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, April 18, 2016 | More Post by

A Celebration of Beyond Boobs! Volunteers

“Volunteers are love in motion.” Unknown

Beyond Boobs! volunteers are the best and every day they give their best to our Boobers! We are overjoyed to have such an amazing group of volunteers, and it is because of them that the young women we serve have hope for the future, inspiration to overcome, and the power to thrive.

April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week, but we have been blessed with so many wonderful volunteers that we want to celebrate all month long! Stay tuned to the blog as we recognize Joanne, Chaunai, Kim, and Ben for the incredible work they do every day for BB!

Check us out for Beyond Boobs! volunteer opportunities. The more the merrier!

Ben&BettyAnneBen Smykowski lost his wife, Betty Anne, to ovarian cancer in 2014 and he volunteers with Beyond Boobs! in her memory. “Betty Anne was such a great person,” he said. “She was the love of my life and my soul mate. Volunteering is my way of honoring her.”

Ben is retired from the IT industry after 45 years and volunteers at the BB! office in Williamsburg every week. He worked on BB!’s website to help get all of their information into Salesforce, a cloud computing program. Normally he is a member of the Tuesday Tag Team (T3s), but he is on call 24/7 if a need should arise.

“The women at BB! make me laugh,” Ben said. “I admire them so much, especially after all they have been through.”

In addition to his volunteer gig at BB!, Ben also volunteers three days a week at the front desk at Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center. Before she passed away, Betty Anne worked at Cullom Eye & Laser Center as a medical records person, and Ben volunteers at the Doctors’ Surgery Center every Thursday when Dr. Cullom is performing cataract and LASIK surgeries. “Everyone there still talks about her,” Ben said. “They even have the slogan WWBD – What would Betty do?”

This year Ben is the presenting sponsor for BB!’s annual “Breast” Ball Golf Tournament, donating the money in Betty Anne’s memory. “I can’t do enough for Beyond Boobs!,” he said. “I love the organization and everyone involved is so dedicated.”

Ben is the father of two grown children and has a 13-year-old granddaughter. He lives in Williamsburg and is very active with his church.

, April 11, 2016 | More Post by

A Celebration of Beyond Boobs! Volunteers

“Volunteers are love in motion.” Unknown

Beyond Boobs! volunteers are the best and every day they give their best to our Boobers! We are overjoyed to have such an amazing group of volunteers, and it is because of them that the young women we serve have hope for the future, inspiration to overcome, and the power to thrive.

April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week, but we have been blessed with so many wonderful volunteers that we want to celebrate all month long! Stay tuned to the blog as we recognize Joanne, Chaunai, Kim, and Ben for the incredible work they do every day for BB!

Check us out for Beyond Boobs! volunteer opportunities. The more the merrier!

Joanne HenkDiagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2011 at the age of 53, Joanne Henk knew she wanted to get involved with Beyond Boobs! when a family member told her about the group. Beyond Boobs! co-founder and Good Health Fairy René Bowditch took Joanne under her fairy wings and taught Joanne how to be a fairy herself.

“I wear a little bit of pink and a lot of wings,” joked Joanne about her gig as a Good Health Fairy during BB! signature and community events. She especially loved being part of a parade in Urbanna one year. “There was lots of hooting and hollering,” she said. Her favorite part was when the dozen or so fairies walking in the parade all spun around at the same time.

When she isn’t carrying a wand and educating everyone about breast health, Joanne is a member of the Tuesday Tag Team, also known as T3. Every Tuesday Joanne joins her fellow T3s at the BB! office in Williamsburg to work on admin tasks and help get stuff ready for the events BB! hosts throughout the year.

“The T3s are amazing,” Joanne said. “We do a lot of grunt work, but we have a blast. The other volunteers and staff hold me up, and I know I can say anything and they will understand. The BB! office is a place of miracles.”

, April 01, 2016 | More Post by

A Celebration of Beyond Boobs! Volunteers

“Volunteers are love in motion.” Unknown

Beyond Boobs! volunteers are the best and every day they give their best to our Boobers! We are overjoyed to have such an amazing group of volunteers, and it is because of them that the young women we serve have hope for the future, inspiration to overcome, and the power to thrive.

