, He’ll work it out for you.” I continued to write, “God I get weak; build me up. Keep my mind stayed on you. Heal my body; I already know that you have, you can and you will. Thank you for blessing me and my family. I love you Lord and I am a SURVIVOR!”

From that day on it was so easy to write, to talk to God. I’d find myself throughout the day just writing my thoughts. Some days I would write and the words and tears would flow. Other days I’d write just thank you — for Your healing, Your restoration. A good friend (Karen) gave me a word to request of God. Lord I thank You for Your restoration. For removing from my body all things that should not be and for adding all that I need.

As I look back on those words, I referenced that to my health. As I think on it now, God did just as I prayed for. He removed the cancer, but He also removed some fears, removed some pain and added more faith, more courage and healing. For moments at a time I felt like my life was standing still; other times, I felt like my mind was in a whirlwind, but I continued to write.

Let me add that I did not share my diagnosis with many — very few to be exact. I didn’t want my story compared to others. I did not want people to think that I was dying and most of all, I did not want any negative energy directed toward my healing. I felt like I had to protect my mom and my dad, my family and their feelings of hurt and pain. I did not want anyone saying to them how bad how horrific cancer can be. Because guess what, it can! Most of all, I did not want my story to be their story. I wanted my story to be the story that God had just for me; JUST FOR ME! I had to believe that God knew my story even before it started so I had to trust in Him.

I knew that my faith in God was strong but some days I did not feel strong. Every day all I could think about was having cancer. The what-ifs. All the things you hear about: surgery, chemo, feeling sick, medications, work and yes, how will people see me. But, I still wrote. I found that my writing was beginning to heal me. It was allowing me to release the pain, the hurt, and the anger that I was feeling and I could release it all to God.

Although I had all of these questions for God I always spoke, wrote of my healing and my restoration. I figured that if I was requesting of God to do a great work I could not ask in doubt but I had to ask in a believing faith. My mom, my friends and my wonderful man would say, “Vanessa, you don’t have to be strong for everybody, we have shoulders for you too.” But in my mind, I was always the strong one. Always the one with the straight face. I can’t crumble because if I do then I don’t know how to be weak.

But I did crumble, I did break, but guess what I found out… that this was absolutely ok! That I was allowed to feel, to scream and to be human. In my journal, my SCREAMS were in CAPITAL letters. Some pages were dampened with tears but I’d still write.

As the month ended, September 30, 2017, at 7:00 am, I write: I’m awake and I thank you, Lord for a peaceful sleep. My mind is good right now, but I’m just scared of the not knowing. I know that you know it all so I really shouldn’t be worried. Tears fall as I again release my pain, fear, anger and hurt… BUT… I still thank You because You have this all in control and ALL power belongs to You!

My journal writing continues and some days I still feel as if I’m still in a whirlwind. But I’m thankful that my faith outweighed my fears. Yes, I was afraid of my diagnosis and each day I live with September 25, 2017. That was just the beginning of my story. BUT, GOD… that’s not the end!

My blog in October will be titled, “October: The Month That ‘Was’ All About Me; God’s Sense of Humor!”

Vanessa Spurlock

About me:
Richmond, Virginia, Here For the Girls Boober!
Diagnosed: September 25, 2017
Age: 49
ER/PR+ Her2- / BRCA-
Lumpectomy: October 19, 2017
Radiation: November 29 – December 27, 2017
Tamoxifen: January 1, 2018 – present

, August 08, 2018 | More Post by

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The unveiling of our A Calendar to Live By 2019 is just a month away, and we’re so excited!! You’ll have to wait until then to read our lovely and dedicated calendar models’ stories and discover the new calendar’s theme, but to help you get to know them just a little bit better, we’ve collected some of their favorite quotes here.

Michelle: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” -Vicki Corona

Mona: “Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.” -Albert Einstein

Mona says: I like this because, it reminds me that life is too short to be unhappy and to be around unhappy people.  I want to find joy in life and invest in friends who encourage and inspire me!

Kendall: “You have been assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved.”

