Anna Lynch-Sparks

"I felt that being 'sick' didn't really fit with who I was, and I didn't want people to see me that way or feel bad for me. Just know that you're still you, no matter what."

Anna is 33 years old, living in Brooklyn, New York. She was diagnosed with Stage 1 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma on May 10, 2016.

To Anna: Girl! I am so impressed by your ability to put on a brave face. We met on set and filmed for 3 weeks straight and I would have never guessed that you were dealing with Ductal Carcinoma. Aside from the normal tired look we all had in our eyes from 10 hours of being on set, you were one of the most wacky and energetic, ha! I admire you for holding in what you were going through so as not to distract everyone on set, but I also wish I would have known so that I could be there to support you. What touches me most is that we were recently in the middle of collaborative talk and you told me that you were browsing my website and saw that I had started this campaign. You said you were interested in telling your story so that you could help others. You amaze me, Anna!  ♥

 

Posted: 8/28/17

Interview Date: 4/13/2017

How were you diagnosed? I was on vacation with my wife in Puerto Rico, and she noticed a pea-sized lump on the side of my right breast. I saw my doctor as soon as I got back to New York, and one ultrasound and biopsy later it was confirmed that I had breast cancer. Luckily, we caught it early and it had not spread to my lymph nodes.

Is there a family history of cancer? Yes

What were your initial thoughts and reaction when you were diagnosed? I was drinking a glass of red wine when my doctor called to give me the news, and I remember thinking, this is the best thing I have ever tasted in my life. It was like all my senses were immediately heightened because I was so incredibly aware in the present moment.

After being diagnosed, how have you changed your perspective on life? I try not to dwell on the past or worry about the future. Being fully alive in the present is the most incredible feeling. Life is short, and if we worry too much about what we could have done or what we should be doing, we tend to miss out on the little things. I also have made my happiness and well-being a priority. It's hard to love others if you don't love yourself!

What gives you strength and motivation? My family and my friends, absolutely. I am also really inspired by other cancer survivors and sufferers, no matter their age. I am motivated by strong women in politics, science, entertainment, etc. I am so inspired by the women in this country that are currently standing up for our fundamental rights.

Who is your support system and how have they supported you? I have a co-worker and friend who was also diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age (27). We trade chemo stories and gripe about medication side effects together. It has been helpful to have another person close to my age, that shares my experiences, to talk to.

What is your treatment process and what is your perspective on it? I had a lumpectomy in July 2016, 8 weeks of chemotherapy from Sept - Dec 2016, 5 weeks of radiation in February of this year, and I am taking a hormone therapy pill now for the next 10 years. I am so grateful for the incredible staff at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

What words do you have for ones afraid to get checked? Catching cancer in its early stage is like being given a second shot at life - DO IT. See your doctor regularly. I personally think that the recommended mammogram screening age should be lowered. Every doctor I've spoken with in New York City has said the rate of breast cancer in women under the age of 40 is rising exponentially.

What advice or message can you provide to those who have been diagnosed? Life is not fair. Cancer does not care who you are, period. Just know, if you're feeling alone, that there are always people who have been through the same thing who are willing to talk and be there for you if you need it. Also, a big issue I had was losing my sense of identity. I felt that being "sick" didn't really fit with who I was, and I didn't want people to see me that way or feel bad for me. Just know that you're still you, no matter what.

Is there anything else that you like to add? I'd like to use my experience to help others, so I welcome anyone going through this to contact me.

If you would like to reach out to Anna, contact her via e-mail at annalynchsparks@gmail.com.

Alexandria Johnson

"Don't give up hope, and allow those around you to help you when you need it. It's going to help them cope with it and it's going to help you survive."

Alexandria is 26 years old, living in Las Vegas, Nevada. She was diagnosed with Stage 4a Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma, a rare head and neck cancer.

