Visions of Hope

Visions of Hope Art Susan and EJ Visions of Hope Art on wall Visions of Hope Art Lesley and Susan

Pathways presents, “Visions of Hope- Cancer Journeys Reflecting Inspiration and Hope”. A special art exhibit featuring acrylic paintings by accomplished artist and breast cancer survivor Susan Hope Schaffer, on display throughout the summer.

This art exhibit features 18 magnificent and poignant portraits of cancer survivors along with stories of their hopeful struggles written in their own words. Many of the portraits are of Pathways participants and volunteers.

Katie L.S. HopeTrish G.Wanda C.EJRegina C.Kate F.Lisa M.Joan S.Lesley A.Jacci G.Ingrid M.Chris C.Pam B.Peggy S.Chiara D.Rene M.Jacqueline S.
Katie was diagnosed in 2007 with breast cancer stage 2B. It was while breastfeeding her 9 month old son that she felt a lump in her breast. She made an appointment with her family doctor who confirmed concern. She scheduled a mammography which was inconclusive, as well as an ultrasound. Her surgeon stated, she either have a biopsy or stop breast feeding for 6 weeks. She chose the biopsy. Her first thoughts were, no way, I’m healthy. I’ve done everything right. So when she received the confirmation on the phone, she was in shock, she couldn’t speak, thinking she’ll never see her children grow up, this is the end at the age of 38. She called her parents, her mother tried to console her, and said, don’t cry, it will be okay. After shaking off the shock, she made an appointment at Sloan Kettering, where they made her feel secure with the plan they laid out for her. She immediately had a bond with the doctor who had a child the same age as hers. They talked about the babies. She decided not to go on the internet and do research. Instead, she listened to her doctors, after all, they were the experts. There should never be any blame laid upon anyone when it comes to how one gets cancer, but it gave her great relief when her doctor stated to her that “it wasn’t her fault” that she got cancer. Another thing that gave her relief was the time her doctors spent with her to answer all of her questions and explain what to expect and to reassure her. After her surgery she had to wait 10 days to hold her children again. When she did, she wasn’t sure who held on tighter, her children or herself. During her chemo, her hair fell out, and when wearing a wig, her son would pull it off. One of the funny things she remembers was that her son always held onto her hair as a calming, soothing method, and when she lost her hair, he rubbed her eyebrows, and when she lost her eyebrows, he reluctantly went to her husband. When her hair grew out about an inch, he was back in her arms rubbing her head. The best medicine during her chemo and radiation days, was being with her son and daughter. It was her husband, her parents, her family and her best friends that gave her peace of mind. She knows she couldn’t have survived her journey without them. They made a buddy calendar to take her to her appointments, made her meals, sent her cards, and cared for her children. Unfortunately about 2 years after she was diagnosed her husband was diagnosed with colon cancer. Everything that could go wrong went wrong for him. It was a very trying time, but somehow, they forged through his ordeal together. There was an article in Prevention that she drew on over and over about perseverance. Their family and their friends were their foundation. Today, she teaches medical providers and nurses through the Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project in Summit. She feels that offering knowledge to others and taking the fear out of the word cancer is her way of giving back. “You have to have support of others, you cannot do it alone.”
Diagnosed in September 2004 with ductal carcinoma in situ breast cancer. After a mammography & ultrasound came up negative, it was an RN who insisted that she go for a biopsy. A woman’s intuition had her book a trip to the islands before going to see the oncologist surgeon. She wanted sweet memories to hold onto, before the storm. When the diagnosis was given, she felt devastated and paralyzed, and then screamed inside. Not knowing what the future would bring, she prayed and cried that it would be alright. She felt very fortunate to have her husband by her side absorbing all the information from various healthcare providers that she could not. He held her hand and was her pillar of strength. Through the holidays she found out she was to be a grandmother for the first time. That wonderful news was her positive impetus through her treatments, she wanted to peer into the eyes of her grandchild, and know the goodness that life could behold. When her hair started falling out from the chemo, a dear friend shaved her head on New Years Eve she cried and felt like an alien in her own body. While lying wiped out on the couch from the chemo, the hours, the minutes and the seconds kept ticking away day after day. At times she found herself in a very dark place. Somehow, she found her mettle through the worse days by going to her studio and painting. During her radiation, fatigue was so severe she got angry with the thought of not being able to walk a couple feet without being exhausted. She prevailed and knows life will never be the same. She was always an introvert, but cancer enlightened her, it awoken her soul. She decided that this journey could not have been in vain, there had to be a purpose. Her purpose had her step outside her comfort zone to help others heal with color. Since 2008, she has been involved with various cancer organizations by donating artwork, and raising funds through her artwork. In 2014 after celebrating with the Lily Oncology on Canvas at Grand Central Station, she was inspired to work with cancer survivors and patients by sharing their journeys through “Visions of Hope.” She is so honored and grateful for all the wonderful people she has met along this continuous journey of hers.