Kendall says: My breast cancer journey at my young age has always puzzled me. No family history, why was I chosen to have cancer? I now see that I have reached so many ladies that now have the knowledge they need to listen to their gut, get checked, and spread information to others. I found my purpose.

Raquel: “If you focus on what you left behind, you will never be able to see what lies ahead.” -Gusteau (Ratatouille)

Raquel says: If we spend our days thinking about all we have lost, the past, and what we have left behind we will miss the beauty of what is right in front of us. Sometimes we have to experience hardships so that we have a better appreciation for our blessings.

Virginia: “Remember that when you help another up a mountain, you are a little nearer the top yourself.”  -Thomas S. Monson

Sammi Jo: “The prettier the flower, the farther from the path.”

Jenyse: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain.”

Jenyse says: Let’s dance. This is quote that sits on my desk. When I have those moments of sadness or frustration and look at this, I get up and literally dance in my office. Even with no rain.

Laura: “She persisted.”

Ashley: “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”-Babe Ruth

Don’t forget to buy your tickets to our Pink Carpet Gala on September 29! You’ll get a chance to meet these ladies in person and see what our new calendar theme is for 2019. Click here for tickets and info.

, August 08, 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, Natalie!

Natalie

52, Diagnosed at 47

3rd degree family history – no known genetic mutation

In April 2015, Natalie Bare, physical therapist by day, stood in front of a panel of U.S. Figure Skating judges and to her great surprise, received a standing ovation. A competitive ice skater, Natalie was accustomed to waiting for the judges’ scores, but this wasn’t about her performance. Just three months prior to this event, she had completed treatment (chemotherapy, lumpectomy, and radiation) for stage II breast cancer. It all began at her annual exam, where she had said “yes” to getting a 3D mammogram. Had she not opted for 3D, her cancer might have remained undetected until it reached a more advanced stage. Already familiar with Beyond Boobs!, she never imagined she’d meet the membership criteria! She admits she cried at her first meeting, insisting she was not a “support-group-type person.” But for her, that support grew into far more than a monthly gathering. “It’s a way of life,” says Natalie. “I can’t imagine my life without BB! I rarely miss a meeting, but when I do, I feel incomplete. I love all of our events—they are uplifting, inspiring, and fun. Sometimes it takes something silly—like a support group with the word “boobs” in it—to really get the point across.”

, July 02, 2018 | More Post by

Our “A Calendar to Live By” features 11 women we serve through Here for the Girls programs and their inspiring stories about their cancer journey. Sadly, July’s model, Shawna passed away one year ago this month from metastatic breast cancer, before the calendar was even published. This month, as her photo graces our wall, let us take time to honor her and all the women who have died of this disease.

Here’s is Shawna’s story as it appears in the calendar:

42, Diagnosed at 32, 36

3rd degree relative – no known genetic mutation

A devoted mom, volunteer, military wife, and former Air Force weapons loader, Shawna was vacationing at Disney World with her family when she felt a large lump while showering.  Nodules in her breast tested several months earlier had come back benign, but taking no chances, Shawna returned to her doctor. A biopsy followed by a lumpectomy revealed stage III breast cancer. She had chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, radiation, and eventually, reconstruction. Four years later, she learned the cancer had metastasized to her liver. She has been in treatment ever since. Shortly after this second diagnosis, she and her family moved to Virginia where she found Beyond Boobs! Shawna shares, “The women of BB! ‘deal you in’ and make you smile—in the calendar, on Facebook, in the meetings. Just a smile. That’s what has helped me.” Usually averse to the limelight, Shawna said she applied to be in the calendar because “I have a story to tell,” and shares, “Obstacles are always there. It’s what you do with them, how you empower yourself and educate others that will get you through.” For Shawna, cancer has not been a death sentence but instead, “a sentence of life and the courage to live it.”

, May 08, 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, Jamie! (If our calendar isn’t hanging on your wall right now, click here to get one.)

