Thursday, January 18, 2018

SUCCESS STORY 1: FROM CANCER PATIENT TO PUBLIC SERVICE & ADVOCACY

Story by: Jennifer Hunt (co-founder of "FIGHT LIKE A GIRL" team)
Edited by: Lennard M. Gettz (imworx.com)

On December of 2010, (I was 38 years old at the time) I went for a routine yet early sonogram and then mammogram due to some curious lumps found from an earlier exam.  Though my doctor didn't express heavy concern, he sent me for testing and it was there that they saw something suspicious.  Within two days, they proceeded with a biopsy and the results showed that I had DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ), which is an early stage cancer that's contained in the milk ducts of the breasts.   

At this point, I was confused and didn't know what to do; I didn't know anybody else who had gone through something like that so it was just a bit shocking for a few weeks to get used to the idea. I knew it was in an early stage so I wasn't panicking with 'end of the world' thoughts.   I just had to figure out what to do to take care of the situation and to get it done as quickly as I can.  My twins were in kindergarten and my daughter was going on nine at the time and I had to figure out everything and make it all normal for the sake of my kids.

I didn't get to do much research before my doctors had set up an appointment for me to see a doctor at a nearby hospital (undisclosed) which turned out to be a horrible experience. The doctor couldn't communicate well and didn't discuss options. He just wanted to do what he wanted without any input from me whatsoever. It was right then that I felt "this was not the one for me".

SECOND OPINION FROM AN EXPERIENCED SUPPORTER
Soon after, I connected with Christine Romano. We live in a small town in Eastern Suffolk and I knew about her undergoing breast cancer. I happened to run into her at the gym within that same week.  I introduced myself and mentioned my situation including my dissatisfaction with my doctor and not knowing where to go.  It was then that Christine told me where she went (Sloan Kettering, Commack) and what she went through.  It wasn’t long before I ended up going with her doctors and I found them to be so much better.  They gave me different options and I was able to explore them and decide what I felt was best for me.

It was a much different scenario than my first hospital. At Sloan's, they thoroughly examined me, gave much more attention to my reports, my mammogram and sonogram and then the biopsy. We had long discussions in her office while the other doctor didn't do that for me at all.  I was particularly impressed and truly respected at the fact that she was open to my wanting a mastectomy to avoid undergoing radiation and my feelings of cutting to the chase and save myself all the trouble of a lumpectomy, radiation and chemo.

SHARING IS HEALING
Eight years later, all that anxiety is now just a memory and I feel good about everything.  It wasn't easy for about a year because of the number of surgeries involved. Altogether, I think I had probably four procedures - some were minor, but the reconstruction and the mastectomy was quite involved. But in the end, I felt I have the best results.

My whole journey was worth it to me because it's my turn to help other people now. I've met so many other people that I would have never met before and we all became true friends. Because of my experience, I feel like my life is better after the fact because of all the people I'm able to meet and help- thanks to my story.

Throughout my chapter with cancer, I definitely felt like I wasn't concerned about the end-- that it was going to be a horrible outcome. I knew that I would take care of it somehow and it was going to be fine. I had such anxiety for a good month or two until the surgery

As life keeps on, the next wave of challenges also continues; my husband James was diagnosed with prostate cancer within the past two months.  Not to diminish the emotional burden of this news, but somehow, having undergone this for my own self gave me the unique strength and the perspective to handle this differently. Of course you worry about your spouse and your family all over again, but now I have better perspective and attitude about it-- as far as what cancer support truly means and how the entire cancer existence looks like.  What may also make this one a bit more manageable was that his cancer is quite early so we don't feel like it's going to be as heavy an issue in terms of its malignancy. As with any adversity, "we'll just take this on like we tackle everything else... and it'll be okay".

EARLY DETECTION
I’m so glad I went for my mammogram early.  This allowed me more choices while the cancer was still in the isolated stage. They tell you to do it at 40, but I got mine two years prior because they were suspicious. I was lucky enough to find it at 38 and be aware that something didn't seem right. If I had waited to 40, I'm sure I would have had a much different outcome.  Two whole years of waiting with breast cancer that I wouldn't have known about would certainly put me in a rough place today. I just didn't feel like it was worth it and I heard some bad stories about radiation-- how it burns your skin and over time, it may even affect your bones in your chest. I have a great aunt who's in her late 80's who has bones that are coming through her skin from radiation.  Her bones are fragile because of that type of cancer treatment.  Thinking about that, my gut told me that it's not good for my body to go through that if I can avoid it- hence the mastectomy was the best choice for me.

RESEARCHING FOR ALTERNATIVES
Back when I was diagnosed, I didn't do as much research as I could have. I think I just had so much anxiety that I wanted it out fast that I just felt like I didn't want to waste the time, which is silly. But now that James is diagnosed, he's doing alternative things right now while he's still in the early stage.  His doctors said that he has six months and they'll check him again and see where he's at. So far, he changed his whole diet and he cut out sugar and carbohydrates and anything that turns to sugar- like pasta. He's just eating fish and vegetables and he's also drinking the Chaga mushroom tea, which is known to help with fighting cancer. He just started doing all that around the end of September and they're going to recheck him in April. I'm just now getting familiar with alternative methods myself.

Similarly, Christine Romano works with a woman who had stage four breast cancer who also changed her diet to include Chaga mushrooms where you can make tea out of it and that's supposed to help. Apparently, her cancer is now gone and she's still following up with doctors-- and I think it was stage four breast cancer and I believe it was in her back or spine. So it was a bad cancer and they thought she was going to die- and right now her doctors are amazed that her scans show no cancer.