To Alex: Chili dog! When I think of someone going through what you have been through over the past few months, I don't picture a person with such a zest for life, so strong, and still beaming with that bright smile of yours. You are proof that cancer does not change you as a person. We joke about your love for love, but it has become so infectious and especially now more than ever - I value every moment with those that I care about so much more. I cried just editing through your interview, I just want you to know how much of a hero you are to me and so many people. What stuck out to me in your interview is that you still have so much concern for how your friends and family are affected by what you are going through. Of course you fought for yourself, but it's obvious you knew that we would have all lost our minds without you, ha. God is always in your corner. I am sure I can speak for everyone when I say thank you for being an inspiration and improving so many of our perspectives on life.  ♥
From your hubby, Joe Johnson: "Love is not love, which alters when alterations find." This battle that you have won might be the most important one you will ever have. The strength to withstand something that's sole purpose is to literally take life, is an amazing quality. Love is your strength. Love will help you through all . God is love and you are loved.
From your mama, Terri Hoffmann: To my beautifully strong fighter of a daughter! My heart broke when we got the news! To watch how u have handled it with strength & determination has given me such PRIDE! I know this has been a rough road but if anyone can beat this YOU CAN!! I love u beyond words! FIGHTING, FAMILY STRONG ♥

From Kristina: You're my hero and the reason I now say that I can do anything. You are one of the best people I know and I know God has so much more for you, so many blessings are awaiting you my love and I can't wait to see what's next! I love you so much!!!

Posted: 5/4/17

Interview Date: 4/26/17

How were you diagnosed? It started off as headaches, earaches, neck pain. I had some jaw pain and stiffness which was once diagnosed as TMJ disorder. The headaches got worse, the jaw tightness got so bad I was barely able to eat, I lost hearing in my left ear. After seeing many specialists who were unsure why my symptoms were so bad, I requested my ENT to scope the back of my nose. There he found a large mass that he has never seen before. The tumor had gotten so large that it was sticking to my left masticator casing my jaw issues and hearing issues. Soon after, I had an MRI and a CT scan which allowed us to see the size of the tumor. Then a biopsy was done of the tissue in the back of my throat which came back from the pathologist as malignant. I found out so late, we had to start treatment almost immediately.

Is there a family history of cancer? Yes

What were your initial thoughts and reaction when you were diagnosed? I was mostly scared and sad. I knew that I had no choice in treatment options because of the stage which made me feel out of control. I felt alone because at the time I didn't really want to share the news in fear of hurting those I love, causing such a heavy burden on them. I was afraid that I wouldn't make it, that my life as I knew it was over. I had hope, but so much bad stuff had happened regarding my health that I was feeling very depressed about it in general.

After being diagnosed, how have you changed your perspective on life? After being diagnosed, I would say I value life and people even more. I always have but there is a sense of appreciation for life and the people closest to me but there is something about feeling such fear and going through such a difficult fight that makes you view the world in a different light.

What gives you strength and motivation? My family.

Who is your support system and how have they supported you? My husband, mother, in-laws, friends, and medical team.

What is your treatment process and what is your perspective on it? My treatment consisted of Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy. I started with 3 rounds of chemo, and then 3 more rounds concurrently with 7 weeks of radiation. I didn't really have a perspective on the process. I didn't really have a choice so I just tried to keep my mind as positive as possible. I just kept on thinking of it like a race and I just had to keep moving forward, one step at a time. I was very scared, but I knew what needed to be done to save my life.

What words do you have for ones afraid to get checked? Your health is the most important thing. It is what shapes quality of life. I know it is scary, but it's worse not knowing. It's worse being in the dark, in pain, with literally no hope. You have to get checked, for yourself, your well-being, your family and friends. The sooner you find out what is going on in your body the better off everything will be. Catching something later is even more scary, and more risky.

What advice or message can you provide to those who have been diagnosed? Don't give up hope and allow those around you to help you when you need it. It's going to help them cope with it and it's going to help you survive. It's okay to be scared but never give up. Keep on fighting. One day at a time. Trust your doctors and listen to them. It's going to get very hard, but stay positive, stay strong and remember there is always someone who is in a more difficult situation. Be grateful for the life that you have.

Denise Greenway

"Cancer does not define you. Your actions define you. The way you treat the world around you defines you. Never allow cancer to take over who you are. Let your inner-self shine regardless of what you're going through."

Denise is 24 years old, living in White House, TN. She was diagnosed with colon cancer, stages 2 and 3 at the age of 18. She has been in and out of remission for the past 6 years, dealing with a polyp, tumor, cysts on other organs, and other cells being found.

