May 29, 2019

Approach a Breast Cancer Diagnosis with a Sense of Humor!

Rhayne’s Story of GRYT

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 shameless begging 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.

Facebook: Rhayne Thomas and The Lady And The Vamp
Twitter: @RhayneThomas @PrunesAreSexy
Instagram: @PrunesAreSexy, @TheLadyAndTheVamp

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May 20, 2019

Depression–A Cancer Survivor’s Story

Guest Blog By: Justin Birckbichler

On my testicular cancer awareness blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor, I have written extensively what it’s like to experience depression as a cancer survivor. I eventually recognized the signs, asked for help, and went on antidepressants. While I am happy to say they are definitely working, I only knew to ask for them since this wasn’t my first time battling depression.

I’ve alluded to this in past writings, but I fought with clinical depression during my sophomore and junior years in high school. However, I’ve never written a full account of this trying time, and in the wake of the unfortunate events with Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and countless others throughout the past decade, I’m ready to take that leap in hopes of letting someone else know to ask for help.

For context, I grew up in an upper-middle class family. I am the oldest of three kids and my parents are still together. I was in the gifted program since third grade, participated in a number of sports, and school came rather easy to me. In essence, I was the definition of privilege and from the outside, I had no “reason” to be unhappy.

It started slowly enough. Around the start of sophomore year, I realized I was increasingly feeling sad and hopeless. Nothing seemed to bring me joy and I always managed to find the negative in every situation. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening, but I felt too ashamed to open up, since I had a pretty good life. However, there was a lot of pain inside that I just didn’t know how to manage.

I turned to self-harm to try to let out some of this pain. This is the first time I am publicly admitting this, and before this writing, less than five people in the world knew I did this. I didn’t want to cut myself since that would leave marks, which would make it hard to keep under wraps. I had done a stunt previously where I sprayed Axe body spray on my hand and lit it on fire. It didn’t cause pain if you did it as a stunt, but if you let it burn long enough, it hurt like hell. I did this a handful of times. It didn’t seem to help, yet it became a habit.

I suppose I subconsciously wanted to let some of this struggle out. I remember one day I put up an “Away Message” on AOL Instant Messenger that was beyond the scope of the normal, teenage angst. When I returned, one of my friends (who I later found out had depression himself) had said, “Um, Justin, you might be depressed.” Even though I was self-harming from time to time, I didn’t believe that I could be depressed. Again — I had a good life; what right did I have to be depressed?

At some point, this internal pain began to be too much. I began thinking that I just didn’t want to live anymore since it was too hard, even though nothing external was “wrong.” I started experiencing thoughts of suicide.

While I never actually attempted it, I had concrete plans on how I would do it. It’s still hard to walk past the area in my parents’ home where I was planning to do it. My little sister is what ended up saving my life. She looks up to me and I didn’t want to let her down. My love for her was stronger than my hate for myself.

Reaching this point was a pivotal moment. I finally admitted something was wrong and I needed help. Yet, I didn’t know how to ask. I decided to stop wearing a mask of being ok on the outside. I moved a little slower. Sighed a little bit more. Smiled less. One day, I flopped down dramatically on the couch and my mom finally asked if I wanted to talk to a therapist. Even though I was most likely weeks away from taking my own life, I couldn’t directly ask.

I agreed to get help and began seeing a therapist. I continued harming myself throughout the first few sessions and thoughts of suicide still lingered. Eventually, I admitted both of these to the therapist and we decided to start me on a course of antidepressants.

Initially, my dosage was wrong and I experienced a panic attack not too long after beginning them. I freaked out because my mom told me to go to bed and I wasn’t ready yet. I locked myself in my room and began hyperventilating. My dad literally kicked down my door and carried me outside to get fresh air. I calmed down, the doctors adjusted my meds, and the meds took hold. I continued going to the therapist and this one-two punch of medication and therapy helped raise me out of depression.

I don’t remember exactly when I got off of the medication, but it was an uneventful process. I did not slip back into depression, and had no problems coming off of them.

While this experience was probably the hardest in my life, and that’s saying a lot since I faced testicular cancer at 25, it ended up helping me recognize the symptoms early on during my survivorship phase of cancer.

I know that having depression at a young age puts me at risk for a recurrence later in life, and this study from 2017 that said about 20% of cancer survivors experience PTSD symptoms within six months of diagnosis. The CDC also reports that cancer survivors take anxiety and depression medication at almost twice the rate of the general population. Basically, it was a perfect storm of risk factors and I’m glad I knew these figures.

