Have you ever taken a moment and asked yourself "what's my story?" Everyone has a story, and each one of those stories is unique. Even your story!
Here at For 3 Sisters, I've been privileged to hear the stories of many women who have been affected by breast cancer; though breast cancer is where is the similarities end. Each story is different. Each story inspires in its own way.
This past week, I read a story that moved me to tears. I'm not sure if calling it a story does it justice --- it's more like art --- in word form. It's beautiful. It's heart wrenching. It's powerful.
I started working with Denise earlier this month after she came to us looking for help to stop her eviction. Denise was diagnosed with breast cancer a few days after Christmas and her job let her go not long after they learned of her diagnosis.
Denise is a veteran of the U.S. Army. She was deployed to Iraq during Operation Desert Storm/Shield. She is strong willed, organized, and just as pleasant as you'd want anyone to be. She's simply delightful. But all the pleasantry and delight in the world didn't change the fact we were working against the clock. We were running out of time.
In my efforts to secure funds to stop Denise's eviction, I needed her to write a personal statement for me. I ask this of all the women I work with. Some programs/organization to whom we apply ask for a story or statement about how breast cancer has affected their life. You'd a thought I was asking Denise for a billion dollars in cash. She struggled. She couldn't. She couldn't find the words --- she wasn't even sure she wanted to find the words --- it would mean looking backwards when everything in her was willing herself to look forward.
And then she saw Mimi's testimony. Mimi, another woman in our program, spoke at our appreciation event last year. We caught it on video and shared it on our website and social media. Denise was on our Facebook page and heard Mimi's story. And she was inspired. Because of Mimi's story, Denise was able to put her own story to paper in a way unlike anything I've read before.
Dear Breast Cancer;
Here it is I am the third-generation Breast Cancer victim. You took my Grandmother before she or I had a chance to even lay eyes on one another. Then you took my mother in her prime and I a tinder age of 5. Leaving me with an Alcoholic father to raise me. No hugs and kisses before bed. No fond memories of going to playground with Mommy and Daddy. Crying my eyes out until my father would beat me for making so much noise. All because I missed my Mommy.
Have I not been through enough?
Having 9 uncles was great, just more homes to be shuffled back and forth to. I didn’t know it at the time but it was not a childhood for a female child. One Saturday evening my father’s drunk friend decided I was ripe for the picking. I was only 14. He entered the kitchen while I was preparing fish dinners for my father’s card game. Didn’t anybody tell this fool it’s not a good idea to mess with a woman in the kitchen. He grabs my butt and with all my might I pounded his head with a cast iron skillet. Again, my father beat me for hitting his friend. Being an only child, it left no one on my side.
Have I not been through enough?
High school is rough for anybody, but growing up in Brooklyn made it harder. I was an excellent student. All A’s, honor roll… you would think my father would have been proud of me. Instead I was called out of name and insulted in more ways that I care to share. So, by senior year I stop caring too. I finally gave in the influence of the streets.
Running away, hanging out, drugs, men and alcohol. I didn’t even bother to go to school anymore. Anything to keep me out of the house. Somehow someone got through and Ifollowed my friends to California. Make a new start.
Have I not been through enough?
I enrolled in college, found a job…yes completed High School. Meet and married what I thought was the man of my dreams. But it wasn’t long before you followed me there. It was 2 years into the relationship I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. I though yes this is it. Then I gave birth to my second son. I felt on top of the world. I had survived you. Living in Cali, with my own family. How short lived it was, 9 months after the birth of my second son he died. We tried to pull through, but between the fights and arguments we managed to make one more son, by the time he was 2 years old. We throw in the towel and I was now a single mother.
Have I not been through enough?
In order to take care of a family of three, I joined the army… it wasn’t to be all I could be. I had to fight for my children. Make a home for them. I didn’t get to enjoy motherhood as I once had. The children now were being sent to family while I got orders to different duty stations. Somewhere in there my entire support system crumbled. Grandparents dying, then my father pasting away. All before I was 30 years old. I married my second husband just to have someone to watch my children while Uncle Sam sent me wherever. I never thought I would ever have to go to war. But I was determined I wasn’t coming home in a body bag. Only to come home to find out my husband had turned into a crack addict. Everything I worked so hard for was all gone.