To Denise: Your story captured me right away because I take health & fitness very serious and love how you took your diagnosis and used your physical strength to turn it into something so positive. Your daughter has a great role model to look up to. It hit me hard when you said that if something were to happen to you, you don't want your daughter to look and say "Well my mom's gone." So many people are inspired by you and I belive you are carrying a great legacy for Cali; she will grow up to be nothing less than proud of her mother. ♥
 

Posted: 11/23/15

Interview Date: 11/1/15

How were you diagnosed?

Well initially, as a teen I experienced lots of pain in my abdomen but we never looked into what was actually causing the discomfort. At 18 I finally gave in and saw a specialist. My gallbladder had become swollen to the size of a softball and was leaking, which explains the final excruciating pain that sent me to the ER. After removal of my gallbladder, the pains and symptoms still resided for many more months. Eventually they did a full scan along with lots of testing and found polyps and tumors on my colon.

What were your initial thoughts and reaction when you were diagnosed?

Initially I was just confused, angry, kind of numb to it all because I didn't understand it. At that time colon cancer was the number 2 cancer killer in the world. I thought back to times where as a teen I should've been taken to the doctor, and if I had been, would it have changed the outcome? I thought about the children I potentially would never have. I thought about the boyfriend that just left me and how I was going to do this alone. I was too prideful to just lie down and be weak so it was a very emotionally exhausting time because I felt like I had to live normal and keep a straight face.

Is there a family history of cancer?

No.

After being diagnosed, how have you changed your perspective on life?

A lot has changed. I value each day more than the last. I expect the best from myself because I refuse to one day be sick again and to look back, as I did when I was first diagnosed, and think "What legacy am I going to leave if I die?" Instead, every day I focus on being positive, healthy, constantly growing and evolving, as well as helping those around me.

What gives you strength and motivation?

My daughter. Cancer was hard but being a single mom is a lot harder. The thing that keeps me constantly pushing to remain healthy and take my life in my own hands, as opposed to allowing some disease to control me, is my daughter Calisi, or Cali as most know her. I will never die and have her think "Well, my mom's gone." Instead I want her to remember my strength, my motivation, my drive to help others, and my faith that no matter how bad things are, you can make your life and the world around you better. She is my constant fountain of strength and vitality.

Who is your support system and how have they supported you?

Initially I did this all alone. I had just gone through a horrific breakup and I was very much alone. The friends I did have at the time leaned on me so much for support in their lives that I felt guilty asking for their support. A few friends knew and would help me without making me feel weak. Since then I've developed a great support system, now that I realize that asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, and they push to keep me healthy and happy.

What is your treatment process and what is your perspective on it?

I went through a few. I had cauterization of polyps, surgery to remove the tumors, surgery to remove the cysts off of my ovaries, as well as chemo and radiation. My views, as well as treatment, may differ from most. Obviously as a female, and a young one at that, I did not want to remove my colon. The doctors agreed that we had caught it early enough that, though it would be painful, there was an aggressive way to fight the disease. I knew I could take the pain and sickness if it would give me my life back and allow me the opportunity to better myself and my life. Luckily, I was a patient of Duke Hospital and they took very good care of me. Their hospital staff and doctors were amazing. I have very minimal scarring and they were very supportive of my decisions and kept my spirits up throughout the process.

What words do you have for ones afraid to get checked?

Never fear the unknown. The unknown can kill you and it's not always a quick death. The unknown takes away your opportunity to reflect on life and find a reason to fight harder to survive and leave a bigger impact on this world. Being scared that they might find something is the worst decision you could make. Catch your illness early and you can fight it with ease and confidence. Wait to check and one day be so weak and ill, they finally check it and now you're weak and worn and have to find something to get you through the fight... that's no way to live. Don't fear it. Take your life by the horns. Get checked. Live a healthy lifestyle. You control your destiny!

What advice or message can you provide to those who have been diagnosed?

Mindset. I tell this to everyone whether they are battling cancer, depression, loss of a loved one, etcetera... mindset is everything! If you are diagnosed and all you think about is what you'll never be able to accomplish, the people that will lose you, and the pain you're going through... you're going to have a fruitless battle. Win or lose in this cancer battle, you have a choice. You have a choice to be strong and positive. You have a choice to live each day better than the last. You have the opportunity to inspire the world around you and show them that regardless of some disease, you are a human being and you can accomplish things. You can live, love, laugh, lose, hurt, fall, etcetera. You are no different than anyone else around you. You just have a different battle. Weakness is a mindset. Destroy that mindset and stay positive. Surround yourself with positivity. Take your life into your own hands and do everything you can to be healthy!

