It sounds cliche to say that women who have faced down a life-threatening diagnosis really know how to embrace life. It is cliche. It’s not even always true. But my girls? My friends? They know how to party.
Friday night we celebrated and raised money for the Young Survival Coalition with our annual silent auction and dance party, In Living Pink.
The silent auction was wildly successful, and boasted donated items such as massage certificates, white water rafting, sight seeing cruises and flights, art, event tickets, A NYC package including Letterman tickets, Seahawks gear – autographed by players, jewelry, restaurants, vacation packages, and too much more to list.
So what does all this money we’re raising go to? Here’s a few examples:
$25 pays for a resource kit for young women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. This resource kit includes an organizer for tracking the onslaught of information that must be managed through treatment, an encouraging and helpful DVD “you are not alone,” a guide to services available to young women with cancer, and a chemo-hat – hand-knit by the mother of one of our members.
$50 pays for flowers for one of our girls in the hospital, or going through a rough patch
$125 pays for facility rental so we can bring in educational guest speakers on a wide variety of issues such as nutrition, dealing with the effects of treatment on sexuality, and post-treatment breast reconstruction.
$200 pays for the facility rental and therapist facilitator for twice monthly group therapy sessions.
$300 will send one of our members to our annual retreat at Harmony Hill
This is more than just a dance party, this event raises money that makes a difference.
But we do know how to have fun…
The guys, too…
Hey, look, it’s me. (One of the best parts of having a 2 year old little girl: Gem declared me to be a “mermaid princess” before I left the house #mamaswoon)
Thank you to everyone who contributed so much to this event, from the planning committee to the volunteers who put in so many hours the night of the party.
The decorations looked amazing, Brooke from Movin’ 92.5 kept the party hoppin’, and Miss Shelrawka rocked the house.
.This is the story of how I became an on air radio personality.
Ok, it’s not. I’m not.
It’s not even about me.
This is a story about Debbie Cantwell, and the non-profit organization she started on her kitchen table, all by herself, to help young women with breast cancer, like me.
This is the story of the Pink Daisy Project, and a generous donation from Bonneville Seattle and the Seattle Seahawks.
The Pink Daisy Project provides care and comfort to young women with breast cancer, by means of grocery cards, gas cards, drug store cards, and housecleaning services.
My little girl and I were invited to accompany Debbie, her mother, and Andrea to the presentation of the honor.
And a check that will allow the Pink Daisy Project to help quite a few more young women.
And then, the Seattle Seahawks presented Debbie with the 12th Man flag, signed by all the players.
Yes, of course, my daughter photobombed that shot.
Then we went into the booth, where Debbie told the story of starting the Pink Daisy Project as a way to pay it forward after receiving help from friends and family members during her own battle with breast cancer.
And she told us about her own Grandma Daisy, in whose memory this organization is named. Grandma Daisy taught Debbie, and the rest of us by extension, how to live and give back, even while battling breast cancer.
Andrea spoke eloquently about her two bouts with breast cancer on different coasts of the country, and the difference between one where she was surrounded by family, and the other where she was more isolated. The Pink Daisy Project was there for her when her family was far away.
And then I got a turn at the mic. Look out Seattle.
Actually, because the experience is still so fresh for me, it’s still quite raw. I still get choked up. My voice warbles at certain points. I have to take a moment…
Thank you to the Seahawks and Bonneville for your generous donation to the Pink Daisy Project, and the help it will provide for young women across the country facing this terrifying diagnosis. Thank you, also, for broadcasting the story of Debbie Cantwell, and how her work is so integral to the recovery of women like Andrea and me.
And thank you Debbie, for being there for me, and everyone else.
Yesterday I spent the day manning the door at a wine-tasting representing 16 different local wineries. Every year, this event chooses a different charity to which the proceeds are donated. This year, the beneficiary was the Seattle affiliate of the Young Survival Coalition, which supports pre-menopausal women with breast cancer.
Most people, as they came through the door, were thrilled to learn that the proceeds of the event would benefit @YSCSeattle. One woman, however, was not. She took exception to the fact that this charity focused on the needs of young women. “It’s all the same!” she insisted. I started to launch into the standard spiel, when she fixed a look on me that clearly said she would not hear more on the issue, and any further discussion was unwelcome. I let her pass with a smile, and turned my attention back to the door.
Since she wouldn’t hear me then, ya’ll get to hear me now. I’m here to tell you, it’s Not the Same. (Just let me be clear here: these opinions are my own, I am not speaking as an agent of YSC Seattle.)
It’s not the same
Cancer affects everyone differently, and it’s a devastating diagnosis regardless of age. I don’t know exactly why this woman took exception to the age focus of the Young Survival Coalition. I would have asked her, had I been able to engage in conversation; short of that, I can only guess. Perhaps she felt it was an issue of ageism, that young women are perceived as more valuable than older women. I can imagine her frustration if that is the case. But understanding how a young woman’s breast cancer is different from an elderly woman’s cancer reveals issues that are much more complex. An elderly woman’s life is just as valuable as a young woman’s life, but the issues they encounter as a result of their cancer are quite different.
We go through a number of different stages through the life cycle, and cancer affects people in each different stage of life differently as well. A three-year-old diagnosed with breast cancer may relate better to other toddlers with cancer than a group of 30-year-olds or a bunch of 80-year-olds. Regardless of where we are in the life cycle, we tend to relate better to peers within our own age group who have similar experiences and challenges.
The truth is that the vast majority of the services provided for women with breast cancer focus on elderly women. Aside from those sponsored by the Young Survival Coalition, I was the youngest by a good 20 to 30 years at most of the cancer related activities in which I have participated. Young women with cancer have different needs, socially and medically.