This time, I asked for help and antidepressants. I’m happy to say I am still on the meds and not feeling effects of depression. Experiencing the episode in high school helped me advocate for myself earlier before it got worse.

In addition to being a testicular cancer survivor, I am a fourth-grade teacher. I noticed one of my students seemed very upset, distant, and prone to tears. I requested a conference with his parents to discuss these episodes and tried to recommend they take him for further evaluation. They told me that they give him everything they wanted, love him unconditionally, and he has no reason to be sad. In a moment of “I’m not sure I should do this,” I shared that what I had experienced (leaving out the self-harm and thoughts of suicide parts) since I had “no reason to be sad” too. I saw something change in their eyes and I hope it may have paid off.

You can’t always tell if someone is experiencing depression from the outside. Like I said, I had a prime life and no real reason to be upset. Depression is a chemical imbalance in your brain and it’s always influenced by external factors. Asking if a person is feeling okay won’t always work, either. They might not even be aware of their own feelings or may hide it out of a certain feeling of stigma. My best advice is to be there for that individual and to be non-judgemental. In 2019, we should be treating mental health as a serious issue and stop the stigma surrounding it.

I hope by sharing my story, even one person realizes that it’s okay to ask for help and doesn’t feel they need to suffer in silence. I compare taking care of mental health to needing chemo for cancer or a cast for a broken arm. No one would blink twice about treating either of those conditions, but why does society not have the same attitude towards mental health?

Help is available from anywhere in the United States via Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273–8255. Either service is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

About the Author

Justin, in his high school days, with his favorite teacher

Justin Birckbichler is a men’s health activist, testicular cancer survivor, and the founder of From being diagnosed in November 2016 at the age of 25, to finishing chemo in January 2017, to being cleared in remission in March, he has been passionate about sharing his story to spread awareness about testicular cancer and promote open conversation about men’s health.

In addition to his work through ABSOT, Justin’s writing has appeared in Cure Magazine, I Had Cancer, The Mighty, The Good Men Project, Stupid Cancer, and more. His work with awareness of men’s health has been featured by Healthline, Ball Boys, and various other organizations. In 2017, ABSOT won an award for the Best Advocacy and Awareness Cancer Blog in 2017 and Justin was recognized as one of 15 People Who Raised Cancer Awareness in 2017. He was also one of the selected attendees of HealtheVoices18.

Justin also serves as a member of the Strategic Advisory Board for the Cancer Knowledge Network and as a board member of the Young Adult Cancer Survivor Advisory Board for Lacuna Loft.

Outside of the “cancer world,” Justin is a teacher, amateur chef, technology aficionado and avid reader. He lives in Fredericksburg, VA with his wife, cat, and dog.

Connect with him on Instagram (@aballsysenseoftumor), on Twitter (@absotTC), on Facebook (, on YouTube, or via email (

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May 17, 2019

10 Things Worse Than Dying

By Ellis Emerson

There are worse things than dying.
Like grudges so old that you don’t even
remember why you’re angry.

There are worse things than dying. 
Like well-meaning people who tell you that
at least you have the good cancer.

There are worse things than dying. 
Like middle school lunchrooms and nowhere to sit. 
Or maybe just all of middle school.

There are worse things than dying.
Like hospital waiting rooms an hour after 
your appointment was supposed to start 
and no WiFi.

There are worse things than dying.
Like someone eating the leftovers that
you’ve been looking forward to all day.

There are worse things than dying.
Like people who tell you to look on the 
bright side and everything happens for a reason.

There are worse things than dying.
Like regretting not taking that trip to San
Juan when you had the chance.

There are worse things than dying. 
Like Netflix asking if you’re still watching 4
hours into a Breaking Bad marathon. Again.

There are worse things than dying.
Like taking yourself so seriously that you
forgot how to laugh. At the world and at yourself.

There are worse things than dying.
Like not really living.

May 17, 2019


By Rachel Mihalko

This time last year
Was one of the worst times
Of my life

And all I can think of now
Is what happened then
Not what is happening now

I just want to move on
And forget this time last year
Because it feels like no good came from it
And I wish it never happened at all

Because then
Maybe I wouldn’t be stuck there now

May 17, 2019

That Was the Plan

By Ellis Emerson

I thought I planted tulips. I was sure I planted tulips.

I read about tulips. How they grow best. I studied them. Pests and diseases. The food they need. I planted rows and rows of tulips. Carefully all spring, I lined the dirt with bulbs.

Soon I’d have a field of all brightly colored tulips.