Jamie: 37, Diagnosed at 36

2nd degree family history – no known genetic mutation

Jamie is a busy mother of two, military wife, and project manager. Breast cancer is not a project she was ever planning to have to manage, however.  During her last pregnancy, Jamie found a lump in her breast that was tested and judged benign. When she found a second lump while nursing, a biopsy revealed stage II breast cancer. “I thought I was doing everything right: I was an avid runner, I ate a healthful diet, and I breastfed my babies. I thought I was too young for breast cancer,” Jamie says. Her husband was deployed during her diagnosis and part of her treatment, which included chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, and radiation. Being diagnosed at a young age was a shock for Jamie, but she’s working on taking life one day at a time, and she’s finding comfort from her Boober! sisters. “These are women who understand the emotional and physical rollercoaster of this disease. They’ve given me hope when I was in the depths of chemotherapy and shown me the light at the end of the treatment tunnel.” Her goal is not just to survive but to thrive. Jamie hopes sharing her journey will help uplift other women personally and professionally.

, April 27, 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 spring cleaning – not just your house, but maybe your life, too! We sometimes select an entry 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.

If you read my previous blog entry about my Bucket List, then you know that my husband and I are setting off to full-time in our tiny RV so naturally, this idea of Spring Cleaning caught my eye because figuring out which items are beloved enough to put into expensive climate controlled storage has been a monumental task. However, the thoughts that provoked me to respond to this prompt weren’t about deciding which household knick-knacks made the cut, but how I really had to confront some of the reasons I have been holding onto “Cancer Crap” in an unopened box moved from house to house for 11 years. Some of the items excavated from that box were protected for positive, sentimental reasons that help me relive encouraging memories even if those were formed during one of my most difficult times.

If the Konmari Method is about keeping things that spark joy, I think keeping my Cancer Crap longer than truly necessary was either some perverse idea opposite of joy or more likely a little magical thinking. I can admit now, that along the way, deep down I was struggling for some sort of control over cancer and that perhaps keeping some of those items would somehow ward off the possibility of recurrence like an amulet of protection. Perhaps I was subconsciously preparing myself for the next wave of bad news. For reasons that I can’t quite articulate, I’ve had periods since my cancer diagnosis where I kept various items due to this vague sense that together they might be a magical talisman to ward off recurrence or a new primary cancer.

Of course intellectually, I know that’s not how biology works, but in some desperate corner of my mind, I clearly believed that I needed this Cancer Crap just in case. At that time, my need to prepare for the “what if” was partially fueled by regret that I hadn’t even thought to worry breast cancer at 33 and even after diagnosis, I surely never thought that genetic test would be positive because it’s so rare. The Konmari Method talks about keeping things that speak to your heart and maybe all that Cancer Crap spoke to a broken part of my heart. The part that said, “nah, I don’t need to go for the mammogram today, I’m sure it’s nothing like you said, I’ll just go next week to confirm.”

I’ve confronted part of this stash once before, but in the last few months, I really had to challenge myself to internally justify exactly why I thought I needed to continue to keep some of these items.

The first time I cleared out some of the bits and pieces of my Cancer Crap was challenging because it was my stash of all the head-coverings and different iterations of post-mastectomy bras, and prosthetics. I could easily articulate why I was holding on to those for a long time because they were expensive and were useful items that might be needed if there were more surgeries or complications or more chemo at any point. I knew the statistics for recurrence for triple negative breast cancer in the first 5 years and I figured it was likely I might really need that stuff again…and soon.

During chemo, I never bought or wore a wig. I know there are so many that look great, but a few friends had told me they seemed itchy and sort of pain to keep up. I just didn’t see myself as ever being comfortable physically or mentally in one as I knew I’d somehow feel like a fraud. I was also just not the in-your-face “I’m bald & so what” person either. So for me, scarves and hats were the happy medium that suited my personality and lifestyle. Just like anything though, one can get carried away and that ended up leading to way too many purchases and an entire box of scarves that coordinated with all sorts of outfits from the everyday, super comfy casual scarf with jeans to the dressy, matching my work outfits scarves.

