, November 07, 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, Letoria!

32, Diagnosed at 29

3rd degree family history – no known genetic mutation

Life was flourishing for this fun-loving, jubilant mother of three daughters with a new baby and new career as a pharmacy technician. That all changed when her family doctor ordered a biopsy on the lump Letoria had noticed during the third trimester of her pregnancy and that her OB/GYN had attributed to a clogged milk duct. The biopsy results came back abnormal, and the only way to rule out cancer was to remove the lump and test it. With so much going on in her life, Letoria chose to delay further testing. But the strange lump and the unanswered questions—lingered. When Letoria took action nearly a year later, the diagnosis was clear: stage II breast cancer. After careful consideration (and many tears), she had a bilateral mastectomy, breast reconstruction, and radiation. Today she’s healthy and back to work as a pharmacy tech, substitute teacher, and youth volunteer who coaches kids on finding their passions. Letoria especially wants to thank her three daughters for the strength she gained from them. In Beyond Boobs!, Letoria has found a support network of women who “relate not just to the diagnosis, but to the lifelong changes caused by breast cancer.”

, November 02, 2018 | More Post by

Vanessa (right), and her mother (center) and sister (left) on Vanessa’s last day of radiation.

“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 was a three-part series on my journey with the diagnosis; my pain, my tears, my fears, my faith! Here’s my final post.

November 1, my talk with God: Just received a call from my surgeon; my results from my surgery and test are ‘low-risk’. Lord this is all You! Thank you for keeping me; for your grace and favor, for my healing and for my continued restoration.

So, the diagnosis has been made and the surgery is complete, what now? I’m not sure if I mentioned in my previous blogs but I’m OCD. My family would probably say that I just like to be in control (lol); they are probably right!  Maybe that too, but I just like order. I like A-Z, 1-10, and I like plans. In these past few weeks, there was no order; plans yes, but not mine. My choices were limited because I was at the mercy of my physicians and I just prayed that where God guides, He would provide! And He did!

It’s November 10 and I have an appointment with my radiation oncologist (Dr. Alfredo Urdaneta) and medical oncologist (Dr. Kumar Abhishek). I’m being told that I’ll have 20 radiation sessions and then I’ll be on Tamoxifen after.

As I’m thinking of all of this in my mind, I just began to thank God for everything; in spite of. I thank God for my family and friends that He put in my path to support me during this time. I thank Him for sending me to get my regular scheduled mammogram. I thank Him for a team of physicians that from day one I felt had my best health interest at heart. I thank Him for keeping me healthy as I journeyed through my treatments.

When I was diagnosed all I could think of was all of the things that I’d lose; my health, my mind, my appearance, maybe some friends, finances, my fight, and yes, maybe my faith. But as I continued each day talking to God, writing out my thoughts and praying for strength, I just became more thankful.

Before my diagnosis I’d worry about clothes not fitting; the weather messing up my hair or maybe even if I’d have time to run an errand and get home in time to see a tv show. I’m human, so some days I still think on those things. But now it’s not as important.

Now I’m just thankful for every moment. I am thankful that I’m alive and well; to feel, to see the weather change.  I’m thankful to have the time and energy to run an errand. I’m even more thankful for those days where I get to do nothing. I never realized how much I probably took for granted until I didn’t know if I’d have the strength to do any of them.

Thanksgiving 2017, November 23, 2017; my talk with God: Thanksgiving and Lord I am so thankful. For my family, friends, home and my health. Lord you continually bless me and I thank you for all that you are doing in my life. Today is emotional for me because I know this story could have been so different, but you saw fit to change my situation. I will trust you!

November 29, my first radiation treatment and all I can think about is counting down. As I lay there, so many thoughts run through my mind. What is this machine; what does it really do? They position me a few times to make sure that my tattoos line up correctly. Yet again Lord, you sent this team. As I am leaving, I’m given an updated print out of my sessions. Day one and I cross it out; one down 19 to go. My friend Sharon would message me every day before my treatment with an encouraging word and my co-workers (Ms. Shirley and Nurse Aaron) to celebrate after each treatment, we’d dance! I remember my final treatment (Dec 27): ringing the bell, with my mom and my sister Gayle by my side and yes, my final dance (Celebration by Kool and The Gang).

