Robin Kirkley

Day 21: Robin Kirkley is a 5 year survivor of Triple Negative breast cancer! After her cancer treatment, she took up the cause of improving health and fitness in herself and others and started Fairwinds Fitness and Health, with her husband. They spend their time as personal coaches helping people to achieve their diet and fitness goals. Here is a little of her story:

I have been married to my wonderful husband for over 33 years. We have 4 grown children and a 2 lovely daughter-in-laws and a wonderful son-in-law. In 2012, just before my 49th birthday, I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. My world was turned upside down over night. I had chemo, a double mastectomy, more chemo and then 6 weeks of radiation. I then had 1 more serious reconstruction surgery followed by two minor surgeries. My already slowed down metabolism took a bigger hit when chemo thrust me into menopause over night. Breast cancer stole my hair, my breasts, my energy and my flexibility. I ate lots of comfort foods and had trouble fitting in exercise with my work schedule and long commute. One day, after chemo and surgery I dared to step on the scale and it said that I had gained 30 pounds! Yikes! I started to be a little more careful about my diet and tried to move a little more. I went to physical therapy which helped with my activity level, range of motion and flexibility. In March of 2014, I started a roller coaster of weight loss that never really satisfied me. When my high school classmate shared her weight loss journey on Facebook, and invited me to be in a Challenge group, I was desperate to try something new….I lost over 9 inches. More importantly, I feel great and I am happy when I look in the mirror. My energy is greater than it has been in a very long time. I am stronger and much more flexible.

The top two controllable risk factors of breast cancer are diet and exercise. For women who are triple negative, after treatment is over, there are no other therapies such as Tamoxifen or Arimidex (hormone therapies taken by those who have hormone positive cancers), that can be taken to reduce the risk of recurrence. We have to rely solely on the treatment given to us to eradicate the disease, (triple negative cancers generally respond well to chemotherapy) and the controllable factors. Diet and exercise also helps with alleviating some of the effects of cancer treatment. The good news is that when people like Robin make it to 5 years cancer free, the risk of recurrence drops to being the same as those who were diagnosed with hormone positive disease. Please donate today and help Robin celebrate her 5 years and to help researchers continue to find better ways to prevent recurrence of triple negative breast cancer.

 

 

 

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Betty Higbee

Day 20: Betty Higbee is the mother of yesterday’s honoree, Jane Hillard, and is a seven year survivor. Her name was added by Lesley Bohrer, her granddaughter. Lesley writes of her grandmother:

Betty is now seven years breast cancer free! She is a survivor who, during her fight, entrusted everything she had to the Lord to see her through. When she was dealing with her cancer she always kept up with everyone in the congregation around her and did whatever she could to contribute back. She knew her own health was in God’s hands. She and her husband, Raymond, have now been married for 56 years.

Women often believe they are not at risk for breast cancer thinking that it only runs in families. Betty and Jane do not carry any known breast cancer genes, they just fall into the 1 in 8 statistic. Only 5-10% of breast cancer cases are hereditary.  While there are many things about our risk that are outside of our control, research has shown that there are some risk factors that can be controlled.  Please donate today and help women like Betty celebrate survival and long marriages.

Jane Hillard

Day 19: Jane Hillard, a six year survivor, was added to my list by her daughter, Lesley Bohrer. Often, women like Jane end up being the quiet hero in the lives of their children who may not at the time have a good grasp of the situation, but later understand what an effort it was for their mom to make life continue to go smoothly for them. Here is what Lesley wrote of her mom:

Jane was diagnosed in 2011 and is now six years cancer free! She has six children and three grandchildren. She is a very faithful servant to God. She underwent five surgeries throughout her battle with breast cancer and never missed a beat with her kids. She is a great example of perseverance and reliance on God.

1 out of 42  women will get breast cancer by the age of 50. This means there are many moms out there who have or had the disease with children at home. The nature of motherhood to be the caregiver instead of the one cared for complicates the situation as moms like Jane strive to keep a normal home life while battling this disease. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation funds doctors who specifically do research on survivorship and quality of life during and after treatment. Please donate today to fund research and to celebrate strong moms like Jane.

Julianne Noonan

Day 18: Julianne Noonan is another triathlete from Women For Tri and is a three year survivor. Often, women are just going about their daily lives, possibly striving to reach other goals, when the sudden diagnosis of breast cancer changes the game. She was kind enough to share her story:

I had started running (and losing weight – I lost about 70 pounds) just 6 months before my breast cancer diagnosis in November 2014.The diagnosis was a surprise as I had no real family history and religiously got my mammograms every year always scheduling them right around my birthday. The day after my birthday I got “the call”. I was fortunate in that my cancer was found early and was just 3mm and hadn’t reached my lymph nodes so I didn’t need chemo. [This is where I insert a reminder that you MUST be consistent and have your mammogram EVERY year]. I had a lumpectomy 2 days before Christmas and with the doctors approval (and wrapped in an ace bandage and 2 sports bras) I ran a 5k on New Year’s day (it was my fastest up until that date and I laughed with the doctor that that little lump must have been what was slowing me down!) I kept running during my radiation treatments because running was the one thing I could control. I even ran a 10k the day before my 30th radiation treatment (when I asked the radiation oncologist if I could do that, he said “you can, but I’m not sure you will want to”). Exactly 1 year and 1 day from the diagnosis, I ran my first half marathon and was hooked. I’ve now started doing triathlons and absolutely love them. People are sometimes surprised when they find out I’m a survivor AND a runner and a triathlete, but I tell them the mind is a powerful thing, if you believe you can you will. That applies whether you are fighting a disease or in the midst of a .9 mile swim, 24.8 bike and 10k triathlon.

