For the girls

For the girls

The Official Blog of Here for the girls

, April 11, 2019 | More Post by

Ashley, 31, diagnosed at 24

No family history, No known genetic mutation
Ashley, a program coordinator, could claim what no one would want to and most could not – being a two-time cancer survivor by age 24. She was just 16 when she faced melanoma. Eight years later she found a lump in her breast. When it persisted, she went to her doctor who referred her to a surgeon, even after a mammogram revealed nothing. The surgeon did not suspect cancer, but eventually discovered malignant cells within a non-cancerous tumor. Diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), Stage 0 breast cancer, Ashley had a lumpectomy and radiation while working full-time and attending college. Beyond Boobs! Texas was not around back then, but now they are, and she says, “I am six years out from diagnosis, but I still need these ladies in my life! I want other women to know we are here to help them get through this journey.” Ashley believes the tagline from the modern-day tale of Cinderella, “have courage and be kind,” are words to live by. She knows, like the character she portrays, courage and kindness will help you get past life’s challenges while being a beacon of light and hope for others. Ashley’s happily ever after now includes a fiancé and dreams of family.

, March 12, 2019 | More Post by

Our “A Calendar to Live By” features survivors we serve through Here for the Girls programs and their inspiring, uplifting stories about their cancer journey. Get to know this month’s model, Laura!

Laura, 52, diagnosed at 49

1st degree family history

No genetic testing

Laura noticed an itchy area on her left breast and weeks later, felt a lump there. Testing revealed Stage 2 lobular breast cancer, and Laura underwent chemotherapy, a mastectomy with reconstruction, and radiation. Recently divorced with no other family nearby, Laura gratefully accepted the attentive caregiving of her 15- and 20-year-old daughters, along with their love, strength, laughter, and hugs. The importance of family is interwoven into the story of her life, even her profession. As an adoption coordinator, she’s responsible for creating families. It’s no wonder that The Little Match Girl, told to her by her great-grandmother, is one Laura remembers. The Little Match Girl uses matches for warmth and to recall images of the loving grandmother who brought her comfort in desperate times. Laura says, “The pieces of the story that resonate with me are about family; those who love you and keep you warm. You hold them close to your heart and have them with you always, even when apart.” Thanks to her eldest daughter who knew a member of Beyond Boobs, Laura now has additional family – her Beyond Boobs! sisters. Laura hopes her story shows that your life story is richer when it includes family.

, February 12, 2019 | More Post by

Our “A Calendar to Live By” features survivors we serve through Here for the Girls programs and their inspiring, uplifting stories about their cancer journey. Get to know this month’s model, Vanessa!

45, diagnosed at 43

2nd degree relative with breast cancer

No known genetic mutation

A wife, mother of three, and housing director, Vanessa had been getting annual mammograms since age 29 (when a benign lump was removed), and supplementary ultrasounds due to “lumpy” breasts had become routine. This time, however, the radiologist was called in for a “peek,” and a biopsy two weeks later found malignant cells. Vanessa opted for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction and chemotherapy to treat her stage 1 breast cancer. She recalls being comforted by the images in the calendar she received in the mail from H4TG upon diagnosis. “The women were around my age – they were smiling and surviving. That calendar gave me hope.” She soon learned that her daughter’s day care director (Ms. August 2019) was a member of Beyond Boobs! Virginia became a lifeline and best friend and gave her the bracelet with the words that Vanessa tattooed on her wrist, “Live Brave.” Like her character Rapunzel, when Vanessa lost her hair, she gained insight, strength, and freedom. “It’s hard to even remember who I was before…yet it is too soon to know who exactly I am now. I do know after fighting cancer, I feel I can take on the world, and I want to empower other women to fight cancer on their own terms.”

, January 10, 2019 | More Post by

Our “A Calendar to Live By” features survivors we serve through Here for the Girls programs and their inspiring, uplifting stories about their cancer journey. Get to know this month’s model, Michelle!

