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Meet our 2019 Survivor Models

It takes courage to bare it all for A.R.T. and participate in the Best Strokes events after breast cancer treatment. These brave models share their scars, fears, and the intimate details of their stories in order to help others. They are nothing less than amazing.

Carletta C.

“This is on my desk and I love it: ‘God doesn't give us what we can handle; God helps us handle what we are given.’ Keep the faith,” says Carletta C., who was diagnosed in March 2013 with Stage 2B Triple Negative breast cancer at age 41.

Carletta found her breast cancer because she was “extraordinarily tired. It was an unfamiliar level of fatigue. I have a history of cancer in my family … My maternal grandmother died from breast cancer. So, I've always been vigilant about my breast health. I started mammograms at age 35.

“When I visited my primary care doctor for an annual physical, I communicated my unusual level of fatigue. When she performed my breast exam, I winced as she worked her way under my arm. I'd just had a normal mammogram only a few months earlier. However, my doctor felt my family history along with my symptoms warranted more tests. She ordered another mammogram and an ultrasound, which showed an abnormality. The radiologist ordered a biopsy, which confirmed breast cancer.”

Over the next seven months, Carletta had a double mastectomy, emergency surgery after the mastectomy along with 16 rounds of chemotherapy and reconstruction procedures and surgery. Her “faith, family, and friends” were her mechanism for coping. “Looking and planning my life after cancer gave me healing in ways that the medicine coursing through my veins could not.”

Carletta advises newly diagnosed women and those entering survivorship to buy a calendar and start planning for the brighter day that will come. Her own brighter day includes “working to give back to the community that gave to me during my treatment. I captain a team of walkers who over five years has raised $95,000 for breast cancer research programs in Georgia. I believe that ‘to whom much is given, much is required,’ she says in a paraphrase from the Bible. My ʽkeep it moving’ mission is made up of advocacy, giving back, and hopefully providing encouragement and hope to those who need it most.

“When I think of recurrence, my foremost thought is the horrible effects of treatment,” Carletta continues. “As optimistic as I try to be about most things, I would never lie and say that fear of recurrence comes with any and every pain that seems unusual. Is this normal? Is this cancer? Is it back?  All that said, I do not and will not live in fear!”

Nevertheless, she adds, “I appreciate every sunrise and sunset in a way I can’t quite explain or never would have imagined.”

Beatrice M.

Beatrice M. (not her real name) was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2006 at age 46. She didn’t feel a lump, but she saw bloody discharge coming from her right nipple and went to see her doctor. She had a right-side mastectomy and breast reconstruction followed by six chemotherapy treatments. After the chemo, she took tamoxifen and then letrozole.

Throughout her journey, “I had support from my spouse, family, and friends,” Beatrice says. “Cancer support groups were also key because I could meet other survivors or those undergoing treatment. One cannot have too much support under these circumstances, I believe. I would state that the support was sufficient, and I could've asked for more – if so deemed.”

Following chemo, Beatrice says she felt glad. “It was recommended to take a post-chemo celebration trip, which I did with my husband and son.” She would tell others who have finished their treatments that “there are many ways to thrive and resources to support it. I've heard being a cancer survivor is like living with a chronic condition, such as asthma. That's helped me.”

Beatrice wishes she’d known at the beginning of her journey that “It’s OK to ask questions, again and again and then keep a journal so that you’ll remember; lots of people care and want to help; and it’s OK to cry, be scared, and be mad, but find things that make you smile.” She adds, “Know that you are LOVED. Ask for help, many people are willing but don't know your needs unless you speak up.”

Beatrice doesn’t dwell on recurrence. “I have faith in my medical team, and I cannot live in a world of fear. I am not afraid. I embrace joy and love. I am more mindful of being thankful for loved ones and letting them know. Every day IS a gift!”

Beatrice M.