Have I not been through enough?
Ok now it’s on. Put my pride back in my pocket, and rolled up my sleeves. Got rid of the addict husband, got my kids through college, even found time to get some decent training outside of the military. Although it wasn’t my college degree. I managed to find a decent job, a safe home and started to live again. Then the one and only person who
has always been there for me you took her too. My best friend. Now I am all alone. Does this make you happy, does this make you feel like you won?
Have I not been through enough?
I am so numb, I don’t feel anymore. All I can do is hold on to my children. Here I stayed for 8 years. I was a high function zombie. Went to work, home. Repeat. After teasing a co-worker about me traveling with her home to Africa. She took me up on it. I spent New Year’s 2002 in the motherland. It was truly a healing. It reminded me of a struggle my ancestors endured. It showed me my strengths. It took away my fears. I also meet my future husband. Which wasn’t bad at all. Just what the doctor ordered.
I have had enough!
After 15 years of marriage, two sons that went on to make their mother proud. Now two beautiful grandchildren. I am feeling invincible again. My direction clear, I enroll back in college after many moons. Honor student with a 4.0, husband by my side. Life is looking like it’s on my side for once. Then I get the news, my mammogram needs to be
repeated. At first I think, somebody screwed up. I just had my annual breast checkup from my GYN. Neither she or I detected anything. No big deal go in to repeat the mammogram. A few days later I get the results. I need to come in for a biopsy. Since its so close to Christmas, one more week won’t hurt. I am in denial. On 12/28/16 I was
informed that it was Breast Cancer. I had the testing for the BRCA gene. Consulted with an Oncologist, General Surgeon, plastic surgeon, Radiologist and a nurse coordinator. All in the same day. Before I left that day, I was handed a booklet. That said welcome, the rest was a blur. I came home and just sat for hours trying to make sense of it all. Then I got angry. Why me? What the hell did I ever do? When do I get my turn?
I have had enough!
It’s been three weeks since my bilateral Mastectomy. I know I still have a long way to go before I can get back some sort of normalicy, but it will come. My family has rallied around me. Its brought me and my husband even closer. It’s made my mission here on earth clear. When people tell, me I will pull through this, I look at them and say “why are
you worried I am not”. I know this is all about my spiritual journey. Is in God’s hands, he told me he has my back. I know it won’t be easy but all I have been through in my life prepared me for this. Because of this, one tear has dropped. When I am done with this lesson, I hope to help others through. Mostly it’s to get others to say,
I have had enough!
Tell your story. You never know who is listening.
Scanxiety [pronounced scan-zy-it-ee] - have you heard of it?
It's a marriage of the words scan and anxiety, and it's often experienced by those who have been diagnosed with cancer. It's the anxiety usually felt by cancer patients before they go in for a scan (for example, a PET scan, CT scan, Mammogram, etc.) and a fear that their scan will show a reoccurrence or progression.
But did you know that it's possible to experience scanxiety without ever having cancer? Yep. It's true. As a matter of fact, I'm experiencing scanxiety right now, and I've never had cancer.
Six years ago (I was 34) I had a funky experience with my boobs. My left one was noticeably bigger than my right. Now, it's not unusual for a woman's breasts to be different sizes but usually the difference is slight. My difference was more than slight. So in September 2011, I had my first mammogram, my first ultrasound, and my first breast MRI. The experts ruled out breast cancer, specifically Inflammatory Breast Cancer, and sent me home with a case of inflammation - something I needed to watch closely.
My doctor and I watched things closely and since the swelling hadn't worsened and no new symptoms appeared, my doctor felt as though mammograms were no longer necessary. That is, until, I went to a new OBGYN in January 2014. Dr. Hussain recommended I have a mammogram, even though I wasn't yet 40 years old, just to make sure everything was on the up and up. So I did. And it wasn't.
In two short years, my mammogram went from normal to abnormal. The first mammogram/ultrasound showed a cluster of cysts and a dilated duct in my left breast. Six months later, my follow up mammogram/ultrasound showed growth in the cysts and a new mass in my left breast. They couldn't say with certainty that the mass was benign (not cancer) so I scheduled an appointment with a breast surgeon.
