[Photo credit: Cynthia Wood]
Alison was 42 when she first felt a lump in her breast. Five months later, she had a second lump. A biopsy revealed that Alison had invasive lobular cancer, a rare form of breast cancer that makes up 10 – 12% of all diagnoses. At the time, it was stage 1, grade 1. The doctors recommended surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation. However, when surgery revealed two small tumors and negative lymph nodes, Alison opted to forego further Western treatments in favor of alternative approaches. Within one year, she had a very aggressive recurrence in the skin lymphatics, lymph nodes and eventually her spine, ribs and pelvis.
Alison had not yet discovered BAYS and went through more surgery, chemotherapy and radiation alone. Near the end of her treatment, she was directed to BAYS by her acupuncturist. She found a warm, welcoming group of women dealing with similar issues facing young women, including altered body image, changing sexuality as well as the feeling of wanting to simply enjoy life regardless of the difficulties of a cancer diagnosis.
Alison participated in her first BAYS challenge in 2007, going to Yosemite and climbing Vernal Falls, while the stronger hikers conquered Half Dome. Shortly after, Alison revived Mets in the City (MITC), a sub-group of BAYS for Stage 4 women, originally started by BAYS co-founder Deb Mosley.
Alison wishes she had found BAYS sooner than she did. She is committed to working hard to ensure that BAYS is always there and that it is accessible, helpful, and informative to young women facing breast cancer in the Bay Area.
The first time Amy heard the words “you have cancer” was actually in a dream. Two months after turning 40, Amy had a vivid dream in which she heard a loud voice saying, “You have breast cancer, and it’s growing.” Slipping out of bed and using only the light of the computer screen, Amy started to research the lump that her ob/gyn had told her was nothing just 18 months before. After that dream, however, Amy finally listened to her intuition and was diagnosed through an ultrasound and biopsy a few days later. She found BAYS through an Internet search the same week she was diagnosed.
Amy has been involved with BAYS throughout her cancer journey. She attended monthly BAYS support groups during and after treatment, as she was figuring out her “new normal” way of living as a survivor of cancer. Whenever there is a question, a concern, an anniversary to share, or wisdom to impart, Amy corresponds with other members of the group via the BAYS online network, and she knows that they “get it” without having to go into a long explanation.
As part of her healing journey, Amy just finished a book she worked on for 4 years to complete. The book is called The Healing Path to Spiritual Health: Tools of Recovery for Cancer Survivors ~ Integrating Spiritual Healing with the Mental, Emotional, and Physical Healing from Cancer. Anyone who would like a free copy may email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the online request form at www.spiritualhealingtools.com.
Andrea was your average San Franciscan with an amazing husband, super-cute dog and a cool job at a start-up when she found out she had breast cancer.
Andrea’s cancer diagnosis at the age of 37 was full of ironies. Growing up, her mom was Chief of Radiology at Roswell Park Memorial Institute — a cancer hospital. She got her cancer diagnosis in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness (BCA) month. And she wore her Stella & Dot BCA scarf to the ultrasound appointment where her biopsy was performed.
But the most ironic thing of all was Andrea’s obsession with Giuliana Rancic – the television personality who went on the Today show to publicly announce that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer while she had been undergoing in-vitro fertilization. Andrea, too, was struggling with fertility, and was inspired by Giuliana’s story to have a mammogram. Although that initial mammogram came back clear, the following year Andrea found herself playing out Giuliana’s story to a T.
During the many months of surgery and chemo, Andrea found solace and sisterhood through BAYS. In January 2015, Andrea and her husband welcomed their beautiful daughter, Nora Anjali.
It was a few weeks before Ann's 39th birthday when she discovered a lump while taking a shower. She went to see the nurse-practitioner, who suggested it was probably just a cyst but ordered a biopsy to be safe. A few days later, on her older son's 7th birthday, Ann received the results: she had breast cancer.
One month later, while recovering from surgery, Ann heard about a new support group that had been formed for young women with breast cancer. Ann went to her first BAYS meeting shortly afterwards. She had read that breast cancer patients who join a support group have better outcomes, and she wanted to do whatever she could to be able to watch her two young sons – then 7 and 3 – grow up.
Ann is a past President and Treasurer of BAYS, as well as one of the founding board members. Her sons are now teenagers.
Courtney was approaching her 30th birthday when she discovered a lump in her left breast. Her gynecologist dismissed it as dense tissue typical of a young woman, which a radiologist subsequently confirmed. Courtney was young, healthy, with no family history of breast cancer.
Courtney was an environmental lawyer whose career was taking off. Her husband was starting his own business. They were talking about starting a family and buying a condo. Things couldn't have been better. And then things began to fall apart.