April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week, but we have been blessed with so many wonderful volunteers that we want to celebrate all month long! Stay tuned to the blog as we recognize Joanne, Chaunai, Kim, and Ben for the incredible work they do every day for BB!

Check us out for Beyond Boobs! volunteer opportunities. The more the merrier!

Chaunai McKnightOriginally from Queens, New York, her time in the Navy brought Chaunai McKnight to Southeastern Virginia. She learned about Beyond Boobs! through her public administration master’s program at Old Dominion University and she interviewed for an internship with the group. Chaunai has lupus and it is her dream to one day start a nonprofit to provide support to those diagnosed with the disease.

“I want to learn more about all women’s health issues and be able to help people no matter what,” Chaunai said.

Chaunai is part of the Tuesday Tag Team, known as the T3s, and helps out behind the scenes with the group’s events and fundraisers. She also traveled with the Good Health Fairy to an outreach event held at Thomas Nelson Community College.

“As a T3 I really feel like I am part of the team,” Chaunai said. “Everyone is super nice and BB! is very family-oriented. I want my future nonprofit to be just like BB! because they keep it small and personal.”

, March 07, 2016 | More Post by

For Elisha Villanueva and Anna Snyder, two entrepreneurs and fitness fanatics in California, love truly knows no Flex it Pink - Elisha and Annabounds. The two are co-founders of Flex it Pink (FIP), a community dedicated to empowering women through motivational fitness gear, healthy eating, and exercise. They are also helping to make the world a better place, one virtual marathon at a time.

Virtual marathons are a hot new way to raise funds and work out. Instead of gathering hundreds of walkers or runners at the same location at the same time, virtual marathons allow participants to log miles anywhere over the course of several days. FIP currently sponsors 5K and 10K races and they encourage people all over the world to join them as they run, walk, bike, and hike their way to the finish line.

As entrepreneurs, Elisha and Anna understand the importance of supporting other small organizations, which is why they partner with grassroots nonprofits for their virtual marathons. A Google search led the two to Beyond Boobs!

“I searched online and the name Beyond Boobs! popped out at me from the search results,” said Elisha. “The co-founders, Mary Beth Gibson and René Bowditch, were two women helping other women, and we really connected with that. The group caught our eye and our hearts.”

Elisha and Anna had run a virtual marathon before, but in October 2013 they organized their very first fundraising virtual marathon to benefit BB! They weren’t sure how many people would turn out to support the event, so they created 10 medals to award to participants. They were surprised and pleased when 80 people took part in the event and raised money for the work BB! does to provide support to young women diagnosed with breast cancer.

If the 80 participants in 2013 knocked Elisha’s and Anna’s sweat socks off, the 750 people who took part in the 2014 virtual marathon to support BB! was an even better surprise. In 2015 the race roster swelled to 1,500 participants.

“Breast cancer touches the lives of so many people,” said Anna. “Lots of survivors take part in the virtual marathons, and others run in honor of someone they know who passed away from breast cancer.”

The two will be organizing another virtual marathon to support BB! this October and they invite everyone to register. “Exercise does wonders for everyone at any age and stage of life,” said Anna.

“We love boobs and every fall we love running for the boobies,” added Anna. “The women of Beyond Boobs! are amazing. They are so super sweet and supportive.”

Every year Elisha and Anna receive a handwritten letter from the group thanking them for raising money to help support the BB! mission. “We really appreciate the personal touches,” Elisha said. “Even though we have never met the women of Beyond Boobs! in person, we still feel like we are all friends.”

For more information about Flex it Pink, visit their website at www.flexitpink.com. To keep up to date on upcoming virtual marathons or to register to participate in a virtual event, follow Elisha and Anna on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

 

, March 02, 2016 | More Post by

 

Holly Carlson met fellow Boober! Juanita Lee at her very first Not Your Typical Support group meeting. Right away Holly realized she and Juanita both saw the humorous side of the world. “The first thing I noticed about Juanita was her amazing sense of humor,” Holly said. “She sat a few people down from me, we got to talking, and that’s all she wrote.”