I know that this blog was just a glimpse of my journey, but if anyone were to ask me what would I share with anyone newly diagnosed, I’d give them (3) things to take with them.

  1. Believe in something. My faith is in God and His power. So find something to believe in, to keep you strong.
  2. Surround yourself with positive energy; music, friends, a support group, daily affirmations.
  3. Find yourself. Spend some time with you; maybe journal, storyboard, inspirational quotes. No one will understand how you feel but you!

Nothing about what we have to go through is going to be the same for everyone; so find your place. Find what works for you and as each day ends, know that you will become stronger.

As I end my series of blogs, I MUST thank God for His continued restoration of ‘me’! Thanking Him for giving me a voice that I am able to be a ‘ripple’ for someone else (thank you Shannon).

I would also like to thank my family, my fella (Fred) and my ride-or-die crew; my prayer warriors (they know who they are). To my Boober! Sisters/Here for The Girls, Richmond, VA and my 2017 Pink Sisters, I met you in what was the most life-changing and challenging moment in my life. In spite of ‘how’ we met, I am forever thankful that we did. I do believe that where God guides, He provides.  He already knew my path, and what I’d need even before I did. In doing so, He didn’t just give send me support, but He gave me an extended family of wonderful women; my sisters. Who would have shoulders for me to lean on, hands to hold? And yes, be there to wipe away those tears. He knew that I would need you; not just for this journey, but for a lifetime! Yes, and for that alone I am JUST THANKFUL!

, October 26, 2018 | More Post by

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

This is Part 2 of Peggy’s cancer story. Read part one HERE if you haven’t yet. Peggy’s daughter (pictured here) is also a survivor who is a part of the H4TG family.

…So, the next two weeks went flying by. Our older daughter finished her finals at college and came home before she drove up to her boyfriend’s (now husband) graduation festivities for his graduation. Our younger daughter was finishing up her junior year of high school. I had told a very close friend what was going on so that she could be a support for my girls (and me). I had picked up my films from the radiology office and my husband looked at all of them. I got all of the mammogram films so he could see the progression of the cancer over the previous few years. Unfortunately, the reports that were sent to my physician did not include the telltale clumping of cells in my breast. I must say that he did a fabulous job around the girls and not mentioning that.
The day that we went to my Breast Surgeon was the same day that our older daughter left for West Point in New York. I think all of us were on edge those last days before THE DAY.
When we arrived at the Breast Center, I was alarmed at the number of women who looked just like me—-scared—and the husbands/partners sitting there trying to ignore where we all were and why we were there. My name was called and I went back alone first. My husband would come back in a little bit. I walked into the doctor”s office and he was sitting behind his desk with my mammogram films on his view box. I felt very comfortable and safe with this surgeon and he was trying to explain what was on the films. I told him that I was a nurse and that I wanted nothing “sugar-coated” and I prefer no mincing of words. He told me that it appeared I had a tumor and he wanted to do an exam and sonogram. So, that was done and my husband was called back. The surgeon said that he was 99.9% sure that I had cancer, but a biopsy would confirm it. He asked me when I wanted to have that done, I told him “yesterday.”

Back to the examination room for a needle aspiration biopsy with sonogram. The surgeon showed me the two tubes and he said that he knew it was cancer, but the biopsy would confirm. I hadn’t cried at all before and I have to admit that I cried and cried. My husband was called in and he just held me while I cried. The nurse in the Breast Center who had been with me during the biopsy brought me a small ice pack to slip inside my bra for the biopsy site and she told me that she was a breast cancer survivor and now I could officially say that I was too.
We had one last appointment with my breast surgeon to review the biopsy results and decide the course of action. No surprise that I had cancer and that it was invasive ductal. The surgeon took his time and we covered all of the options. He also mentioned a final phase clinical trial for something called SENTINEL NODE BIOPSY. My patient information was put into some computer and I was put into one of two groups. I forget which was which, but I remember that if I woke up with an incision under my arm, that it wasn’t a good sign. Surgeon told us that my chances for survival were basically the same whether I had a mastectomy or a lumpectomy. My husband and I both determined we would go with the lumpectomy because it made no difference on my final outcome and it was less surgery to go through.
Surgery date scheduled for two weeks from that date. June 10, 2002. A date that neither my husband or I will never forget….