Beatrice M. (not her real name) was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2006 at age 46. She didn’t feel a lump, but she saw bloody discharge coming from her right nipple and went to see her doctor. She had a right-side mastectomy and breast reconstruction followed by six chemotherapy treatments. After the chemo, she took tamoxifen and then letrozole.

Throughout her journey, “I had support from my spouse, family, and friends,” Beatrice says. “Cancer support groups were also key because I could meet other survivors or those undergoing treatment. One cannot have too much support under these circumstances, I believe. I would state that the support was sufficient, and I could've asked for more – if so deemed.”

Following chemo, Beatrice says she felt glad. “It was recommended to take a post-chemo celebration trip, which I did with my husband and son.” She would tell others who have finished their treatments that “there are many ways to thrive and resources to support it. I've heard being a cancer survivor is like living with a chronic condition, such as asthma. That's helped me.”

Beatrice wishes she’d known at the beginning of her journey that “It’s OK to ask questions, again and again and then keep a journal so that you’ll remember; lots of people care and want to help; and it’s OK to cry, be scared, and be mad, but find things that make you smile.” She adds, “Know that you are LOVED. Ask for help, many people are willing but don't know your needs unless you speak up.”

Beatrice doesn’t dwell on recurrence. “I have faith in my medical team, and I cannot live in a world of fear. I am not afraid. I embrace joy and love. I am more mindful of being thankful for loved ones and letting them know. Every day IS a gift!”

Pamela W.

Pamela W. was diagnosed at age 60 with Stage 4 estrogen-positive breast cancer. That was back in March 2007, when she had a 3D mammogram followed by a biopsy. She says that the mammogram saved her life. She had a mastectomy, multiple breast reconstructions, a new trial of drugs for chemo and more reconstruction. Along the way, it was found that Pamela also had thyroid and skin cancers, so she had more treatment for those.

Once all her active treatment was over, Pamela says, “I sat in the car in the parking deck after the last chemo and cried my first tears. Then I started actively planning for the years to come however many there would be.”

Pamela was fortunate to have a great support system that included a “tremendous outpouring of love from my husband, son, sister, and my three best friends. I also had support from my teaching colleagues and worship center. I never want to see a casserole again!”

Looking back on her journey, Pamela says that her quality of life has changed in several ways. Ticking them off, she says, “I retired from teaching to fight this, and I miss it terribly. Short hair is not a voluntary choice. I truly live in the moment now.”

Asked about her advice to someone newly diagnosed with breast cancer or entering the survivorship stage, Pamela quotes from a Biblical psalm, “Be still and know that I am God." She adds, “You must trust the process during treatment and believe you are a survivor.”

Stacey S.

Stacey S. never had a sign to let her know she had cancer.

In early 2017, Stacey was 36, too early for a mammogram. But she wanted a breast reduction, and her persistence in trying to get it was what allowed the doctors to find her cancer early. She had triple-negative cancer, a very aggressive form. Her treatment plan was eight rounds of chemotherapy. She then had a double mastectomy and reconstruction.

When her chemo was over, she says, “I was excited and nervous all together. I was so elated that I did not have to take chemo anymore. But triple-negative cancer has no post treatment after chemo, so I was already afraid that it would return. I just did not know when.” Last year her biggest fear, recurrence, came to pass. Now she is battling Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer (MBC).

Throughout her journey, Stacey says, “I’ve had a great support team. My family, co-workers, and friends continually supported me and still do. Their love and encouragement keep me lifted. This journey has strengthened my faith. It has brought me closer with my family. It has shown me my purpose for living. I am appreciative and thankful for every step of this journey. God has given me strength and the will to live.”

Still, Stacey wishes she’d known at the beginning to ask her doctors to speak in terms she could understand and to ask them more questions. She also wishes she’d known that there were better nutrition options and that she had more financial resources.

Her words of wisdom for the newly diagnosed: “Laugh often and don't be afraid to cry and ask for help. Please know this is not the end.” To those in the survivorship stage, she says, “Help others who are going through cancer and let them know that it does not define you. Cancer is not your title.”