Holly Carlson HeadshotHolly and Juanita’s friendship quickly grew beyond the regular meetings. In addition to a breast cancer diagnosis, the two also shared careers in education. Holly, a retired French teacher, would often visit Juanita for lunch at the school where she worked as a teacher’s assistant.Juanita Lee Headshot

Like their students, Holly and Juanita looked forward to taking a break from routine and having fun. They were roomies one summer at a BB! retreat in the Outer Banks and they made the most of their time at the beach, sitting on the shore and laughing as the saltwater splashed their legs before rushing back out to sea. “I don’t know what was so funny,” Holly said, “but we just laughed our heads off.”

Back in Williamsburg the friends would often hop in Holly’s husband’s blue Honda convertible and go for drives along the Colonial Parkway. Their voices mixed with the wind as they sang My Heart Will Go On along with Celine Dion.

Holly and Juanita both enjoyed going to the movies and Holly vividly recalls one day when the two of them went to The Movie Tavern in Williamsburg to watch The Help. Holly, who is white, and Juanita, who was black, spent several hours after the movie discussing race relations. “We were there so long that the movie theater staff cleaned up and started turning off the lights,” Holly said.

Holly was in shock when BB! cofounder Mary Beth Gibson called her on June 25, 2014, to tell her Juanita had passed away. “Mary Beth wanted to be sure I didn’t hear about it on Facebook,” Holly explained. “I was so torn up by Juanita’s death.”

Whenever she thinks of the friendship she and Juanita shared, Holly smiles. “We loved to laugh,” she said. “The kind of laugh where your whole face scrunches up and you have to hold your stomach. Juanita and I had a blast together and I will always miss her.”

 

 

 

, February 14, 2016 | More Post by

NewYearsEve
Life after cancer is filled with uncertainties, but one thing Beyond Boobs! guarantees the women they support is that they will always be surrounded by friends. Friendships blossom at our annual retreats, during “Not Your Typical” Support (NYTS) group meetings, and at our signature events like the Pink Carpet Gala. For some women those friendships transcend the group atmosphere and take on lives of their own in the outside world.

I recently had the chance to chat with two Boober! besties. Michele Yepez is the facilitator for the Wards Corner NYTS group in Norfolk. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2013 at the age of 32. Shawn Huddy, diagnosed in October 2010 at 42, has volunteered for several different BB! projects and has also contributed to the BLOG. Both Michele and Shawn represented the group as calendar models in previous editions of A Calendar to Live By. Here they share the love by talking about how their friendship began, the importance of good food and cold beer, and why Boober! love is the best.

Beyond Boobs!: When and how did you two meet?

Shawn Huddy: Michele and I met at a BB! fundraiser.

Michele Yepez: It was called Hoops for the Cure and it was held at Old Dominion University. It was the very first BB! event I participated in. Shawn was there with several other people and I got to measure her boobs for tickets! After that when we would see each other we seemed to really click. I saw Shawn again at a World Cup game with her daughter Bryleigh that summer and the rest was history.

BB!: Why did you two hit it off?

MY: Why didn’t we hit it off would be a better question. We have a similar sense of humor, enjoy the same things, and our kids get along swimmingly. There is nothing about Shawn not to like. I’m not the easiest person to get along with at times and I don’t make friends all that easily, but Shawn never took my weirdness or cordial distance personally. Right from the beginning she just knew that’s who I was. It takes a long time to crack this nut and I’m glad she managed to do it.

SH: I can’t exactly pinpoint the moment when I realized “I love the stuffing outta that chick,” but we have become much closer over the last 12 months. Michele and I both have a passion for writing and reading, we spend a lot of time at a local watering hole eating yummy food and drinking a beer or two, and our kids get along great so we include them in our activities, too. We have been to BB! retreats together, I’ve attended her Not Your Typical Support group a number of times, and we spent New Year’s Eve together – kids included.