Initially, I had a lumpectomy but after learning of my BRCA1+ mutation, I had a preventative bilateral mastectomy. I still needed radiation so I was flat and unreconstructed for a long period of time. Later, after my first reconstruction surgery I got a post-operative infection and had to have an expander removed so then I was doing the expansion process on one side and waiting for the other side and repeating the same process separately. Even the different iterations of drain holders and what worked for a 1 drain lumpectomy definitely did not work for a 6 drain reconstruction. Naturally, there was an array products purchased for each of these phases.

One day, I decided that part of my Survivorship Plan to truly recover emotionally from cancer needed to be donating these things to others in need and who were facing my same situation. I also rationalized this by first telling myself that if I had to do chemo again one day, I’d want fresh new scarves anyway and that not everyone has insurance that covered a new set of prosthetics every year and/or new ones when things changed during different surgical issues. While it was an uneasy feeling of tempting fate while parting with the “just in case cancer comes back box,” it was made much easier by having a purpose that benefited others.

Now, several years after that first clearing out, I was still dragging around that other box. The box with those things I just couldn’t seem to part with that somehow I deemed my “Important Cancer Crap.” While facing this box as we prepare for the RV Adventure, there were some items, I had no problem tossing because 11 years later, I couldn’t remember why I had even believed them so sacred or important to keep. Other items were reminders of some of the supportive cancer-friends I met along the way, like personalized, hand crafted name tag from a YSC Conference.  Yes, I ultimately had to let some of those types of possessions go because while the memories are important, I no longer felt the necessity to actually keep them.  More importantly, in finally confronting this box, I wasn’t just getting rid of THINGS, I was releasing the idea that I needed to keep the box to avert disaster. In letting go of that misguided idea, I was able to choose the 3 things that I truly did want to keep and express why.

The first thing I selected to keep was a box within Important Cancer Crap box that is filled with cards which serve as a tangible reminder of how my life genuinely matters to others. There are times in our lives when we think to ourselves that while we know that we a valued team member at work, we don’t think that all of those co-workers really value us as just a person. Seeing the product of people taking their time and money to send me a card when I was sick amassed together is profound for me. It shouldn’t take getting sick to make one know this universal truth, but it’s a powerful visual reminder that my life matters beyond my contributions at work or some other superficial thing I can do. Those cards also serve as a cue to remember learning the lesson that sometimes the people you think are your friends, are either unable or don’t know how to respond or support you during a difficult time, but that others you thought were just acquaintances or co-workers fill in that gap and surprise and support you in ways you couldn’t have previously imagined.

The next items I decided to continue to preserve are the old-school radiology films showing my tumor. At first, I kept those films out of necessity as I visited various doctors for consultation. Since that time of necessity has passed, I then began mulling over this nebulous idea of creating some sort of art from the films. While I’m still not ready to turn that vision into action, I’m not prepared to abandon it either. I know that I simply need more art experience and additional time to allow my ideas for these films to solidify in my mind. Stay tuned for more on this one day!

The last item I kept from the Important Cancer Crap box is the one that’s the hardest to explain…it’s a polka dotted soft knit beanie that I wore for so long and almost 100% of the time I was home, even when I slept because I was cold. I called that beanie my “Chicken Hat” because I read this moving blog post by a woman that so clearly articulated my exact feelings at the time. She eloquently wrote about getting home each day, changing into PJs, removing her wig and donning her favorite softest Chicken Scarf. I think it was called that for some funny reason connected to her love of chickens and hence why she selected fabric with chickens in the pattern.  What she was able to put into words was that in that Chicken Scarf she felt secure and comforted and almost normal after having removed all those “masks” that are occasionally necessary outside our homes. I desperately tried to find that old post, but the details escape me now and I couldn’t find it. Much like a child’s beloved “lovie” my polka-dotted Chicken Hat doesn’t bring me comfort when I hold it now, but I can summon the feelings it did give me and it’s the one remaining piece of Cancer Crap that I will probably never part with not because I might need it again if I get cancer again, nor because it’s a charm to ward off misfortune, and it really doesn’t spark joy, but it sure reminds me of the solace I felt while wearing it and during tough times like cancer treatments, relief is just was welcomed as joy.

-Veronica M.

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