49, diagnosed at 43

1st degree family history; no known genetic mutation

An itch led Michelle to find the lump in her left breast, but there was a five-week delay before this environmental planner, mother of three, and wife could be seen for testing. Mammography revealed nothing; however, ultrasound showed a 5.1 cm mass that a biopsy confirmed as malignant. Treatment for her stage 3A Her2+ breast cancer included a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, chemotherapy, and radiation. During that time, Michelle not only experienced a rare, life-threating reaction, but also her mother, a breast cancer survivor, died of colon cancer. Michelle realized then how much she wanted to live. She says, “Like Sleeping Beauty, I was bestowed many gifts by the good fairies, but I was sleeping through life. I was a busy working mom who wasn’t appreciating my blessings. I put off so many things for later instead of living now; never considering that we aren’t promised a tomorrow. Cancer was both a blessing and a curse as I awakened from my ‘sleep’ and learned to be present and live more fully and gratefully.  I no longer put off those trips or activities with family and friends. My fairy tale now is about enjoying the little moments and blessings that life has bestowed upon me.”

, January 08, 2019 | More Post by

Vanessa L., one of our 2019 models in A Calendar to Live By, has a two-part blog series to share about three lessons she learned from her breast cancer diagnosis — some great thoughts for a new year! Below is part two. Thanks, Vanessa! Pictured here is Vanessa on the cover of our 2019 calendar; order yours here.

January 9th, 2017: I would be officially diagnosed with breast cancer. Invasive Ductile Carcinoma.

Those first couple of weeks were a blur. I had not yet told my children. I kept putting it off. I told myself that I wanted to know my course of treatment, but really, I was procrastinating. I was counting my blessings and being brave, but the thought of telling my children just shattered me. I felt such intense guilt because I knew that in the telling, it would change their world.

I felt like I would be robbing them of their childhood and their innocence. I struggled.

It was my Nurse Navigator (a professional who is assigned to you during your treatment, they call and check in whether you want them to or not) who helped me here.

She told me that this is not the “cancer” from my childhood memories, that time when I thought of people with the disease dying and being just horribly sick. Medicine has come a long way since then. She also told me I had a choice: I could be someone with cancer or someone fighting cancer, and I had to decide what type of survivor I was going to be – and that is who my children would see. We sat down together to tell the children that I was fighting cancer. We laid out the plan of how we were going to fight, and they joined team mom fortifying my resolve to continue to “live brave.”

Over the next month+, I had over 30 doctor appointments, two surgeries, and one minor procedure.

On the way to one of those early appointments with my husband, we were both operating on autopilot, still in shock and disbelief. To fill the awkward silence, I was reading reviewing the mail with him while he drove (looking back we probably could have used some counseling). I was already getting lots of breast cancer swag, books, information, etc. So this day, the swag included a calendar. I remember turning to him and saying, “great, a daily reminder that I have breast cancer, just what I need!”

However, I continued to read through it. I read every page of the Here For The Girls A Calendar to Live By. It’s an organization to support women diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 51.

And for the first time, I had a sense of peace as I sat looking at those pictures of young women, my age, who were vibrant, alive, and some even with kids – they were me!

For the first time, I knew I could actually do this! That I was going to do this, but do it my way. My way and on my terms. That was the day I took control of my journey.

I didn’t really care for “hope for a cure,” I  was more in  the f*ck cancer camp! I was offended and insulted that I even had to deal with it, so there was no way I was going to go about this quietly. I posted on social media, I shared my story, and I wore obnoxious shirts.

In making those decisions about what type of survivor I would be, it was a decision I had to reaffirm every day. I learned that I have a choice of who I’m going to be and how I am going to be, and it impacts how others see me and engage with me.

I was not interested in those who wanted to pity me or feel sad all the time. I was fighting for my life and it was important that I surrounded myself with people who treated me like I was still alive.

It significantly impacted how my children received and responded to the news. They were on board and ready for the fight.