I was with Michele for her birthday and she insisted on being with me for mine, too, even though mine is so close to Christmas that I try not to make a big deal out of it. By then most people’s energy is spent from gift-giving and partying. But Michele made a special trip to celebrate my birthday with me, and in case you aren’t aware of this, Michele doesn’t drive to Virginia Beach without a good reason. My birthday happened to fit the bill, and I was so tickled about it.

BB!: Sounds like you two have a great friendship. How do you support each other through the ups and downs of life after cancer and just life in general?

SH: Michele is a huge support to me. I am kind of a softie about some things, and at times I can be taken advantage of if I don’t put my foot down. Michele is often my voice of reason when I find myself drifting into a position where I might represent myself as a doormat versus a person with a strong mind and a strong will. Michele helps me reconnect with my inner strength. When she gives me advice it isn’t preachy or judging and she’d never chastise me if I didn’t follow her suggestions, either. I find Michele’s sense of self to be inspiring and I’d like to have her power to walk away from certain situations I find myself struggling with. I envy her conviction and ability to be a badass with no apology.

MY: I have so much love and trust in who Shawn is and her opinion of me and who I am. For example, she was the first, and at the time of this interview, the only friend I let read my novel. That’s my most personal, intimate part of me and I’m selfish with that. That’s how much her viewpoint means to me. She gives me advice when I need it, whether I want it or not. She just knows that I need to hear it. It’s always honest and genuine, and comes from her heart. Plus she’s smart and so open to the world, so she kind of helps ease me into it a bit. I know I can lean on her if things get too heavy. I hope she thinks the same of me, too.

Shawn and I are close, like friends who have been together for ages. We laugh at the same things, enjoy an ice-cold beer and some spicy Mexican food, and can hang out with or without the kiddos and not miss a beat. The BB! retreat, the Pink Carpet Gala, and all the other BB! events are more fun when you have your bestie along for the ride. We also hang out at my house, because she knows what an awful anti-driving homebody I can be, and we have holiday fun together with friends. We also enjoy our moral vices, like poker and smack talk, and sometimes we just hang out and do nothing at all. There’s so much to be said about someone like that.

When BB! said these women become your sisters, your family, I was quite cynical. Now I know they are right. Shawn is the family I got to pick, and now she’s stuck with me. Ha!

BB!: You guys are too funny. What role has BB! played in your friendship?

MY: What can I say? I’m not one to believe in fate, but it’s hard to argue with the chain of events that led me to BB! and then to Shawn. Having cancer blows, but it’s an eerie sort of feeling when you are actually unconvinced you would change if it meant giving up all that this group and my friendship with Shawn have given me. Given the choice of no cancer ever or a whole new friend to bond with over beers, most people would pick the former hands down. But you know, I think Shawn would get me when I say I’d still probably pick the latter. Who am I kidding? She always gets me. That’s why I love her as much as I do.

SH: Although I think Michele and I are friends beyond what drew us together, we both have a deep-seated appreciation and love for BB! and what the organization and its cofounders, staff, volunteers, and Boobers! have contributed to us by way of our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. They are life savers, all of them.

BB!: What’s the best part of having a Boober! bestie?

MY: The strangest benefit to having a Boober! bestie has been the level of comfort in conversation. With my Boober! sisters I can discuss all things cancer. With my best friends I can discuss everything else. But with Shawn, I have it all. You know what it’s like when you’re feeling insecure and kind of want to date again but your kids are there and you wonder how it will affect them and, oh yeah, those scars? How does that even work and how do you bring it up? We get it and that’s the kind of thing that truly reminds me I’m not alone and that there is someone who gets me.

SH: Michele and I would like to collaborate on a fictional account of breast cancer . . . Fictional characters and fictional scenarios, but filled with energy and drama and triumph and sadness. We would incorporate BB! into the book in some way, too. Thanks to Beyond Boobs! I have coped with breast cancer in a healthier manner. I think Michele feels the same way. The catalyst to our friendship was breast cancer and the warm handshake was Beyond Boobs! We are friends apart from those elements, but we still appreciate the circumstances that brought us into one another’s circle.

