My cancer story was actually quite simple but nonetheless, shocking. You see, I have been fundraising voluntarily since 1976 because I believe we should take care of each other. I am a full-time Blues vocalist and my shamelessbegging style to spread awareness worked magic during performances.
No, it did not run in my family, no I never drank, used drugs or smoked, no I didn’t eat sugar, yes I took care of my body…yet it showed up anyway. Oh boy. Since I have been telling people for centuries to be informed and NOT live in fear, I was now in a position to walk my talk. And I did. I HAD to!
After a “concerning spot” appeared on my MRI, I had a biopsy on Thursday, April 28, 2011 and I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 4:11pm on Friday, April 29, 2001 in Scottsdale, Arizona while visiting two great friends. Since my hubby was in Las Vegas where we lived, I called and told him the news. Then I called all my friends to make sure they, too, were aware. Then I went to an art party with my two great friends. On Saturday, April 30th, I went shopping all day, and on Sunday, May 1st, I laid by their pool in their gorgeous sanctuary backyard; and Monday, May 2nd, at 7 am, I was looking at my doctor and her scroll of things I needed to do before a lumpectomy. I didn’t live in Arizona, but I got out my GPS, went to every place on her list for blood work, tests, oncology, etc., finished it up on Tuesday, May 3rd and on the morning of Wednesday, May 4th, I was on her surgery table getting that lumpectomy. Oh yeah…Thursday, May 5th, I was heavily bandaged and out running my 2-mile trek like usual.
With my lumpectomy surgery complete (and with help from the biopsy bruising), I now had a greenish-black breast that I affectionately named My Franken-Booby! I was now on track for 45 rounds of radiation, no chemo, lots of scans and, after 6 weeks of radiation, watching the flesh decompose under my right armpit. I just have to say that it was bizarre, unbelievable and a little funny in a sick sort of way. It smelled like rotting raw chicken meat, funky gym shorts, and stinky armpit, and made it impossible to wear a bra. So I didn’t. And I cut the right side out of every shirt, went places and told them I was “an Imhotep mummy (LOL!) so please forgive my rotting, stinky armpit and my open to the public boob!”.
Most people looked really concerned once they heard the word cancer but laughed once they realized I had a pretty good sense of humor about my status. Yep…got the chance to use my heal your heart through laughter & prunes inspirational message on myself!
So, there you have it. It’s not really a giant story compared to so many others I have read, heard or seen but, it keeps reminding me why I will always continue to fight for breast cancer awareness, inspiring others at all times and the strength of positive thoughts and humor.
GRYT is remembering that breast cancer does NOT discriminate when it comes to race, age or sex! GRYT is turning the BEST medical team into lifelong friends because they really do care! GRYT is not letting cancer, or ANY illness, define who you are!! GRYT is having a husband who stands in any and every storm with you to get the job done! GRYT is knowing that the absolute worst cancer is the one of the mind! GRYT is knowing that my voice is a God gift to always be used as a blessing to myself and others.
My name is Sandra Zori and I am a wife, mother of two girls, pharmacist and a Crossfitter. I discovered Crossfit a few years ago and absolutely love it and love lifting heavy weights, but hated running.
However, in Feb 2018 I decided to do sprints on the treadmill and felt that my right breast was heavy. The next day I had sharp shooting pains and discovered a lump. Within two days I had a mammogram and ultrasound and was scheduled for a biopsy.
On February 28th my doctor called me with the dreadful words, “I’m sorry, but it’s cancer.”.
My whole life changed. I couldn’t understand how I got this terrible disease. I was 34 years old, with no risk factors. I never smoked, never worked anywhere with radiation or exposed chemicals, I had no family history, and when I got genetic testing done, I tested negative for 34 oncogenes.
Yet here I was, a young woman with stage 2b triple negative breast cancer. In the following months, I had a total of seven surgeries, months of IV chemotherapy, weeks of radiation, and am currently on a maintenance oral chemo. I have returned to work as a pharmacist, and have continued to stay active doing mostly at home workouts. Life throws its challenges at me, but I do my best to maintain a positive attitude and a mindset of gratitude. Every day I find something to be grateful for.