Lesson two: you have a choice everyday about who and what you are going to be, and that decision matters. The energy will be matched by those around you and will determine who draws near.

Because I was young and healthy, I would get chemo (as if it were a prize). Now, I was in the middle of fighting for my life. I found out I would have chemotherapy and what did I worry about? Not the loss of energy and appetite, nausea, inevitable mouth sores, or the toxic chemicals that would be pumped thru my veins (one of which is literally known as the “red devil”) – I was worried about losing my hair. I cried for real! It worried me.

Now for those of you that don’t know, hair is a pretty big deal in the African American community. I have rocked a ‘fro, a mohawk, two sets of dreadlocks; my hair had a personality of its own! But the idea of going bald, of not having a choice in the matter, it stressed me, it floored me. I was shook.

Two weeks before I started treatment, I shaved my head. I wanted some control at a time when I felt I had none.

Well it turned out I loved my bald head! I have been shaving it ever since! I have never worn a wig, not during treatment or any day since. That one thing that worried me the most is the thing I ended up loving. I still struggle with the worry and when I do, I just rub my head and as a reminder.

Lesson 3:  worrying about something not in your control is a waste of time and energy.

July of 2017, I received my NO Evidence of Disease report from my oncologist. I was cancer free! But that is when the real work started. The Gut Work. How to pick up the pieces of my life? I needed to find my new normal at a time when nothing seemed normal.

I had to shift from surviving to living. That calendar I mentioned earlier from Here for the Girls – well, I joined their support group (I often say they saved my life). They continue to teach me how to be brave, but they also allowed me to be weak when everyone else needed me to be strong. I have made lifelong friends there.

I have since shifted from being a survivor to an advocate. That calendar I mentioned, well, now I’m

in it as Ms. February 2019! In giving back, I’m also becoming an advocate. I work closely with the organization. Unfortunately, we welcome new survivors into our group every month and each year we also say goodbye to those who passed. But, we continue to fight and live our lives, as we say, with an exclamation mark instead of a period!

I fought cancer, but all of us are fighting or going through something. I hope that you appreciate these three lessons and chose to do as I do every day: to live brave.

-Vanessa L.

, January 03, 2019 | More Post by

Vanessa L., one of our 2019 models in A Calendar to Live By, has a two-part blog series to share about three lessons she learned from her breast cancer diagnosis — some great thoughts for a new year! Below is part one. Thanks, Vanessa! Pictured here is Vanessa on the cover of our 2019 calendar; order yours here.

In 2016, I was 43. At the time, I had two daughters, 4 and 10, and a 13-year-old son. I had been in my brand-new job for less than four months and my family was about to celebrate the one-year anniversary of being in our dream home that we had built from the ground up. I found out I had breast cancer on December 29, 2016. Can I just tell you that being diagnosed with cancer at that point in my life was a huge inconvenience… HUGE!

What I came to learn was that nothing about the breast cancer fight would be convenient, nothing would happen in my time or way that I wanted. In spite of it all, I chose daily to LIVE BRAVE; with that focus, I learned some important lessons along the way and that is what I would like to share with you.

December 29th of that year I had my yearly mammogram.

When the radiologist informed me, after lots of hmms and ohhs and side huddles with the nurse, that he wanted me to see a breast surgeon for a biopsy… that’s when I became concerned. In his words, he would be surprised if it was not cancer.  I was scheduled for an appointment the following week.

So we waited… I waited. Waiting is the worst part of this whole thing – well obviously not, cancer is the worst part – but you get what I mean. During that week, I wavered between wallowing in a state of shock and self-pity to researching every bit of information I could find on breast cancer. I decided it was only fair that I would spend equal time in each state.

During my time wallowing, I saw my life flash before my eyes. I thought of my husband and children and worried that I wouldn’t be there to watch them graduate high school or college. Would I be there for their first date? Would My husband outlive me!?  I mean really, I was the vegetarian, I was the one jogging and working out and such. Him: beef jerky, steak, and his longest walks where from the refrigerator to the couch… I mean, come on!

