by Alyssa Worley
After having multiple women in her family pass away from breast cancer conditions, Amy Torres always had an idea of things to look for in the way of her health. At the age of 16, she was administering self exams on herself with a card that her grandma, fondly nicknamed Baby Ruth O’Neal, left in the bathroom. Many of her family members…aunts and grandma…had breast cancer; but when Amy went to the imaging center after feeling 7 lumps during the self exam, the doctor said she was way too young to do a mammogram. Now 10 years later, they are finally allowing her to do the test. As the new team leader of her team, “Baby Ruth’s Babies” in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk coming up on October 19, Amy wanted to be well informed about the disease so that she could help others. Last year, the team of 18 members made about $2,300 for the cause! Amy, who is 26, wants every woman out there to know that “You are never too young! My aunts get checked twice a year and all my uncles get checked too.” Her uncle got cancer in his nipple: it is a widely un-talked about fact that men can get chest cancer too. She also wanted it be known that keeping your cell phone in your bra, while at the gym or running errands, has serious repercussions too. Amy Torres is such an inspiration and light to others dealing with the difficulty of losing family to breast cancer, and the unknown of it being passed down or not. Help support her and Making Strides at the Breast Cancer Walk October 19th.
by Emma Wood-Wright
Having had lung cancer at the young age of 3, Caroline Howard had always been dreadfully waiting for it to return someday. Thirty years later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she refused to let that define her. “I wasn’t a cancer patient, I was a teacher and a mother with cancer.” And her perseverance is truly inspiring. A third grade teacher at Notre Dame Elementary School, Caroline continued to work during her treatments. “I didn’t wear wigs, they were too hot,” she explained, displaying her courage and devotion. She made her students aware of cancer, and even had a nurse video her during treatments so they could have a visual understanding of what was happening. “Even though it was a hard time, it was a good time too,” Caroline said, recalling the tremendous support of the community. Just simple acts of kindness, like giving rides to her two teenage sons, or dropping off a homemade meal, made all the difference for Caroline. She said it was all about surrounding herself with positive people. Now, 15 years later, she has seen both her boys get married, and is still teaching at Notre Dame. “I’m just glad to be enjoying life, because life’s good,” said Caroline, “Life is really good.”
I was swimming at my 6th grade pool party when I did the toe touches off the high dive but hit the water so hard that my hip started to hurt, I had these small lumps on my upper hip that grew when I hit the water, I ended up at the doctor getting biopsies later that day, and later that week the results came back positive for a rare cancer called Leiomyosarcoma. Because I was so young, the medical choices were left to the doctors and my parents. I felt abandoned by school friends who were worried to touch me for fear of catching my disease, and sad because I just was so unsure in regards to what would be the end result.
The team of doctors made their final decision to perform a large surgery to remove all the tumors, and the surgery was scheduled for 2 weeks later. I remember asking my father to pray for me and ask the Heavenly Father to help me be okay because I had a lot of things planned for my life and I hadn’t yet accomplished them; I wanted to be married to a handsome man that would love me for better or worse, I wanted to be the best hairstylist in the world and have at least one little girl so I could do her hair.
Years passed and things were going great, I became a hairdresser, I was married to the man of my dreams, had two beautiful daughters and had just finished breastfeeding my youngest daughter when I located a large mass on my breast. I decided to contact my doctor and a biopsy was scheduled days later.
Dr. James Schlund performed the biopsy and he brilliantly said, “If this comes back positive for cancer, you should be tested for a genetic disorder called Li- fraumeni syndrome.”
I was diagnosed with stage 3 bi-lateral breast cancer. Shortly after, Dr. Mazj and his nurses administered chemotherapy for four months and a year of herceptin, which is a life saving drug! On the last day of my chemo treatment I was informed that I did in fact have the diagnosis of Li-fraumeni syndrome, which is a genetic disorder that causes me to have re-occurring cancers.
I’m not here to complain, but here to tell you how much I cherish my life and every moment I have in it. I enjoy the air I breathe, the music I hear, and the expressions on my children’s faces when I pick them up from school.
Like many of us, I could sit around and whine that my life could be cut short. We are allowed to have those days, as long as we try to make more good days than bad.
Cancer has given me many more things to be grateful for, I have the best doctors and nurses ever and I count my blessings for that. I have been blessed to write my first children’s book on cancer and I’m hoping it will be out soon. I have the most beautiful family that I cherish every day and hope they always know that!