GRYT is facing each day, no matter how difficult, and telling yourself, “I can do this.”. GRYT is doing whatever it takes to find something to be grateful for. “Gratitude is an attitude.” GRYT is keeping on keeping on and taking it one day at a time. GRYT is keeping up with Crossfit and modifying when needed.
Neurofibromatosis. Harder to say, harder to live with. But what is it? NF (for short) is a genetic condition that affects 1 in every 3000 births. It is more common than cystic fibrosis, hereditary muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease and Tay Sachs combined, and her it’s still a complete mystery to the medical field. Nf is the mutation of the 17th chromosome, and causes (mostly) benign tumors to grow along the nerves.
By the time I was 10, I’d already had 6 surgeries, one of which was to remove a tumor from my spinal cord, leaving me with two fancy rods in my back. NF has two types, type 1 and type 2. Both can cause things, such as physical disabilities, tumors along the nerves, scoliosis, vision and hearing problems, and learning disabilities, just to name a few. Although most tumors are benign, people with NF have a higher risk of developing cancer in their lifetime. I recently found out that I have an even more rare type of NF1, which hasn’t had much research done on it yet. This subtype basically makes it more easy for me to develop cancer.
Growing up with NF, lumps, and bumps on the skin were pretty normal. When I was 27, I noticed a lump on my breast, that was different than my NF lumps. This one was quite large and causing my breast to concave slightly. I knew that this was not normal for NF, so I decided to get it checked out. After calling probably 15 breast doctors and getting turned away by each one because I was “too young”, I was finally able to get into Planned Parenthood.
I was excited to finally be seen but unfortunately, this doctor just dismissed it as my condition and did not want to do any further testing. But I know my body and I knew this was something else. She sent me home with a follow up to return in 6 months.
Well, 5 months later I ended up in the ER, not being able to breathe with a 135 heart rate. I was told that I had bronchitis and sent home with some antibiotics. Again, I know my body and I knew that this was not bronchitis. I’ve had bronchitis before, so I knew what I was feeling was something else. I was getting frustrated, constantly getting turned away by doctor after doctor.
After I left this ER, I decided to drive to another ER, where they ran one test and told me I had fluid in my chest. Before I knew it, I was being rushed away into emergency surgery to remove 3 liters of fluid from my chest. I was later told I had a pericardial window, where they had to biopsy a small piece of my heart.
Everything had happened so fast, I barely had time to call my family to let them know what was going on. I woke up from surgery later, in ICU with a pretty big tube in my chest to drain the remaining fluid my body was giving off. I couldn’t talk due to the breathing tube I had in my throat during surgery, which had caused some bruising. I had an oxygen mask on, pumping 13 liters of oxygen into my lungs because I was unable to breathe on my own. I honestly couldn’t tell you how long I was in surgery, or how long it took me to wake up. The day and weeks following it are honestly a blur. I was told that the fluid they took out during my surgery was being sent off for testing. I wasn’t sure what they were testing for and didn’t think much of it when they said cancer was one of the things being tested. I was 27, ran every morning, went to the gym, just graduated with a Bachelor’s degree. I was applying to grad school, had no family history of cancer, and I was not worried about that.
February 23 is one of the dates that will always stick with me. That is the day I was rushed into emergency surgery. The day that everything changed. It was just a few days later when I thought everything was getting better. I was still in the hospital, I was being taken out of ICU and moved to a less emergent wing of the hospital. I no longer had a tube in my chest, and I was able to breathe on my own. I was now in MICU, and I still have not received my results from the fluid and heart biopsy. I wasn’t worried though. No news is good news, right?
After being in MICU for just a day, on March 1, my hospital doctor had come into my room and told me I was able to go home. I still wanted my test results, so I asked him if I could see them. What he said next, I’ll never forget…
“Oh yeah. I forgot about that.”
He forgot… He left the room and came back 20 minutes later. I’m sure you can guess what he said next.
