week six… the one who does it all

November 4th, 2012- a day to celebrate a 10-year survivor, my sister, Jeannie.  But rewind 10 years,  November 4th ,2002- a day we would like to forget.  The words, “you have cancer,” were unbelievable and devastating.  But to my 30-year old sister, it was the day she stepped up to the plate, ready for the fight of her life.  She had been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and had a long road ahead. Thinking back on her journey, she would agree, there was a large down side; lumpectomy, chemo, radiation, hair loss, nausea, dozens of doctor appointments, and a hysterectomy.  But all this is overshadowed by the life lessons and good that have come since that day.  She learned to take small steps to get to a goal, especially in fighting breast cancer.  She learned to surround herself with positive people and positive stories. She learned not to sweat the small stuff.  She has met so many new people along her journey;  some that have given her courage to keep fighting and some that she has been able to inspire with hope.  She has never questioned “why?”, but instead, “what can I do to help.”  She learned what her true strength is, the meaning of faith and the power of hope.  Her favorite quote, “what lies behind us and before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

Jeannie’s daughter at the Race for the Cure

During my sister’s battle, she organized her first Race for the Cure team, one that rallied family, friends, doctors and nurses alike, to join together in celebrating her journey.  This year will be her tenth year for a team.  The day touches our hearts just the same as the very first race we attended.  We are so proud to be in the presence of such strong women and men who have won the battle, and just as aware of the strength of those we have lost to the disease.   For this is why my sister continues to join Komen in finding a cure.  She too has lost a dear friend and made her a promise that she would continue the fight.

Jeannie and friends at the 2009 Race for the Cure

This diagnosis certainly was not my sister’s plan for her life at the age of 30, but today could not imagine her life without THIS plan.  She believes this has made her the person she is today and defined her mission in life. She strives to make a difference in the lives of those touched by breast cancer and hopes one day to prevent any others from the battle.   She reaches out to any newly diagnosed women to answer questions, listen, and cheer them on.  Jeannie has been able support and encourage our three aunts that have been diagnosed since her journey. She also helps Komen Cincinnati in any way possible.  She organizes survivor gift bags each year for the Race for the Cure along with family and friends, she volunteers for many Komen events to raise breast cancer awareness, and has appeared on news programs promoting self-detection and yearly exams.  She believes strongly in their cause.  She has even inspired her daughter, Hope, who has had a lemonade stand raising money for the Race, remembering each dollar is another step closer to finding a cure.
So this November 4th we will celebrate the life of one of the strongest people I know, my sister Jeannie.  We will place ten pink flamingos in her front yard, one for each year of survival.  This is an annual family ritual that reminds my sister to smile because she is a SURVIVOR.   The flamingo represents grace and beauty,   both of which she has displayed on her journey.  She encourages others to celebrate their “day” with something that inspires them as well.  We look forward to herding a flock.

Jeannie’s flamingos!

week three… cancer fighting family

Tri-State family unites to take on breast cancer!

Sweeney Family at their first Race for the Cure

Our life changed four years ago when we heard the words “you have breast cancer”. The first thing that Keith and I worried about was how do we tell our two young sons what we had ahead of us without scaring them? Keith’s suggestion was to stay positive and keep moving in the right direction to our goal- beating cancer. That’s just what we did- laughed through the tears when I lost my hair, cuddled in to watch movies when I didn’t feel good during my treatment, and raising money for Susan G. Komen Cincinnati to fund research towards finding a cure.  Through our fundraising efforts as a family by forming Team SuperGirl!, the boys were able to learn that they can take an active role in  making a difference. 

The boys and the lemonade stand that started it all…

 

It all started with an idea to set up a corner lemonade stand, with the profits going to our Race team. Then the ideas started to flow!  Used book sales, garage sales, selling pink bottles of water outside Kroger and donation boxes at local businesses. It really starts to add up! Each year, as The Race for the Cure rolls around, our family looks forward to making an impact. Turning a negative into a positive, a lesson my boys have learned early in their lives. Susan G. Komen Cincinnati has taught our family that the world is bigger than just us, and that ideas, no matter how small they may seem, put together can make a huge difference!

Carson and a friend at the 2011 Power of the Promise Event- where Carson was recognized at the top Kid’s for the Cure fundraiser. He has raised over $3000 in the past two years!

Team SuperGirl at Great American Ballpark at the 2011 Race

2011 C4YW

The Annual Conference for Young Women affected by Breast Cancer (C4YW) was recently held in Orlando, Florida. The C4YW is the result of the collaborative efforts of The Young Survival Coalition, Living Beyond Breast Cancer & Susan G. Komen. The conference is focused on bringing together young women from all over to network with other young survivors, to hear the latest in breast cancer research and treatment and enable them to face breast cancer with knowledge, hope and courage.