Over the next several months, Courtney noticed strange symptoms: chest pain, back pain, side pain, pelvic pain, leg pain. As the months wore on, her symptoms grew worse. Before long, Courtney wasn't able to do some of her favorite activities like yoga and swimming. The pain became so bad that she could barely walk. Finally, after numerous tests and doctors, Courtney was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. Her cancer had spread to her bones, lungs, and liver. Her oncologist told Courtney that her cancer was incurable and that she would have, at most, two years to live.
After finding a new doctor, Courtney took a leave of absence from work and started aggressive treatment, including chemo and other targeted drugs. Courtney and her husband met with a nutritionist and made changes to their diet. They read. They meditated. And they prayed.
Courtney continued to work as an environmental lawyer and active athlete, completing the Alcatraz Challenge – swimming from Alcatraz Island to the shores of San Francisco.
Courtney passed away in 2012 at the age of 34. A fund has been established in Courtney’s memory to support the causes she believed in.
[Photo credit: www.jasondoiy.com]
Deb was planning to compete in a triathlon when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 31. Instead of training, Deb found herself undergoing surgery and chemo.
Three years later, Deb learned that the cancer had spread to her liver and bones. In response, Deb re-started treatment, co-founded BAYS, and competed in her first triathlon. The following year, Deb led a group of BAYS members to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite. And the year after, she led another BAYS team to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, just five days after an MRI showed four small tumors in her brain. Shortly after the trip, Deb had gamma knife surgery to treat the tumors. Five days after the surgery, she climbed Half Dome again.
Deb was recognized by the Susan G. Komen Foundation for creating BAYS, a support group specifically for young women diagnosed with breast cancer. "I am driven to take my body beyond certain physical limits that people may be tempted to apply to me because of my diagnosis," she said after receiving the Susan G. Komen Hope and Inspiration Award. "I hope to challenge the way we think about what it means to live with metastatic disease. ... Every time I endure, I come face to face with my ability to persevere and I am reminded of my body's incredible resilience."
Deb and her longtime partner were married by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in a private ceremony on June 17, 2008, the first day that same-sex marriages became legal in California. Deb died later that summer, at the age of 40.
[Photo credit: Laura Turbow]
Eileen was 39 when she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. She had just left her job to work for herself and found the lump in her right breast in the same month. Eileen's life got thrown into a whirlwind of confusion as she was forced to deal with the unknown. She preserved eggs in a fertility treatment and started
chemotherapy right away. Being single, her Mom offered to help and moved in with her.
Eileen's doctor advised her not to work during chemotherapy, so she lacked the social network that work previously provided. She quickly joined BAYS because she had read that support groups are known to help people stay strong through treatment and thereafter. "I am never alone with my BAYS sisters."
Eileen wanted her "cancer tattoo" to be visible and defiant, a constant reminder of strength. For Eileen, it helped her get through a rough 16 rounds of chemotherapy.
Emily was the picture of health. She played competitive soccer, ate well, never smoked, and took care of her body. Emily and her husband had been married just over two years, and she had recently given birth to a beautiful baby girl. Emily was breastfeeding her 5-month-old daughter when she noticed a lump that was later diagnosed as breast cancer.
Cancer threw Emily's life into a whirlwind. She came home from the hospital with an Ace-bandage wrapped tightly around her chest in order to wean. She was not able to lead the active life that she took for granted. And she could no longer trust her own body.
Two years later, Emily gave birth to a second child -- a baby boy. Emily has returned to playing competitive soccer and is busy chasing after her two young children. Emily is featured prominently in the Scar Project, a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors shot by fashion photographer David Jay aimed at raising awareness of breast cancer in young women.
For more information, please visit:
Jean and her husband had put off having children into their late thirties. After a miscarriage and difficulties conceiving, they decided to try IVF and were hopeful their luck would change. Just days before Jean was scheduled to begin medications for their first attempt, she discovered a lump in her breast. She felt lucky to get an appointment for a biopsy almost immediately--but incredibly unlucky to learn she had cancer.
For Jean, the most crushing blow from her diagnosis was losing the opportunity to get pregnant. Instead, she turned her focus to learning about the disease, choosing her team of doctors, and starting treatment. The “cancer crash course” was overwhelming, but the relative quiet that followed it was even worse. For a year, Jean was extremely depressed.
With time, the sadness began to lift and Jean and her husband began thinking again about the possibility of having a child. They knew there were no guarantees that Jean's cancer wouldn't return, but they were determined to look forward and to follow through with their dream. With the help of a gestational carrier, Jean and her husband welcomed their son into the world 3 years after her initial diagnosis. They're thankful everyday for the joy he's brought them.
Julie spent years working in the medical field, but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37, she decided to get involved at a deeper level.