“Well you can’t go home, you have cancer.”
He wasn’t sure where the cancer was when I had asked him. He said itwas probably colon cancer because “that’s a common cancer”. So I lifted up my gown and pointed to the lump on my breast. The lump I had spent the last 6 months trying to get looked at. The lump I knew wasn’t just a lump.
“Oh yeah, you’re right. It’s probably breast cancer.”
The next day I had a biopsy done, and I’m sure you can guess the rest. Three days later an oncologist entered my room and told me that I had breast cancer that had spread to the liver and spine. Before I knew it, I had about 10 doctor appointments and was being scheduled for chemo. My oncologist told me I would be cured of cancer after 6 rounds of chemo. After meeting with my oncology nurse, she had told me it was stage 4 and metastatic. I was not sure what stage 4 meant. I went home and did a lot of research on what that meant. After learning what metastatic and what a treatment plan meant for that, I knew I did not want to stay with this oncologist. I knew that 6 treatments would not cure me. There is not a cure for me.
It is important to be your own advocate. If you are not comfortable with your doctors, then you need to get a second opinion, even a third and fourth until you are happy with your decision. I decided that it would be best for me to take time off work, and move in with family. I chose to live with my sister who lived in Louisiana.
I’m currently still receiving treatment. After 20 rounds of IV chemo, I’m now on a pill form of treatment, along with two monthly shots. I know that I will be in treatment for the rest of my life, but I know that you also should not listen to the outdated statistics. Everybody is different and everybody responds to medicine differently.
I keep a positive attitude. I think that’s important, especially after a diagnosis of cancer. You’re going to have your scary moments, but just know that you will get through those scary moments. Having cancer sucks, but you can’t dwell on the negatives, because that’s all you’re going to think about.
I have cancer, cancer does not have me.
That’s something I always tell myself. Cancer is just something I have, along with NF. This is not my whole life, just a small part of it. I’m much more than my conditions. I’m the same person I was before I was diagnosed, I just take a lot more naps now.
GRYT is being diagnosed with stage IV, metastatic breast cancer, 2 months after receiving your college degree. GRYT is leaving your dream job to focus on your health. GRYT is accepting you can’t control everything. GRYT is appreciating each day and living your life to the fullest.
I was 27 and had just moved to Toronto to pursue my legal career and finally live with my husband. We were married the year before and living long distance while I was in law school. On August 26, 2015, I had to put my career on hold to endure a year of treatments for triple positive, stage three breast cancer. I had five months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, 25 radiation treatments, a year of Herceptin treatments, three other surgeries to fix my reconstruction and am currently doing hormone therapy for the next seven years.
My story is not unique. I hear the same story from so many other young women who have been diagnosed with cancer. The doctors told me I was too young for cancer and since I don’t have any history of breast cancer in my family the tumor in my breast must just be dense tissue. It took several months to get my breast cancer diagnosis after I had to advocate for myself and insist on a biopsy. At the time of my diagnosis, we knew it was already in my lymph nodes but luckily it hadn’t traveled beyond that.
Exactly one month after my last radiation treatment, I started articling at a law firm. The articling hiring process occurs the year before you actually start working, so before I was diagnosed I had this position lined up. This made my diagnosis easier to swallow because if there was a good time to get cancer, it was then. I had the whole year to focus on my health and getting better. My doctors had advised me against starting a full-time stressful career so soon but I was determined to be called to the Bar the following summer. It was tough to deal with incredible fatigue, chemo brain, and my many doctor appointments while working in a new profession but every week my brain fog would clear a little more and my stamina would improve. Mostly, it felt great to be using the skills I had worked so hard to develop over the last few years and to not be “just the sick patient” anymore.
A year later, I was called to the Bar, finally becoming a lawyer. Unfortunately, the firm I was working at was unable to hire any students that year, so I was back to the job search, but in the meantime I secured a contract position at Rethink Breast Cancer (an AYA organization supporting young women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer), which has since turned into a full-time role. Pre-cancer, I chose a highly stressful and demanding profession because I thought it would be a stable industry that I could excel at. Post-cancer, this lifestyle is not realistic for me. Exercising, eating healthy and getting enough sleep is so important to my mental and physical health, including helping with the lasting symptoms of cancer treatments and hormone therapy.
