For the girls

For the girls

The Official Blog of Here for the girls

, March 11, 2015 | More Post by

Love in Three Acts: Confronting Cancer as Husband and Father

Pat Garvey fell in love with his first wife, Chris, in Arnold Hall at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Pat was a cadet at the academy in 1970 when Chris’s best friend set them up on a blind date. Pat hadn’t dated much, but he felt comfortable talking with Chris and he liked her smile. He remembers walking back to his room that night and telling one of his classmates in his hall that he had met the woman he was going to marry.

Act One: Whirlwind Wedding

Pat and Chris were married in June of 1972 in Farmington, New Mexico, in a Catholic ceremony. Pat had graduated from the Air Force Academy a few days prior to the wedding. After the reception the newlyweds traveled to Corpus Christi, Texas, for their honeymoon, on their way to Lubbock, where he was to be stationed.

“So much happened in my life in a short period of time,” Pat said. “It was all a whirlwind.”

While Pat pursued a career in the Air Force, Chris worked as a nurse. The couple had three children: Kate, Maura, and Kyle. In 1997, when Pat was traveling for work, Chris felt a lump in her left breast during a self-exam. It wasn’t until he returned from his trip that she told him about the lump.

“She tried to spare me,” Pat said. “I was a little upset and frustrated that she hadn’t told me right away.”

Chris went to the doctor and had a biopsy done. The cancer was malignant and she underwent a lumpectomy, during which part of her breast was removed. After surgery she went through chemo and radiation therapy.

“I wanted to push through and solve the problem,” Pat said. “I had a ‘we’re gonna lick this’ mentality.”

All of Chris’s hair fell out during her chemo treatments. Pat recalls that she was given a full dose of Adriamycin, a chemotherapy drug often referred to as “the Red Devil.” The doctors weren’t proactively treating Chris for loss of white blood cells, as they do now, so any illness she might have after chemo was a concern. One night Pat rushed her to the ER when she ran a fever.

“I was worried and nervous,” he said. “I didn’t want her to disappear.”

Ups and Downs

In March of 1998 Chris felt a lump under one of her arms. Her cancer had metastasized and she was put on Cytoxan, another chemotherapy drug. She eventually ended up at Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, because of her low white blood cell count.

“It was worry, worry, worry from the doctor all night long,” Pat recalled.

Chris made it through that illness and wanted to try a possible stem cell transplant. She and Pat traveled to Duke to begin the process, but she got sick again and ended up at Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth, where doctors discovered the cancer had traveled to her liver. She had a fever and fluid on her lungs.

“There were upsides and downsides,” Pat said. “She got back on Adriamycin and saw a little bit of progress; however, she had to take more narcotics because she was in more pain.”

Family Photo with ChrisOn December 11, 1998, Pat took his son Kyle to the NCAA soccer semi-finals. Chris stayed at the house with their oldest daughter, Kate, and Chris’s brother David.

“I told her goodbye, said ‘I love you,’ and kissed her,” Pat said. He and his son hadn’t been gone long when Kate called to tell them that Chris had passed away. “It only took us fifteen or twenty minutes to get home, but it felt like forever.”

Pat’s other daughter, Maura, was at James Madison University when her mother passed. He still remembers how she screamed over the phone when he called to tell her the terrible news.

After twenty-six years of love, family, and companionship, Pat found himself a single dad to three young adults. “I had to learn how to cook and handle the household chores,” he said. “My grief definitely affected my parenting.”

Healing through Soccer

To honor Chris’s memory and to help himself and his family through the grieving process, Pat started the Christine Garvey Memorial Soccer Tournament. The tournament, now in its 16th edition, brings together youth soccer teams from all over the Hampton Roads region. Proceeds from the event are donated to Beyond Boobs! and Edmarc Hospice for Children.