Because we are geographically apart, not professionally aligned, and there is a big age difference, Michele and I may never have had the chance to meet but for a cancer diagnosis. Cancer is bigger than we are, but apparently not stronger.

 

 

 

, February 12, 2016 | More Post by

Ah, February! For most people, this little month is the only thing standing between them and spring. Here at Beyond Boobs!, we see the shortest month of the year for what it truly is: a reason to celebrate love! The BB! family values love above all else, so we get especially excited when Valentine’s Day rolls around and the whole world has love on the brain (and in their hearts!).linking hearts

Rather than spend a mere 24 hours dedicated to love, we are devoting the entire month to Boober! love and friendship on our BLOG. First up is a piece on Boober! besties Michele Yepez and Shawn Huddy as they talk about their involvement with the group and how life’s twists and turns led them to each other and an amazing new friendship neither one expected. Next up is a tribute to Juanita Lee from Boober! Holly Carlson. Holly shares her memories of Juanita and the impact their friendship had (and continues to have) on her life. We end the series with a shout-out to Elisha Villanueva and Anna Snyder, two fitness fanatics on the West Coast who support BB! by raising funds through virtual marathons with the help of runners and walkers all over the world.

So sit back, read about our incredible Boobers! and supporters, and let love lead the way.

, January 29, 2016 | More Post by

Celebrating the New Year once just wasn’t enough! Earlier this month we turned to Facebook to ask Boobers! – – “As a breast cancer survivor, what does beginning a New Year mean to you?” We received so many responses, we had to post a second blog to fit them all in. Enjoy!2016_4

“Another year is success in beating the statistics of my cancer! I hope to keep beating those odds. Another year to watch my littlest grow into the sweetest, smartest little man he is and be on the receiving end of the love he has to give. Another year to watch my older children grow into the adults they are becoming. Maybe seeing a future daughter-in-law be added to our family. Another year to be with the man who stole my heart and who I couldn’t see life without. Every day above ground is a good day for me. Living life to the fullest is the only way!”

Stacy Sea

 “A New Year for me is both exciting and scary at the same time. I am excited I am alive and cherish every day to love my family, friends, and life. But it is also scary due to newly-diagnosed stage 4 breast cancer. The uncertain and unknown can be overwhelming at times. That is when I hold my family and faith closer. As Mark Nepo said: “To be broken does not mean all things are broken.”

Cheri Lavalle

Category: Blog

, January 01, 2016 | More Post by

2016_4

At Beyond Boobs! we celebrate every single day, but there is something truly magical about the first day of a New Year. We have so much to look forward to in 2016 and that got us to thinking about what another year means for our Boobers! We turned to Facebook to ask “As a breast cancer survivor, what does beginning a New Year mean to you?” Numerous Boobers! talked back and we are excited to share their responses here on our blog. Happy New Year!

Beginning a New Year for me means new possibilities. Another door has been opened and I’m looking forward to the blessings to come in the New Year and celebrating each day with my children and loved ones.
Jackinah Andrews

The title of my book says it all – I Lost Both Breasts and Gained a Brain – and I’m ready for my now! Just blessed.
Carol Clark

A New Year means another year that I’m here. Another year with my family. Another year for new experiences and enjoying the beautiful moments, big and small.
Michelle Fall

Another year that I get to share my story and hopefully bring peace and light to someone else.
Raquel Gilbreath

The New Year means another year out from the dreaded diagnosis and treatment! Another year that I get make a difference in someone’s life! Another year to love and be loved! Another year to be uniquely ME!
Rhonda Hahn

Beginning a New Year? It means soaking in all the love!!
Joanna Henk

Every day I have survived is a gift and a blessing, so a New Year means I have an empty slate to write a new life upon! I am grateful to God for saving me, and I look forward to helping and serving others.
Donna Hull

A New Year means I get to celebrate the fact I’ve just survived another year cancer-free! Time to continue moving forward with a positive outlook on what our future holds.
Rashida Mahoney