And I have many new friends, ones that truly understand what I went through without me saying a word, and every October we wear our colors proud, and support each other, because we have survived! For me it is because of self-exam and a mammogram that I am here today, and we need to stress that to our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and our friends.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer on July 5, 1999. I had lost my brother in 1964 to leukemia;he was 13, I was 10. I lost my father in 1978 to cancer, they never knew the primary source of his cancer, and I lost my mom to breast cancer in 1989. The diagnosis terrified both my husband and myself, we knew what this disease could do and we both were thinking the worst.We went to see the surgeon, both of us walked out of his office with the attitude, “we can do I chose to have a double mastectomy, if I had to go through this adventure, I wanted to fight with all advantages available. I chose to do herbal therapy and we went totally organic with our diet. This was a great decision as I focused a lot on food since you can’t just pick up something and eat it. I had chemotherapy and radiation, my doctor allowed me to work four hours a day when I could. I knew I would lose my hair but I never knew the chemo could affect my nails. All my nails loosened from the nail bed and I had to have one toe nail removed. This adventure has not been all bad; I had wonderful medical care, a family that was truly amazing and co-workers who supported me. We laughed as much as we could and embraced I lost my sister two years ago to breast cancer, she fought for five years. Cancer has been part of my life since I was 8. I have learned you can live with it and have a great life. I try to be thankful for every day I am here and celebrate every birthday.
by Alyssa Worley
In a moment of utter disbelief, Cynthia Cox’s life was changed. In November of 2004, she was doing a self examination and knew immediately that something was wrong. She described it like a “small hard dried pea that wasn’t there before.” Four rounds of chemo, six weeks of radiation, and a mastectomy later, she was finally cancer free. Breast cancer changed Cynthia in two major ways: the first being to commit to taking better care of herself. Those of you who have kids know that raising young children can mean the majority of attention is on keeping them healthy, and sometimes you forget yourself! Knowing, and appreciating your life supporters was the second change she immediately recognized. When first diagnosed, every contact was called, every treatment researched, and she was confident in her decisions for just those reasons. “Blessed beyond belief with my family, friends and community” were the words I heard repeatedly. Co-workers brought meals, neighbors babysat kids when she needed to rest, and endless other help was given. Life takes you by surprise, and sometimes dread, but Cynthia took it all with such heart, courage, and strength.
by Emma Wood-Wright
“I wanted to survive,” Pam Robillard said, “and then I wanted to help other people.” Diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in October 2007, Pam said the hardest part was breaking the news to those she loved. She had recently adopted her grandson, who was a senior in high school at the time. “I just wanted to see him graduate high school,” Pam remembers. This past May, she saw him graduate from Chico State, and she hasn’t wasted any time in between. She walked into the American Cancer Society one day and next thing she knew she was involved in Making Strides, became the food chair, and a guest speaker – all in one day. She even did a radio show to spread the word about free mammograms. “Don’t be ashamed of your story,” she urges, “Share it so people can see that you can survive.” Even though speaking in front of large crowds can make her nervous, she has shared her story numerous times. As she shares it with me today, I am truly captivated by her energy. “I might be a certain age,” she says, smiling, “but my mind is not that age.” She and her husband, a Vietnam veteran, and a survivor in his own right, are living life to the fullest. “We do what we want to do, we don’t wait for anything.” They travel to Las Vegas every year, and Pam even bought herself a diamond ring to commemorate her five year mark after surgery. “I do things that I would never do,” Pam said. So if you see her wearing her pink ‘save the ta-tas’ T-shirt, don’t hesitate to ask her more because as she says, “There is life after cancer.”
“Breast cancer” – when you hear the words, you pretty much don’t hear anything else. I heard them in 1997, and it was the opening chapter in a new life for me. Sure, the surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy were no fun. The goal, however, was crystal clear: I’ll do whatever I must to be there for my children (and grandchildren). Along the way I met amazing, power-filled, spirit-filled men and women, both cancer patients and caregivers. My eyes were opened to the love that fills the “cancer community,” which really is the community we all live in. I realized how common cancer is, and how the experience can be handled either with confidence or resignation. I began anew, with compassion and a passion to support and journey with others, especially women dealing with breast cancer. Today I volunteer at the Enloe Cancer Center Library, and it is my privilege to loan books, CD’s, and DVD’s, to any community member who can benefit.