Dr. Pamela Wright, an awesome breast surgeon, took a look at my scans and decided that an immediate breast biopsy was in my best interest. So I had the biopsy right then and there. I'd later find out that my tumor was benign. It was a fibroadenoma. A follow up mammogram six months later would show that everything was virtually the same - no new changes.
So hear I am scheduled for a mammogram tomorrow and I'm nervous as hell. Despite my better judgement, I didn't go for a mammogram in 2016 since my doctor said I could wait until 2017 when I turn 40. A lot can happen in a year! I've had new developments in my left breast nearly every mammogram. Will the one tomorrow be abnormal too? Will this be the scan where I hear the dreaded words so many of the people we help have heard? Scanxiety - it's a thang. And it sucks!
There are all kinds of great ways to deal with scanxiety - some of the techniques which I use myself.
If you or someone you know suffers from scanxiety, for whatever reason, I offer you this:
Have you ever experienced scanxiety? Share your experience with us in the comments below. Tell us how you cope with scanxiety. You never know who you might help with your story!
I've been meaning to write about this for a while but hadn't gotten around to it. I talked about it with the awesome employees at WeddingWire back in October and the conversation was eye opening, and yet I still didn't write. But a recent game that's popped up on Facebook has compelled me to write it about now. What is it, you ask?
In American society, we've come to use the blanket term breast cancer awareness for everything; from pink socks, pink ribbons, and pink hair, to games on Facebook asking you to post the color of your bra or a heart as your status. Is there anything wrong with these things? Absolutely not. Pink socks and tutus are delightful! And who doesn't love a pretty heart. But can we in good faith and conscience call it raising awareness?
Let's talk about it, shall we?
The term raising awareness started off well intended and then slowly over the decades the term has been watered down. It's now the catch-all phrase for anything having to do with breast cancer, and that's unfortunate because it's lost its true meaning and value.
Let's assume (yes, I know what they say about assuming) that a majority of the population in the United States has knowledge that breast cancer exists. If awareness of the disease is at a high, then what, if any, awareness are we raising?
On the flip side, for the population minority who is unaware about breast cancer, why do we think that seeing a pink pair of socks (I swear I have nothing against pink socks) or a pink shirt will suddenly make them aware about breast cancer? The population minority doesn't know enough to make the correlation. It's just pink socks to them. If they could correlate the two then they'd already be aware about breast cancer, which takes us right back to my previous paragraph.
Are you still with me?
So often the actions we take are not actually raising awareness about breast cancer, but rather it's showing support for those affected by the disease. Both raising awareness and showing support are super important! Being accurate about which we're doing is as equally important!
How can you tell the difference? It's simple.
See? Simple. If someone is not learning something about breast cancer by your gesture or action then you're not raising awareness. And that's okay! Just call it what it is - showing support, giving support, raising support - just not raising awareness.
Two quick examples involving merchandise:
This advertisment popped up in my Facebook feed.
Look at these sneakers. Did you learn anything about breast cancer?
Nope. Then the sneakers don't raise awareness. They're simply a way for people who like cool shoes to show their support. That's great! There's nothing wrong with wanting to wear cool shoes that show support. So let's call it "The Sole of Breast Cancer Support" instead.
*Interestingly enough, in the smaller print they mention that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to organizations that support breast cancer fighters and survivors.
I stumbled across this shirt on the internet. Take a look.
Did you learn anything about breast cancer?
Yep. This shirt makes you aware that Male Breast Cancer exists; a fact that sadly many people don't know. (1 in 1000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer, in case you're wondering.)
So in this case, the person wearing this shirt is raising awareness, and could be showing his or her support for men with breast cancer.
Now that you understand the difference between raising awareness and showing support, I encourage you to choose the phrase that accurately reflects your gesture. I think you'll find the support for your gesture will grow when people can agree on what it is you're actually doing.
Okay - last quick thing about the newest Facebook game - placing a heart in your status for breast cancer awareness. If you're not aware of how it works, women are encouraged to post a heart as their Facebook status. Only a heart. They're then supposed to message other women to do the same for breast cancer awareness.