Julie is a reminder that consistent mammograms are key to early detection. The earlier it is caught, the better the chances are at beating it and of having to do less treatment. Researchers are continually looking for ways to improve imaging so that cancer can be caught at earlier stages. A donation today will help in that effort and honor Julianne Noonan.

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Cathy Konkoly

Day 17: Cathy Konkoly has only just finished her breast cancer treatment a few weeks ago. I don’t know her personally, but she is a member of the Women For Tri group and I was honored to add her name to my list. During her treatment, Cathy continued to train for shorter races and completed one back in June. She wrote:

I love how strong I feel when completing a race. This wasn’t about time, this was about me proving I could beat cancer!  

Cathy has kept a blog chronicling her life with breast cancer. Her thoughts after her final treatment are often echoed by many women after breast cancer:

The surgery was just over a week ago. Seems like I’ve been stuck in a funk. I don’t know what to do with myself. The “fight” part is over. I worry about “it” coming back. I am forgetting things sometimes, “chemo brain” has set in. This is the closest to depression I’ve ever been. I cry at night. I feel like I’m reevaluating my life. I decide to let people go who don’t seem to want to make the time or effort to stay in contact with me. There’s no sense in me wasting precious energy.

People keep telling me how strong I am, how I should celebrate. I just don’t feel very celebratory. I still feel myself being angry with cancer. I ask God “why?” all the time. It never leaves you alone. Not one day goes by where I don’t think about it. My energy has returned a little, but I don’t feel anything like myself. I’ve had some real tough times in my life, but this is proving to be the hardest thing ever. It’s not like I have to be tough for one day, or one week, but all the time, every day, for the rest of my life. It’s exhausting and painful, and I just want to be off this roller coaster. Even if mentally I’m having a good day, physically the breast and lymphedema remind me that I’m not normal anymore. It does a lot of damage to my self-esteem. I just want to go back to who I was. I wish it was caught earlier; the side effects would be fewer. I’d probably still have those all-important lymph nodes.

I thought not having hair would be no big deal. It totally bothers me. It’s growing back, but it’s not me at all. I look in the mirror and see someone I don’t recognize. Of course, I get all the comments about “it’s cute,” or “it’s lighter in color,” or “the back is curly!” Just what everyone says about hair to everyone who has cancer- it is growing back curly. Oh boy, like winning the lottery. How exciting. If you are reading this, STOP saying that to cancer patients. I totally hate it. I’m not going to wear a wig because that totally wouldn’t be me, either.

Just like everything else, I’ll find a way out of this bad time. Sepsis tried to kill me twice and I should be dead; I try to think of a reason I’m still here– there must be one. Anytime there are bad things that happen in my life, I try to figure out what I learned from them. Sure there are things I’ve learned, but nothing seems that life-changing. I guess I can say what every cancer patient, or anyone who has faced mortality says: Live every day. Enjoy the little things. Spend time with your kids before they’re grown up and gone. Go out with people, do the things you love. Be patient with people- your family, or those in traffic, or those at work- you never know what someone is going through. Make time for those who are important to you. If you think of someone, whom maybe you haven’t contacted in awhile, send them a quick “thinking of you” message. It does a lot and maybe that person was having a bad day and you just made it a little better. Don’t just follow your dreams- pursue them! Take the class you’ve been thinking about. Join the group you’ve been considering joining. Be the person you want to be.

Cancer is scary. It tries to rob you of not only your physical health, but your emotional and spiritual health as well. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation funds those who do research in survivorship and helping improve ways for patients to cope with the effects of breast cancer treatment. Please donate today and have a lasting impact on breast cancer patient survivorship.

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Sometimes crossing the line is about more than just finishing.

 

Wendy Tusak

Day 16: Wendy Tusak is an Aussie breast cancer survivor of many years. She is a school teacher in Perth, Australia. I’ve never been to Australia, and our connecting had nothing to do with breast cancer, however, it goes to show how prevalent the disease is world wide, that two strangers would meet and both be survivors. After we had been pen pals for about a year, Wendy had an opportunity to come to Oregon, and I was able to spend a few days with her. She is a lovely woman with a great sense of humor and a strong faith in God. We had some very interesting conversations about our differing cultures and a lot of fun sight seeing in the Portland area. She enjoys traveling the world and is a thriving survivor.

Breast cancer is a world wide issue and the results of research and development of treatments are shared globally as well. Please donate today and help women and men all over the world to be thriving survivors like Wendy.