What would you say to patients that feel like cancer defines them?

Cancer does not define you. Your actions define you. The way you treat the world around you defines you. Never allow cancer to takeover who you are. Let your inner self shine regardless of what you're going through.

 

If you would like to reach out to Denise, contact her via Instagram at denise_deux.

Alexa Whittle

"Life's short. You never know when something crazy or bad is going to happen. You have to live day by day and just enjoy life to the fullest!"

Alexa is 27 years old, living in Idaho Falls, ID. She was diagnosed with Stage 3, Hodgkin's Lymphoma on June 1, 2015. Alexa has just completed treatment 10 of 12 and I, with great pleasure, am able to say that in August, she was declared cancer free!

To Alexa: You are setting such an amazing example for your little boy and have such a humbe spirit. I appreciate the smile that you always have on your face despite the struggles that you have and are facing. It is very clear what an amazing impact your son has had on your recovery and the tremendous support system that your fiancé has been. Congratulatons on beating cancer's butt! ♥

 

Posted: 11/18/15

Interview Date: 11/1/15

How were you diagnosed?

I went into the ER on May 30th; I thought maybe I had a sinus infection or cold. I was sick on and off since November and just couldn't get rid of the cold. I had swollen lymph nodes on the right side of my body, two on my lower pelvis and some by my collar bone. I even had one swollen on the lower back of my head near my neck. When I got to the ER they did an X-ray and saw shadows, I ended up getting blood work done and a CT scan as well. That's when they saw that I was very anemic; my red blood cells were all the way down to a 5. They got the CT back and all my lymph nodes in my body were swollen, they had me stay in the hospital to run a bone marrow test and they removed 2 lymph nodes from my pelvic area, on June 1st they confirmed I had Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

What were your initial thoughts and reaction when you were diagnosed?

I was heartbroken. I was about to turn 27 and I have a 2 year old; having cancer was the last thing I would imagine having! I just lost my grandma to lung cancer 5 years ago and my brother had adult leukemia when he was 11, he is now 13 years into remission. Hearing I had cancer was such a shock but knowing my brother kicked its butt made me confident and helped me keep my head up the whole time.

Is there a family history of cancer?

Yes.

After being diagnosed, how have you changed your perspective on life?

Life's short. You never know when something crazy or bad is going to happen. You have to live day by day and just enjoy life to the fullest!

What gives you strength and motivation?

My 2 year old boy! That kid makes cancer not so bad! He tells me I'm pretty without my scarf on and he actually helped me shave all my hair off, he truly is my rock in all of this. I can wake up having a bad day and all he has to do is smile, kiss me, and tell me he loves me and my attitude and day instantly get better!

Who is your support system and how have they supported you?

Oh man! I have the best support system out there! My boyfriend of 11 years, and of course my little boy! And then there is both of our families and all of my friends, I have such amazing friends. When I got sick, I had so many people just writing me and saying they were praying for me and stuff. It's such a good and nice feeling to know I have so many people out there supporting me.

What is your treatment process and what is your perspective on it?

I get chemo every other week and it kicks my butt! I was doing pretty good until I hit the half way mark and now when I get chemo it just drains me and I'm so sick from it. But the nurses are so sweet and kind and make sure you are as comfortable as can be!

What words do you have for ones afraid to get checked?

Don't be afraid! The sooner the better! I shouldn't have waited as long as I did! It just gets worse and worse the longer you wait. I wish I went sooner, like right when I noticed my lymph nodes were swollen. You just have to keep a positive mind. I tell myself daily that it could be worse, I'm lucky that it's not, and that I'll get through it.

What advice or message can you provide to those who have been diagnosed?

You're not alone! We are a cancer family and just know that there are others going through the same thing.

 

If you would like to reach out to Alexa, contact her via Instagram at alexawhittle.

Lindsay Mersino

"Just breathe. Do not become weak. Do not wallow in grief or sadness."

Lindsay is 24 years old, living in Las Vegas, NV. She was diagnosed with Stage 1, Hodgkin's Lymphoma on April 7, 2014. It gives me great pleasure to tell you that Lindsay is presently cancer free and has regular oncology visits to monitor her progress.