Cancer rebuilds us from the inside out. In our pain and through our fear, we discover who we really are. Our essence is the same as it was before our illness, but the transforming effect of our treatment on our souls allows us to let all of our pretenses fall away so that we are not afraid to let our inner strength and beauty show. I learned to savor the tiny pleasures of each day – a wildflower, a bird, a sunset. I rejoiced in the triumph of celebrating a wedding anniversary, or the graduation from college of my children. I learned to smile widely as a diversionary tactic, so my bald head was not the first thing noticed! Cancer was a life-transforming gift to me, and I am a much richer person as a result of my journey through cancer.
By Terry Matthews
by Alyssa Worley
With no family history of breast cancer, and at the young age of 38, Sharlynn Landers was shockingly diagnosed in March of 1998. As a medical professional, she immediately sought to research meticulously. After finding out it was a slow growing cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), her surgeon recommended a mastectomy. After a complicated treatment plan and breast reduction, she was deemed cancer free! Her healthy lifestyle, being a physical therapist after all, increased her chances of survival that much more. She was so thankful for the confidence her doctors instilled, along with the support from her then fiancé, John. Sharlynn wants women everywhere to know that “anything can happen anytime, and even though the recommended age for getting a mammogram test done has recently been changed to 50, that is far too old!” You can get breast cancer at any age. If you already have been through treatments, she believes that doctors may not convey enough about how important therapy can be after. Postural changes occur and you should speak to a physical therapist about any pain that could be affecting you. I learned so much from Sharlynn, and came away with significantly more knowledge to share. What an awe-inspiring woman!
by Emma Wood-Wright
“Trust your gut,” Charlene Armitage tells me with a look of conviction in her eyes. And it’s a good thing she did. After a New Year’s resolution of doing self breast-exams and flossing in January 2004, Armitage found a lump during her first one. Only 27-years-old, she went in for an ultrasound. The doctor told her it was just a cyst and to come back for a baseline mammogram when she was 35. But Armitage just didn’t feel right about it. She had a biopsy done at the end of February, and on March 1 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I wouldn’t have made it if I had waited that long,” she explains. She recalls her first reaction of sheer panic, but with the support of her co-workers at Chico State, she was able to take almost six months off with a constant paycheck and health benefits. Her husband and high-school sweetheart, Chris, was there every step of the way as well. He would drop her off at her childhood home in Durham every morning on his way to work, where her parents would take care of her. “I can go through losing my hair, and not having kids, but I just wanted to spend the rest of my life with my soul mate,” Armitage says about confronting her biggest fear of dying. Her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer two years earlier, so the bond between them grew ever stronger that year. Traveling back and forth to UCSF for treatments and a bilateral mastectomy, Armitage returned back to work in October 2004, which just happens to be breast cancer awareness month. Almost a decade later, she continues to be a huge advocate for self-exams. Even the signature on her email reads “Self exams may save your life.” As she shares her story with me, she just has this glow about her, she is beaming with life. You may just spot her around town this month, she dyes the underside of her hair pink and also wears pink every day in October.
by Michelle Camy
I learned of my Aunt Nancy’s battle with breast cancer when she was already in an advanced stage. She had kept her struggle a secret from everyone except her husband while she sought non-conventional treatments. Unfortunately none of them worked, all the while the cancer was progressing until it was too late.
In spite of the devastating tragedy of losing her so early, I have vivid memories of her throughout my childhood. Some of my favorite memories include she and her husband who were pilots, flying to Chico and taking my brothers Alex and Andrew, and my cousins Liz, Morgan and Will for airplane rides. I also remember her two dogs, Honey and Joy. Before my parents ever let me have my own dog, Nancy would let me have Honey and Joy every summer. This huge gift taught me the responsibility of owning my own animals. Every Christmas, Nancy, who was a reading teacher in the bay area, always gave everyone books that were especially picked out for us individually. Each book was always signed by the author with a note dedicated to it’s recipient.
Even though she was only a part of my life until I was in high school, she had an important impact and left me with memories that will last a lifetime.
by Alyssa Worley
Kathleen Teal is simply a wonder woman. Diagnosed in August of 2010 with Stage 3 breast cancer, only 3 weeks after her 40th birthday, she was shocked. When the doctor told her the news, a wave of fear washed over her. Immediately, she was sent to a local oncologist and after researching her options at other hospitals, she returned to her first doctor. Starting with 8 rounds of chemotherapy, the decision to have a double mastectomy was necessary; along with half of her lymph nodes being radiated and her ovaries removed…(As a woman, I cannot even imagine how incredibly difficult that process was.) Her reconstruction process was done at Stanford Hospital because options were more advanced there. Many lengthy surgeries later, her chest was recreated into an ideal size. It has now been 3 years and she is blissfully cancer free since the surgery!