Grace R.

Grace R. (not her real name) was first diagnosed in May 2010 with Stage 0 ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which means the cells lining the milk ducts of the breast have become cancer, but they haven’t spread into surrounding breast tissue. Her cancer was discovered during a routine mammogram, and her doctor said Grace wouldn’t have found it with breast self-exam.

Grace had a lumpectomy, seven weeks of radiation, and a five-year course of Evista, an oral drug that decreases the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis or a high risk of breast cancer. When it was over, Grace says, “I was happy and relieved, though I always worry in the back of my mind. I try not to think about it, but I do know that if I have a recurrence I will have to have a mastectomy. I also know that I was really lucky that I could just go on with business as usual.”

 

During her journey, Grace says she had “minimal support. I was living away from family but did have one good friend to assist.” She adds, “I wish I’d known at the beginning that I would be okay and that I was stronger than I thought I was.”

 

She would tell others at the beginning of their journeys to “find providers that you like and trust and be compliant with your course of treatment. Be strong and trust the process.”

 

Beth H.

The first time Beth H. had breast cancer, it was a small lump, and her treatment included a lumpectomy, radiation and five years of Tamoxifen. She was 44 when diagnosed. Last June, at age 59, she had a recurrence. She had noticed breast changes that were confirmed during her annual mammogram, and this time she had Stage 2 breast cancer. She also had genetic testing and learned that she has a BRCA2 gene mutation, increasing her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer compared with the general population.

This time, her treatment has been more complicated. First she had a double mastectomy followed by reconstruction in August. Then she had chemotherapy, which ended in November. In December Beth had a hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, the removal of the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes (salpingo) and ovaries (oophor). She also had fat grafting.

 

“My family isn’t local, so my brother came in from New Jersey and tag teamed with two other friends who flew in from New Jersey and Florida, providing two weeks of support following my surgery in August. My ex-husband took care of the two dogs we share. A few local folks provided support. I tend to be self-sufficient and approach challenges with my chin up, so it was a good plan for me,” Beth says. “While undergoing treatment, I missed traveling to see family afar. I just wanted to go on vacation. But with the holidays approaching while I was still in treatment and having surgery, it wasn’t going to be a reality.”

 

Looking back to the beginning of her journey in 2003, Beth says she wishes she’d known about her gene mutation and that her surgeons had taken more time to explain options and realistic expectations. “There is no such thing as one-and-done surgery,” she says. “I also wish I’d taken more time off before beginning treatment.”

 

“And now, I miss my favorite bras and wish there were more mainstream affordable recovery garments,” Beth says. “During chemo my taste buds keep getting fried and I so do LOVE food. The chemo took that pleasure away, along with my hair.

 

What would Beth tell others just embarking on their respective journeys? “Educate yourself, absorb as much information from others who are similarly situated, and figure out quickly who among your friends and family are truly going to be available to help you. The journey is longer than just eradicating the cancer itself, and your body will be different with new sensations and appearance. Every journey is unique. So don’t compare how you’re feeling and thinking with others, and own, take the path that best suits you.

Wanda T.

“I was at a friend’s house. I dropped my keys, reached over the arm of the sofa and felt a sting. It was intense but non-lasting. The next morning, upon waking, I felt the sting again and immediately grabbed my breast. If felt odd so I compared it to the other. Then I reached over, grabbed the phone and called my doctor.”

It was 2009 and the day before Wanda T.’s 46th birthday; it was also the beginning of her breast cancer journey. The first part of the journey included a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. That was followed by six rounds of chemotherapy, then 35 radiation treatments.

 

Wanda was lucky to have a strong support system from her immediate family and her significant other. “Both of my daughters were in different stages of college but managed to take care of me and maintain high academics.” Still, she says, “Some of those you thought you could depend on, I found out I couldn’t.”