Folks, people are well intentioned. People who choose to participate in this game, as prescribed, are not bad people. They aren't stupid. They aren't evil doers who rose from the depths of pinkwashing hell. I promise.
People participating in this game have a connection to breast cancer - they know someone, they lost someone, they are someone who has breast cancer. Or maybe they love your own awareness and support efforts so they're posting it for you. Regardless of their connection, they're making a gesture and it's nice.
That said, we can probably agree (especially after having read this blog post) that the heart (and the private message) aren't actually raising awareness about breast cancer ----- but they can! There's actually an opportunity here.
Play the heart game but change how you play! For example:
Or share a link to a breast cancer topic that is meaningful to you. Maybe you know someone or lost someone to Metastatic Breast Cancer...
If you are compelled to play the heart game, or the bra game, or any other Facebook game for that matter, and you don't want to post a link in your status, then I encourage you to share it in the private message you send to other women. Don't miss the opportunity to truly raise awareness. There's room for both!
If you'd like help with links to reputable sources of information or organizations, just ask me! I'm happy to help you raise awareness in the most meaningful way!
New Years ---- the time for best made resolutions that often don't last the month. What is it about resolutions that trip us up year after year? How many times have you made a New Year's resolution and actually kept it? If you said more than once, good for you! If you said zero, you're not alone!
Resolutions are often very specific - "I'm going to lose weight, I'm going to save money this year, I'm going to stop smoking". And most resolutions require great effort to keep, otherwise they wouldn't be resolutions.
VERY SPECIFIC + GREAT EFFORT = DOOMED RESOLUTION
You must think I'm crazy, right? Hear me out.
Let's take the weight resolution. It's a resolution I've made myself year after year. I always start out great and then I fizzle out - fast. Why? I didn't see the results I wanted quick enough, or my schedule got too busy to go to the gym or make healthy meals. Really any number of excuses.
Okay, so now what?
My resolution was to lose weight. I'm a few months into the year and it's not happening. Heck, I might have even forgotten that it was a New Year's resolution in the first place. So now it's life as usual, that's what. It's me saying "I'll try again later or next year".
A specific resolution leaves you no where to go if you fail. If you don't lose weight then you haven't achieved your resolution. End of story. And even worse, you're making a mental chalk mark on the failure side of the failure/success board of your psyche. That's not so great either.
Instead of making a resolution make a commitment instead! Resolutions are made to be broken but commitments are better kept! And make your commitments realistic. Here's the difference:
Resolution: "I will lose weight this year." "I'm going to stop smoking this year."
Commitment: "I'm committed to taking better care of myself this year."
Resolution: "I will save money this year."
Commitment: "I'm committed to making better financial decisions this year."
Do you see the difference? When you make a realistic commitment to yourself, you're setting yourself up to succeed. It gives you options. Taking care of your self might start out as making healthier meal choices when you eat out. It might evolve into getting that mammogram you've been skipping the last few years. Your committment may see several evolutions through out the year and that's okay!
The important part is that you have an abundance of choices that you can make to take care better care of yourself. If you don't succeed at one, try another. Success!
If I may be so humble as to suggest a 2017 New Year's commitment -- make the commitment to incorporate philanthropy (charity) into your life this year. Find a cause that your passionate about - clean water, homelessness, breast cancer, for example, and commit to getting involved!
Give your time, give your expertise, and/or give your financial support. Give in a way that is meaningful to you and helps others. It will be one commitment this year you'll be happy you made!
If you're looking for a charity to call home, For 3 Sisters is always looking for people who are eager to incorporate philanthropy into their lives. We'd love to help you with your 2017 philanthropy commitment!
Wishing you peace, joy, happiness and good health for 2017!
I can hardly believe it! I'm over-the-top excited to launch our new blog, "A Day in the Life of..."! I know, I know - it's a little overdue but what's that old adage - better late than never? And trust me, it's worth the wait. New blog - new website - new content! Some things get better with time - like wine - or bacon. Who am I kidding. We all know good and well that bacon is great from the get go.