Lets talk about that for a minute
Young women with breast cancer tend to have much more aggressive cancers that are diagnosed at a much later stage, meaning it’s more frequently deadly.
Most studies exclude women under 40, meaning those with the more aggressive cancers are not included in much of the breast cancer research.
Well, that’s a little frustrating.
There are other issues as well. What happens if you are diagnosed with cancer at the height of your career? When women still have to work twice as hard to even approach equal pay with men, adding a cancer diagnosis significantly impacts your ability to make a living. And with health insurance tied to your job, that further complicates things. Sure, there’s FMLA that is supposed to protect your job, but that’s only if you work for a big company. And COBRA extends your coverage if you can manage paying 103% of the full cost, on top of your co-pay and the 20% the insurance doesn’t cover. These rules are there to protect employees, but it doesn’t always work. There are ways around them, and corporations can afford lawyers, employees can’t.
Then there is the whole issue of saving for retirement. We had to empty out our retirement accounts at 40 years old to get through my year of cancer. That means we’re starting over from scratch, zero retirement saved up at this moment. We’ve already accepted the fact that retirement is just not going to be an option, we’ll just work till we fall over.
Now, imagine the single mom trying to balance a career, raising her children, and cancer in light of all that.
It’s not the same
And it helps to be able to discuss these issues with others who have gone through it as well.
Then there is the sex issue. I’m not so naive as to assume that elderly women don’t have sex. Considering that I hope to live long enough to be an elderly woman, I’d like to believe there is plenty of good sex involved. I’d also like to think that in my 80s my husband and I will be celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary. I could be way off here, but I imagine that the impact of a mastectomy on a 50 year old marriage might be a little different than for a woman who just got married, or is planning a wedding, or still looking for the love of her life. I understand that is a huge assumption on my part, but I think it’s one worth considering.
Now let’s talk about fertility. I don’t know how 80 year old women feel about their fertility, or lack thereof, but 20- or 30-somethings with a rapidly-ticking biological clock tend to think about it quite a bit. To have it suddenly and abruptly threatened or destroyed adds another layer of stress to the young woman facing a breast cancer diagnosis. Once you’ve survived cancer, your dreams have to be rewritten. Adoption? Sure, for those who are willing to adopt out to a cancer survivor. But don’t forget that cancer has already depleted finances, so the exorbitant fees charged for adoption are even more difficult to overcome. Surrogacy? Also an option, provided you are financially able to preserve the eggs before treatment and pay for the fertility services and the surrogate after treatment.
Most women diagnosed with cancer at an older age have adult children. That is a completely different situation from a woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer while she is still breast feeding her baby, or worse, while she is still pregnant. Imagine having to decide whether to proceed with chemo during pregnancy, or postpone it until the baby is born.
My breast cancer negatively impacted my daughter’s health. We had to emergency wean her for the mastectomy, and she lost two pounds; that’s a huge loss for an infant. It was several months before she was really thriving again. After the mastectomy, I couldn’t pick her up either, compounding my feelings of guilt while my baby was failing to thrive. What got me through this difficult time with my sanity intact? Being able to connect with other young women who had been through what I was going through. Being able to see that it is possible to raise bright and vibrant children while going through this dark experience made all the difference for me.
A room full of elderly women with breast cancer would never have been able to help me get through this in the way that the young survivors did.
It’s Not the Same.
And I’ll bet an 80 year old woman would not be very comfortable sitting in our support group either. She might have trouble finding someone with whom she could relate as well. The Young Survival Coalition doesn’t focus on age out of disrespect for elderly women, in fact reaching old age is one of our goals. We focus on age because young women are an underserved demographic of breast cancer survivors, and this is a way to get them some sorely needed support.
Shortly after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my baby lost two pounds. The breast had to go; I had to quickly wean a baby who was interested in eating nothing but breast milk. This weight loss was nearly as traumatic for me as the cancer diagnosis.
Then, I connected with the Young Survival Coalition (YSC) and met a group of women who understood exactly what I was going through. These women knew from experience how difficult it can be to balance treatment with parenting.
The Young Survival Coalition is an organization that supports pre-menopausal women who have breast cancer. Why a group that focuses just on the younger women with breast cancer?
Breast cancer in younger women tends to be more aggressive with a lower survival rate, and studies increasingly suggest that breast cancer in younger women is biologically different from the breast cancer that older women get.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women between the ages of 15 and 54.
Because fewer young women get breast cancer, they are not adequately represented in breast cancer research.
We have not yet developed an effective breast cancer screening tool for young women.
Young women deal with different issues than post-menopausal women: effects of treatment on fertility, child rearing, pregnancy after diagnosis, diagnosis during pregnancy, menopause caused by treatment, body image, dating for single women, the list goes on…
I’ve been through a lot in this cancer ordeal. I’m nearly halfway through the chemotherapy phase of my treatment, and that will be followed by radiation. The doctors are working to save my body, my friends at YSC have helped save my sanity. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this group of women and the support they provide.
I’ve done a lousy job of promoting this, but next Sunday my team of walkers will join thousand of others in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Seattle. Our team is called Pretty in Pink – Judy Haley and if you are in the Seattle area and care to join us, there is still time to sign up. There is also plenty of time to donate, if that’s more your speed.
I also want to send out a giant thank you to all the amazing people who have already donated and/or joined our team for the walk. I have the most awesome friends.
I’m looking forward to the walk. It’s a great chance to see the city from a different vantage point. Usually when I’m on the viaduct, I’m cruising so fast I really can’t stop and take in the view. The last time we did this walk, I got some great photos. This time, the walk has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I checked the weather report and so far it looks like it will be the one dry day of the week. At least I hope it is, but then what do those weather guys know? I’ll be bringing ponchos and umbrellas just in case.