 

Wanda says she’d tell others beginning their journeys, “Those drains are the devil,” and, “Be your own advocate. Only you know you best. Glean info from the internet but only take away what is beneficial to you. The internet can and will scare the crap out of you. Talk it out with your support system and never be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help when you need it. Entering the survivorship stage can be anxiety provoking but again, your support system, be it family or an outside support group can be a huge help.

 

“I would also tell the cancer community that every journey is unique. Don’t compare how you’re feeling, thinking and your choices with others and own or take the path that best suits you,” Wanda adds.

 

Georgette R.

Georgette R. has battled both breast and ovarian cancers, the former at age 45 and the latter at age 50. But she has the right attitude! “Every day is a gift and we are never promised tomorrow. Love deeper and stronger!” she says.

Georgette was diagnosed with breast cancer when in 2010 she found her own lump. “It was a big shock as I was still seeing my breast oncologist.  I had all the symptoms but was just not aware,” she says.

 

“I had great support at home and with fellow survivors. Ovarian survivors, we are very tight. Support from female survivors is a must. No question or topic is off limit,” Georgette says. “

 

Here are three things that Georgette would tell those newly diagnosed with breast cancer: “1) Losing your hair does not matter; 2) Allow yourself to rest and sleep as much as needed; and 3) I should have had my ovaries removed when I had my breast reconstruction.”

 

Having gone through both breast and ovarian cancer, Georgette believes that the “breast world needs to embrace the ovarian world, spread the word, and educate breast patients of the symptoms and warning signs of ovarian.

 

“I’m afraid that one day my cancer will be fatal,” Georgette says. “I wish I could get a dose of chemo a few times a year as preventive rather than having to live with the fear... Has it come back? Still, treatment has come a long way and is continuing to improve. Immunotherapy is the future.”

Shaun G.

In April 2016, Shaun G.’s wife discovered a hard mass in his chest. Although he went to see his doctor right away, it took a month before he had a mammogram, as his doctor first thought the lump was fatty tissue caused by Shaun’s recent loss of weight. Following the mammogram, a biopsy revealed that Shaun was already in Stage II of an aggressive type of breast cancer called HER2 Positive. He was only 33 years old.

Shaun had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and he took Tamoxifen, an estrogen modulator used to treat breast cancer.

During his journey, Shaun says, “I had a lot of family and friends who supported me along the way and a host of doctors who were willing to assist.” It also didn’t hurt that “We found out we were pregnant with my daughter two days before my surgery, and that gave me a reason to fight and live to see her grow up.”

In fact, Shaun says, “I was able to ring the bell (a significant moment that signals the end of active treatment and the beginning of a life free of cancer) a couple of weeks before my daughter was born. I moved right from my recovery to becoming a new father.”

Still, he adds, “Recurrence is always in the back of my mind. You never want to go through it again. I think with my cancer being aggressive, I had fears of it entering other parts of my body. However, I do everything to enjoy the present and be in the moment of today and not worry about tomorrow. I live every day to the fullest and am willing to share my story since it may inspire and help others.

“I tell others who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer to stay positive and surround yourself with people who will uplift you and not treat you differently because of your diagnosis. I told my family and friends, ʽIf you are going to be sad and cry due to my diagnosis, stay away. I was already dealing with it and if I can put a smile on my face, you can too, at least when you are around me.’ I do thank God for His grace and mercy and allowing me to feel at peace during that time. Always count your blessings, and never stress about the small stuff.”

 

Rachel W.

“I’m a previvor,” says Rachel W. For those who don’t know what that means, previvors are those who choose to have prophylactic mastectomies because they have a genetic predisposition toward breast cancer.

 

“I tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene mutation,” Rachel says. (Although everyone has BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes – both women and men – the mutations are inherited and increase the risk of breast cancer.) “I decided to have a prophylactic mastectomy. Although I didn't personally know anyone at the time who had gone through what I was going through, I had the support of family and friends. Still, it was extremely scary and overwhelming. But now that I’ve recovered from surgery, I’m relieved even though I have little feeling in my breasts, I don't have full range of motion in my arms and chest, and my breasts are a bit misshapen.”

