Love, Lizard

By Libby Riley

A dear friend whom I met through an online Mom’s group passed away in 2017 from an exceedingly rare form of sarcoma. One thing she asked all of us before she left us was, “Promise me you will always try to find the silver lining.”

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020, I have tried my best to live by that mantra. It hasn’t been easy, but at times if I look hard enough, I’ve been able to find it.

At the end of June 2020, as things started to reopen after the COVID shut down, I went for my annual mammogram where an unusual area was found in my right breast. I was called back in for additional images. This was not unusual for me since developing dense breast tissue after having my two boys in 2004 & 2006.

On July 16, 2020, I received a phone call at 8:04 pm that would change our lives forever. It was from the Breast Center with the results of the six core biopsies done two days prior.

Since receiving that call, I have repeatedly said that I never thought I would be diagnosed with breast cancer in a million years. I have no close family history of breast cancer. I was never told that having dense breast tissue put me at a higher risk for developing breast cancer.

My official diagnosis was Stage 1a, Grade 2, ER+/PR-, HER2- Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I was in shock!

I broke down in tears and panicked. I immediately started thinking the worst; I had CANCER! What’s going to happen to me?!

After recovering from the initial shock of that phone call, I pulled myself together and told my husband that we could, and would fight it. All the while, deep down inside, I was scared beyond belief. After additional testing, biopsies, and imaging, the plan was to have a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.

The days after my diagnosis, I started reaching out to other women I knew who had been through a breast cancer diagnosis. I joined as many support groups on Facebook as possible. I wanted to gather as much firsthand information as possible and hear other women tell me that I would be okay!

On August 31, 2020, our 18th wedding anniversary, I had my first surgery and began my fight to kick cancer’s ass.

Shortly after my diagnosis, my friend Shannon made me a set of beaded bracelets that said BRAVE, LOVED, STRONG, and YOU GOT THIS. I immediately put them on and did not take them off other than for surgery. They brought me so much hope, courage, and strength.

During a therapy session with my Oncology Counselor, she suggested that I do something that I enjoyed as an outlet to refocus my anxiety when it crept up on me. I have always been creative and artistic, so I thought about it and tried to figure out what I could do.

A few weeks passed, and I could not think of anything that would not cost me an arm and a leg, was something that would be easy to do, was repetitive enough to take my mind off of things and possibly something that I could do while watching TV at night with my husband.

I thought about my bracelets. Why couldn’t I make bracelets and GIFT them to women who had been diagnosed and hopefully give them the same encouragement and comfort? I headed to Hobby Lobby, bought supplies, and started creating. Pretty soon, I had a Ziploc bag FULL of bracelets that had all different words on them but mostly the original words on mine.

I started gifting my bracelets. “SURVIVOR” bracelets went to friends in my Online Mom’s group who have all either completed treatment or are currently in active treatment – there are 5 of them. I sent bracelets to women in my “circle” that I know through my boys’ school or my former employer, all who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and one who is a breast cancer survivor & was recently diagnosed with a different form of cancer – there are 3 of them.

A friend asked me if I could talk to her friend who had been recently diagnosed and had questions. I thought her friend might need some encouragement, so off a set went to her. I offered to make them for women on Facebook support pages. Women started taking me up on my offer.

Bracelets have been sent all over the United States, to Quebec & and even to England! To date, I have sent out over 400 bracelets.

What really fueled my excitement was an exchange with the National Breast Cancer Foundation regarding their HOPE Kits. I asked if they might be interested in some of my bracelets. At the request of the Director of Support Services, I sent some pictures of bracelets I had made. She responded, “These are beautiful! We would love to include them in the HOPE kits! Bracelets with the word “HOPE” on them would be perfect!”

So I got busy making 100 bracelets that I sent off to the NBCF! My beaded bracelets that say HOPE, BRAVE & SURVIVOR are also for sale on the NBCF website, with the proceeds from the sales going back into their program. I am honored and humbled that my bracelets are not only being worn by the women to whom I have personally gifted but by women throughout the United States and who knows where else!

While I haven’t had to go through as much as some women do regarding treatment, I have always been open and willing to share my experience when it comes to my journey.

Breast Cancer forever changed me. I feel driven to make a difference.

I am not one of those who will go out and change legislation or raise vast amounts of money to fund research. Instead, I am doing it one bracelet at a time. I am doing it by reaching out to women I feel connected to and gifting them my bracelets under the name “Love, Lizard,” which is the nickname my dad gave me when I was young.

I may read a post on Facebook or connect with someone on Instagram and send them some encouragement. I remember the early days in my diagnosis when my head was spinning, and I wished someone would have reached out to me and said, “I know you are scared; I’m here for you.” That’s what I’m doing.

Many women that I have gifted bracelets to stay in touch with me. We communicate frequently. They keep me posted on how they are doing. We share updates on how we are doing and our concerns and fears. It is messages I receive when someone receives their bracelets like:

“They feel lucky and made with LOVE!!!”

“This gift was the most sincere token I’ve received. Thank you so much, and while I have no idea where this journey will take me, I definitely will remember this sentiment and pay it forward.”

“Thank you so much – I love it!! And thank you for paying it forward by creating and gifting these inspirational bracelets to our cancer sisters!”

These keep me going and push me to continue doing what I’m doing. I am making a difference, even if it is a little one!

My story has been shared on the Susan G Komen website, AudreyLiz.com blog page, AnaOno.com site, and was published in the December/January issue of Wildfire Magazine.  

*Since early 2021, I have made and sent out over 500 beaded bracelets to women across the country. I do not charge for my bracelets. If someone requests a bracelet or bracelets from me, all I ask is that they pay $3 to cover some of the cost for postage. International shipping is also available, and the price is based on location. I also accept donations to help fund my supplies to continue making and gifting bracelets.    

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