Diagnosed with estrogen positive breast cancer. Through self-examination she found a small lump in her left breast in April which grew rapidly to 4.9 cm in size. The year before, she had a similar situation which turned out to be a cyst, so she didn’t jump on having it checked out until she spoke to a friend who screamed at her to go to a doctor. That friend happened to be her angel. Her gynecologist happened to do an ultrasound in the office, and by the shade of white on his face, she knew it was something very serious. A radiologist gave her the horrific news. She felt angry, that tech told her instead of having a doctor verify the images. For unknown reasons, she needed some comfort food, and immediately ran to the Swiss Chalet, bought herself some petite fortes, called her sister, went home and ate the pastry. She told her husband who was her rock. Her sister looking for the positive and stated that the tech might not be incorrect, wait to see a doctor. Of course, it was cancer. In order to figure out how to handle the protocol, she spoke to many doctors who gave their input to what she should do, but she chose to go with a doctor she dealt with previously that made her feel confident in the treatment plan. Her husband went to every appointment and held her hand. He was her guard against all the white noise. A week before her surgery, they found another mass in her right breast. At that time, she made the decision to have both breasts removed. There were people who voiced their concern that she was going to extremes. All she could think of, was she didn’t want to be going through this again in the future, she wanted it behind her. Her sister was with her after her surgery to assist her through her recovery, and her niece set up a “Go Funding” web page, which at first she didn’t see the need for even though she was on Obamacare. In the long run of things, it was a blessing, besides the financial help, the beautiful messages that people sent her gave her strength and gratitude. It moved her to tears with the overwhelming responses from coast to coast. Unfortunately, she experienced some PTSD after surgery which made some old memories surge to the forefront. She turned to eye light therapy which was a breakthrough and helped lift the heaviness. Also she had to overcome frozen arm syndrome in both arms, intense physical therapy for 6 months gave her relief. Painting, designing gratitude t-shirts, writing poetry and photographing her scars for weeks after her surgery gave her solace. Participating in a fashion show at Summit Medical Group was also a highlighted moment for her wellbeing during her journey. It was important for her to keep a sense of humor, and thankful that her husband also kept the humor in some very serious situations. During an aspiration of a large painful hematoma, her husband stated that she could be Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction. Small as it may be, it was her recent nipple reconstructive surgery, made her feel whole again. Her words of encouragement to anyone starting a journey would be “Let others help you, every human needs someone.” Her new mantra: “Stay Strong Girl!”