To Lindsay: You give life and "The mountains are calling and I must go." a full meaning Lindsay! It is so obvious from your journey that you take the bull by the horn and show how much you appreciate the gift of life through your constantly active lifestyle.

 

Posted: 11/6/15

Interview Date: 10/17/15

How were you diagnosed?

I found a small lump above my left clavicle. After 6 months of testing, we finally confirmed it was cancer.

What were your initial thoughts and reaction when you were diagnosed?

I was very healthy and active before my diagnosis, so I immediately thought "Where did I go wrong?"

Is there a family history of cancer?

No.

After being diagnosed, how have you changed your perspective on life?

I live life in the moment and cherish every day that I get to spend with my family and friends way more than I ever did before. I travel once or twice a month to explore new hiking spots and to meet fellow Hodgkin's fighters and survivors.

What gives you strength and motivation?

Other cancer fighters and survivors give me strength and motivation every day. I was very lucky that my cancer did not progress into another stage during the 6 months of testing that several doctors put me through. Knowing that remission is far from permanent also motivates me. This fact used to scare me every day, but instead of living in fear I finally chose to live life to the max every single day because tomorrow is not promised to anyone.

Who is your support system and how have they supported you?

I am blessed to say that my support system was endless - family, friends, co-workers, and my "lymphomies", lymphomies is a term that the other Hodgkin's Lymphoma fighters and survivors have coined on Instagram and Facebook. My lymphomies started as complete strangers, profiles I found on social media, and they ended up being the most supportive out of everyone in my life because they knew exactly what I was going through. My coworkers and boss were also amazing; they let me work from home if I needed to and my entire office (nearly 50 people) came to surprise me outside the Cancer Center to celebrate my last day of chemo. Lastly my family surrounded me with love the entire time. They made sure I had someone to take me to treatment, they scheduled their lives around my appointments, they hiked with me every weekend so I wouldn't be alone, we added one mile to each weekend to represent how many rounds of chemo I finished; for example when I finished my 6th round, we hiked 6 miles! It kept my mind and body busy and away from cancerous thoughts, literally.

What is your treatment process and what is your perspective on it?

When I was diagnosed, they told me I would do 2 months of chemotherapy (ABVD chemo) and 3 weeks of radiation. They ended up giving me 4 months of chemo and no radiation. I was disappointed at the end of the first 2 months because I thought the chemo was over, but after discussing my "next steps", 2 more months of chemo instead of radiation, I felt strongly that my doctors made the correct choice. They didn't want me, a 23 year old, to go through radiation and increase my chance of other cancers later on in life. Now, I only see my oncologist once every other month and get blood work done and I have a scan every 3 months to ensure I am still clear. 14 months post chemo, I am still cancer free.

What words do you have for ones afraid to get checked?

When in doubt, push for tests and biopsies. That is the only way to confirm that you do NOT have cancer, but it is also the only way to confirm that you do and to start treatment quickly to increase your chances of survival.

What advice or message can you provide to those who have been diagnosed?

When I was diagnosed, my anxiety skyrocketed. I barely slept at all and I had constant panic attacks until one of my lymphomies, who was a few months ahead of me in chemo, called me and said "Just breathe." The next day, my big sister bought me a bracelet with that same phrase on it without even knowing the lymphomie had said that to me. That became my motto. Just breathe, because everything happens for a reason and the outcome will be whatever is meant to be for you. All I can do is breathe in each moment and put my trust in the universe, or God. If you or a loved one is ever diagnosed, don't succumb to the disease. Do not become a "couch potato." Do not become weak. Do not wallow in grief or sadness. Live your life as normal as possible, but listen to your doctors. Throughout chemo, I continued to maintain my healthy lifestyle and I also continued to hike every weekend. I was scared at first because I thought I'd be immediately weak or tired after each round of chemo, but to my surprise I felt great. I hiked with friends and family and they physically, mentally, and emotionally did not let me wither away throughout treatment.

 

If you would like to reach out to Lindsay, contact her via Instagram at @lmersino.

Patricia Fox

"Keep your faith. If you have no support system, you have God, always. Believe that!"

Patricia is 28 years old, living in Philadelphia, PA.  On December 5, 2013 she was diagnosed with stage 2A breast cancer. I am delighted to say that Patricia has conquered her battle and is now inspiring other women who have been diagnosed with cancer.

