April 22, 2019

I am not defined by my circumstances.

Jearlean’s Story of GRYT

I am Jearlean Taylor, a Baltimore, MD native. I grew up in a loving family with both parents. I have three sisters and two brothers. I love to travel, model, watch TV, and spend time with family and friends.

I was diagnosed with a rare form of vaginal cancer (Rhabdomyosarcoma) at the early age of three. My childhood and most of my adolescent years would be at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in NY getting treatments and care. Because of cancer, I was forced to have a permanent ostomy, which aides my bladder and bowel functions that cause me to have an ostomy (bags) for the rest of my life.

My life has proven to be a journey of unexpected challenges, especially being a double ostomate. My outward appearance is one of beauty, high fashion, grace, and charm. My inward existence was one of low self-esteem, depression, and chronic medical complications. I found it hard, embarrassing and painful to be considered “different”. How would I cope? How would I deal with what “life” has dealt me? I learned life happens.

Through my journey I discovered, I am not defined by my circumstances. It is now important for me to inspire, encourage and empower others, especially the ostomy community. I hope my story pushes others to come out of their comfort zone in sharing their story because everybody has a story to tell.

If I could change anything about my life I would not change anything, not even having ostomy bags. It has made me who I am today. I have endured a lot in my life. Who I was before and who I am now is a woman of strength. I am an author, motivational speaker, fashion model, cancer survivor, ostomy advocate, and mentor. I am doing well. I feel good, my health is great, and God is showering blessings beyond all I could have imagined. I will continue to travel sharing my story with cancer survivors, be an inspiration to the ostomy community, and give encouragement to those suffering from low self-esteem. I am still promoting my book “Pretty Girl Blues”.

In addition, at age 51 years old I still love gracing the runways and doing editorial modeling. Remember we are all different to make a difference. Live your life on purpose with a purpose and for a purpose.

GRYT is celebrating 49 years as a cancer survivor.
GRYT is turning my dreams into reality.
GRYT is being one of the top fashion models in my state in spite of having an ostomy (bags)
GRYT is being an advocate and inspiration to the ostomy community.

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February 7, 2019

GRYT Book Club Spotlight: The Cast

With Author, Amy Blumenfeld

Read our GRYT Book Club interview with young adult cancer survivor and author of The Cast, Amy Blumenfeld.

GRYT: Amy, what inspired you to write The Cast?

Amy: There were a few sources of inspiration for the book. The first was my master's project in graduate school which I wrote about adult survivors of childhood cancer.

The second source of inspiration was a videotape that was made for me when I was sick. It was don’t by 40 people — ten families (my parents' friends and their kids) — and it cheered me up when I was in the hospital.

The third source of inspiration was when I turned 40 a few years ago my friends and I were having these milestone moment type of conversations about relationships and friendships and marriage and parenting and career and I came up with the idea of creating fun characters with all different issues and stories and then weaving in the good important messages about long term survivorship and the impact on the patient as well as the friends and family through the stories about these characters.

GRYT: What type of cancer did you have?

Amy: Hodgkin’s disease, I was diagnosed at 13 and had treatment until I was 15.

GRYT: That videotape sounds amazing. What an awesome gesture! Do you still watch it?

Amy: Every once in a while but not very often. Our friend who made it transferred it onto a DVD but it is very grainy!

GRYT: In the book, you talk about Becca and secondary cancer. Is that inspired by your own life?

Amy: The secondary cancer was inspired by many of the patients I met doing interviews. I was fascinated by the long term effects both physically and emotionally on the patients as well as their family and friends.

I wanted to write a book that shed light on the fact that treatment doesn’t end the moment you walk out the hospital doors

GRYT: Why did you decide to write the book from multiple points of view?

Amy: I wrote the book from different points of view because I thought first-person perspectives are fun and interesting to read. I like those books and they draw me in quickly. I thought different POVs would also shed light on different aspects of the survivorship experience. People have different reactions to the same experience and I wanted to capture that.

GRYT: A lot of our community members find that’s when you need help and support the most.

Amy: It was fun. These characters really became people to me… like imaginary friends!

GRYT: Was it hard to write from a viewpoint from the characters who didn’t have cancer? How did you separate your experience from that?

Amy: Not really. I just thought about my family and friends and how things might look from their perspectives. It’s like being in a play… you get into a character’s head.

GRYT: Did you always want to be a writer? Did you keep a journal when you were sick?

Amy: I did not keep a journal when I was sick. For me, I just needed to maintain “normalcy” and not dwell on any of the sickness stuff. So I focused on just keeping up with school work and regular non-illness stuff.

I always knew I liked to write but I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t mind writing thank you notes as a kid and would write long letters to my friends who went away for summers to camp.