There was such a sense of gratitude when speaking with Kathleen about her experience. “My husband (Brian) was a 24 hour nurse. We are a great team, and knew we could and can fight anything to come.” I have no doubt about that. She also spoke of a marvelous website, lotsahelpinghands.com, that her family, friends and neighbors could connect to and find ways to help. Cooking, cleaning, taking kids to school, and hat & scarf parties were many of the ways help was given to Kathleen, which she accepted gratefully. Nothing went unnoticed.
When asked what advice she would give to a woman newly diagnosed, it was to accept support! When you are recovering, it can be very difficult to run a household, particularly with kids. A positive attitude and sense of humor were also most important in recovery. Katherine laughed and exclaimed excitedly “I don’t have to wear a bra as much anymore!”…as only women know, that can definitely be considered a gift. Kind, strong, and resilient is the trifecta that Katherine Teal emits everywhere she goes, and I am so lucky to have met a woman with those qualities.
by Briana Lindstrom
“If you’re a woman, you have to know your body,” These are not only words Priscilla preaches, but words she lives by as well. When she found a lump in her breast that just didn’t feel right, she went to the doctor to get it checked out. The day before her daughter’s wedding in 2011, she received a phone call with her results. She tried to hide her emotions, keeping spirits up for the wedding celebration in spite of the malignant elephant in the room. But her daughter knew her too well and dragged it out of her. It was cancer. Although, for Priscilla, it was “just a bump in the road.” Her positive attitude and faith kept her laughing and cheerful as her hair fell out in clumps and her treatments progressed. “God will take care of me. He always has. I just say ‘ok, i guess you got a reason to put me through this.’ And i sort of know the reason now. Ever since I’ve had my cancer, I’ve met some awesome people who are going through it too, and I’ve helped them when they get overwhelmed.” Her husband, daughter and team of doctors and nurses have helped her through everything, and she calls them her angels. From her fully restored bright pink ‘39 Ford pickup to her dearly missed cat who Priscilla taught to say “Mama,” Priscilla’s vibrant energy penetrates everyone and everything around her. She wants other people dealing with cancer to know they are not alone in this fight. As a physical reminder or Priscilla’s support and presence in this fight, she has begun to make and sell bracelets to raise money for cancer research. Priscilla’s bracelets are $7 each and 100% of the proceeds go to the American Cancer Society. If you’re interested in buying a bracelet, or even just talking to this fabulously inspirational and hilarious woman, give her a call 530-990-3189.
by Briana Lindstrom
April’s sister was 36 when she died of breast cancer, and although she left this world prematurely, she left April with the loving wisdom that would later save her little sister’s life. When April found a lump in her breast while shaving one day, she decided to go straight to the doctor to get it checked out. The doctor told her it was just a cyst, and that she shouldn’t worry because she was so young. April was 36, the same age her sister was when she passed away. With this thought to guide her she insisted, “I don’t care what it is, I want it out of my body.” They removed it and thought everything would be fine. When the pathology report came back, it turned out there was cancer hiding behind the cyst. More surgeries and chemo were to follow. The journey to save her life began on her 9th wedding anniversary.
“My sister never got to see her son graduate from kindergarten, so my hope was that I would become cancer free and not repeat what had already happened in my family. I wanted to stop the cycle.” April’s daughter was only three years old and April didn’t want her to remember a sick-in-bed mom while other people subbed in to play Polly Pocket and go to the park. But looking back now, April realizes that she wants her daughter “to know what a fighter her mom was. It’s part of who I am. It’s ok for her to know the journey.” And after all, April’s knowledge of her sister’s journey is what ended up saving her own life. “All the scars I have, my new boobs, these are my daily reminders of the journey and how I had courage, strength, hope and faith.”
Although April survived her “crazy cancer journey,” the continuous mammograms and biopsies that followed were a source of great anxiety and fear so she ended up getting a double mastectomy. “Your cancer journey doesn’t end on your last treatment,” she explains, “Being declared a survivor doesn’t mean your fears are gone.” And although this may be true, April has a new love for life and when I asked her what she’s learned from her battle, she quickly responded “That the simple things in life are wonderful, and it’s ok to ask for help.” She’s living her new cancer-free life with more enthusiasm than ever. She has been trying new things, such as becoming a speaker for breast cancer awareness, traveling internationally, and modeling for “Celebration,” a show put on by The Celebration Foundation that showcases beauty and resilience beyond breast cancer. Dr. Dawson and her staff were always supportive and never treated April like just another client. “You could tell their hearts were in it,” she says.