Since getting the all-clear to resume regular activities from my doctors in July 2017, I have started a high intensity exercise program, have ran two half marathons and training for my third, coached running clinics at the Running Room and started working at Pink Pearl Canada (an AYA organization supporting women with any type of cancer). My work with both organizations has helped me find purpose in my awful diagnosis. If I can help a newly diagnosed women feel less alone or encourage someone to advocate for themselves, I know I’m doing something important.
To follow along with my life after a breast cancer diagnosis, please follow me @emilypiercell or read more of my personal blogs.
GRYT is advocating for myself even when doctors told me I was too young for breast cancer. GRYT is seeing the bright side even throughout the darkest days. GRYT is realizing I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
How many times have people asked: where do you see yourself in ten years from now?? How many of us would have answered: Living with cancer?
One year ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. One year ago my whole world fell apart and broke into million pieces that I’m now trying to fix as best as I can.
One year ago, the fight began, and my mind was only focused on the treatment; the chemo, the surgery, and the radiotherapy. I have achieved all these goals and now I can say I am cancer free. It’s hard to believe though.
I’ve learned a lot during this year: how to love myself, how to heal, how to survive and how to take care of me. I’ve learned that it is very important to share our feelings and experiences in order to help those who need it. I know I have to stay strong for myself, enjoy every minute I can because life is worth it.
I can’t say the whole cancer process is only sadness and suffering; it is also meeting and getting to know a lot of people, stars who shine brightly up in the sky or here in the earth. Those people have helped me a lot and they’ve been able to make all the loneliness I felt as a cancer patient disappear.
Where do I see myself in ten years from now? I don’t know, but who cares? We have to live the present, the other things don’t exist yet. Never give up, no matter what.
GRYT is knowing that whatever it takes, I have my family beside me.
GRYT is thinking about the next time I can go to a new place in the world.
GRYT is helping other people by showing how I’ve managed some things, giving tricks to other fighters.
The past few days have been a whirlwind of AH-MAZING experiences and accomplishments. My co-presenter and co-author Francesca and I presented our abstract on AYA Perspectives on Fertility Preservation Conversations with Healthcare Providers at the American Psychosocial Oncology Society (APOS) conference in Atlanta, GA on Thursday, February 28th. Plus, I got to meet some young adult cancer “celebrities” in-person. I’ll get to that in a few moments.
I had no idea what to expect at the APOS conference. I’m new to this side of cancer and research. I felt a tad outside of my element but tried to give the appearance of calm, cool and collected. Francesca and I were the third to present. I confess I was getting more and more nervous waiting for our turn to step up to the podium.
I knew our presentation would be authentic, informative and emotional. I’m beyond thrilled that the audience felt the same. Francesca and I bounced off well with each other. All that rehearsal and mouth warm-ups from my theatre days helped. I felt this surge of energy and focus as soon as it was my turn to speak. We were the only presenters who were asked multiple questions from the audience.
I could see some people moved to tears. It is honestly one of the BEST moments and accomplishments in my cancer experience as a writer, speaker, and advocate for young adult cancer thus far.
I must tell you about the three memorable and outstanding moments aside from being a presenter. I FINALLY got to meet the founder of Lacuna Loft, Mallory, in-person AND Aerial who partners with Lacuna Loft and is the program director for the GRYT Health app. As soon as I saw these two powerhouses, I actually got teary-eyed. I have been talking with them, especially Mallory, for two years! I still can’t believe I got to actually talk to and hug them. Plus, they came to hear my presentation.
Oh, there is more! I also got to meet the CEO and founder of the GRYT Health app, David, who also came to my presentation. I thought I had fully embarrassed myself enough in front of Mallory (in the pic below) and Aerial because I was totally fangirl-ing. Nope! I completely lost it meeting David (in the pic below), too! He’s also a MAJOR deal in the cancer world, and the nicest guy. I was able to hear David speak about his app and the thought, research, and funding behind it. The love he has for his team is inspiring and beautiful.