Local survivor and top Komen fundraiser, Jan Middleton attended the C4YW 2011, and gives us an insight into her personal journey, and the hope and empowerment that this conference offers:

As a 3 year breast cancer survivor I always tell someone newly diagnosed that we all must take this journey in a way that works for us.  We cannot let others tell us how we should feel or how we should communicate. We must find our own way to mourn the many losses such as our breasts, our hair, our ovaries or our old lives.  Some women want to learn as much from the internet as possible and others want to only hear medical information from their doctors.  Some of us want private time to reflect while others prefer to be surrounded by people- the people we love, other survivors/support groups. 
When I was diagnosed in September of 2007, I was not private about my diagnosis but I could not handle being around others with cancer.  I am not sure why that was.  I was overwhelmed, terrified and felt like I could not be with someone that was or had gone through the horrible times that I was now experiencing.  One night, after spending way too many hours on the internet with Dr. Google (I don’t recommend this to anyone) I came across a website that was full of information dedicated to young women and breast cancer.  Getting breast cancer before menopause is not a good thing…this is the one time in your life that being “young” doesn’t necessarily play in your favor.  Young Survival Coalition focuses on critical issues unique to young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. They provide resources, connections and outreach so women feel supported, empowered and hopeful.
The area of the website that got most of my attention was the online support group.  There were women from all over the world that were just like me….they were the same age as me or they had young children like me or they were worried about managing work and treatment or they were concerned about relationship issues.  I would spend hours reading the different online discussions and also the “signatures” of each participant.  Within most women’s signatures they would list their diagnosis, their treatment plans, surgeries, recurrences, etc.  I followed this site for weeks before I finally found the courage to become a member and post.  As soon as I did I received welcome messages from many women….welcoming me to the club that no one wants to join.  From there I joined a treatment group.  This is a group of women all starting chemo in the same month.  I went from doing this terrifying journey alone to having several girls sharing their experiences as they took the same chemotherapy drugs, lost their hair, got sick and tried their best to hang on to some type of normalcy in their lives.  As a treatment group we also had the support from hundreds of other members that were like big sisters to us.  They would follow our posts and “drop in” to offer advice on a variety of issues from nausea to how to talk to your children about losing your hair.  I had found my safe place!  These women became my sisters and they got me through the darkest days of my life.  They were there for me in the middle of the night when I could not sleep due to the fear that I may not live to see my children graduate from high school and they were there to celebrate with me when I got my new foobs (fake boobs)!
I was blessed because I had my friends and family that were so supportive of me…they helped with the kids, brought us meals and offered us constant support.  Along with these people from my “real world” I now had hundreds of new sisters that were there to help me and as I moved through my treatment I was able to begin to help others from what I had learned.  I would have never been able to get this far without all of these caring people.
I just returned from my third Conference for Young Women affected by Breast Cancer. Sessions offered over the weekend cover a variety of topics such as fear of recurrence, treatment updates, reconstruction options, metastatic disease, etc.  There are also sessions designed specifically for care providers and family.  During the weekend there are several opportunities for networking.  Break areas are designated by newly diagnosed, long term survivor, diagnosed while pregnant, triple negative disease, etc.  During breaks participants can meet with other survivors that they have something in common with.  Since many women attend the conference alone this is a great way to meet someone new.  It is wonderful to watch new friendships blossom and develop over the weekend. 
One of my favorite parts of the conference is the exhibitor area.  In this room you will find vendors selling all types of pink ribbon clothing and items, mastectomy swimwear, lymphedema sleeves, headcovers, etc.  Many of the drug companies that work with breast cancer have reps at the conference.  Part of my treatment plan included the drug Herceptin which I believe is the miracle drug for HER2 + breast cancer.  I will never forget meeting the Genomic Health rep at the Dallas conference in 2008.  He was able to answer so many questions for me and had all types of charts/graphs to show me on HER2+ breast cancer.  Massages and make up sessions are offered for free and we all love having our picture taken with Dusty Showers, (pictured, right with Jan) of the 2nd Basemen, and the Good Health Fairy (beyondboobsinc.org)! 
On Saturday evening there is a dessert social with a DJ and dancing, this is when everyone really comes together to relax and have fun.  I can tell you that there is nothing more moving than standing in the middle of hundreds of survivors on a dance floor and seeing their smiling faces as they sing “I will survive”!  For just a moment all worries are gone, the aches and pains seem to subside, the fear seems to go away as you feel the connection to these incredible women that surround you, we are brought together by tragedy yet we share a bond that only we can comprehend.    
The event ends concludes on Sunday and as the participants begin to depart there are many hugs and lots of tears.  Women that attend this event leave with a new sense of courage and empowerment to take control of their lives and not let cancer take control of them.  These women leave with an inner peace, they have been surrounded by women that really “get it”.  They leave with new friendships and
                                                          special memories created by reconnecting to old friends.
I want to thank Susan G. Komen for the Cure for being a major sponsor for the Conference for Young Women affected by breast cancer.  An event like this would not be possible without Komen’s support and I appreciate the fact that Komen recognizes the unique needs of women that are diagnosed prior to menopause.  We must continue to raise awareness and support the unique needs of young women that are diagnosed with breast cancer.  As I continue my cancer journey as a survivor my hope is that my daughter and all young girls will be able to grow up in a world without breast cancer.