Hey, don’t judge me, I said I was a survivor, not a saint!

But most of all, I mourned the idea of not being there for my children, to lug them to softball and ballet practice, to tell them for the millionth time to get off fortnight and do their homework, and to clean their room. All those chores that exhausted me just to think about are the things that I now did not want to miss out on.

When not wallowing, I became… well, let’s just say that everyone knows that you are not supposed to actually google diseases you may have or you’ll be sorry, but that’s easier said than done!

You might as well call me Dr. Larkin, because by the end of the week, I had already diagnosed myself, decided on my treatment, knew I was going to do chemo and knew what type of implants I would get after my mastectomy!

My husband, on the other hand, had more of the “be positive, let’s just wait and see what the doctor says,” mindset.

Not a surprise, we had faced the same dance when I was pregnant.  I wanted to daydream about Harvard, MIT, ODU, and he was thinking about ensuring 10 fingers, 10 toes, overall health – you know, just making sure our child was breathing.

So, back to my wallowing… I begged and prayed to every higher being there was. I didn’t want to take any chances, so I called on them all. What continued to echo through my prayers and chants (as I was covering all bases) was, ” Please, just give me a chance, let me have a chance to fight.” I begged and I promised that if I was given the chance to fight, I would be thankful. I would be thankful for every opportunity I had to fight in future and that I would find the blessing in everything I had ahead of me. And that’s what I did.

And that made all the difference in my fight. That was my first LESSON, to just find the blessing.

Even in the midst of a storm, even when fighting for your life, if you can find something, anything to be thankful for in the midst of chaos, it changes your outlook.

Stay tuned for part two soon!

, December 12, 2018 | More Post by

Our “A Calendar to Live By” features 11 survivors we serve through Here for the Girls programs and their inspiring, uplifting stories about their cancer journey. Get to know this month’s model, Kerri!

Age 50, Diagnosed at 46

2nd degree family history – no known genetic mutation

Women with fibrocystic breasts (prone to noncancerous cysts) often delay going to the doctor when they feel yet another breast lump. Lack of health insurance is another reason women hesitate to check out a concern. Both delayed Kerri’s diagnosis. She felt something in her breast, but after years of rushing panicked to the doctor for many benign lumps, she dismissed it. A year after discovering this lump and having gained health insurance, she had the lump examined. Kerri had stage III breast cancer, treated by chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, and radiation. Since her diagnosis, Kerri’s life has changed dramatically for the better. “I look AND think like a completely different person.” She had a great support system, including her Boober! sisters. She was encouraged being with so many women surviving breast cancer. Heartened by these experiences, Kerri began volunteering for Beyond Boobs! in Williamsburg. Upon returning to her hometown of Jacksonville, FL, she resolved to become a facilitator and bring BB! with her. “Rene Bowditch once told me something so important. My chemo-brain is blocking the exact words, but the gist of it was that ‘through helping others, the healing process can begin,’” Kerri remembers. “I love that!  And that’s what I believe happened.”

, November 07, 2018 | More Post by

Our “A Calendar to Live By” features 11 survivors we serve through Here for the Girls programs and their inspiring, uplifting stories about their cancer journey. Get to know this month’s model, Letoria!

32, Diagnosed at 29

3rd degree family history – no known genetic mutation

Life was flourishing for this fun-loving, jubilant mother of three daughters with a new baby and new career as a pharmacy technician. That all changed when her family doctor ordered a biopsy on the lump Letoria had noticed during the third trimester of her pregnancy and that her OB/GYN had attributed to a clogged milk duct. The biopsy results came back abnormal, and the only way to rule out cancer was to remove the lump and test it. With so much going on in her life, Letoria chose to delay further testing. But the strange lump and the unanswered questions—lingered. When Letoria took action nearly a year later, the diagnosis was clear: stage II breast cancer. After careful consideration (and many tears), she had a bilateral mastectomy, breast reconstruction, and radiation. Today she’s healthy and back to work as a pharmacy tech, substitute teacher, and youth volunteer who coaches kids on finding their passions. Letoria especially wants to thank her three daughters for the strength she gained from them. In Beyond Boobs!, Letoria has found a support network of women who “relate not just to the diagnosis, but to the lifelong changes caused by breast cancer.”