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. She was on her way to see her mother outside the country, when something told her to go for her annual check–up. Her mammography showed something so she was sent to have an MRI and an ultrasound. Although she had a feeling something was wrong, she rushed out of the country anyway, and received a call a couple days later from the doctor, stating they found cancer. Before that call, she had a premonition spoken from a son’s friend, who stated in a conversation “to remove it, and take it out,” but he had no idea she had cancer. She didn’t want to believe it, so she went into denial and would not return to the States for a month. She had a dear friend who kept harassing her to get back to the States and take care of her health immediately. Eventually, she came to her senses and came back home and started to see various doctors. She felt so overwhelmed with all the decisions to make, and she didn’t have the time to sort through it all, to find out more about her options. Her surgeon suggested a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. At first, she didn’t tell anyone except her brother of her cancer because she didn’t want to burden her sister, who was going through some health issues at the same time. She was grateful to have a girlfriend who had first-hand knowledge of going through a cancer journey, since she was also a survivor. She went into NYC to have her procedures. At first, she refused to take the chemotherapy and tried to look for a holistic alternative, but she found none. Chemotherapy was “hell.” Every time she neared the building on her chemo days, she would feel apprehension, feeling the nausea, pain and hair loss. She was very grateful to all her friends, family members and others who supported her through her journey. She said, she always took pride in her lush curly thick long hair, so she grieved for the thinning and lifeless hair she was left with after chemo. Radiation luckily, went well. She was initially placed on two other medicines before the third one which she is on now. One of the first meds made her bones ache with such stabbing pain. Another side effect was it made her lungs hurt and bothered her sinuses when she would smell perfumes, smoke, or other strong irritants. She found that sniffing coffee beans help neutralize what bothered her nose. Through her journey she found acupuncture, meditation and EFT therapy. She found a spiritual motivational speaker, Luis Hays, who gave her healing powers for her body, mind and soul. Support groups were very informative and helped her focus on good positive energy. She feels the more knowledge one can obtain about different treatments and having someone help guide you through the labyrinth of a cancer journey, is so important to feeling less overwhelmed. Today she is still trying to find the reason to her journey through Pathways.
Diagnosed in 2007 with Stage 1 breast cancer. Before the results of the biopsy were given, she had an intuition that it was going to come out positive for cancer, since she had a history of calcification problems. It was still a shock and disbelief to hear those words resounding in her ears when the doctor confirmed her fears. Unfortunately the same day she received confirmation about her cancer, her best girlfriend was having a double mastectomy. Her world was turning upside down. Thankfully, her parents were her rock, through those dazed & emotionally numb days. She did extensive research and found resources to deal through her three surgeries and reconstruction. The months of healing, she knows how to feel humble and feels very lucky to share her journey. Today, she feels stronger, empowered with knowledge, and with that knowledge she is on the board of “Pathways.” The Pathways program helps supports education and wellness programs for women affected with cancer. She is also on the board of Raritan Bay Medical Center’s “Inspirations” Spring Art Show, an art show celebrating new beginnings. Although she takes great gratitude of her life, she also takes a certain carpe diem approach. This energy is reflected in her beautiful photographs, and kickin’ cowboy boots.
Diagnosed in 2014 with breast cancer, stage 2. She was contemplating an Iron Man event through her children’s school. She was told to have a physical. At the time she chose to have her yearly mammography too, the radiologist saw a shadow, calcification, doctor wasn’t too concerned, nor was she, being in the healthcare field and exposed to cancer patients. But the breast doctor immediately wanted a biopsy. Although being exposed to working with cancer patients, when she received her biopsy results, she told the doctor, she kept repeating “he had the wrong person.” Being diagnosed with cancer put even more strain on her marriage, which eventually fell apart. She made sure she snuggled with her very young children every night and day. Before her surgery, she told her children that she was sick, but the doctors were going to remove the sickness from her. Emotionally at times she was in denial, but the day of her double mastectomy, she felt a brick come down on her. She couldn’t wait for the anesthesia to place the medicine into her I.V. She decided to have reconstruction immediately during surgery, the thought of waking up to nothing there was too much to imagine. Her circle of friends, family and caring strangers were her life line for nourishment to her soul. Her children’s artwork hung in her bedroom and gave her happiness during her recovery. Luckily she had no chemotherapy or radiation. Recovery from the surgery made her slow life down from her usual 3 jobs. She learned to find her voice as well, to face the lion, head on, in her life situations. Sometimes a person has to go through the dark to find the light. She definitely believes in a higher power. She is involved support groups at Pathways, Summit NJ.