Lieutenant Colonel Mac Holmes USAF (Ret)

Day 15: Lt. Col. Mac Holmes is the first male with breast cancer on my list. Mac was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. He currently lives with metastatic disease. 1 in 1000 males will get breast cancer in their lifetime. In 2017, approximately 460 will die from the disease. Mac Holmes tells his story on the Male Breast Cancer Coalition website and outlines why he feels it is important to share it:

One of the things we’ve learned on this journey, is less than 3% of all funds go towards treating Stage IV cancer research for both men and women. Zero percent goes towards research for male breast cancer.
Here are some other things that are very important to me. These are some of the reasons I feel it’s important for me to share my story.
– Educating and understanding your pathology report is important.
– Early detection is not a cure all for everyone.
– Clinical study treatments are extending the life of women, but most are excluding men from many of these trials.
– I want to educate people about the lack of research funds for all Stage IV cancers, including male breast cancer.
– People need to know the truth about survival rates for people with Stage IV breast cancer.
– It’s disappointing to learn that we have not improved the death rate of breast cancer in twenty years.
I am very fortunate to have one of the best medical teams working together. I am invigorated by the clinical trials for vaccines that may prevent early stage breast cancer from spreading and immunotherapy and targeted drugs that may be able to cure breast cancer someday.
We must advocate for men to be included in clinical trials because these therapies could prevent future re-occurrence and possible cure or delay the progression of advanced breast cancer. We need to advocate for at least 1% of funding to be directed toward male breast cancer research. Giving the right treatment to the right person will be the future of breast cancer.

Men get breast cancer too. His words are a plea for research to be done to help both men and women survive when diagnosed with stage IV cancers and for research to begin to be targeted towards men so that they too can improve survival rates. Funding is needed to do the type of research that addresses male breast cancer specifically, please donate today in honor of Mac Holmes, and all men who have breast cancer.

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Cecilia Desloge

Day 14: Cecilia Desloge is my Sister-In-Law. As you will see later this month, breast cancer can affect whole families genetically, or just statistically. Cecilia and I  are not blood relatives, yet both fall into the 1 and 8 women who are diagnosed in their lifetime. Cecilia lives a quiet life in California and this is her story:

I was diagnosed in 2015, the first lumpectomy didn’t get clear margins so I had another lumpectomy, after that I underwent radiation treatment and now I am on tamoxifen for five years. My days are kept busy by helping raise my grandson, Everett. I’ve been limited to what I can do because of another health issue, but I am starting to get back to normal. A couple of years ago I got involved with Art of Life Cancer Foundation, and when I am able, I volunteer with the program. They pair a cancer survivor with a local artist in order to co-create unique pieces of art about life, hope, and survivorship, one painting made by a group. At Woodward Park, in Fresno, there is a space which is called The Heading Garden that places works of art by cancer survivors in it. The picture I painted with two other women was bought by Clovis Community Hospital. 

This is breast cancer awareness month and each day I am sharing one name from a list of breast cancer survivors or those who have passed that I will carry with me on race day. Today, all donations are matched so please give and make the most of your gift so researchers can continue their work and more people like Cecilia can move forward after breast cancer and return to their normal lives.

 

Lynn Lippert

Day 13: Today is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day and all donations are doubled. Lynn Lippert has been living with metastatic breast cancer since 2009. Her first cancer was diagnosed in 1997 and she thought she had it beat, in 2015 she wrote:

In 2009, the cancer I thought I had left behind, spread to bone. This was a major game changer – cancer will be with me for the rest of my life. Fortunately, with advancements in treatment and that ‘magic little white pill’ I take daily, I am feeling good and optimistic.

I met Lynn in 1990 when I was a student in the Physical Therapist Assistant program at Mt. Hood Community College.  She was the director of the program at that time. Interestingly, she had been a student under Marian Showers when she was in Physical Therapy School. Lynn has been using her time not only in the fight against her own disease, but also to help others fight the disease. In 2005, she began climbing mountains all over the world and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research. She has had some setbacks with the disease spreading, but at the age of 75, she continues to climb despite its advancement. Please donate today in honor of those living with metastatic breast cancer.

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Lynn carries the names of people who have had breast cancer to the summit of her climbs. (the inspiration for me carrying names during my race)

Jeanne Kennedy

Day 12: Jeanne Kennedy was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2009 and is an eight year survivor! A donation was made in her honor by Meeghan O’Donnell to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Hearing the words, “You have cancer”, is like getting punched in the stomach. The wind gets knocked out of you, it shakes you to your core, and for awhile it leaves you dazed. Once the realization has set in and your life becomes a focus of getting through day to day, a newfound strength can emerge.  So it has been for Jeanne Kennedy. In her own words:

I would say that cancer rocked my world but ended up being the impetus for a much happier and more fulfilled self! I am the happiest ever and so healthy and grateful for the learnings that came from the process. It took time, but I am actually grateful for the opportunity to see life more clearly and be more brave!

She would not even have the opportunity to reflect on this had it not been for the cutting edge treatment available to breast cancer patients. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is dedicated to funding researchers who have a singular purpose in helping women like Jeanne, survive, find out they were stronger than they thought, and make good use of a second chance..