They're still monitoring her because it's just newly happening- but, that same woman is the one helping my husband with his diet.  She guides him as far as foods to avoid; foods that promote cancer, especially sugar. He actually lost some weight now and he feels much healthier with this new diet. They said it's early so he has 'til April and then they'll do more tests and then that'll give him the time, like six months to see if any of this works that he did.


"FIGHT LIKE A GIRL": LOCAL SURVIVORS INSPIRED 
CANCER FUNDRAISING DRIVE
From the day I turned to Christine at the gym for help, she was five years cancer free then and within two months of me getting diagnosed, she was prompted to get checked again.  Her results unfortunately showed that her cancer returned in the same breast that she already had surgery on the first time. She had to go through radiation treatment because it was too far along. 

While we were giving each other support that whole time, we heard about the Long Island 2-Day walk which started us into this whole new chapter in our lives about giving back to other cancer patients. She said, "We should do a walk because it helps people on Long Island." I was a little intimidated but with Christine's encouragement, I was certainly up for the challenge.

We had to raise money and we didn't know exactly how. At the time it was $1,000 per walker- and we only thought it was going to be the two of us so we heard the phrase, "Fight Like A Girl." and it felt empowering, so we decided to make that our team name and we made team T-shirts.  it turned out to be an easy way for us to raise money-- to make team T-shirts and offer them to people who supported us with donations they would get one of our team shirts.  We ended up raising around $11,000. More women joined making us seven in total. I believe most of them didn't have cancer; they just wanted to support us and do the walk. From the team of 7 the first year we have grown to a team of 30 now.

Terri Kneitel is our 30+ months
pacnreatic cancer survivor
Today, so many people have heard of us that whenever someone in our town that we know gets breast cancer, they turn to us. Our group brings support by getting together with anyone diagnosed-- usually offering to meet them for breakfast and we’d share our experiences with breast cancer as far as what we've all been through and what we chose to do. That kind of support really eases people's minds. I always end up continuously texting and chatting with them especially when they're going through their surgery. We talk about how they feel and we exchange stories about things like the pain and discomfort.  These little things really matter to anyone undergoing treatment.  

If we know of anyone who needs help, we guide them towards the LI2Day Walk and from there, they get the right assistance that they need. Sometimes they need rides to the hospital or they can't clean their house or they need a wig and they can't afford to buy it or insurance won't pay for it. So then the LI2Day Walk helps them with those things. That's the kind of support that we do- unofficially.

Our group is more like a branch of LI2Day Cancer Walk. We focus on raising money every year by reaching out to everyone in our area including all the local businesses- and we’re getting really good at it!  For example, last year we raised $45,550 and altogether over the past seven years we've raised about $215,000.  I always tell people to do the walk and not be intimidated. I’d say, “You don't have to worry about the walking and raising the money...it'll happen!"  They raise the money themselves. And now we have a big fundraiser every year that last year we had over 600 people at the East Wind in Wading River.  As a branch partner, we filter all the money to LI2Day- so 100% of everything we raise goes to them. And then everything, they give 100% of the money that we raise. So we do it that way right now.

"Our group started out as just me and Christine...
now we're up to about 30-people strong!"- Jennifer Hunt.
We grow from year to year. Now our team is around 27 to 30 people strong.  We started with just the T-shirts and things like that--  and then we keep adding to it.  We do other things to raise $$ like a comedy night fundraiser at a comedy club and we sold out on that. We also conduct local church fundraisers where we have Chinese auctions, bands, food, dancing and raffle prizes. It would be so popular that we outgrew the space because every year we would sell out and people would be annoyed that they couldn't get tickets to it. So then we grew to East Wind in Wading River at the main hotel’s convention area. It's four rooms open to one and last year we had over 600 people. .. all starting from WORD OF MOUTH. Right after Christmas, we will start with our fundraiser for May. We will start getting the letters out for donations and people will start walking the town and getting donations and stuff like that. So all those other people on the team they really do a lot too to help us.


(Find them at “Fight Like a Girl” on Facebook).


Samantha (at 7) working at her very first fundraiser for
Food Allergy Awareness & Research. All shirts carry
her own artwork and she ran the entire booth.
THE NEXT GENERATION OF CARE-GIVERS (Strength and greatness traveling through genetics
If you start your kids off a certain way, they might just surprise you what remarkable things grow with them. I just can't imagine that it grew to this.  When my daughter Samantha was young we used to do a specific fundraiser with our T-shirts based on my sons having food allergies.  Because she was a good artist and daddy owned a screen printing shop,
this formed into a creative way to sell something special to raise money for a cause.  She started making up all these T-shirt designs and her dad cranked them out and off we went to all the local fairs. I guess we did it for a good three or four years and we raised almost $3,000.  She's always been quite good at fundraising and helping people and she still helps me with all our "Fight Like a Girl" projects. Samantha has done the walk since age 11-- she's 18 now and still strong at it!  After she graduates she plans on being an art therapist where she can use her art to help people. I'm so proud to see her pursuing this path throughout her college career and her whole life!


A SPECIAL CONGRATULATIONS TO JENNIFER ON YOUR 8TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY FOR BEING CANCER-FREE! STAY AMAZING AND CONTINUE BEING AN INSPIRATION TO SO MANY! (1/19/2018)
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REFERENCE LINKS

"Fight Like a Girl"- fundraising team for LI2DAY
LI2DAY- Fighting Breast Cancer & More
AWARENESS NEWS- AFAC source website

EDUCATIONAL LINKS

DCIS — Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (ref www.breastcancer.org)
Chaga Mushroom (ref: Wikipedia.org)

SPONSOR LINKS

Rejuvenate! Wellness Magazine
Best Answer for Cancer
Dr. Jesse A. Stoff- Integrative Cancer Immunologist
BardCancerDiagnostics: Early Detection Program
Modern Pain Relief - Professional Network
TheFinleyReview.com

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