I’m super jazzed about the GRYT Health app and wanted to share my knowledge about it with you. This is a peer-to-peer support app. You can chat with people privately and in group chats. What I really love about this app is the connections made, especially in the group chats. You see, this app truly engages you with different types of programs offered for cancer survivors. I love how the group chats are moderated, too.
The very first one I took part in was with Dr. Michael Stubblefield, Medical Director for Cancer Rehabilitation; National Medical Director for Cancer Rehabilitation Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. I was able to get direct access to him and ask questions about my neuropathy. I don’t know of any other cancer app that gives survivors this kind of access to major influencers in the cancer world. They also offer a movie club and writing program, just to name a few. Definitely download it and turn on your notifications to get updates.
It will be difficult to go back to my corporate job in the morning. I felt I was making a real difference and really living my passion the past few days. I long for the day when I can turn this passion in my spare time into a fulltime reality.
Until next time,
About the author: Megan-Claire Chase (Megs or MC for short) was diagnosed at 39 years old with stage IIA invasive lobular breast cancer. She has been NED for almost two years. Due to complications in her post treatments, she was medically induced into menopause in 2017 and now unable to have children. Megs is a true STEEL magnolia and single living in Atlanta, GA. In her spare time, she writes a blog called Life On The Cancer Train and is well-known in the local young adult cancer community as an advocate, writer, and speaker.
See the original blog post here, and follow Megs’ blog, Life On the Cancer Train!
When I was little I would save the day in my imaginary world with superhero strength, my mother’s curlers wrapped around my wrists as bulletproof armor, magic truth lasso around my waist and a bed sheet wrapped around my neck as my powerful cape. I knew that the hero saved everyone else from evil and destruction. The truth is the real hero has to find the strength to save herself.
I was a competitive junior Olympian swimmer, aged 11, when I was diagnosed with the first of 4 cancers that would span through 34 years. I knew how to fight to win. I knew how to train. I knew how to be brave. What I was to learn was the training, the fighting, the competition, the resolve, the saving….. all boiled down to rescuing myself. Hodgkin's disease changed how I would look at life from that point on. Any cancer can either destroy you or give you a rebirth. You make that choice in your own mind with how you go to war. I chose to put on my cape and my mom’s hair rollers and fight back. I needed to save Jessica.
I would relapse after initial treatment and be treated again before I was considered cured. Twelve years later, the radiation used to arrest the Hodgkins lymphoma caused a tumor in my right breast. My breast was removed and I once again flew off in my superhero cape to raise my two boys. Six years later my left breast was removed with a second primary breast cancer diagnosis. That hero spun around and changed into her power gear again to rise and fight. And now I am 45. My strong faith in God and my love of life makes every day so special. And I’m thankful to that beautiful wonder woman who rescued me, who saved me so I could raise my two sons and see them grow. I’m thankful to that hero who allowed me to go on and help others every day to believe in who they are, to love who they are, to achieve what they want, with my water fitness. I am thankful for me.
GRYT is battling cancers through 34 years of my life GRYT is being able to have two beautiful children after 3 cancer battles. GRYT is having the courage to leave a toxic marriage and raise my children alone GRYT is finding joy everyday in helping others to get well and believe in who they are GRYT is feeling that WIN and loving yourself every single moment.
As part of my senior project while studying Entrepreneurship at Central Michigan University, I got the chance to meet two people that I had no idea would become such a big part of my life.
The first person I met was a Fashion Merchandising and Technology graduate, Sue, who I would collaborate on this class project with. The second was breast cancer survivor, Jodie Faber. With my grandma being a survivor herself, I was interested in hearing Jodie’s story. She told Sue and I about how she had hoped that, after her double mastectomy, her prosthetic reconstruction would help her feel normal again.
