Beyond the Boobers! ~ Stories of Support ~ Mother Confronts Cancer Again

Mother Confronts Cancer Again with Daughter’s Diagnosis

By: Jamie McAllister

Mary McLean comes from a long line of women named Mary. She continued that particular family tradition when she named her daughter, Boober! Mary Ashby. To cut down on confusion, the elder Mary goes by Ms. Mary. Ms. Mary and her daughter share more than a name, though. They were also both diagnosed with breast cancer.

The first time around

Ms. Mary was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in November of 2002 after she felt a bump while performing a routine self-exam.

“I felt something that didn’t feel quite right, so I went to my family doctor,” Ms. Mary explained.

Ms. Mary will never forget how she felt when she heard the diagnosis. “It was chilling,” she said. “My main thought was that I had to try to have a positive point of view. I told myself that I was going to be OK.”

She was 60 years old when she was diagnosed. Ms. Mary went through chemo and radiation and had a lumpectomy performed on her left breast. She turned to a friend in South Carolina for support; the two had been members of the same church. Ms. Mary called her friend after receiving the news because she knew her friend had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had undergone a double mastectomy.

“She provided a lot of support and encouraged me to hang in there,” Ms. Mary said. “Sadly, she has since passed away.”

The second time around

In August of 2013 Ms. Mary’s daughter, Mary Ashby, felt a lump in her breast during a routine self-exam. Mary had always performed self-exams, but her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis had made her even more aware of their benefits. “Mary had been told before that she had lumpy breasts,” Ms. Mary said. “They told her she was too young to have breast cancer and passed it off.”

After Mary moved from Fairfax, Virginia, to Williamsburg, she found a lump in her breast and under her arm. She went to the ER and they sent her to a doctor, who found a lump in her breast and sent her to have a mammogram. She insisted they find out what was going on and a mammogram and biopsy were performed on her left breast.

Mary was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at only 35 years old.

“I felt that same chill I experienced when I was diagnosed,” Ms. Mary said. “It was like repeating my own experience.” Ms. Mary was relieved that doctors had delivered a diagnosis, even though the prospect of cancer was frightening. “We were happy to finally know what was going on,” she said. “After you find out what is happening, it is easier to deal with it.”

Mary underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, as well as a mastectomy. Her husband and mother both accompanied her to appointments for treatment.

As a mother, it was difficult for Ms. Mary to see her daughter go through cancer treatment. “Lots of things go through your mind when you see your child sick,” Ms. Mary said. “I gave her all of the love, understanding, and support that I could give. I just kept saying ‘Lord, give me the strength to keep holding on.’”

Embracing Life2MaryShades

Ms. Mary is grateful that her daughter has a group like Beyond Boobs! to turn to for help and guidance. “They have been through the same things she has,” Ms. Mary said. “They understand how she feels from day to day.”

Ms. Mary doesn’t believe in pity parties and she encourages everyone to live life to the fullest, no matter what. “Many times people aren’t going to understand what you’re going through because they haven’t been there,” she said. “But you need to enjoy life. If you can afford something and want to do it, do it. It can be something as simple as going out to lunch, shopping, or attending church. Anything that gets you out and keeps you going.”

Ms. Mary credits her faith for helping her and her family through the rough patches in life. “The Lord has kept us thus far, and we believe that He will continue to guide us from here,” she said.

 

 

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Who’s That Girl ~ Meet Lucy ~ 2015 Calendar Girl

By: Jamie McAllister

Lucy McKay of Burke, VA, was first introduced to Beyond Boobs! when she attended the 2013 Dancing with the Stars event put on by BB!  She received a copy of A Calendar to Live By 2014, and when she saw it she knew that she wanted to be a part of it.photo

“I was in the middle of treatment when the photos were taken and I wanted to show people that a woman can be beautiful without hair,” she said. “In the midst of sickness, I was able to still have fun and keep a big smile on my face.”

Lucy has been through so much in the past four years. She was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time in September of 2010. She had numerous surgeries and a double mastectomy as well as chemotherapy. She was diagnosed with breast cancer again in September of 2013, underwent 6 months of chemotherapy and had surgery at the end of July. In September she will undergo radiation treatment.

She said the best part of modeling for the calendar was the camaraderie amongst all the women. She was also impressed by the diversity of the models. “Women can open up the calendar and see themselves in the photos,” she said. “I love that the calendar models were chosen based on their diagnoses and other factors and not their appearances.”

Lucy, 46, is the Director of Finance for Hofheimer Family Law Firm in Virginia Beach. They specialize in divorce and custody cases for women only and are the largest firm in the nation to handle such cases. She and her husband Jon have two children, Myles, 8, and Liam, 5.

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Who’s That Girl? ~ Meet Stephanie ~ 2015 Calendar Girl

By: Jamie McAllister

Stephanie Schneider of White Stone, Virginia, knew she had a family history of breast cancer, but the 32-year-old never thought she would be diagnosed at such a young age. “My grandmother was diagnosed when she was 70,” Stephanie said. “I thought I had forever before I would have to worry about breast cancer.”DSC_1842

Stephanie had just received her diagnosis when she learned about Beyond Boobs! and saw their calendar for the first time. She showed the calendar to her daughters, Adele and Madison, and they encouraged her to become a model.

Stephanie and her husband Dave traveled an hour-and-a-half to the photo shoot and used that time as a mini couples retreat. That seems only fitting since Dave was the one who discovered the lump in her breast back in August of 2013.

“I am definitely the wallflower type, so it was a huge step for me to put myself in front of the camera,” Stephanie confided. “The photo shoot was so cool and I am looking forward to the unveiling at the Gala in September. I just hope that my photo portrays the theme that we were going for.

“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I thought my life was over,” Stephanie said. “I want to show women that there is life after cancer and that they don’t have to fight the battle alone.”