Pat recalls watching Chris’s expression when their son Kyle scored a goal during the last soccer game she attended at Wolftrap Park a few months before her passing. “Kyle scored a goal from the right side of the pitch to the upper left corner of the goal,” Pat said. “I can still see Chris sitting there, watching that goal being scored. I think that’s where my idea for a soccer tournament got its start.”

Act Two: Another Chance at Love

The mother of one of Maura’s friends told Pat that, when he was ready to start dating again, she had a friend she wanted him to meet. In early 2000, Pat called and told her he was ready. On another blind date Pat met his second wife, Jane. For their first date their mutual friend prepared a meal for them at her house, and then a week later the two attended a function together at Langley Air Force Base. “We talked and talked and ignored all of the people around us,” Pat recalled.Jane & Pat Boat

Jane understood what Pat had been through with Chris, as she lost her first husband to renal cancer. Three weeks into their relationship, Pat asked Jane to marry him. “We had both had been a part of strong marriages, and we both knew that we wanted to be with each other,” Pat explained. “We were talking and kissing, and kind of on the flip I asked her to marry me.”

Jane said yes.

In 2008 Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer. She, too, detected a lump and went to her doctor.

“I was floored,” Pat said. “I didn’t want to deal with it again. I pulled away a little bit to work through my emotions, even though I know that Jane wanted more from me emotionally. I wondered why I had to visit this experience twice.”

Jane went through chemo and radiation and Pat is proud to call her a survivor.

Act Three: The Third Cut is the Deepest

Pat’s eldest daughter, Kate, went in for a mammogram in October of 2014 and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 38 years old.

“It is hardest to watch my child go through this,” Pat said. “I hurt for her and I wish there was something more I could do.”

Kate had a bilateral mastectomy and underwent her first reconstruction surgery on Christmas Eve 2014. She started chemotherapy in February and will also undergo radiation.

“I know she’s scared,” Pat said. “Her mom did everything she could and she’s not here. She is also obviously worried about her two children.”

Kate’s cancer diagnosis was similar to Jane’s and she is being treated by the same doctors who successfully treated Jane’s cancer. “Kate wants Jane with her during her treatments,” Pat said. “Jane’s been a blessing to Kate as she deals with her diagnosis. In an ugly way, cancer is bringing the family closer together.” Kate&Daughters

Lending a Hand

When Pat learned of Kate’s diagnosis, his first phone call was to Beyond Boobs! executive director and cofounder Mary Beth Gibson. He was at a loss as to what to say to his daughter and he wanted Mary Beth to speak with her.

“When Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer I felt helpless as a dad. I can’t fix this for her,” Pat said. “The women at Beyond Boobs! can give advice that others can’t. The support they give is invaluable.”

 

 

 

 

 

Category: Blog

, February 22, 2015 | More Post by

Memorial Soccer Tournament Gears Up for 16th Editiontournamentlogo

What began as one family’s efforts to heal after loss has become a premier soccer tournament on the Virginia Peninsula, impacting hundreds of players, volunteers, and families every year. The Christine Garvey Memorial Soccer Tournament, now in its 16th edition, will be held March 17-19. The tournament will take place over three days at half a dozen Peninsula venues, including Wolftrap Park, where the inspiration for the event occurred.

Tournament director Pat Garvey, whose first wife Christine passed away from breast cancer in December of 1998, was with her when their son Kyle scored a goal during the last soccer game she attended at Wolftrap Park a few months before her passing. “Kyle scored a goal from the right side of the pitch to the upper left corner of the goal,” Pat said. “I can still see Chris sitting there, watching that goal being scored. I think that’s where my idea for a soccer tournament got its start.”

The first edition was held in March of 2000 and 16 teams participated. The tournament, which includes boys’ and girls’ junior varsity and varsity teams, expanded to 32 teams its second year and has remained at that number ever since.

“We now have coaches who used to play in the tournament when they were in high school,” Pat said. “We have young people playing in the event who weren’t even born when it first began.”