To Patricia: Your positive attitude is unwavering. From the moment that I contacted you until the very last step of this interview process, you have really been amazing. You have made this whole thing informative and fun at the same time. Your sense of humor is relentless and I definitely feel like I should call you my friend. Most importantly, I admire your drive and I love seeing business minded women following their dreams. You have been so uplifting with regards to my own business as well. Thank you for this unforgettable opportunity and we must keep in touch beyond this project, sorry but you can't get rid of me now! ♥

 

Posted: 10/28/15

Interview Date: 10/15/15

How were you diagnosed?

I found a lump in my right breast while showering. I'd just turned 26, but didn't hesitate. Initially the doctor and nurse were reluctant to do a biopsy, but to be safe because of imaging from the ultrasound, a biopsy was scheduled. The biopsy was extremely invasive and painful. I cried, a lot!  My doctor then called me after what seemed like forever and informed me I had breast cancer.

What was your first thought when you were diagnosed?

To be quite honest, even now, I am unsure why I went to the doctor at all because I was truly convinced in my mind that I was too young to have breast cancer.

How did you react?

Afterward, I felt I was just creating bills and being a hypochondriac. Even after the biopsy I didn't believe it was possible. It had to be something else. When I was finally called in to get the report and the doctor said "you have breast cancer", there was a stiff silence and I suddenly burst out laughing. For days to follow I thought, "I'll just get a surgery and go back to work". I was completely ignorant to all that the diagnosis entailed and how life changing it was.

Is there a history of cancer in your family?

Yes.

What happened after the diagnosis?

The size of my tumor had grown significantly from the time of diagnosis to surgery date. It was after undergoing a lumpectomy that I was advised because of the tumor size I had stage 2A breast cancer. My cancer was also estrogen receptive which meant that in addition to chemotherapy and radiation, hormone therapy would also be implemented.

After being diagnosed, has your perspective on life changed?

My perspectives on life hadn't change immediately. I was very private about it because I felt I'd been through tougher things and didn't want pity, again, not understanding all I would go through. I was also a workaholic and upset I had to interrupt my "life" because of cancer. My perspectives on life hadn't really changed until after my first couple treatments. Then, I'd realized all the hurts, fears, and grudges that were paralyzing me. I also realized that the handsome rewards I'd received from corporate for being a workaholic were only personal incentives that served as distractions from facing my struggles; that my corporate job was my life and joy because it took my mind off of life and not because it was my passion I realized I'd wasted a lot of time. It was like an awakening.

What gave you strength and motivation?

God; and young women like me that were affected by cancer, and survived! Cliché, but when you're diagnosed with a life threatening disease, your faith definitely can waiver or strengthen. Thankfully, mine took the latter. So that, and knowing other young women that were affected and were living and thriving vibrantly as if cancer never affected them, at least from what the naked eye could see. I knew that after conquering cancer that I'd want to inspire other women, as I'd been by my pink sisters.

Who was your support system and how did they supported you?

My former boss and my close friend were my initial supporters. They went with me to the biopsy. My close friend was with me for major and minor surgeries, and was my cheerleader for most of my chemotherapy treatments. My father was there for my lumpectomy and to transport me home from my treatments. My brother, who lives states away, was my biggest relief. He campaigned breast cancer awareness for men, dyed some of his locks pink, got a tattoo in my honor and helped me financially when he was able to. My sister would also call to see how I was doing. I was introduced to another young survivor after diagnosis and relied on her frequently throughout. After some time though, even the closest people have their personal lives to return to. Toward the middle of my cancer journey until to the end, I felt extremely lonely and the financial struggles had become severely overwhelming. Throughout my journey, but especially at this time, God and my prayers were my support.

What did your treatment consist of?

I was prescribed 16 chemotherapy treatments, (4 Adriamycin Cytoxan and 12 Taxol), 37 radiation treatments, and to take Tamoxifen for 5 years. To be quite frank, treatment was a horrific experience. There were many side effects. Some were: not having control of your energy and sleeping for nearly days at a time, hyper sensitivity to smell and constant nausea, no appetite, hot flashes, nail and skin changes, and joint pain. Almost every treatment I cried and threatened not to go because I was tired of being poked. I have many tattoos and often people would suggest needles shouldn't scare me, but when you're being flushed with saline and having blood drawn and then infused with "treatment", there's no comparison. Through it all, I did try to remain positive over what I could control. When I started losing my hair, I threw myself a private party and shaved my own head after glamming myself up. I introduced myself to a lot of self-help books and dove deeply into meditation and nature. When I was up to it, I definitely made myself look good to feel good. I enjoyed my bald head which I trended shamelessly.