Soon after she was diagnosed, Julie attended a screening of Pink Ribbons, Inc. with BAYS. The organization Breast Cancer Action was heavily featured in the movie, and Julie saw an organization that spoke to her ideas about the breast cancer movement. Julie had always been aware that many of the products being sold and promoted in the name of breast cancer had ties to breast cancer itself. She questioned how much of the profits were actually going to breast cancer research. Julie joined the board of Breast Cancer Action in 2012.
When she’s not volunteering with Breast Cancer Action or working as a nurse, Julie loves to snowboard and travel.
[Photo credit: www.Ty Allison.com]
Katie was 31, and it was the Monday of midterm's week in her second year of business school. She was over $100,000 into debt to pay for school when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Katie chose to have a lumpectomy two days before Thanksgiving, a date she had chosen so that she could take the least amount of time off from classes and interviews. After surgery but before chemo, Katie completed egg harvesting to preserve her ability to have children. Katie had a total of six chemo cycles and then 37 days of radiation, completing treatment just three days before graduation.
As a young adult, Katie had unique concerns, such as whether she could finish her MBA; whether she could date when bald; and whether she could still have her own babies. One of the hardest things for Katie was balancing her desire to continue leading her life and the need to treat her cancer. Katie now works for Chevron in Business Development and has since moved several times between California, London and Texas. She is married and has a young son.
Through having cancer, traveling to China, and finishing her MBA, Katie realized one of the most comforting things: that she is not alone. She is ever-thankful of the companionship she has found amongst other cancer survivors through programs like BAYS and First Descents.
After taking a shower one day, Laurie checked in the mirror and was shocked to see that her left breast looked strange on the underside. She poked around, and felt a lump. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer three days later. Her breast exam and mammogram had been negative just four months before.
Laurie quickly connected with BAYS. During her mastectomy, chemo and radiation treatments, BAYS was an amazing source of support and information in Laurie's life. She values the active, helpful online group, the drop-in monthly support group, and the mindfulness-based stress reduction course led by another BAYS member. Mostly, she appreciates BAYS as an organization that helps her connect with other women who understand what it is like to be young and have breast cancer.
Laurie has been deeply grateful for the steady, loving support of her husband and school-age son, her family and network of friends. Dancing and following the Giants with her loved ones are two of Laurie's greatest passions.
Meaghan was only 32 when she found a lump in her breast. She didn’t think there was any chance it could be cancer. There was no history of breast cancer in her family, and she was an active and healthy young woman. Besides, she had just gotten married and was doing meaningful work that she loved. She didn’t have time for cancer.
When the biopsy results came in, Meaghan’s worst fears were confirmed: she had breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes and the center of her chest. In addition to sadness and shock, Meaghan felt guilty about her cancer, particularly around her husband. She told him that it wasn’t what he had signed up for. His response: “This isn’t what you signed up for either.”
In November 2013, after months of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, Meaghan had a PET scan, or imaging test, which showed no evidence of cancer. While this was welcome news, Meaghan’s treatment doesn’t stop. She will be on the hormone therapy for another 2 years and the estrogen blocker Tamoxifen for 9 to 14 years.
Today, Meaghan is an outspoken advocate for breast cancer awareness and prevention. Meaghan serves on the BAYS board of directors and, in 2015, became BAYS President. Meaghan also serves on the advisory board and is featured in the public awareness campaign for Help Each Other Out [hyperlink: http://helpeachotherout.com/], an empathy- and community-building non-profit.
To see Meaghan’s Help Each Other Out poster, click here.
To read Meaghan’s profile in the Breast Cancer Fund blog, click here.
Michelle was on a seemingly satisfying path in life. She was in her late 30s, a successful hedge fund marketing manager and enjoying the excitement of living in San Francisco. But when Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer, it threw her life into a completely different direction.
Over the course of 12 months, Michelle underwent surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. It was during this period that Michelle discovered the then newly-formed BAYS group. In addition to BAYS' monthly support groups and online community, Michelle took part in the 2005 Challenge Event, climbing Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park.
After the bulk of her cancer treatments had ended, Michelle realized she didn't survive this ordeal in order to go back to her old life. Instead, she quit her job and traveled around the world for a year, visiting 18 countries and volunteering in Tanzania and Cambodia. She returned to San Francisco and a new job in finance, but soon found herself craving both adventure and a more meaningful career.
Michelle lived in Kigali, Rwanda and worked throughout East Africa for a non-profit organization focused on helping rural entrepreneurs in the developing world. Using her finance skills for a different purpose, she is especially proud of establishing a pioneering $10 million credit facility benefiting 45,000 Ethiopian coffee farmers. Michelle has since moved back to the Bay Area, continuing to work in sustainable finance. Michelle credits breast cancer with setting her life in this rewarding new direction.