The first tournament in 2000 was a labor of love. Pat, seeking a way to overcome his grief and honor his first wife, organized the event with a dozen friends. The next year he teamed up with the Kiwanis Club of Poquoson. Just as the tournament has grown to include players from all over the region and beyond, the Kiwanis support grew too and now includes sponsorship from numerous clubs throughout the area.

Per Christine’s wishes, funds raised from the tournament went to a national organization for breast cancer research and education. Three years ago Pat decided to work with two nonprofits a little closer to home – Beyond Boobs! and Edmarc Hospice for Children.

“For me, it is not happenstance that Beyond Boobs! and this tournament ended up being connected,” said Pat. “When we got together three years ago I had no idea that my daughter Kate would one day be diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38.”

Pat works closely with Beyond Boobs! Executive Director and co-founder Mary Beth Gibson, and she was the first person he called when he learned of his daughter’s diagnosis. His second wife, Jane, was also diagnosed with breast cancer and is a seven-year survivor. After confronting the disease twice, he knew the importance of advice and support. He wanted his daughter to experience all of the love and encouragement that Beyond Boobs! provides to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Several women from Beyond Boobs! will also be part of the action during the tournament. They will hand out trophies on the 19th to the girls’ varsity team at Bailey Field and to the junior varsity team at Wolftrap Park that same day.

Everyone is invited to come out and cheer on the teams at the tournament. Attendees can purchase a tournament pass for $10 and watch any game at any venue. Day passes are also available for $5 and allow attendees to watch games at any venue for the entire day. Donations of any amount to Beyond Boobs! or Edmarc Hospice for Children can be given when purchasing passes.

For more information about the tournament, visit www.thechirstinegarveymemorial.com.

 

 

 

Category: Blog

, January 12, 2015 | More Post by

The Golden Touch: 50-plus Years of Love and Support

More than five decades have passed since Wayne Bryant married his high school sweetheart, Gale. When Wayne started dating Gale in the tenth grade he thought she was the prettiest, smartest, wittiest girl he had ever met. After 51 years together, his opinion hasn’t changed. In more than half a century of marriage Wayne and Gale have experienced many joys and weathered many storms, including two bouts with breast cancer.Wayne&GaleStanding

Trying Times – 1988

Gale was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time in the summer of 1988 after a routine mammogram detected a suspicious spot in her right breast. She was 43 years old.

“I was in denial after I heard the diagnosis,” Wayne said. “I was scared to death and didn’t know what to do. I went through a lot of emotions and tried to understand what my wife was feeling.”

Wayne and Gale did their research, which included speaking with a close friend who had had a mastectomy. Gale saw a specialist at the University of Virginia, as well as a talented radiologist who seemed to have a magic eye for spotting things others couldn’t in test results.

“In 1988 the support and resources just weren’t there yet for women diagnosed with breast cancer,” Wayne recalled. “We were lucky to have such an amazing radiologist on our side.”

Gale came right out and told the couple’s two children, Kim and Geoff, about her diagnosis and the treatment she would need. Geoff listened intently and took time to mull over his mother’s words. His main concern was whether or not she would be OK. Kim had been experiencing the normal mother/daughter tension during her teenage years but Gale’s breast cancer diagnosis changed their relationship.

“They both realized they didn’t want to waste valuable time on small differences,” Wayne said.

Wayne and Kim are a lot alike. Both are extroverts and vocalize their thoughts. Kim was there for her father when he needed to talk through his feelings. “I have to be careful about not vocalizing what’s in my head right away because my thoughts get scrambled and the wrong words come out,” Wayne explained. “My daughter helped me to understand and draw out what I really wanted to say.”

Their son Geoff is an introvert and processes his thoughts differently. He was concerned about whether or not he should leave for college and confided his worries only to his sister, who was able to help him think through that important decision.

Total Eclipse of the Sun – 1997

Gale was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in the spring of 1997. When Wayne asked her what she wanted to do she said she didn’t want to live life scared and that she was going to have a double mastectomy.