Diagnosed with cancer three times. First was in 2003, after taking part in a breast cancer walk, which enlightened her to do a self-exam, it was thought to be a cyst at first. Three times her gynecologist shrugged it off as nothing was wrong. Her instinct told her it was something, and she insisted on a biopsy. Through her diligence, fortunately it was found in an early stage. A lumpectomy was performed, and no further treatment was suggested. Being that she looks at matters analytically, she wasn’t overly emotional about the first diagnoses. She kept her feelings hidden, even from herself. In 2006, cancer reappeared through an MRI, a shadowing was found in the test results. Her initial reaction was anger toward the gynecologist who she felt his lack of proactive duty during her 2003 diagnoses. Her angry was never divulged to the doctor due to his untimely death, sadly from cancer. This time around she endured another lumpectomy and chemotherapy. She never really disclosed how she was feeling inside to others. She always had this brave front and kept her composure. Although, her friends knew her very well, especially her guy friends, there was a pivotal moment, when one of them sent her a chemo joke. Laughter was truly the best medicine, it broke down her barriers. A suppressed energy was lifted from her shoulders. Her friends were her life line. Her first marriage was falling apart before her cancer journey started, and ended when her treatments were concluded this time around. In October 2010, she was diagnosed the third time with cancer. She had a bilateral mastectomy. It was also during this time she met a man that would be her yang to her ying. She could not fathom why he would want to stay with her, not knowing the outcome of her situation, she felt physically defective…he found her beautiful. She felt her train had found a new track, a new path, a meant to be vibe. He was there every step of the way, through a clinical trial, difficulties with treatments and severe fatigue, he was her foundation. They married in 2012. Today, she is excited to celebrate life and seeing a 5 year cancer free anniversary on the arisen. She said, she celebrates life after cancer, and wants to inspire others by assisting her therapy education to couples, by helping them understand what each one needs from the other during a cancer journey. A tattoo in celebration of life reads: “Love this Life”
Diagnosed with cancer several times, first when she was 30, 1993 with stage 2 infiltrating ductal carcinoma. Working fulltime, going to school, she was always feeling tired. One day she felt a lump in her upper right breast, a hard knot against her rib. Losing her father at a young age taught her to value life, and her upbringing in a large family, to look at and analyze things logically rather than emotionally to get through situations. Her thought, I want to live, she had a mastectomy and six months of chemo. At one point she had a hail storm; chemo induced shingles, an abscess tooth and an ear infection. The same month of her last chemo treatment, she attended her first adoption meeting. In1995 and 1996 welcomed home her son and daughter. After the passing of her sister, from breast cancer, and a second mastectomy, the family decided to move to Florida. Returning each summer to the lake she grew up in, to instill the same sense of family in her children. 2013, her marriage was totally unraveling, she went back to school and secured a teaching job. Losing weight, 25-30 lbs., and finding a pea size lump near her clavicle, she ignored a Dr. who insisted this had nothing to do with her cancer, “after all it had been 20 Years.” She pursued a biopsy confirming the cancer had returned through-out her upper body. 10 weeks later, a call at work, she now had 20 lesions in her liver. She ran to the bathroom to cry, remembering her sister. Lisa decided to gamble and wait to enter a clinical trial to ensure her best chance to survive. A month later she was being told to decline the biopsy part, she did not have the time, her liver involvement was too extensive. After two months of treatment, her scan miraculously showed a complete response to treatment. Chemo continued until Dec. 2015, stopping due to side effects, leaving the trial drug to combat the disease, until a brain lesion was found in Dec. 2016. She said at this point, she fell off the humor horse that always got her through the worst in her journey. January 2017 a craniotomy, Cyber knife radiation. Surprisingly, in the midst of this journey an old high school sweetheart, pursued her. With no hair, she was apprehensive to meet. “Getting involved with me, is getting involved with heartbreak” she advised him. His response, “the moment I looked into your eyes, there was no choice.” Volunteering to help other cancer patients and educate healthcare professionals to improve patient care, participating in several documentaries “Our Community Our Health” and “Ocean of Pink.” Dragon Boat racing through her chemotherapy and is preparing for the international race in Florence Italy in July, 2018, even a recent second craniotomy, cannot deter this goal. Back on her humor horse, positive, and thankful for so many good people in her life. She writes poetry and aspires to create a book. “The Book of Boob.” She continues to look for the light and Hope.