When I was in college I liked the classes that required papers instead of tests. I found I learned more and enjoyed the research and writing process.

I got internships in journalism and then went to grad school for journalism. I wanted to go into television news but realized that the writing is different for tv vs. print and even within print it is different between newspapers and magazines and I found my strength was in writing. Magazine format pieces so I got a job after graduation at a magazine.

GRYT: How long did it take you to write The Cast?

Amy: It took one year to write the manuscript. Then almost a year to revise it. Then the publishing process and then it came out. So from the time I had the idea to write a novel to the moment I held the book in my hands, it took four years.

GRYT: Did you always know that you wanted to write a book that was inspired by what you went through?

Amy: No!

GRYT: What was it like going from being a journalist and writing non-fiction to writing fiction?

Amy: When I was in grad school and wrote my masters project about adult survivors of childhood cancer my professor came up to me at graduation and suggested I turn the project into a book. That was the first time it ever occurred to me. He planted a seed and for a while, I thought maybe I would turn it into a compilation of interviews or possibly a memoir but it never clicked or came together and wasn’t fun to read at all. I didn’t want to write a cancer book. So when I turned forty I created these characters and the storyline and turned the whole idea into a novel and it was SO much more fun and liberating because I could make things up and didn’t have to stick to facts.

GRYT: Wow. I love that! What is your writing process like? Do you plot it out or just fly by the seat of your pants?

Amy: I have a rough blueprint for the story and then I write. But it often gets redrawn as I go! So it’s sort of a mix of plotting it and pantsing it!

GRYT: What’s next? Do you have plans for another book? A sequel maybe?

Amy: I am working on my second novel. As of now, it is sort of a spin-off of The Cast.

GRYT: Neat!! Can you share anything about it? Or is all under wraps?

Amy: I feel like some of the characters stories aren’t done….

GRYT: What are some of your favorite books, Amy?

Amy: Oh, good question. I have a bunch. I liked The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I like all of Tova Mirvis’ books. The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner. I could go on….By the way, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is really great too as is One Day in December. These are all fiction!

GRYT: Any idea when your spin-off will come out? We’ll be ready to read it!

Amy: Aw, thanks. Not for a while. I’m still doing promotion for The Cast.

GRYT: Looks like we’ll just have to keep an eye on your website and social media for an announcement! Thank you so much for joining us tonight and letting us read your book and pepper you with questions. We always love hearing from fellow survivors.

For more in or about The Cast, check out https://link.medium.com/PWGzEp9mWT

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February 7, 2019

Papa Joe’s Story of GRYT

If you know anything about me, you probably know me as the guy who lost 250 lbs by walking and shopping at the 99 Cent Only store. That was the identifier attached to me, until the beginning of last year. I thought that I had already gone through the trials and tribulations of my life, and had come out the other side of things healthier than ever. I had taken my 450 lbs of obesity into my own hands and made the conscious decision to lose the weight. It was a long and difficult journey, but I set a goal and accomplished it. I even became an ambassador to the 99 Cent Only store, and the American Heart Association, because of the work that I put in. Color me surprised (literally) when I was admitted to the hospital last January with jaundice — ultimately leading doctors to run advanced tests on me. I will never forget the morning that my doctor walked into my hospital room and said those three words that you never want to hear from your doctor: “You have cancer.” Not only that, but you have a life expectancy of six months to two years to live!

SAY, “WHAT?” How could I possibly have cancer and only six months to live? I had changed everything in my life over the course of several years. I was exercising, eating right, abstaining from harmful habits. I had paid my dues! I was just about to start a pity party of one when I realized that this was just one more journey that I was going to have to go through — and come out on the other side of — to make me who I am. One of the most successful tactics in my weight loss journey was the power of positivity. I took all of the emotions that I had surrounding my diagnosis and made the decision that I was going to focus all of my energy into positivity.

I was diagnosed with Stage IV Cholangiocarcinoma. This is a rare cancer of the bile duct and liver, and the very nasty cause of my jaundice. The increase in Cholangiocarcinoma mortality is the highest among African Americans. My prognosis wasn’t great, I’m not going to lie. I was not a candidate for surgery because the mass was so large, so after reviewing my options with my doctor I elected to go with chemo to see if we could shrink it. I was nervous about starting chemo, mostly because of what I had heard from other friends, but I was determined that I was going to get that cancer out of my body. I spoke with other patients while we sat together, I heard their stories, I tried to make them laugh. I tried to give them as much positivity as I had to give to help them through their own journey. And they, in turn, helped me with mine! In addition, during my chemo sessions, I wrote a book and became an Amazon best-selling author, where I share my weight loss journey called, “Balancing the Scales”. It was a great way for me to “pay it forward” and help those trying to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle. Also, I was blessed to have been in the top 2% of people that had no side effects to chemo, what so ever. No loss of hair or nausea. Nothing! My oncologist Dr. Nassir, tells other patients that he’s treated his first “superhuman”. Maybe it was the positive vibes, maybe it was karma — but after a year of chemo and six weeks of radiation, we successfully shrunk that tumor!! As of my last visit, my tumor marker levels are almost undetectable and I’m a FINALLY a candidate for surgery!