“She was quite matter of fact about her decision,” Wayne said. “She knew it was going to be a big change for her but it was what she wanted.”

After speaking with surgeons and learning about her options, Gale opted for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.

“It was difficult for me to see Gale go through so many changes,” Wayne said. “At first I worried about hurting her during intimacy, and I was reluctant to do anything because I didn’t want to cause her pain. With time and practice, though, we figured out what worked for us. None of the important things had changed.”

Wayne had planned a trip to Curacao to see a total eclipse of the sun in February 1998, but Gale was reluctant to go because she didn’t like the way she looked after her surgeries. Wayne told her he was going, no matter what. Gale changed her mind and traveled with him.

“She had a good time,” Wayne said. “After that trip she realized she was going to be OK. Breast cancer took something away from her and put something else in its place, but it didn’t change who she was as a person.”

New Age – Beyond Boobs! Style

Wayne is pleased to note that so much has changed in the way women with breast cancer are treated. “There are so many more resources and materials available for women diagnosed with breast cancer and their loved ones,” he said. “People no longer whisper about the diagnosis, more treatment options are available, and outcomes are better. There is also a lot more support, including Beyond Boobs!”

Wayne has always been a student of human behavior, but now that he is in his 70s and has stood beside Gale to face the fear and uncertainty of breast cancer twice, he is adept at spotting a partner who is just starting to travel that road. Wayne attends lots of Beyond Boobs! events and makes a point of talking with the men to help put them at ease.

“I can look at a woman’s partner and see that he is worried and scared to death, but he is doing what he can for her,” Wayne said. “Men don’t talk about those kinds of things much, but I can see it in their eyes and in their expressions.”

Wayne often goes up to fellow Boober! husbands or boyfriends to chat. “I tell them how pretty their wives or girlfriends are and we talk about our jobs or mutual interests,” he said. “I’m not always sure how to start the conversation, but after talking for a little while I figure out what to say.”

Wayne isn’t all talk, though. He has no problem putting his mouth where his chest is. The first time he went to the holiday parade in Williamsburg he thought he would only be watching and cheering for the float Beyond Boobs! had decorated. Bundled up in an overcoat and earmuffs, he soon found himself outfitted in a stuffed pink bra, marching down Duke of Gloucester street.

“The spectators loved it,” Wayne recalled.

Wayne is grateful for the support Beyond Boobs! provides to women diagnosed with breast cancer. “It is a great organization,” he said. “They handle the human element of recovery in the social realm. They are getting the message out and letting people know it is OK to talk, to be concerned about each other, and to reach out.”

Wayne still thinks Gale is the prettiest, smartest, wittiest woman he has ever met. They can talk for hours and hours or just enjoy a comfortable silence together. He knows, though, that they are not the same people they were as newlyweds so many years ago.

“We have gone through four or five versions of ourselves since then,” Wayne said. “But we continue loving each other through the years and the changes. Life is a miracle, and I’m OK with miracles.”

 

 

 

 

 

Category: Blog

, December 19, 2014 | More Post by

Mother Confronts Cancer Again with Daughter’s Diagnosis

Mary McLean comes from a long line of women named Mary. She continued that particular family tradition when she named her daughter, Boober! Mary Ashby. To cut down on confusion, the elder Mary goes by Ms. Mary. Ms. Mary and her daughter share more than a name, though. They were also both diagnosed with breast cancer.

The first time around

Ms. Mary was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in November of 2002 after she felt a bump while performing a routine self-exam.

“I felt something that didn’t feel quite right, so I went to my family doctor,” Ms. Mary explained.

Ms. Mary will never forget how she felt when she heard the diagnosis. “It was chilling,” she said. “My main thought was that I had to try to have a positive point of view. I told myself that I was going to be OK.”