Diagnosed in 2016 with breast cancer, stage 1 micro invasion and Her2. It was during an annual check up that a mammogram showed spots through out her breast. She had a biopsy which was very painful and gave her nerve damage for awhile thereafter. Waiting for the results of the biopsy, her sons decided to come home to support her. She went through the motions of writing every word down the doctor told her, but understood nothing. All she heard was breast and cancer. Her husband, sons and she broke down and cried together. She decided to not ask why, but accept it and say “why not me?” She consulted with many breast and plastic surgeons before making her final decision. She felt she was in an avalanche of information, trying to breathe. The protocol was to remove the cancer through a lumpectomy, and reduction of breast tissue and give radiation through a technique without radiating the entire chest area by inserting the radiation into her breast. At the same time of her cancer diagnosis, she was diagnosed with diabetes. She chose to put off the surgeries and take a healthy approach to exercise and losing weight to help her diabetes situation and strengthen her body and mind. Her doctors were all on board. Between May and September she lost 22 pounds, the doctors were impressed, and her diabetes was under control and her cholesterol numbers went down as well. September, she was ready to undergo her surgeries. She stated that her support system was very limited due to her mother having Alzheimers and her brothers were involved with their life matters. Her husband supported her in a different way by taking care of household matters, so she could concentrate on healing. Hiring a health aid was very helpful during her healing process. Her BRACA test came out negative. She always felt gratitude, and kept adding to her gratitude list everyday. Whenever she came across people who would talk to her about her cancer, she would joke to help lighten the situation. Although the doctors diagnosed her with Her2, they decided the chemo therapy would not be beneficial at this time. Today, she is a life coach to others, and she is a patient educator through Pathways. Before having cancer, she volunteered at the Paper Mill Theater and donated tickets to different organizations. She also worked with a program that educated the public on Human Trafficking, which she still is involved. Her suggested words to anyone starting a journey would be “Do as much research as you can, so you know all your options and have no regrets to all the possible treatments for your situation.” Create a list of gratitude to help you get through your journey.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in August, 2003. Her emotional journey was tied into trying to conceive a child with her husband. After miscarrying triplets and an unsuccessful second round of in vitro fertilization, she decided to give her body a rest. During a self-examination, she felt a lump in her right breast, but thought nothing of it since she had dealt with a fibroadenoma a couple of years before. Going to the same breast surgeon it was revealed that something was not right, but he never gave her a definitive answer which had her mind whirling with fear and she felt disconnected. She sought several second opinions. At one appointment her husband was madly writing notes while the doctor rattled off medical jargon and procedures – it was mentally exhausting for both of them. She came across a doctor, who, although young, was wise beyond her years. Given various options, she eventually chose to have a mastectomy, chemotherapy and reconstruction. She tried to prepare herself for all that was to come, but the aftermath of treatment was horrific at times. Several of her dear friends in the medical field gave her hope by letting her ask questions and reassuring her. One of her lighter moments of her journey was when she decided to keep her wig off on a trip to San Francisco. It was an act of freedom. Once her treatments were completed, the thought of still wanting a child weighed heavily on her mind. Somehow, through a miracle, the birth of her first child was in May of 2005, and three years later, her twins were born. Her three beautiful children are the center of her life. She found peace through a certain spiritual guide, which gave her enlightenment during her cancer journey. She felt cancer made her step through doors she never would have otherwise. It showed her how to face limitations and surround her life with light and love. Through her journey, she encountered medical providers who lacked the emotional aspect while providing the medical protocol. This led her and other female cancer survivors to implement the “Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project” which teaches doctors, nurses, and medical staff about the emotional side of cancer. This program has been greatly received and appreciated by medical organizations through-out the tri state area.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. The first words spoken to me were “she had an A-team of doctors” who got her through her cancer journey. She had a history of having repeated test because of the density of her tissue and being very well endowed hindered her at times with back and shoulder pain much of her life. Fortunately, her gynecologist and PC joined forces in strongly suggesting a breast cancer specialist to review the diagnosis. When she received the blowing news over the phone, she felt, how insensitive of this specialist to give her the news this way. She went to the doctor’s office with all intent of removing herself from this doctor’s care. Instead, she found a very compassionate person, who drew out the anatomy of the cancer and assisted in making decisions in treatment. From that point on, she felt very secure in that doctor’s abilities, and she knew she was going to live. Being the eldest in her family, she did not share the news with them until she had all the details, and when she did, each one reacted differently. Oddly, her father never even heard her say cancer, possibly a subliminal block? Being the caretaker of the family, she went to every test and exam without others being there. Her feeling was take charge, no time to cry. During her lumpectomy of her right breast, the surgeon made a critical decision to biopsy tissue from her left breast, and doing so, found additional cancer. She felt thankful that the doctor was diligent in going with this extra step. Reasons beyond her own understanding, one day there was a change in her radiation routine that made the emotional dam break. The realization of all she was going through now, and dealt with through-out her life. The river of tears washed away the pent-up pain and silent suffering, and in that instant, she felt a release. Luckily, she did not have to deal with chemotherapy, but in 20/20 hind sight, could it possibly have prevented her life from being interrupted three years later? An abnormality showed up on her nipple. A biopsy revealed she had a rare cancer, called Pagets Carcinoma. Although the doctors were skeptical of a double mastectomy, she insisted on it. She wanted the cancer to be eradicated. When reconstruction was talked about, she wanted a size A-cup, but the plastic surgeon suggested a size that was proportioned to her body would be better, and the results were perfect. Unfortunately, with all the scars on her body, body image worried her, but that was quickly quashed, when she found a man who loved her for her body and mind. Each day, she looks in the mirror and hugs herself, and says, “I am beautiful.” Her motto, “Life is a journey, walk it tall, stay strong, it’s worth it.”