I had always been very forthcoming with my friends and family about my weight loss journey, so I decided that I was going to open up my life and include them in my cancer journey as well. This is one of the best decisions that I ever made. Having friends and family, patients, doctors, nurses and staff rally behind me, supporting me, loving me, making me laugh… well, that made all the difference. This journey has made such an impact on my life that I’m writing book #2. I encourage you to share your journey with your loved ones. I encourage you to share your journey with other people like me because we know what you’re going through! You are definitely not alone. Try your best to keep your focus on the positive things in your life. Positivity brings positivity, and my renewed life is a reflection of that!!

GRYT is losing 250 lbs, only to be diagnosed with Stage IV cancer.
GRYT is writing my first book while simultaneously going through chemo because I wasn’t going to let cancer steal my life from me.
GRYT is overcoming all of the odds to come out on the other end with a medical miracle.
GRYT is trusting in yourself and those around you to be open about your feelings and supportive.

If you would like to chat with me, please find me on my social channels!

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ThePapaJoeAviance
Instagram: www.instagram.com/papajoeaviance
Twitter: www.twitter.com/papajoeaviance

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November 30, 2018

GRYT Book Club: The Cast


Join us for the first GRYT Book Club of 2019! January 30th, at 8pm ET, chat with author of The Cast and cancer survivor, Amy Blumenfeld on the Stupid Cancer App in the AppChat Discussion Chatroom. The app is free to download for both Apple and Android!

Read below for:

  • Welcome note to the GRYT community from the author
  • Recommended Reading Guide
  • Amy’s Bio
  • The Cast book synopsis
  • Link to purchase

Hi Everyone!

I’m so excited to be hosting the book club next month! The Cast has been a labor of love for quite some time and I am really looking forward to sharing it with you and hearing your thoughts. Have a wonderful holiday and a happy and healthy new year!



Recommended Reading Guide

Dec 7th: Chapters 1–3

Dec 14th: Chapters 4–6

Dec 21st: Chapters 7–9

Dec 28th: Chapters 10–12

Jan 4th: Chapters 13–15

Jan 11th: Chapters 16–18

Jan 18th: Chapters 19–21

Jan 25th: Chapters 22–23

Jan 31st: 8pm ET Book Club AppChat!

“Twenty-five years ago, a group of ninth graders produced a Saturday Night Live–style videotape to cheer up their ailing friend. The show’s running time was only ninety minutes, but it had a lasting impact: Becca laughed her way through recovery, and the group―Jordana, Seth, Holly, and Lex―became her supporting cast for life.

On the silver anniversary of Becca Night Live, the friends reunite over the Fourth of July to celebrate Becca’s good health―but nothing goes as planned. The happy holiday card facades everyone’s been hiding behind quickly crumble and give way to an unforgettable three days filled with complex moral dilemmas and life-altering choices. Through humor, drama, and the alternating perspectives of five characters, The Cast explores the power of forgiveness, the importance of authenticity, and the immeasurable value of deep, enduring friendships to buoy us when life plays out differently than expected.”

About the Author

Amy Blumenfeld’s articles and essays have appeared in various publications, including the New York Times, the Huffington Post, O, The Oprah Magazine, George, Hadassah, and Moment, as well as on the cover of People. She is a graduate of Barnard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was the recipient of the James A. Wechsler Award for National Reporting. She has been interviewed on the CBS Evening News, CBS This Morning, FOX News, MSNBC, NY1, Sirius XM Radio and has contributed to two nonfiction books.The Cast, her first novel, is the 2018 IPPY Gold Medal winner in Popular Fiction, an International Book Awards finalist in Best New Fiction and was listed by the New York Post as a “Best Book of the Week.”

Check out this interview with Amy!

Follow Amy on Social Media: Facebook . Instagram . Twitter . Website

Purchase The Cast!

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March 26, 2018

GRYT Profile: Tamika

GRYT means surviving even when it doesn’t seem possible. Sometimes I look back and think of my cancer diagnosis and am amazed that I survived it — both physically and emotionally. Cancer doesn’t come with an instruction book. If it did, it could never truly define the experience.

What I do know is that GRYT is surviving cervical cancer at 25. But, true GRYT is learning to live beyond the cancer diagnosis, the loss of my fertility and all the secondary crap that cancer brings your way.

GRYT means reminding myself that I made it.