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Who’s That Girl ~ Meet Janell ~ 2015 Calendar Girl

By: Jamie McAllister

There were no support groups for young breast cancer survivors when Janell Nickols was diagnosed more than two decades ago. Now the 61-year-old James City County resident uses her experiences to show young survivors that a full life after diagnosis is possible. “I want to get the word out to other women that we can survive,” she said.20140214_191600

Janell encourages women to listen to their intuition and to pay attention to their bodies. Twenty-five years ago she was living in New York and happened to watch a biography about Minnie Riperton (best known for singing the 70s song “Lovin’ You”) who passed away at the age of 31 from breast cancer. After seeing that show Janell began to think that she didn’t feel quite right. She had no major symptoms but was later diagnosed with breast cancer.

“The cancer was detected because I listened to myself, my husband listened to me, and my doctor listened to me,” Janell said.

Janell is not normally a fan of having her picture taken because she always seems to blink just when the camera flashes. Other than that, though, she loved the photo shoot from start to finish. “I loved all the attention!” she exclaimed. “I am an extrovert and I loved getting all dressed up for the photos.”

Janell teaches fifth grade at Stonehouse Elementary School. She and her husband James have two children, Jennifer and Joel.

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Who’s That Girl ~ Meet Julia ~ 2015 Calendar Girl

By: Jamie McAllister

Julia Jewel Martin attended the Beyond Boobs! Gala in 2013 and was inspired by the unveiling of the next year’s calendar. Tears came to her eyes as she looked around the room at all of the women whose lives had been affected by breast cancer. At that moment she decided to be a calendar model so she could help other women by sharing her story.julia

Julia is not shy about confessing her love for the camera. “The photographer and everyone at the shoot made me feel good,” she said. “I loved the dress I wore; it made me feel like a goddess. I felt pretty even with the scars from my breast reconstruction surgery.”

Julia loves and lives every moment of her life. She works at Our Lady of Hope as a recreation therapist, planning fun activities for the residents. She makes sure to schedule fun for her personal life, too.

“I am a shopaholic,” she said, laughing. “I love to buy new clothes. I used to ride a motorcycle and I want to get back to that now that the weather is warmer and my surgeries are done. I bought a guitar and recently paid for four lessons. My goal is to learn how to play over the next three weeks.”

Julia, 29, originally hails from Connecticut. She moved to Virginia in 2003 to attend Virginia Commonwealth University. She and her husband Eric live in Richmond with their three children.

“June 26th was the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis,” Julia said. “That was a big milestone for me. I made it one year and I plan for many more years to come.”

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Who’s That Girl? ~ Meet Amy ~ 2015 Calendar Girl

Who are the 2015 BB! Calendar Models?  On September 20, our  Calendar To Live By 2015 will be revealed featuring our lovely breast cancer survivors and their stories that are sure to inspire you.  Join us in the next 11 weeks for “Calendar Girls 2015” BLOG Series to take a peek into the lives of these ladies and unite with us in anticipation of this year’s Pink Carpet Gala and the big ‘reveal’!

By: Jamie McAllister

Amy Banks celebrates every year post diagnosis, but 2015 is going to be a particularly sweet year for the 39-year-old Norfolk resident – it will mark five years since she was diagnosed with stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer.

When Amy joined Beyond Boobs! and found out about the yearly calendar project she knew 1234762_10202096101433372_1577343133_nright away she wanted to be a model for 2015 to celebrate her important milestone and share her strength with other women facing a similar diagnosis.

“Everything I read said that the life expectancy was five years out,” Amy said. “I want to show other women that the statistics don’t mean you can’t live longer than that.”

Normally Amy is the one behind the camera so it was a little strange for her to have the lens trained on her. She quickly overcame any nervousness she may have felt. “I am definitely not shy when it comes to getting out there for the cause,” she said with a laugh.

Amy’s 16-year-old son John and her niece went with her to the photo shoot. “It was so cool to have them there with me,” she said. “My son was a vital part of my recovery and was there for me through the entire process. I also wanted to show my niece that there is support out there for women’s breast health.”

Amy is enthusiastic about the calendar and hopes every woman will have one hanging on her wall. “These calendars raise awareness about women’s health,” she said. “They tell the stories of breast cancer survivors and give women the tips and information they need to take care of their bodies.”

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I Have a Family of Boober! Sisters

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2013 and attended my first BB! support gathering in February. By the time March rolled around, I learned about the 2014 Annual Boober! Retreat to be held in May.  I was hesitant to register, but my new support gathering friends assured me it would be an experience I would not forget.10287026_10204139330509625_3123795754595349414_o

I showed up at the Island Hopper house, renamed “Fantasy Island” for the weekend on May 2nd. I was three and a half weeks post TRAM reconstruction surgery. I only knew one person in my house upon arriving, but when I left on Sunday, I had a family of Boober! sisters. Everyone I was blessed to meet, greeted me with a warm smile and a hug. We were strangers before the weekend, but we had the bond of breast cancer. The sisterhood was instantaneous.

If I could describe my retreat weekend experience in one word, it would be “therapeutic.” Ever since my surgeries, I have struggled – would my body and life would ever feel normal again? This retreat surrounded me with so many strong and encouraging women who provided me with so much love. I met women who were newly diagnosed like me, some who were going through chemo, some who had the same reconstruction surgery as me, and some women who were two to five years post treatment and beyond. I learned that even though it doesn’t feel like it now, it WILL be okay on the other side of the hard times. This was a game changer for me. I met other women who have walked the path that I am on, and though all of our journeys are different, the core is the same. Survival. Fight. Win. Love. Live life to the fullest. It was a true display of our motto to “Live life with an exclamation point! not a period.” I am so glad that I went!

With love, Christy Birgen

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