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My Breast Cancer Journey

My mother died from breast cancer at the age of thirty four, so I knew my sister or I would inherit the “Big C”, but I never thought it would be me. In October 2000, I found a lump while doing a monthly breast self-exam. I was thirty-two years old and just finished graduate school. I thought I had my whole life ahead of me. In a matter of days, everything changed. I remember thinking “I’ve been given a death sentence.”

Emotionally, I went up and down from panic to the elated feeling that I would beat the disease and then back to fear and despair. I had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy. Ronnie, my boyfriend at the time was also my caregiver and one of many in my support system. Mrs. Ethel, my manager at the time, was a breast cancer conqueror and a Christian, which was a double blessing. She accompanied me to my appointments, prayed with me and was a comfort. My family lived in New York, so God gave me an extended family in Florida. God had it all planned out. He was the light in my darkness. My family came down to visit. They kept me in prayer and were supportive.

All the thoughts running through my mind resulted in sleepless nights and when I did finally sleep, I was plagued with nightmares. My doctor put me on medication for depression which helped me sleep. Thinking back on some of those nights, I remember while lying on my bed, I prayed for God to take me home to be with my mom because I didn’t have the strength to go on. But, God got me through those dark times. I began seeing a therapist and in 2006 I started a support program specifically for younger women.

October 19th I will be 16 years cancer free. I don’t have to look at my scars and feel uncomfortable about my body anymore. I have learned that it doesn't matter who you are or what you’ve been through, you are beautiful in spite of your circumstances.

Charron Walker
Jacksonville, FL

Surviving in Style

In September of 2014 (shortly after my 40th birthday), I felt a small lump in my breast. Convincing myself it was "just a cyst," I was devastated when doctors confirmed my worst fears, and I was diagnosed with Stage IIB triple-negative breast cancer. Still in shock, I met with my new oncologist to figure out my game plan and looked ahead to a long year of chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation.

During my second round of chemo, I ran my hand through my hair and clumps came out. I started crying. Soon, my boyfriend finally shaved my head. I closed my eyes and cried as my remaining hair fell around me.

The next day, I felt FREE. It was finally over. With a background in fashion, I was determined to keep my style sense throughout treatment. Wanting to look more natural, I never wore my wig. Instead, I had fun experimenting with scarves during chemo and received lots of compliments. Cancer took many things from me, but I wouldn't let it take my style!

I wanted to create a resource to assist other breast cancer survivors in keeping their sense of style during treatment, and Survivor Moda was born. Survivor Moda both empowers breast cancer survivors to survive in style & provides breast cancer information and resources.

While still in radiation treatment, I created a seatbelt pillow to comfort my chest for the car rides to and from the hospital (and have used it daily ever since!). A fellow breast cancer survivor pal was due to have surgery, and I made one for her as a gift before she was admitted. She excitedly said, "I didn't even know I needed this!" I assured her although she may not have known it, she would be glad to have it when she left the hospital. After seeing her response and incorporating feedback from other breast cancer survivors, I created The ParkPuff, a portable, stylish, chest-comforting seatbelt pillow for breast cancer patients.

After more than a year of 15 chemotherapy rounds, three surgeries and 32 radiation treatments, I'm thankful to officially be declared cancer-free!

Rachel Park
Los Angeles, CA

Reoccurrence After 26 Yeas

I had a modified radical mastectomy and lymphedectomy (sp) when I was 51 in 1990. In those days there was no automatic follow-up if the lymph nodes were clear. Fast forward to 3/23/16. I went in for my annual wellness check. While checking my scar, the doctor had me raise my right arm. She then exclaimed "Do you know you have a hole in your side?" Needless to say this was news to me. She gave me an antibiotic prescription and told me to come back in a week. I did and the opening was not fully closed. She had a surgeon come in who took a biopsy right then. Two days later the surgeon told me I had a tumor and that it checked out as breast cancer! I had surgery on 4/20/6 and have just finished five weeks of radiation. I am sure hoping for another 26 years at least without cancer.