That was the plan. Anyway.

I’m confused. I now have roses growing instead. They’re lovely to look at but I can’t get past the thorns.

May 17, 2019

What You Grow

By: Rachel Mihalko

Flowers die with winter’s snow
You must water what you grow

A year ago I saw the snow
You must water what you grow

Winter was long would not let go
You must water what you grow

Now I see light down on the road
You must water what you grow

Hope sprang with the grass I mow
You must water what you grow

Now it isn’t perfect, though
And the plant has built its home
So you must water what you grow

May 16, 2019

Announcing the LGBTQIA+ Chatroom on the GRYT App!

Our users can now find a new chatroom on the GRYT App!

Introducing the LGBTQIA+ Chatroom.

A safe space to meet others, share experiences, and ask questions. With monthly meetups on the first Monday of every month, you can connect with others in a casual environment from your phone. Along with the new chatroom and programs, we’re introducing our new partner, The Transgender Cancer Patient Project.

Read below to hear from Charlie, patient, and co-founder of TCPP.

I made a blog in 2016 when I was newly diagnosed with an advanced stage of melanoma. Trying to find resources as a young trans person going through treatment was really difficult in that nothing of the sort really existed. I took it upon myself to make a transgender cancer support blog hoping I would find other people who were going through what I was. Roman, a fellow transgender cancer patient, was my only follower. I sent them a message and we met in person a couple of months later. We have been together ever since and created this project to support and uplift other trans cancer patients dealing with a gendered health system through zines (self-published books and or “magazines”), and a peer support group.

Through our own experiences and learning of others, we have also realized the tremendous need for change in the healthcare system. For this reason, on top of supporting and uplifting trans patients, we also seek to make things better by working with healthcare providers in providing more inclusive care. Thus far, we have presented at healthcare conferences where we have shared our work and presented workshops on advocacy and cultural competency. We also have and continue to equip healthcare establishments and providers with tools to make their care less gendered and more trans friendly, many of which you can find on our website for free. We look forward to the future of this project and the continued support from our communities.

I’ll see you on the GRYT App,


Transgender Cancer Patient Project Mission

We recognize that marginalized people have a lot of expectations put on them to present and speak about their experiences in a specific way. As transgender cancer patients ourselves, we think it is important to break that down, and show that there are more to these intersections than society may expect. The main hope for this project is to provide support and community for fellow transgender cancer patients. However, we would additionally like this to be a source of education, to provoke better care and inclusivity in medical spaces, and to help destigmatize patient experiences. Our current goal is to make our zines accessible for free here, as well as in physical formats to be sold at events. All funds will be used to offset the cost of running this website, production of the zines; and aid in travel costs to zine fests and healthcare events where we share our work and present workshops on advocacy and cultural competency. We have experienced the need for community, resources, and discussion around these topics, which is why this project and your support is so important to us.

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May 15, 2019

Of course, it wasn’t cancer, I was only 14.

Beth’s Story of GRYT

“You don’t think it’s cancer, do you?”, I said to my parents as I rolled backward and extended my legs into an L shape on their bedroom floor.

“Of course not”, they replied almost in unison. The only people I knew who had cancer died. I was basically asking if they thought I was dying. They said no, but I found out later, that they weren’t sure.

It had been a few months of a lingering cough, that just keeps making its presence known, fatigue that hovered over my body like a dark cloud that increased over the year, matched with an innocent mindset that wondered why I couldn’t keep up with my high school teammates. Of course, it wasn’t cancer, I was only 14.

A day or two later, my dad came home early from work, (he never came home early), it was then I knew it was cancer. The sounds of the car in the driveway in the sunny afternoon told me all I needed to know.

I learned about a new kind of cancer that day, Hodgkins’ Disease, Stage 4 C, the answer to why I couldn’t keep up with my friends and why I was a teenager in bed, in the middle of the day.

Chemo started within a couple of days, I traded school for the hospital, teachers for nurses, and it was then my life changed forever. Over the next two years, my family and I were challenged and tested and we fought every day. We fought through chemo, transfusions, fever spikes, infections, long hospitals stays, the unknown, awaiting test results, a double stem cell transplant, radiation, we continued to fight until it was gone and I will continue to fight now that it is gone.

Although cancer might be gone, for now, my anxiety and worry have never left. Now I am faced with a new fight, this time, not physically but mentally to live to be my best, share positivity, and appreciate the days I have without cancer.