 

Rachel tells others considering becoming previvors, “The pain is only temporary. Your normal life will resume. The surgery is not easy but it's easier than having cancer. So look at your diagnosis as a gift because knowledge is power.”

 

Rachel’s words of wisdom to those who know their mother or father have a BRCA gene mutation, “Get early diagnostic testing!!!”

 

Michele S.

Michelle S. has had it all: ovarian breast cancers. And, she’s learned, “You can live a fulfilling life.” Here’s her story.

 

“In November 1992, I felt bloating and severe pain,” she says. “I went to the hospital, had an ultrasound and was admitted. I was diagnosed with Stage T2b ovarian cancer.” (This stage, according to the American Cancer Society, means that the cancer is on the outer surface or has grown into other nearby pelvic organs such as the bladder, the sigmoid colon, or the rectum.) “I was given brachytherapy (a type of radiation treatment in which radioactive material is sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters and placed directly into or near a tumor) followed by a hysterectomy. Once I fully recovered, I was ready to start my life again. And now, I am a 26-year ovarian SURVIVOR!!!” Michelle just wishes that researchers would develop a screening test for ovarian cancer so that it could be identified earlier.

Twenty-one years later, in the summer of 2013, Michelle felt a lump in her breast. She was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. She had brachytherapy again and then a lumpectomy.

During and after both of her journeys, Michelle was supported by family, friends and a support group. She reminds others who are newly diagnosed or just starting as survivors, “Lean on your support circle.” She also tells the newly diagnosed that they’re not alone, that their cancer is survivable, and that they shouldn’t give up the fight.

Should either of her cancers recur, Michelle worries that she won’t be as fortunate as she was in her past two battles. Still, she says, “I appreciate each day more, I don’t take anything for granted, and I value my family and friends more.

 

Aisha B.

In 2004, Aisha B. (not her real name) was 32 and newly diagnosed with breast cancer. “I felt a lump in my left breast and scheduled an appointment for my regular Pap smear. My doctor felt a lump also. She ordered an ultrasound and then a biopsy. When the results came in, I was told I had Stage 1 breast cancer.

“I was living in Atlanta at the time, and my mom, dad, sisters and extended family lived in Florida. They wanted me there for support, so I moved back.”

Aisha had a lumpectomy in her left breast. There was also a lump in her right breast, but a biopsy showed that it was benign. After her lumpectomy, Aisha found another lump. This time it was malignant. Her treatment was chemo and radiation.

Once it was all over, Aisha says, “I felt great! I was glad it was over so I could start living again! I moved back to Atlanta and HERE I AM! Still blessed and covered!

Does she ever think about a recurrence? “Yes,” Aisha replies. “Sometimes I think about it. I’ve seen where someone once had breast cancer, then it came back in other areas years later and they didn’t beat the battle. It crosses my mind, but I remind myself that what will be will be! I pray and ask for continued healing. And I just keep on living and I keep on praying; I just keep on moving and keep on praying........I AM HERE!!!

Having had breast cancer has changed Aisha’s life. “I live for today and try not to worry about things I can’t change or control. I’m in tune with my body and try to be there for those who need me.”

Aisha’s words of wisdom are many. For those she meets who have recently learned they have breast cancer, she says, “Make sure to let your support network know how you are feeling. They want to help you...it helps them too. Don’t stress out. Be calm and take care of yourself. Encourage yourself and take care of your body. Ask for help if you need it. Don’t push those who love you away! Be at peace and everything will be all right!”

Aisha’s words of hope and inspiration to the cancer community are: “Be cheerful and unmoving. Be like a tree planted in water. Watch, pray and be steadfast.”