Joan H Zimmer
Pacifica, CA

Cancer and "Mommy Guilt"

“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn't know you had and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.” Linda Wooten

I look at my daughter and love the fact that she has my eyes and my love for the arts . I also look at her in fear that she has a 50/50 chance of carrying the gene that could potentially change her life forever.

Being BRCA positive and having a daughter brings a whole other level of fear to the word Cancer. At age 18 it is suggested that Kenzie be tested for BRCA and if positive, she will have to make a decision that could impact her ability to have a family. Any mother understands all too well the concept of “mommy-guilt”, but knowing that you may have passed along a gene that could keep your daughter from having children of her own, is almost too much to wrap your head around.

When I was first diagnosed, Kenzie was a year old and while I realized the day would come that she would need to be tested, time was on my side. Two weeks ago, Mackenzie turned 12. Mackenzie started showing signs that she is hitting puberty and all I could think was “Boobs! She is going to grow boobs! Even if Mackenzie is BRCA negative, she will still have to be closely monitored for Cancer for the rest of her life. Because I developed cancer at such a young age, Mackenzie’s odds of also developing cancer are far better than average.

I am scared of not living to see her 18th birthday, and of not being around to help support and guide her with my experience in life and with Cancer. Mountain of mommy-guilt party of 1!

Having a little girl is often associated with fairy tales, ponies, princesses and the corresponding Prince Charming. Cancer is a dragon in our fairytale, and although we may not yet be able to slay that dragon, we fight daily wearing our armor of love, laughter and open honesty.

Shanna Pinet
Atkinson, NH

A Mammogram Saved My Life

My mother died from Breast Cancer at the age of 54, her sister at age 31. The possibility of Breast Cancer has always been one of my biggest fears, and for this reason, have gotten mammograms every year since the age of 35 (now 64), always with good results. But in October of 2015 that was not the case. I received a phone call telling me they wanted me to come in for an ultrasound. My heart sank. After the ultrasound, they set me up for a biopsy and after that I had to go through the weekend imagining the worst. On Monday, I got the call at work. The result was "The Lump is Stage One Cancer". I just sat at my desk and cried. Luckily one of my sons works with me and came to my office to comfort me. Went in for a lumpectomy in December, then had to wait for those results to determine whether I would need Chemo or just radiation. I was lucky ~ just needed six weeks of Radiation. My family was terrific ~ they wouldn't let me go alone at any time ~ someone was there every day to take me and on the last day my children and grandchildren were there to watch me ring that Bell. I am now cancer free and a huge advocate for mammograms. All of my doctors told me that because of the size and position of the lump, they could not feel it and by the time I would have noticed it, I may not have been so lucky. In my eyes, the mammogram saved my life and it is good to be able to say that I am a Breast Cancer Survivor instead of I have Breast Cancer.

Caroline Lorraine
Glenolden, PA

I'm a work in progress

In 2004, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Complete hysterectomy & radiation treatments. June, 2015, went for annual visit with the OBGYN oncologist & had graduated to seeing the PA instead of the doctor. Nothing found. Late September, went for mammogram & had the regular type. The techs asked if I minded being a guinea pig as they were learning their new 3-D mammogram machine. I agreed. Regular mammogram showed nothing. 3-D showed a tumor. Sent to breast surgeon for biopsy. Ductile carcinoma...also in sentinel lymph node.Triple negative, grade 3. Breast surgeon sent me to oncologist specializing in breast cancer. 6 rounds of ACT chemotherapy. Tumors (MRI found 2) shrunk to virtually nothing. Recurrence rates about the same with lumpectomy or mastectomy, surgeon recommended lumpectomy & lymph node removal. Surgery on April 15th. Cancer in tumors dead. Cancer in sentinel lymph node dead but lymph node number 2...live cancer cells. Took out 5 more lymph nodes...cancer free. Having 33 radiation treatments. When finished, 8 months of oral chemo (xeloda) just to make sure none of those nasty little buggers migrated anywhere. I currently feel wonderful except for fatigue...have to take a lot of breaks. I am a walking machine...walk a few miles everyday (at several intervals, not all at once). Lost weight, am eating a healthy, vegetable laden diet (while I was on chemo, I craved red meat and greens, so that's mostly what I ate!) And of the utmost importance to me, I had people praying for me all over the world! Knowing that they cared enough to do this for me, kept my spirits up & I have only had 3 meltdowns during all this (& the chemo was BRUTAL). I believe that the positive attitude, prayers, diet and exercise have kept me feeling good! (I was, and still am, overweight....just in case you think I was a health nut who had good habits...NO).Say nothing but hopeful, positive things to yourself no matter how bad the diagnosis...it makes everything better! My wish for all of you is faith, family, friends, peace, hope, love and big hugs!