She was 60 years old when she was diagnosed. Ms. Mary went through chemo and radiation and had a lumpectomy performed on her left breast. She turned to a friend in South Carolina for support; the two had been members of the same church. Ms. Mary called her friend after receiving the news because she knew her friend had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had undergone a double mastectomy.

“She provided a lot of support and encouraged me to hang in there,” Ms. Mary said. “Sadly, she has since passed away.”

The second time around

In August of 2013 Ms. Mary’s daughter, Mary Ashby, felt a lump in her breast during a routine self-exam. Mary had always performed self-exams, but her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis had made her even more aware of their benefits. “Mary had been told before that she had lumpy breasts,” Ms. Mary said. “They told her she was too young to have breast cancer and passed it off.”

After Mary moved from Fairfax, Virginia, to Williamsburg, she found a lump in her breast and under her arm. She went to the ER and they sent her to a doctor, who found a lump in her breast and sent her to have a mammogram. She insisted they find out what was going on and a mammogram and biopsy were performed on her left breast.

Mary was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at only 35 years old.

“I felt that same chill I experienced when I was diagnosed,” Ms. Mary said. “It was like repeating my own experience.” Ms. Mary was relieved that doctors had delivered a diagnosis, even though the prospect of cancer was frightening. “We were happy to finally know what was going on,” she said. “After you find out what is happening, it is easier to deal with it.”

Mary underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, as well as a mastectomy. Her husband and mother both accompanied her to appointments for treatment.

As a mother, it was difficult for Ms. Mary to see her daughter go through cancer treatment. “Lots of things go through your mind when you see your child sick,” Ms. Mary said. “I gave her all of the love, understanding, and support that I could give. I just kept saying ‘Lord, give me the strength to keep holding on.’”

Embracing Life2MaryShades

Ms. Mary is grateful that her daughter has a group like Beyond Boobs! to turn to for help and guidance. “They have been through the same things she has,” Ms. Mary said. “They understand how she feels from day to day.”

Ms. Mary doesn’t believe in pity parties and she encourages everyone to live life to the fullest, no matter what. “Many times people aren’t going to understand what you’re going through because they haven’t been there,” she said. “But you need to enjoy life. If you can afford something and want to do it, do it. It can be something as simple as going out to lunch, shopping, or attending church. Anything that gets you out and keeps you going.”

Ms. Mary credits her faith for helping her and her family through the rough patches in life. “The Lord has kept us thus far, and we believe that He will continue to guide us from here,” she said.

 

 

, December 05, 2014 | More Post by

More than Words:  Husband’s Support Speaks Volumes

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

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

Seizing the moment

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

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

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

The enemy within

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

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

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

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

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

Same love, new journeyBo&MaryBeth

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

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

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

 

Category: Blog

, December 01, 2014 | More Post by

Breast Cancer Can’t Break Bond between Mother and Daughter

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

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

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

A childhood full of great memories

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

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

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

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

A mother’s worst nightmare

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

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

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

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

Supporting the supporters

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

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

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

 

Category: Blog

, November 22, 2014 | More Post by

Not Another Appointment: Inside a Mastectomy Boutique

 

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

More than a job

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same war, different battle

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

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

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

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

A fellow survivor

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

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

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

A healthy dose of laughter

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

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

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

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

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

Spreading awareness

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

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

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

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

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

 

Category: Blog

, November 14, 2014 | More Post by

Faith Unites Mother and Daughter

 

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

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

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

All-American girl

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

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

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

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

Conflicting roles

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

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

Life after loss

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Category: Blog

, November 07, 2014 | More Post by

 

Cancer Diagnosis Can’t Diminish Couple’s Devotion

 

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

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

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

A heart-wrenching diagnosis

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

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

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

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

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

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

The darkest night

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

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

Love after cancer

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

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

 

 

 

Category: Blog

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

By: Jamie McAllister

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

A Day in the Life

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

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

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

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

A View from Both Sides of the Bed

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

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

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

Pyramid of Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Doctor’s Advice

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

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

Category: Blog