After Robin went in to have her lump checked, she focused on a series of “lasts." The last evening playing with her toddler twins before she knew the test results. The last crazy night with friends. The last hair appointment. The last day of work. The last "healthy" weekend, jammed with way too many things. The last meal before chemo.
But soon enough, Robin started to celebrate "firsts." The first time she flew kites with the twins. The first time they all went mini golfing as a family. The first time she took the sides off their cribs and let them experiment with nighttime freedom. The first day of preschool.
With young children, it seems like there's something new every day. Life with cancer hasn’t been easy, but before you know it, it'll be time for that first champagne toast after kicking cancer.
Forward. Finally. Here's to firsts. And showing cancer who's really the boss.
[Photo credit: Frances Darwin]
When Tara was first diagnosed with Stage III triple negative breast cancer, she was scared that she wouldn't have the strength to get through treatment—the nausea of chemo, the pain of surgery, the loss of energy from radiation. But one of her biggest fears was of hair loss. Tara's super curly, long brown hair felt like a big part of her personality and femininity, and she was afraid of looking sick and having people pity her.
Tara decided to cut off her hair before it fell out. After a straight-edge razor shave at an old school barbershop, Tara and several of her closest friends gathered at her house for a party with a fabulous henna artist, Darcy Vasudev. Tara told Darcy that she wanted a tree of life design. Darcy painted a gorgeous tree on Tara's head, with roots curving down her neck and flowered branches covering her scalp. She also painted tattoos onto the hands and feet of Tara's friends.
Everywhere she went, Tara got compliments and inquiries about her beautifully tattooed head. Most people assumed Tara was merely making a fashion statement. When the henna stain wore off, Tara would get a new design. Over the four months of treatment, Tara and Darcy collaborated on a variety of designs, including a peacock, lotus, Moroccan-style leaves and vines, another tree.
Occasionally, Tara wore a wig that was close to her old hairstyle. But usually, Tara preferred to go without it—it was more comfortable and somehow felt more authentic. While everyone has their own strategy for dealing with the side effects of treatment, for Tara, it felt important to not hide her diagnosis, to let people know that young people do get cancer. The henna tattooing helped Tara do that while feeling true to her own style and creative expression.
Tara passed away in 2011.
For Tina, the news of her cancer diagnosis was life altering, but not entirely unexpected. Tina's mom lost her own battle with breast cancer in April 1995, when Tina was only 25 years old. Knowing what her mom went through, it was always Tina's goal to fight with dignity and strength to defy the odds and live every moment to the fullest. Her family and friends rallied around her for the fight of her life, including a year of treatment and recovery, after which Tina looked upon her life with gratitude and new-found appreciation.
Tina joined BAYS in 2005, a few months after diagnosis, and in 2006 joined a group of BAYS members who hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to raise over $40,000 for local organizations providing support for women with breast cancer. In the canyon, Tina was inspired by the strength and majesty of the California condors flying overhead. The Canyon Hike was one of the hardest things Tina had ever endured, apart from cancer treatment. The condor serves as a reminder of the courage and strength that all survivors share in Tina's mind and heart.
Tina had to learn the hard way that life is short, so she tries to make it sweet every day. The collective wisdom and support of the BAYS group has played an integral role in helping her to do just that.
Trisha is a high school teacher, an activist, a yoga practitioner, and a cancer survivor. In October 2006, she was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. She had just started a new teaching job and graduate school. She did not have time for cancer. She prepared herself to hear words like “lumpectomy” and “hormone therapy,” but instead she found her doctors saying “mastectomy” and “chemotherapy.”
For Trisha, it was almost more difficult to lose her waist-length hair, most often pictured in two long braids, than her breast. Her hair made her feel beautiful, free, and noticed. And yet, when she was bald, she was able to connect with a different part of what made her beautiful.
Today, the physical losses of cancer are more distant. Trisha got married in the summer of 2010 and is now hoping to have a baby. Cancer has been a tool in her life—unwanted, but useful. Cancer has asked her to listen more closely to her body. To dance, to practice yoga, to hike, to rest, to let go a little, and to say no. Trisha sees cancer as a road sign in her life that was telling her to slow down. Her yoga teacher at the time asked her this: “What would it look like to put yourself first? How can you nourish yourself in true balance to how you nurture others?” These questions have stayed with her.
Trisha is featured in the SCAR project, a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors. Trisha currently balances a busy life of teaching and enjoying family time with her husband and young daughter.
Founding Board Member Lynnly Labovitz (1954-2008) had a vision to preserve our members' stories in pictures, video, and audio. Here are some of her efforts.
"Bay Area Young Survivors:
The Climb Of Our Lives"
"Death by Cancer?" by Lynnly Labovitz (audio)
by Lynnly Labovitz
by Jane Bresnick