How was the radiation?

Radiation was easier. I'd wake up at 5am to get to treatment by 7:30am and to work by 9am for 37 business days. I'd say the most I'd experienced with that was a bit of fatigue and the treated areas of my skin feeling raw (ouch).

How is the Tamoxifen going?

Tamoxifen was grueling for me! Shortly after starting chemotherapy my menstrual cycle stopped and when I finished chemotherapy it returned. With Tamoxifen, it stopped, again. The hot flashes returned coupled with insomnia, irritability, and adverse changes in my appetite. After only 3 months, I discontinued the hormone therapy drug and advised my doctor why. My doctor actually approved my decision, with some monitoring and follow-ups on my behalf. In exchange, I adopted a no meat lifestyle for nearly 7 months and intend to return to it.

What words do you have for ones afraid to get checked?

#1 THIS IS TEMPORARY! Cancer is not forever! The treatments do stop, the follow up visits do become less frequent, and you will get your life back! This one I'm particularly excited about... #2 GET READY FOR YOUR BREAKTHROUGH! You're about to come to a crossroad that'll force you to analyze yourself and evaluate everything and everyone around you. This journey is really a breakthrough for many! I know it definitely was for me and it pushed me to live boldly and on purpose! Keep your faith. If you have no support system, you have God, always. Believe that!

What advice or message can you provide to those who have been diagnosed?

My cancer journey really presented urgency to live boldly, happily and on purpose. Since cancer, I resigned from my corporate career and am a successful entrepreneur in makeup artistry. As a pink sister, I offer complimentary makeovers to all women undergoing chemotherapy. This is my way of paying it forward for having conquered that experience! All sisters can book an appointment on my website, www.thepinksistah.com.

 

If you would like to reach out to Patricia, contact her via Instagram at thepinksistah.

Holly Rebecca Hamer

"I know that people don't always know what to say, but just being there to listen  is so helpful."

Holly is 19 years old, living in Warrington, England. On December 6, 2013, she was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma stage 3. She had a very large tumor which had spread to her lymph nodes. She was later declared cancer and then was re-diagnosed with cancer this year. Holly was notified July of this year that she has beaten cancer yet again!

To Holly: I felt connected with you instantly! It's obvious that you are just one of those people that make a mark in people's lives right away. I am so grateful to have learned and am continuing to learn about you and your life. One thing in particular that you said to me that really motivated me to reach out to more and more women about their stories is "I'm always open with everything to do with my cancer, so don't feel like you'd be offending me". That was my main concern when I first started this project. I never like to tell people "I know what you're going through", whether I encountered the same type of issue or not. I am not them and I don't know what they are personally going through. I was afraid that I could ask the wrong question or in the wrong way and really offend someone so I really want to thank you for putting my mind at ease. You also said "I've had a few people come to me recently to ask for some advice and I'd like to be able to speak to anyone who wants advice." It touches my heart how not only you, but all of the women who I have interviewed are so selfless in wanting to help others who have been diagnosed. I'm thankful that we are able to keep in touch and I will always try my hardest to make sure I can be encouraging to you. I know that you are going through some very difficult days right now so please know that I am praying for you every day! ♥

 

Posted: 10/23/15

Interview Date: 10/12/15

How were you diagnosed?

The doctors thought I had a perianal abscess. So I had three surgeries before they took a biopsy because they had no idea why I was in so much pain. After being in the hospital for 3-4 weeks, the biopsy results came back and I was told I had a tumor. I found a lump a few weeks ago and on October 8, 2015 I was diagnosed with cancer again.

What were your initial thoughts and reaction when you were diagnosed?

When they told me, I just kept repeating "It isn't fair." I just kept thinking that I might die at the age of 17 without experiencing the things that life has to offer. When I was diagnosed they had no idea what tumor it was or how far along it had gotten. I just had this news that it was cancer but I wasn't told if I had a chance of survival. Now that it's come back and I don't know much about it, I'm scared.

Is there a family history of cancer?

No.

