I Knew Before She Told Us

I knew before she told us. I heard my dad talking on the phone one day, about someone who had breast cancer. He assured me, it isn’t mom. “Don’t worry, I would tell you if she did,” he said. Don’t worry. And later I found her mammography scans, or whatever they’re called. That didn’t seem right to me, but I convinced myself everything was all right. They would tell us. My dad said, “Don’t worry.” But anyway, we didn’t talk. They would claim we did, but we didn’t. When my mom told us, there was silence. I held my breath, and forgot to let go. My mom told us, and that was it. I felt like I was left alone to navigate my own way across an icy pond. So we held our breath, and didn’t say a word about it until the surgery. But I was thinking about it. I didn’t stop thinking about it. The surgery happened, and she came home. She stayed in bed for a while, and then it was over. We didn’t talk about it. It never happened. The Pink Portrait Project changed that slightly. We still didn’t talk about it (don’t be silly), but it was a form of acknowledgement. It allowed us to acknowledge it, and say yes, this terrible thing happened, but also, yes, we got through it. The photo shoot forced us to remember, and accept what happened, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Liam

My Story as a Breast Cancer Survivor and My Work with Survivors

The first time I had breast cancer it was 1996 and I was 46. It was so frightening because I thought I was going to die. The stress of this was heightened because I knew nothing about breast cancer. I was someone who made an effort to avoid reading or learning about cancer. As though this would protect me from getting it.

My husband and I had to have a crash course in breast cancer in order to be able to understand the recommendations of my doctors and to make informed decisions. The book that was the most helpful was “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book.”  She frequently updates it in new additions so when I was diagnosed again at 60, her information was up to date.

Fortunately the cancer was very small and I just needed a lumpectomy and radiation.  After my surgery, I went to a support group. People were very friendly. When it was my turn to speak, I remember saying over and over, “I’ll never be the same, I’ll never be the same.”   And this young man sitting next to me, who also had cancer, said “No, you’ll be better.” My eyes filled with tears from his warmth and kind words.

I’ve been a therapist for 30 years, first working in mental health and for the last 15 years I’ve been Clinical Director of The Breast Cancer Survival Center and leading support groups and co-leading retreats. We are a program for post treatment breast cancer survivors.  The program was started by a woman, Susan Santangelo, who had cancer in 1998, and like me looked for a group for survivors. Back then there weren’t any. Everything was for people in treatment.

I hear some of the women, who come to the groups fresh out of treatment, echo my words and say things like “I don’t know who I am” or like me, “I’ll never be the same”. And then a few years later, they are comfortable with who they are and are moving away from cancer being the central focus in their life, to it being a part of their life experience and a smaller part of who they are.

I was diagnosed again with breast cancer when I was 60. I was miserable because this time it meant I needed a mastectomy.  But… I wasn’t afraid I would die because I knew so much more about cancer.

A big question was whether to tell the woman in the support groups. I didn’t want them to feel they had to take care of me because they had their own needs. When I learned I needed chemo and would lose my hair, I had no choice. They were very supportive and caring, but because I was in a good place emotionally, getting the care I needed from others, they were able to focus on themselves and talk about their feelings and fears. My husband was wonderful, I saw a therapist, and talked to friends who have had cancer and felt very supported.

I’ve agree with the sentiments I’ve read by other women who’ve had cancer, that if you have it and survive, it can bring so many positive things to your life. I’ve found that. I’ve met so many wonderful women and some men; I never would have met, had I not had cancer. And had I not wanted to lead support groups. It’s so wonderful that so many young people like Caleigh are learning about cancer because if it happens to them or to their loved ones, they will be so much more informed, more prepared and better able to handle it than I was.

Nina Marino, LCSW

Clinical Director of The Breast Cancer Survival Center

Son of a Survivor

Having never been around anyone affected by cancer, hearing my mom tell me about her diagnosis came as a gut wrenching shock. Questions began bouncing around in my head: Why me? Why my mom? Why my family? Why do we deserve this? I told myself I had to be the rock in my family to keep everyone positive and strong but that task proved to be more daunting than I had imagined. I’m forever grateful for my friends and loved ones for guiding my family and me through out difficult journey.

Not So Pretty in Pink

Put down the pink ribbons, please, because you're making me mad. Linking PINK to breast cancer and thinking PINK! when you think about breast cancer only reinforces a sweet Hallmark Card vision of something that is distinctly unpretty. Pink is a color for Valentine's Day, and decorating a nursery, and Hello Kitty merchandise. Pink yogurt cups and NFL wrist bands might soften the ugly word 'cancer', because we Americans definitely prefer to view hard truths through rose-colored filters. But breast cancer is a rough ride for so many of the one out of every eight American women who must travel the BC path. It is time that we embrace the truth: These millions of journeys are individual and difficult, and often long, circuitous and deeply isolating. For survivors, the need for support lasts a lifetime.

Here We Go Again

I wake as if from a dream. The August sun streams through the heavy linen panels that flank my bedroom window.  Outside, I see the familiar trees, the wooden swing set, and the landscape of our life here.  Silently, I draw the covers back and rise from the bed. The air conditioner makes a gentle hum that is somewhat hypnotic.  I walk with bare feet across the worn, wide planked floor to the bathroom.  I splash cold water on my face, drag a brush through my hair.  Everything has the look of normalcy.

Christine

I wanted to thank you for allowing me to be involved with The Pink Portrait Project in 2015.  It was an honor to work with these women from many different backgrounds and give them photographs (portraits) they really love and deserve of themselves.  I am passionate about supporting women and helping women have better self esteem.  It is always a joy to share with women how to be photographed better and what to do to make them feel more self-confident in front of any camera – whether being photographed by a family member or a professional.  The visual power that great photographs bring to women is important and very real.  Every woman should have a great photograph of herself, no matter what stage of life they are at. Beautiful portraits will stay in families for generations.  Long after we will all be here on this earth.

Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer My 2011 diagnosis with breast cancer came 3 days after my 25th college reunion.  I had been carefully watching a spot and was getting annual MRIs.  My Mother had breast cancer at 50 in 1 breast and then again at 60 in another which was part of the reason I was on a more aggressive screening plan.  I was not particularly worried and really did not expect to get the results.

Donna

My name is Donna and I am a breast cancer survivor.  My journey with cancer began in 2005 when my husband Peter was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.  In Feb of 2009 I was diagnosed with stage 2 Breast Cancer. I  also lost my courageous warrior Pete to the battle in July 2009, but I will never forget the role that the Breast Cancer Survival Group played in bringing comfort and support to me along with Cancer Care in Norwalk, CT.