, November 02, 2018 | More Post by

Vanessa (right), and her mother (center) and sister (left) on Vanessa’s last day of radiation.

“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”  Romans 8:18

This blog was a three-part series on my journey with the diagnosis; my pain, my tears, my fears, my faith! Here’s my final post.

November 1, my talk with God: Just received a call from my surgeon; my results from my surgery and test are ‘low-risk’. Lord this is all You! Thank you for keeping me; for your grace and favor, for my healing and for my continued restoration.

So, the diagnosis has been made and the surgery is complete, what now? I’m not sure if I mentioned in my previous blogs but I’m OCD. My family would probably say that I just like to be in control (lol); they are probably right!  Maybe that too, but I just like order. I like A-Z, 1-10, and I like plans. In these past few weeks, there was no order; plans yes, but not mine. My choices were limited because I was at the mercy of my physicians and I just prayed that where God guides, He would provide! And He did!

It’s November 10 and I have an appointment with my radiation oncologist (Dr. Alfredo Urdaneta) and medical oncologist (Dr. Kumar Abhishek). I’m being told that I’ll have 20 radiation sessions and then I’ll be on Tamoxifen after.

As I’m thinking of all of this in my mind, I just began to thank God for everything; in spite of. I thank God for my family and friends that He put in my path to support me during this time. I thank Him for sending me to get my regular scheduled mammogram. I thank Him for a team of physicians that from day one I felt had my best health interest at heart. I thank Him for keeping me healthy as I journeyed through my treatments.

When I was diagnosed all I could think of was all of the things that I’d lose; my health, my mind, my appearance, maybe some friends, finances, my fight, and yes, maybe my faith. But as I continued each day talking to God, writing out my thoughts and praying for strength, I just became more thankful.

Before my diagnosis I’d worry about clothes not fitting; the weather messing up my hair or maybe even if I’d have time to run an errand and get home in time to see a tv show. I’m human, so some days I still think on those things. But now it’s not as important.

Now I’m just thankful for every moment. I am thankful that I’m alive and well; to feel, to see the weather change.  I’m thankful to have the time and energy to run an errand. I’m even more thankful for those days where I get to do nothing. I never realized how much I probably took for granted until I didn’t know if I’d have the strength to do any of them.

Thanksgiving 2017, November 23, 2017; my talk with God: Thanksgiving and Lord I am so thankful. For my family, friends, home and my health. Lord you continually bless me and I thank you for all that you are doing in my life. Today is emotional for me because I know this story could have been so different, but you saw fit to change my situation. I will trust you!

November 29, my first radiation treatment and all I can think about is counting down. As I lay there, so many thoughts run through my mind. What is this machine; what does it really do? They position me a few times to make sure that my tattoos line up correctly. Yet again Lord, you sent this team. As I am leaving, I’m given an updated print out of my sessions. Day one and I cross it out; one down 19 to go. My friend Sharon would message me every day before my treatment with an encouraging word and my co-workers (Ms. Shirley and Nurse Aaron) to celebrate after each treatment, we’d dance! I remember my final treatment (Dec 27): ringing the bell, with my mom and my sister Gayle by my side and yes, my final dance (Celebration by Kool and The Gang).

I know that this blog was just a glimpse of my journey, but if anyone were to ask me what would I share with anyone newly diagnosed, I’d give them (3) things to take with them.

  1. Believe in something. My faith is in God and His power. So find something to believe in, to keep you strong.
  2. Surround yourself with positive energy; music, friends, a support group, daily affirmations.
  3. Find yourself. Spend some time with you; maybe journal, storyboard, inspirational quotes. No one will understand how you feel but you!