Like everyone, Aisha wishes for a breast cancer cure. But she also wishes there could be more funding to help those who can’t afford treatment. “I was blessed to have an organization pay for my entire treatment. I wasn’t working, and I didn’t have healthcare. It was a blessing, a mightily generous and thoughtful blessing that I didn’t have to worry about will I die if I don’t get the surgery and care I need because I don’t have any money to contribute to me living? WOW! Just speaking that sends chills in my body.”

 

Abi M.

Abi M. was just 20 years old when she was diagnosed with a very rare form of Stage 1, grade 2 ovarian cancer- Sertoli Leydig cell tumor of the left ovary. Abi’s story begins when she stopped having her periods in September 2016. “I went to many doctors and they told me it was stress from having three jobs and going to school full time,” she says. “I finally went to an OB/Gyn who decided I should try a week of hormone replacement therapy to force a period, and when that didn't even work, I was sent in for an ultrasound to see if anything looked abnormal. So here I was three months after my initial doctor appointment addressing this only symptom, when I received a call saying I was being referred to a gynecological oncologist to look more in depth at a tumor they found in my left ovary. This oncologist ended up not knowing what it was and sent me in for surgery to remove it. They ended up removing my entire left ovary and fallopian tube as the tumor did not want to detach. It was sent to the Mayo Clinic for staging and came back malignant. That was on July 26, 2017. A month later, I was sitting in the infusion center receiving chemotherapy.

 

“From August 2017- October 2017, I would go to the infusion center every day to receive six hours of chemotherapy through my port. I would have checkups every month, along with lung function tests and lab work. After my CT Scan came back clear in November 2017, I now visit my oncologist every three months to monitor symptoms and obtain bloodwork.

 

Throughout it all, Abi says, “My boyfriend of now seven years and my parents were phenomenal in taking me every day to the infusion center and driving me to every other appointment. They would make me comfortable at home and make me meals. They would make sure I was hydrating and monitoring my symptoms at home while I watched many, many, many TV series to pass the time. I usually slept so this support was sufficient, and it also meant the world to me. They continue to support me today, but I wish there were more resources at the center and in the area in general to support young adults with cancer. Sometimes I still feel like an outlier and wish people my age could relate (without obviously having to go through what I did).

 

“Once my treatment was over I honestly didn't know what to do. I wasn't sure which activities were off limits to my still-healing body and I didn't know how to fill my time. I re-enrolled in classes at my university, but that was still almost two months away. Of course I felt like 50 pounds had been lifted off my chest and that I finally wasn't held captive in a waiting room anymore. I was relieved, and thankful, and worried, and tired. I was curious what was next and I was curious what was not next. I was all of the emotions at once, but mostly, I was at peace.”

 

Cancer has changed Abi’s life in several ways, she says. “First, I listen to my body's needs over everything now. I like to say that advocating for myself and for how I felt despite the doctors' responses saved my life. Second, I have changed to a more conscious diet, only eating vegetarian foods. Although I was never given a cause of my diagnosis, I figure my body and my mind have been through enough already so why not nurture them the best I can? And third, I realize that my life has been fast-paced, as if I was trying to make up for the lost time during treatment. Really, what I need now, is to slow down and enjoy it or else I will never enjoy the outcome of a crowded schedule.”

 

A recurrence, Abi says, “is always in the back of my mind. You never want to go through it again. I think with my cancer being aggressive, I have fears of it entering other parts of my body. However, I do everything to enjoy the present and be in the moment of today and not worry about tomorrow.

 

“And I would advise those newly diagnosed that taking care of yourself during this time isn't selfish. Others will be okay, and you need all the energy you can to get through this obstacle in your life. To someone entering the survivorship stage, I would tell them to enjoy every moment, both good and bad, as they all are necessary to realize how good you have it. The paranoia will always be there, but so will every moment that allows you to control how you want to spend it.

 

“There is never a bad time to spread love in this world. Stories matter; they are powerful. Talk to someone, talk to everyone, and become their friend. Sharing stories and sharing love will never fail to impact at least one person.”

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