From her sister who left her with the gift of knowledge, to her husband and daughter who have been by her side through thick and thin, her family was there helping her fight her way back into a healthy life. “I want to thank all of my family for their love and emotional support that I have received as a cancer patient and a cancer survivor. For my husband Nick, for his encouragement and who has loved me through scars and surgeries and for my beautiful daughter Annabelle who always brings me sunshine and hope. Thank you to my friends who have hearts of gold and have supported my family for years and to my team of Chico doctors for the outstanding care. I am blessed and grateful to all!”
Debra Ruth Carlen Nickells
August 31, 1958- June 25, 1995
Debbie was a beautiful daughter and a joyful sister of 36 years, a loving wife of 8 years and a tender mother of a five year old son when she died.
Even 18 years later after your cancer beast won and you passed away, it is still difficult for me to reflect on how much I miss you. My heart fills with sadness knowing what you have not been a part of the last 18 years, sweet sister. All of our lives have been changed without your lively presence. You would be proud of your husband; how he raised your son who is a caring, respectful man who dedicates his life to our country in the Air force. You would be overjoyed to meet your niece; I hear quite often how much she looks like you. But this letter is to thank you. Debbie, you are saving lives of those touched with the disease. You are one of the reasons why I am a cancer survivor. Your own battle with breast cancer made me aware of the disease and about knowing my own body and being proactive. You educated me and my early detection helped in the treatment, saving my life. Through my cancer journey I have had opportunities to tell my story so I hope I can help someone that has been touched by cancer too.
Thank you big sister for being my inspiration and my strength. We love you and you are in our hearts every day and are remembered through photos, stories and memories.
That’s the thing about love…it never dies.
By April Carlen Stein
My Friend Anysia
by Cyndie Holderbein
I want to take a few minutes to talk about a very dear friend of mine. Her name is Anysia Drumheller. I’ve known Anysia for about 11 years – we started out as co-workers and quickly became friends. A few years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer – after all of her agonizing treatments she beat cancer’s booty (as she would say). She quickly decided that her new lease on life would be about health and wellness. She started running 5Ks, doing aerobics and many other things…She took her new life and ran with it, literally. Sadly, the cancer came back about a year later. A group of us at work signed up for the Color Run including Anysia – Sadly, when the day of the run came she was too weak and in a wheelchair so I took all of our shirts and ironed her name on the back and ran for her. I didn’t do very well but had a blast and dedicated the day to her. She cried when she saw the picture of all of us with our special shirts.
Anysia was very beautiful… I always told her “Girl, you rock the bald head!” And when she dyed her hair pink… awesome! I can only aspire to be as amazing as she was. One day her father Veen came into the office to drop off something she’d had at home and asked me about my family – as it turned out he is related to my in-laws, which means I was related to Anysia by marriage. That was a piece of news that I will always cherish. I was inspired by her strength – toward the end when she was still coming to the office, she was thin and frail but still carried that strength that moved so many people. She would come to my office and we’d do what we always did, laugh until we cried. The day she got her handicap placard she called me and cried– after about 10 minutes of listening to her, I said, “Girl, what the Hell are you crying for? Now you’re getting the best parking at the mall!” She laughed, I laughed, and just before she died I was talking to her on the phone and she was talking about planning to die on her birthday and I was really getting emotional, but didn’t want her to know so I belted out with, “Well please don’t forget to give me your placard before you go.” She knew I was distracting myself, she said “I love you,” hung up, and that’s the last time I talked to her. After a yearlong battle, she decided that she wanted to rest and passed away on her birthday May 2, 2013. She had a husband and two beautiful small children, a mother and a father who loved her like they loved their next breath, as did anyone whose life she touched. Every single memory I have of her is one that will be cherished forever. Before she died, she told me that she’d save me a special spot in Heaven, that way we can shake things up like we always did…I love and miss my friend very much.
Many of the women who opened themselves up to share stories in this special feature were contacted through the Celebration Foundation’s “Celebration” fashion show. This charitable fundraising event is dedicated to supporting the local breast cancer community by providing an inspirational and empowering showcase of the beauty, grace and resilience of life beyond breast cancer. For more info on how to get involved in their next show, contact Charlene Mikeska 892-2535.