Nothing about what we have to go through is going to be the same for everyone; so find your place. Find what works for you and as each day ends, know that you will become stronger.

As I end my series of blogs, I MUST thank God for His continued restoration of ‘me’! Thanking Him for giving me a voice that I am able to be a ‘ripple’ for someone else (thank you Shannon).

I would also like to thank my family, my fella (Fred) and my ride-or-die crew; my prayer warriors (they know who they are). To my Boober! Sisters/Here for The Girls, Richmond, VA and my 2017 Pink Sisters, I met you in what was the most life-changing and challenging moment in my life. In spite of ‘how’ we met, I am forever thankful that we did. I do believe that where God guides, He provides.  He already knew my path, and what I’d need even before I did. In doing so, He didn’t just give send me support, but He gave me an extended family of wonderful women; my sisters. Who would have shoulders for me to lean on, hands to hold? And yes, be there to wipe away those tears. He knew that I would need you; not just for this journey, but for a lifetime! Yes, and for that alone I am JUST THANKFUL!

, October 26, 2018 | More Post by

Peggy (left), her daughter, and her infant grandson (taken five years ago).

This is Part 2 of Peggy’s cancer story. Read part one HERE if you haven’t yet. Peggy’s daughter (pictured here) is also a survivor who is a part of the H4TG family.

…So, the next two weeks went flying by. Our older daughter finished her finals at college and came home before she drove up to her boyfriend’s (now husband) graduation festivities for his graduation. Our younger daughter was finishing up her junior year of high school. I had told a very close friend what was going on so that she could be a support for my girls (and me). I had picked up my films from the radiology office and my husband looked at all of them. I got all of the mammogram films so he could see the progression of the cancer over the previous few years. Unfortunately, the reports that were sent to my physician did not include the telltale clumping of cells in my breast. I must say that he did a fabulous job around the girls and not mentioning that.
The day that we went to my Breast Surgeon was the same day that our older daughter left for West Point in New York. I think all of us were on edge those last days before THE DAY.
When we arrived at the Breast Center, I was alarmed at the number of women who looked just like me—-scared—and the husbands/partners sitting there trying to ignore where we all were and why we were there. My name was called and I went back alone first. My husband would come back in a little bit. I walked into the doctor”s office and he was sitting behind his desk with my mammogram films on his view box. I felt very comfortable and safe with this surgeon and he was trying to explain what was on the films. I told him that I was a nurse and that I wanted nothing “sugar-coated” and I prefer no mincing of words. He told me that it appeared I had a tumor and he wanted to do an exam and sonogram. So, that was done and my husband was called back. The surgeon said that he was 99.9% sure that I had cancer, but a biopsy would confirm it. He asked me when I wanted to have that done, I told him “yesterday.”

Back to the examination room for a needle aspiration biopsy with sonogram. The surgeon showed me the two tubes and he said that he knew it was cancer, but the biopsy would confirm. I hadn’t cried at all before and I have to admit that I cried and cried. My husband was called in and he just held me while I cried. The nurse in the Breast Center who had been with me during the biopsy brought me a small ice pack to slip inside my bra for the biopsy site and she told me that she was a breast cancer survivor and now I could officially say that I was too.
We had one last appointment with my breast surgeon to review the biopsy results and decide the course of action. No surprise that I had cancer and that it was invasive ductal. The surgeon took his time and we covered all of the options. He also mentioned a final phase clinical trial for something called SENTINEL NODE BIOPSY. My patient information was put into some computer and I was put into one of two groups. I forget which was which, but I remember that if I woke up with an incision under my arm, that it wasn’t a good sign. Surgeon told us that my chances for survival were basically the same whether I had a mastectomy or a lumpectomy. My husband and I both determined we would go with the lumpectomy because it made no difference on my final outcome and it was less surgery to go through.
Surgery date scheduled for two weeks from that date. June 10, 2002. A date that neither my husband or I will never forget….

Stay tuned for part 3!