So what on Earth do I write about in an inaugural blog? I hemmed and hawed (that really is a term) about the perfect inaugural blog and then decided on a tutu. Not just any tutu but a man and a pink tutu. And not just any man and a pink tutu, but a man in nothing but a pink tutu, and a beautiful woman by his side.
Now hang on, before you start thinking this is a grand work of fiction, or worse, a trip into the sultry gutter, I assure you what you're about to read is true. And better yet, it's beautiful. And even better yet, it's a story and philanthropic effort that will restore your faith in humanity. I promise.
Meet Bob Carey. The best word I can use to describe Bob is groovy. Yes folks, groovy. He's funny, creative, low-key, charismatic, and just an overall great human being. He's a professional photographer with a genius eye for capturing the beauty in anything.
Now meet Ballerina Bob. The best word I can use to describe Ballerina Bob is uplifting --- no wait --- motivating --- no wait --- inspiring! Wait, there's not actually just one word that best describes Ballerina Bob. They all describe him!
During a TEDMED talk (yah, he's that cool), Bob shared that he uses self portraiture as a form of therapy; a way to help him deal with life when it throws him a curve ball. When his beautiful wife, Linda, was diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer, Bob took his self-therapy to a new place. That place involved a pink tutu.... and a cow pasture in Riverside, California...
...and the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, New York....
...and the Theatre of Ancient Messini in Kalamata, Greece...
... and so many other places across globe!
What started as a means for Bob to cope with his own feelings about Linda's diagnosis, and a means to bring light and laughter into a dark place in Linda's life, quickly turned into a viral sensation and a global phenomenon. Bob and his pink tutu, better known now as The Tutu Project, is a beacon of hope, of light, and inspiration to people across the world looking for that special and powerful little something that reminds them that no matter what lay ahead of them, it's okay to smile and it's okay to laugh - you are not alone.
So if that's not enough to love, just wait. There's more! Meet the beautiful Linda Carey.
Linda is a force to be reckoned with. She's beautiful, smart, talented, creative, and behind that wonderful smile of hers is a boatload of sassiness! She's sassy and she's fierce. And she is living --- THRIVING --- with Metastatic Breast Cancer. Don't for a second feel sorry for Linda - don't you dare - she won't let you! Linda doesn't let Metastatic Breast Cancer define who she is. Despite her ongoing treatments, she is living life to its fullest.
She's a doting wife, a loyal friend, a successful small business owner (Bob Carey Photography) AND she's running The Carey Foundation, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that she and Bob founded together to raise funds for women, men, and their families to ease the financial burdens that come with a breast cancer diagnosis. Pretty fantastic, right?
But wait. It STILL get's better! There's more! (Am I starting to sound like a Sham-Wow infomercial?)
So why am I using our inaugural blog post to talk about someone else's charity? Well, besides the fact that their story and their philanthropy is just awesome, I am proud and honored to say that we are partners in the mission to ease the burdens for people affected by breast cancer!
That's right, I'm so proud to announce that For 3 Sisters was one of the selected 2016 charities to receive a grant from The Carey Foundation. It is because of their generosity, past and present, that our Road to Resources program can continue to grow and flourish, and provide personalized resource case management services and financial support to men and women fighting and surviving breast cancer! Check out their official announcement!
We're truly excited and beyond humbled that The Carey Foundation and TuTu Project Team continue to believe in our mission and to invest in our Road to Resources program, allowing us to provide quality, personalized support to the breast cancer community across the United States.
I invite you to check out the Tutu Project and The Carey Foundation for yourselves, and share the love you have for For 3 Sisters with them, as well. Support for them is support for us too.
Did you love the Ballerina pictures? You can purchase prints or even a calendar from their website. Want to participate in a Ballerina shoot? Then check out their #Dare2Tutu campaign! You could win a trip to New York City and an opportunity to participate in a Ballerina shoot!
So the next time you see a picture of Ballerina Bob remember.... that THAT tutu is more than just a tutu. It's a promise; a promise that it's okay to laugh, a promise that help is never far, and a promise that together with other passionate people and organizations we can and we will make a difference in the lives of people affected by breast cancer.
Faith. In. Humanity. Restored.
Shannon Moneymaker is the Executive Director of F3S and experiences life in the breast cancer community, not through just her own eyes but through the eyes of others.