After being diagnosed, how have you changed your perspective on life?

I don't worry about the small things that I would usually get stressed about anymore. I know how important it is to have family and friends who love you for who you are, and who are there for you when you truly need them.

What gives you strength and motivation?

My family and friends are the main motivation for me. I also have a passion for art and experiencing new things. Knowing that I want to see and experience certain things in my life is how I push on through the bad times.

Who is your support system and how have they supported you?

When I was first diagnosed I had a boyfriend, we're just friends now but he helped me through a lot of my treatment; knowing that I still have him to lean on makes me feel stable. I also have siblings who are very understanding, caring, and willing to do anything that they can to help me. The same goes for my other family members and my friends.

What is your treatment process and what is your perspective on it?

I had 7 months of intensive chemotherapy, 6 week of radiotherapy, and a year of maintenance chemo. Now that my cancer has come back, I'll need to have more surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Knowing that I have to go through all of this again is very scary.

Is there anything that you want to tell loved ones of those that have cancer or people in general that don't understand the pain experienced?

Definitely, having cancer isn't just physically painful, it's also mentally straining. I feel like the mental sides of things are even worse than being in pain, because it's a lonely place in your own head during that time.

What words do you have for ones afraid to get checked?

I know that it's a scary situation, but getting checked is so important. If I wouldn't have gotten checked when I did, I could have been terminally ill. I wouldn't be here now. Not knowing what I have or don't have can be more stressful than not knowing.

What advice or message can you provide to those who have been diagnosed?

Being positive is very important. I know that it's a lot easier said than done and yes you will have days of sadness and pain, but you will get through it. Try to keep yourself busy and do things that you enjoy; that will make things a lot easier. You have people who will support you, don't be afraid to look to them in your time of need.

 

If you would like to contact Holly for any advice, contact her via Instagram at hollyhamertbo.

Karli Shrubsall

"Bald is beautiful... never be ashamed."

Karli is 19 years old, living in Creston, British Columbia. Just this year she was diagnosed with stage 3 Nodular Sclerosis Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

To Karli: You give fight a good name. I admire your drive to spread awareness and your determination to continue exploring life. We've all taken the "little" things for granted and maybe didn't make a move on something until it was crunch time. I know you have hard and even harder days but you wear that smile of yours well and you rock bald even better. It gives me so much joy to see the support system that you have. The optimism of you knowing you will get through this battle is contagious. Even on your worst days you look beautiful girl, keep fighting! ♥

 

Posted: 10/21/15

Interview Date: 10/11/15

How were you diagnosed?

I found a couple unusual lumps on my neck. I made numerous doctor appointments until they finally requested a CT scan and a biopsy of my neck. After the biopsy was done they ordered surgery immediately to take a full lymph node out. After looking at the results they came back with the news that it looks like lymphoma. I then had PET scan to discover exactly what stage I was at and what type of lymphoma I have.

What were your initial thoughts and reaction when you were diagnosed?

I was shocked and I didn't think it was true. I was in denial and constantly waiting for the doctors to tell me that they were "just kidding".

Is there a family history of cancer?

Yes.

After being diagnosed, has your perspective on life changed?

I have. I've noticed that not every little thing is as important as I once thought. Life is way way too short and I've become more thankful for what I have and for what's to come. I feel stronger about life and its obstacles I am facing.

What gives you strength and motivation?

Other cancer patients and everyone else who has gone through what I am going through. They give me motivation and inspire me to be my best. That is partly why I am doing this, I want to help and motivate others.

Who is your support system and how have they supported you?

My family has been my support team as well as my friends and the many others in the community I live in.

What is your treatment process and what is your perspective on it?

I am doing chemotherapy drugs. ABVD and I do 6 cycles, 2 treatments per cycle, I am currently half way through!! I go every second week. It's tough because the week I start to feel better after the chemo I have to prepare myself to do it all over again.

What words do you have for ones afraid to get checked?

DO IT! It's so much better to catch this before it's too late. Better safe than sorry... Check yo self.

What advice or message can you provide to those who have been diagnosed?

We're all in this together. It doesn't matter what type or what stage of cancer you have, we're all here for each other. If you're struggling, don't try to handle it alone. Seek help from others that are in similar situations. It really helps in tough times. Never give up. 

If you would like to reach out to Karli, contact her via Instagram at karlishrubsall.