GRYT is running your first half marathon for my 20th anniversary off treatment, when many said I couldn’t and doctors always said, Beth, you should rest.
GRYT is running my 4th half marathon, within a year, with a fractured foot, when most said I shouldn’t.
GRYT is waking up every day and fighting thoughts about getting sick again with stating 3 things I’m grateful for.
GRYT is sharing I am a survivor and ignoring the worry that it will come back and GRYT is knowing that if it does, I will fight and win again.

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May 15, 2019

Announcing GRYT Health’s Cancer and Exercise AppChat!

Meet our moderator, Stephen!

Join us on June 4th, from 8–9pm ET / 7–8pm CT / 5–6pm PT for our first Cancer and Exercise AppChat! Caregiver and Exercise Expert, Stephen Cerne from Fully Functional Fitness will be leading the discussion on the GRYT App. We’ll be chatting on everything from guidelines, to exercise programs, and different ways to alter and adjust exercise to accommodate different needs.

Get to know our moderator, Stephen by reading his bio below. We’ll see you on the app!

Stephen Cerne
Owner/President of Fully Functional Fitness, Inc.

My journey into health and fitness started from a very young age. For as long as I can remember, I always aspired to become a physician. I was also, and still am, very physically active, participating in various team and individuals sports. My athletic career ultimately culminated in my participation in Division I cross-country and track and field. While I continued to play intramural basketball, softball, and racquet sports, college athletics allowed me to ease some of the financial woes of student loans. As I continued through my first year of college, I became much more interested in the role of strength training and nutrition as it applied to athletic performance. Not only was I on the pre-med track, I began to take electives directly focused on various health topics, including nutrition.

Eventually, I came to realize that becoming a physician would limit my ability to work with a variety of age groups throughout the lifelong journey of achieving a healthy lifestyle. My focus then shifted to preventative health and sport-specific training.

After graduating from Notre Dame College with a degree in Biology, I became a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) in 2007. Soon after, I started to work for Bally’s Total Fitness. After 3 months, I was promoted to Fitness Director/Assistant Manager. In this role, it was my job to develop the skills of the personal trainers under me, as well as maintain the level of services members had become used to. After 6 months I had become bored, doing more damage control rather than having an impact on people’s fitness level. I stepped down from the position and began branching out while maintaining my clientele base. That fall, I became the strength and conditioning coach for the track and field team at Notre Dame College. During both indoor and outdoor track, multiple individuals and relays qualified for national on the boys and girls teams.

My business Fully Functional Fitness, Inc., was started in 2008 and was based on a specific program that I had developed. The goal of this program and its ancillary business is to define functionality in regard to health-related fitness components. It was at this time that I began contracting with The Gathering Place, a cancer support center that provides various services free of charge to individuals who have or have had cancer, their family members, and caregivers. With the financial help of my mother (a two-time breast cancer survivor) and another donor, an in-house program was developed following a research program, Moving Forward, which studied the effects of strength training on cancer-related fatigue. Over two years, the general and research programming grew exponentially to the point where The Gathering Place brought me on staff. I have since attained the highly regarded American College of Sports Medicine/American Cancer Society Cancer Exercise Trainer Certification (6 in Ohio, only individual in Cleveland).

In early 2011, The Gathering Place opened The Richman Family Wellness Center to accommodate our exercise programming. I worked directly with the architects and operations director to design the space, layout, and purchase equipment. In addition to the various general exercise classes we offer, we also are currently studying the effects of exercise on African-American breast cancer survivors in collaboration with University Hospitals and Case Medical Center. I have since moved my personal business to the Wellness Center in an effort to offset operations costs for the organization.

During this same time frame, I began coaching distance events for the Solon Boys Track Team (2008 to 2013). Since then, two individuals and one relay team have qualified for the state meet. During the fall of 2008, I assumed the position of head coach for the Solon Boys Cross Country Team. The team was the regional runner-up for the first time in school history. In addition to qualifying as a team, three individuals qualified for the state meet and placing 2nd, 7th, 15th, and 24th respectively. In the past five years, four teams have qualified for the state championship meet and finished 11th, 13th, and 5th, and 13th. These have been the four fastest teams in the school’s history. Five individuals have qualified in those five years, the highest finisher being Conner Paez, a state runner-up.

I have applied the same principles with these young men that I do with my private clients and the participants at The Gathering Place. I strive to provide a structure for self-improvement and progress; a safe, comfortable environment; and a knowledge base that leads to personal accomplishments.

It is really the work that these individuals do that make me a success!

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May 15, 2019

I’m sorry, but it’s cancer.

Sandra’s Story of GRYT

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.

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