Beginning a New Year means that I’m still here and kicking!! The Lord does perform miracles every day and sometimes multiple miracles to a single person.
Donna Matherne

Another year of new adventures, surprises (could be good or bad), and milestones! Breast cancer taught me a lot of things, but especially to “roll with the punches” and learn from the past, move forward, do what makes you happy, and cherish every special moment with those you love.
Crystal Marie Silins

New opportunities and new surprises are waiting for me for another year. I am that much farther away from my diagnosis and that much closer to being on the other side of this disease. I have a lot to look forward to, including the BB! retreat!
Lisa Williams

It’s so hard to believe that two years ago I got that call, the call I never expected to hear. Never wanted to hear. Never believed I would hear. But I heard those words: “Ms. Yepez, I’m sorry. It’s cancer.”

The devastation of dreams shattered, a life lost, an end to my story, almost broke me that day. And yet, it didn’t actually do any of those things at all. Instead, that call gave birth to a dozen new beginnings I never imagined I would have. New outlooks, a new Beyond Boobs! family of sisters, and an entirely new way to hope. To feel. To live.

Such a dark anniversary should fill me with heaviness, and yet I can’t feel that way. Instead I laugh at my friends’ jokes and think of how we came together through disease. I groan about little problems like traffic as I remember the pain of my earth shattering around me. I watch the sun rise up in the sky as I relish how mine hasn’t yet set.

Call me lucky, call me naïve, or anything in between. All I know for sure is my life is beautiful, and not even cancer can take that away. And that’s just how I want it. I will start 2016 sure of how far it is that so many of us have come, and at absolute peace with how far we still have to go. This is my story and I’m grateful for every word.”
Michelle Yepez

 

 

Category: Blog

, December 21, 2015 | More Post by

 

On a Sunday afternoon in November the Virginia Wesleyan College campus came alive with the grace and allure of old Hollywood. Six Boobers! stepped onto the stage and transformed instantly into dancing starlets, swooping and gliding into history. The standing-room-only crowd cheered and shouted, eager for more. And in a showroom across town one shiny red car glinted in the rays of the autumn sun streaming through the windows, waiting for the raffle winner’s name to be called and her future to be decided.

The Volunteers Prepare

Before they danced, the starlets practiced. For eight weeks they worked with professional dancers to learn the steps of their new routines. But before one lucky winner’s name could be called, Beyond Boobs! had to sell tickets. Volunteers, Boobers!, and BB! staff arrived at the WTKR studios in Norfolk well before the sun came up on October 21st. barbara ciara and hannahDecked out in pink in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they took their places at the phones to sell raffle tickets for the 2015 red V6 Mustang coupe.

Barbara Ciara, a broadcast journalist at WTKR and long-time Beyond Boobs! supporter, interviewed volunteers and shot promos to air during the live newscasts throughout the day. Only a limited number of tickets were printed, so the odds of winning the new Mustang were one in 799.

The Starlets Perform

The winner of the Mustang would be chosen immediately after the Starlets of Dance exhibition, in which six breast cancer survivors moved beyond their comfort zones to do what many have never done before – perform a dance number in front of an excited, cheering crowd.Joanne Snook-Starlets

One by one, the starlets emerged with their dance partners. Family, friends, and supporters cheered as the couples spun across the dance floor. The event also included professional performances from local dancers and youth dance studios, as well as a silent auction. After the last winner from the auction had been announced, the audience held its breath, listening for the name of the new owner of a 2015 Mustang V6 Coupe.

The Winner Rejoices

A rainy Monday couldn’t dampen James and Bonnie Meredith’s enthusiasm as they walked through the front doors at Beach Ford. They may have even been dancing a little themselves when Tom Barton, President of Beach Ford, handed James the keys to his brand new car.

Tom, a Beyond Boobs! sponsor since 2011, looks forward to handing over the keys to the winner each year. “Beyond Boobs! provides valuable advice and support for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer,” he said. “They are a unique group and this is a really cool way for us to help others who are reaching out during such a scary time in their lives. The money raised from the Mustang raffle will continue to help fund their vital mission.”

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Category: Blog