Stay tuned for part 3!

, 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.

, 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

, 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.”

, February 13, 2018 | More Post by

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

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

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

VBCF Priority Legislation 2018:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

, September 29, 2017 | More Post by

Freddi N. is the teenage daughter of a previous H4TG blog contributor; she shared this essay with us since it related to our current Pink Link Connect blog contest asking survivors to share their thoughts on genes and breast cancer.

“You are too young to worry about this.” When my physicians brush off my fears about cancer and my risk, I can’t help but feel like a prisoner on death row, anticipating the worst. Knowing too much about cancer can be good and it can be bad. Knowing what the future has in store for you can shape your present as well. Inheriting a genetic mutation that puts you at an 85% potential likelihood of developing breast or ovarian cancer is daunting. My mother and my maternal grandmother both tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation, which unfortunately indicates that I have a 50% likelihood of inheriting the gene mutation as well.

Men and women with this mutation tend to develop cancer at an early stage in life like the members of my family.  Knowing that I have a 50% chance of inheriting the BRCA mutation, I will educate myself on the depths of this mutation, explore my family’s genetic inheritance and investigate ways in which I can decrease my risk factors.

In my quest to unearth as much information as I possibly could about BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, I have found that, if in fact I do have the mutation, I have an 85% chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer at an early age.  While the general population tends to have only a 25% chance of breast and a 17% chance of ovarian cancers, my genetic makeup raises my odds quite considerably.

In fact, BRCA mutations are found most amongst members of my heritage, Ashkenazi Jews. Everyone possesses the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene but a woman’s risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a deleterious mutation in the BRCA1 gene or the BRCA2 gene. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins. These proteins help repair damaged DNA and, therefore, play a role in ensuring the stability of the cell’s genetic material.  If you have a mutation, you lack the proteins essential for cellular reparation. In my case, since I am too young to be tested, when I am of age, I plan to meet with a genetic counselor.

My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at age 66. It was metastatic and her life expectancy was 18 months. During that time, she was tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations because her mother and family history suggested that there was a causal link to these mutations. Eight months after her death, at the age of 42, my mother was diagnosed with stage 3C breast cancer. She was asked about her family history of cancer and quickly remembered that her mother was tested for BRCA and was positive. She was told that she had a 50% chance of also inheriting the mutation. Her mutation was BRCA2.

In order to lower her risk of recurrence, my mother underwent a radical bilateral mastectomy with Tram Flap reconstruction, six months of chemotherapy, radiation and a total hysterectomy, lowering her risk to only 15% reoccurrence. In addition to a family history of breast cancer that automatically increases my risk, my family’s genetic background must also be taken into account when assessing my future actions or inactions. My paternal grandmother had colon cancer and both my grandfathers had advanced prostate cancer. These cancers are all linked to the BRCA mutation putting me at a greater risk…85 plus percent.

Studies have shown that no risk reduction strategies exist for children and therefore testing for the BRCA mutation may not happen until I am 18. This was a hard pill to swallow for my parents who resisted this ideology and sought research programs by major universities that are conducting studies on early risk reduction strategies for children of BRCA positive parents.

When I turned 16, my parents informed me that although we were not actually going to test to see if I had the BRCA mutation, we were going to be taking precautions for both my brother and I to reduce risk. A healthy diet and plenty of exercise can be the first line of defense against cancer and practically every disease. My dad is a certified nutritionist and he uses his expertise to guide our family. My mother is living proof that a good outlook and a healthy lifestyle can galvanize and propel you to live life to the fullest. I will not let the fear of the unknown paralyze me and will instead use all the tools available to ensure that cancer does not stand a chance in my body.

Throughout my life I have witnessed cancer take lives. On the other hand, I have seen the bravery and courageousness of my mother’s battle. I know now that I have a greater risk of getting cancer due to my inherited genetic makeup. This could serve me poorly and leave me depressed and fated or ultimately bring me closer to appreciating consciousness, spirit, life, healing and help me to become very clear about what I want from my life. If I am one of the “85 percent” I have already won the battle.

-Freddie N.

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