Vanessa Dixon
Snow Hill, NC

Two Time Breast Cancer Survivor

This is a picture of me finishing my sixteenth and final round of chemotherapy for stage 2 triple negative breast cancer. I am a two time breast cancer survivor. I wanted to post my story because the stories I've read gave me a lot of encouragement, and I wanted share that encouragement with others. Don't hesitate to lean on family and friends for support. Try to keep a positive attitude. You're stronger than you think you are!

Jeanne Kemeny
La Marque, TX

The Supporters

Hi I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer 13 years ago just before my 50th Birthday. I was devastated. I said "I don't want to die". My husband said "you are not going to die, we are going to fight this with all we can" All my plans for my 50th celebrations were put on hold of course and the treatment began. I went through lumpectomy, chemo & radiation. My very long hair fell out and my husband said I looked like a baby monkey with my tufts of hair (which we of course shaved off). All I can say is "thank god for my husband" he got me through this without a murmur of complaint. He was my rock. Everyone kept asking me how I was but nobody ever asked how he was, he was supportive and strong, but, you know, your family are effected by this, they go through every step with you. Well anyway, one year later I actually had a great party for my 50th and 13 years on I am a better person for the experience. This taught me about the priorities in life. Be strong and positive.

Anonymous
Melbourne, Australia

I Have Been Given a Gift

20 years ago when my son was almost 2 I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. I did a lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation and was given the gift to watch my son grow up to be an amazing young man. I became complacent and thought after 20 years I was home free. Last August I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized to my lungs. Surgery and radiation were not an option this time around but I did 6 months of chemo. The tumor on my right side is no longer visible, the cancer cells in my lungs are not visible on the PET scan and the tumor on the left was reduced by about 90%. I do monthly hormone therapy shots in the hopes that the cancer cells will stay asleep for a very long time. My husband and I are planning those "someday when we retire" trips now instead of later and enjoying our time together. How many people are lucky enough to be given this gift of time twice in their life!

Diane Hamilton
Golden, CO

When I'm Healed

This is how it’s made me feel and I write this so you know,

That cancer can be beaten but may often make you low.

It changes you, surprises you, but it doesn’t have to win,

So I’ll show myself with scars and all and hopefully you'll listen.

When my scabs are healed, I’ll post a pic though some may find it shocking,

But it’s better than a photograph of me laid out in a coffin!

And though it’s not a nice thought, it could have been so real,

That’s why it’s vitally important to give your boobs a feel!

My lump was like a time-bomb which would detonate quite fast,

And if I had ignored it, Christmas may have been my last.

I know that sounds dramatic but cancer is unjust,

So early diagnosis is a life-saving must!

It’s strange now to have a massive wound where once there was a titty,

It’s made me doubt my confidence and at times I’ve felt quite shitty.

It was daunting and a bit scary to go under the surgeon’s knife,

But it was just a boob and worth the loss in exchange for a long life.

Now I’m overjoyed to be alive and still championing my fight,

Though the road has been a bumpy one, at last the end is now in sight.

The chemo is hard going and there are times I want to cave,

Then I think of the alternative and it helps me to be brave.

But I am so odd, my boob has gone and now my hair has too,

I must admit, it is a shock to find me looking as I do.

But it will all be worth it when they give me the all clear,

And Benidorm watch out, we’ll have the party of the year!

So please my friends, I ask of you, do as I request,

Give yourself a bloody good examination of your chest.

Hopefully you’ll find nothing but don’t panic if you do,

You can join my club and be a proud survivor too!

Samantha Munro-Webb
Murcia, Spain
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