Diagnosed in 2012 with ductile carcinoma in sitsu of the breast. Knowing her mother had breast cancer at the age of 44, she was just expecting it all her life. So when she surpassed that age, she felt she had dodged a bullet, but at the age 51, a biopsy revealed her worst nightmare. Luckily she was given wonderful guidance through the medical facility where she was diagnosed at and through her navigation nurse. She felt a certain security, a sigh of relief and comfort through-out her procedures. Scheduling her double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery became a little bizarre. First time surgery was scheduled, the i.v. was already in, and mentally she was prepared to go through it, when suddenly she was told her hemoglobin was very low and they could not perform the surgeries. But oddly, one of the surgeons wanted to proceed with it anyway. She was confused and scared. A nurse stepped in and gave her enlightenment about the situation and she decided to reschedule. Second time surgery was scheduled, she had to cancel it due to hurricane Sandy. Third time was a charm. The surgery was successful. The day of her surgery, her family was there to rally her after the 22 hours of surgery she had to endure. While attending support groups, she would sit there listening to everyone’s journey, but could not share her own…she felt her situation was not as serious as all the others in the group. Keeping it tucked inside caused depression. She was convinced by friends to seek therapy was one of the best things she did for herself, she found an inner release once she started to let it out. She states that the word “cancer” does not mean the end. Just before her cancer journey, she found love and friendship with a wonderful man. He saw her through the thick of it all, and shortly thereafter he found out he had cancer. Their love endured so much it was inevitable they would marry in August 2016. She feels her path led her to Chris. She is involved with Pathways in Summit, NJ, in their program titled “Teaching Project,” by sharing her journey with others she hopes she can give comfort, insight and possibly a few sighs. The recent loss of her husband due to a tragic accident has changed her life once again. It means a different beginning, a different path. She will summon up the strength and fortitude with the love of her family and friends.
Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2015. The twist of his journey was that he had just gone through his fiance’s cancer journey, when his started. His doctor was keeping an eye on his PSA blood work, which were irregular. At some time, his doctor decided to do a biopsy. It took three biopsies to find the cancer. While sitting in front of the doctor waiting to hear the results, the doctor looked from the paper work and stated, “You have cancer.” His reaction was f**k! He immediately thought death. His father had past from colon cancer and his sister from uterine cancer. After an MRI confirmed the whereabouts of the cancer, his doctor stated that he wanted to wait and keep an eye on it. He was terrified having this cancer growing inside him, and thinking about his children without their father. It was a nurse that heard his concern and stated, you do what feels right for you, be proactive, demand removal now, if that is what you want. He took that advice and requested the doctor remove it now. He told his children of his situation with the help of his fiancé. The children were worried since their mother had gone through breast cancer in recent years. The surgeon who performed the robotic procedure stated that he earned his money on that procedure. Because the cancer had gone outside the prostrate gland, but luckily it had not gone to the lymph nodes. He felt grateful to the nurse who pushed him to be proactive. Recovery took awhile to bounce back from, lots of swelling, incontinence, and out of work longer then he thought he would be. He was embarrassed and felt degraded that his beloved had to see him in this weak condition. Because there was nerve damaged, he had certain limitations of any physical intimacy. Not sure if he believed in god, he stated he was a recovering Catholic, but he believed in some higher spirit. After going through each other’s journeys, he and his fiancé sealed their love by getting married in August 2016. He was trying to take each day as it came without being too angry of having cancer, and thinking about whether it could return. He knew how very lucky he was to have met his beautiful, caring and loving wife. She was the reason that kept him moving forward. He related having cancer to a line in a John Lennon – “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Sharing his cancer journey is his legacy of Hope for others.