Unfortunately for Jodie, she was instead met with a horrible side effect that causes her chest to be cold and uncomfortable, constantly reminding her that she had breast cancer. Her doctors told her to put hand warmers in her bra… which led to burns and she knew there had to be something better. Finding nothing that would help Jodie feel comfortable, the idea for the Thermal Bra was born.
Sue and I, spent hours and hours talking to Jodie and researching the problem online. We found that Jodie is not alone in her battles millions of women suffer from this side effect just like Jodie.
My life has not been the same since. My middle-school friend, Haley joined the team, and together we founded Elemental, with the mission that we help women everywhere feel beautiful, comfortable, and WARM.
Sue, Haley, and I have worked for over two years to find a REAL solution for women with reconstruction. So we developed a bra that is completely wireless, with soft fabrics, a unique cup shape, and will keep women warm.
The first bra we made was hand-sewn and made specifically for Jodie. Then we knew we had take it to the next level. Now, we are working hard get the Thermal Bra in the hands of Thrivers everywhere.
GRYT is not just surviving but THRIVING. GRYT is Embracing the Elements. GRYT is living life un-restricted by the cold. GRYT is not settling for an “okay” bra.
In August of 2017 I was officially diagnosed with stage II triple positive breast cancer at age 29. I say officially because I had discovered a lump months before, and with such a strong family history of cancer I just knew.
August 2017, I went in for a mammogram where they found a 3cm tumor. I waited until August to finally go in for testing because like most people in their 20s, I was busy. Busy with work, busy with school, and busy with having a social life. I was too busy for my health until I finally started feeling too tired to function and that’s when I knew it was time to check out the inevitable.
My biggest fear in all of this was losing my hair. I knew what chemotherapy could mean for that until I discovered cold capping, something that was life changing for me.
Even after being told that they didn’t work and being met with a lot of negativity surrounding cold capping, I pursued them anyway.
I endured 6 rounds of chemotherapy and saved my hair. During those 6 months of treatment I found it so difficult to find information about capping and connect with others that were capping to exchange information and get advice, so I had the idea to create a support group.
On January 9th 2018, right after I completed my 4th chemo cycle I formed the online support group, Chemotherapy Cold Cappers and the group has impacted over 600 brave women world-wide and continues to grow.
In March 2018 after my bilateral mastectomy I was declared NED, I had a complete pathological response to chemotherapy, it was the best news I had ever heard.
Today I am feeling great. I completed my immunotherapy in August of 2018, and now I’m just focusing on building my body back up. I am devoted to being an advocate for cold capping and helping others that are interested in this amazing technology.
I found strength in helping others and I’m firm in believing that it is what got me through such a difficult time in my life. It gave me a new sense of hope and purpose in life.
GRYT is bravery. It is entering a giant world of unknowns and keeping your head high and weathering the storm.
GRYT is tenacity. It is pushing forward even when it seems that it will be a lifetime before the worst is over.
GRYT is determination. It is turning positives out of negatives and having a whole new outlook and purpose in life.
In the spring of 2011, at the ripe old age of 31, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It came as a shock. No one thought I had cancer, neither did I, but because of family history, my doctor sent me for what was supposed to be a baseline mammogram.
It ended up being a turning point in mine and my family’s life. In what felt like a blink of an eye, I went from bring “perfectly healthy” to stage iii breast cancer. I was shocked. My husband was shocked. My kids, who were 11, 8, and 5 were shocked.
My treatment was slash, poison, burn (which I think much better describes surgery, chemo, and radiation!). It was a rough time and was compounded by several sepsis infections, hospital stays, emergency surgeries, and a few ICU stays. I’m exhausted thinking about it, but now its 7 years later. Things aren’t perfect. I have a lot of side effects still from treatment, but I’m currently NED and just doing my best to roll with life.
Some days I do this with more grace than others, but somehow it all manages to work out! Mostly because my family somehow is still not tired of helping me when I need it!
Gryt is being mom even on the days when you don’t feel great.
Gryt is doing your best, even if you can’t do all the things.
Gryt is accepting help from others, even though it’s hard.
Gryt is living your best life, however that looks for you!