Diagnosed in 1986 with Stage 3, breast cancer. She was pregnant with her second son. One day while playing with her first son, his head hit her breast, and it was very painful. She thought it must be due to the pregnancy and thought nothing of it. At her obstetrician check-up, she mentioned it to her doctor, who thought it might be a fibro fluid, and did a needle biopsy, there was no drainage. Surgical biopsy found cancer, the size of a small grapefruit. A thousand things going through her mind, but one thought laid heavier then others, “what if I don’t make it through surgery, what will happen to my children…?” She underwent a radical mastectomy right away. She was told the cancer was estrogen fed. It was her choice, to wait several months after delivery of her son to begin chemotherapy, because she wanted to spend time with her newborn. She was very thankful her son was born healthy. Emotions ran high at times, and one time she had to apologize to her husband for yelling at him. Her oldest son was about 5 years old, when she shared with him about her situation. He ask “will it make you better?,” she hugged him tightly. The dosages of chemo were showing as abnormally high, in fact the nurse had to recheck with the doctor to make sure there wasn’t an error. Unfortunately, she was allergic to the chemo meds and they had to counteract it, each time she had treatments. Although her sister and she were miles away, they talked every day. She somehow forged through her journey and found a balance volunteering with a group of women through Pathways, who are called Dragon Boaters. They are racing to support awareness of breast cancer. The camaraderie is immensely tight with her team, who are called the S.O.S. (Save our Sisters) of NJ. She has become a certified coach, and looks forward to the next race.
Diagnosed in 2003 with breast cancer. While doing a self exam in the shower, she felt this hard shape, size of a pinky, which gave her severe pains. A mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy stated it was a 10 nailer, deep to the back of her chest wall. During the time of the testing no one seem to give her any direct communication about what they found, lack of communication, the healthcare providers thought each one told her. She immediately started to put her life matters in order. She went through a battery of test and surgeries. 39 lymph nodes were taken because one showed a .7 cm for positive of cancer. She opted for 6 sessions of chemo. As she put it, “it would scrub away anything that might exist.” She felt blessed for her children, friends and a dear sister. Once her hair had fallen out from chemo, her sister drew eyes on the back of her head, which gave some humor to the situation. On her birthday dinner, her son, stated to her, “you’ll be fine, you’re the strongest person, I know,” but inside, she stated, “I am fooling you.” During her journey she had to deal with two life situations with her children, somehow, they both pulled through unscathed to any further problems. Someone, she thought would be there for life, after all was said and done left her, which devastated her emotional state of mind even further. After 13 years of being in remission, coming back from North Carolina visiting her first grandson’s birth, excruciating pain ran down her leg. Thinking she over did it or slept uncomfortable during her visit, led her to have an MRI done for a bulging disc. Unfortunately, it found more then that. Her saying is, “gift with purchase.” Lesions were found through-out her entire body. She is on several chemo medicines and says, she is not ready yet to end the story, she has a few more chapters to write. She wants to complete the story on her terms for her children. She has been involved with Pathways for 13 years, an organization which gives the tools of support and resources to others going through a cancer journey. She is also one of the original Dragon Boat participants that raise awareness through racing long 40 ft boats. There is a ceremony titled “Flowers in the Water,” each year the Dragon Boat team honor the passing of others. She is not sure where or when, but she is living life to the fullest. She feels that whatever she did in life, she hopes her life touched someone else, and made a difference.
Diagnosed in 2014, with stage 3 triple negative, breast cancer. The eve of her 43 birthday, she was given the devastating news. Oddly, before her birthday, in August of that year, all her yearly tests came out fine. When she learned the news, she felt a sense of terror, earthquake of emotions. She put the information out to her friends, but held back from telling her mom right a way. Her father had just passed away in July, and she didn’t think her mother could handle hearing that she had cancer. Eventually she did share it, and her mother was very helpful in supporting her wellness. At one point, she realized, she had no choice, and whatever the healthcare providers stated for treatment was what she would do. Protocol was chemo first then surgery. After her first chemo treatment, she had a, “f*ck cancer party” which helped relieve some of the agony. The meds made her violently sick. A crochet blanket gave her comfort during her treatments. Although she and her partner went through couples counseling, it couldn’t save their relationship which she had to deal with through the journey. She attended several support groups, one called Share NYC, which gave her an opportunity to give awareness of her mastectomy procedure through an article written in the Wall Street Journal. Before removal of her right breast, she had a “Boob-Bye party,” another emotional releaser. Her friends were with her all the way. She also attended Pathways support group and feels blessed for the delivery of meals to her. At one time she felt somewhat like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, stepping outside the house and saying, where do I go from here? Trying to reinvent her self-image, and to find the strength (“trovare la forza”) during her first cancer journey, she created a blog, titled “Beauty Through the Beast.” This blog is about fashion, giving women inspiration, to try and find the beauty in their new skin. Unfortunately, she has been diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic cancer and is trying to find outlets to help her body and mind through meditating, getting involved with cancer awareness events, listening to music and “staying real” about cancer. Sometimes it’s very taxing for her to get through her days. She prays and HOPES that one of the many clinical trials she has been on will be her savior.
Although diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2005, she had found a very small, hard lump under her arm 16 months earlier. Two physicians initially told her it was ‘nothing’. During those many months, the lump had grown tremendously; she was concerned, but didn’t think it was cancer. A recent mammogram showed no changes. When she finally saw a surgeon, he was alarmed, scheduling surgery the same week. She learned at that time that the lump was a malignant lymph node: primary site unknown. The diagnosis of breast cancer came after an excruciatingly long two weeks, revealed by a ‘whoppingly positive’ PET scan. She was stunned, but thankful for a diagnosis. Her husband attended every medical appointment and procedure. Her son and daughter were solidly behind her recovery, as well. Her daughter helped her shave her head when the time came. Her son was home often to support her. Her long time ‘sisters’ took turns accompanying her to chemo appointments. Through the darkness, there were shining moments. Her oncologist gave her a post-chemo infusion so she could feel well enough to attend an out of town wedding, which was so important to her. She herself gave hope to a young student who was going through a leukemia journey, sharing stories and hope. They will always share a rare bond. She fondly remembers the meals, smiles, notes of encouragement, and compliments of radiance she received. She eventually decided to have a mastectomy, which her doctors were encouraging. Reconstructive surgery was very successful; after many months, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Her oncologist suggested that she attend a support group at Pathways. She initially hesitated, but once there, she felt a sense of unparalleled camaraderie. Eventually, she joined the Pathways Patient Educator Program and now shares her first hand experiences with healthcare providers, clergy and medical students, so that they can better understand their patient’s journey. She believes communication is critically important for a solid patient- healthcare provider relationship. She created a painting of a rainbow, incorporating her students’ hands in the artwork to reflects the love, support and hope she felt from them during her journey. There are many joyful, hopeful and spirited moments throughout her journey, that she still reflects upon today.
When my mother was first diagnosed, I was confused, concerned and scared of the unknown. Her cancer diagnosis was totally unexpected, it came out of left field, and I couldn’t even begin to fathom or understand what she was going through, physically or mentally. I just knew that I had to be there for her, in such a crucial time of her life. Knowing the difficulties she had to endure from the chemo therapy, the surgeries and the radiation, I am sure being optimistic was faint at times, but she has always been a strong and tenacious woman, which gave me hope that she would overcome this dark “obstacle.” Many of times she told my sisters, and myself not to worry. She didn’t want us to change our daily routine she was going to get through it. It is because of who she is and her constant resilience to personal challenges, that I push myself to my physical/mental limits. She has given me such reverence for life. The mirror reflects the strength she has given me through-out my life. Looking for the sanguine of her cancer journey, it was artwork. The compassion and positive exuberance she gives to others is reflected by helping survivors/patients and loved ones have a voice in sharing their journey through “Visions of Hope.”