The Gift – Ida R.

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“What started out as doing something to help heal myself, I found I had the ability to help heal others; and the realization that I was able to accomplish that was euphoric. It became a circle of sisterhood and support causing these women to heal me in a way that was better than any medicine. My breast cancer journey became an experience of personal fulfillment and self-awareness.”

The Gift – Debbie H.

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“I am honored to have the opportunity to be included in this inspirational project.  It gives me great pleasure to share with you the many gifts that have manifested in my life since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. When I received my medical diagnosis a spiral of negative thoughts began to overwhelm me. “What’s going to happen next? How will I pay my bills if I can’t work? How will I tell my friends? My loved ones?” I felt caught in a web of inertia — a tire stuck in the mud.

In the past I had experience in using “thought-reframing” techniques to minimize anxiety. Fortunately, a few weeks after the cancer diagnosis I was able to find the courage and will to challenge myself, “I’m going to do an experiment and see if such techniques will work with a challenge as profound as cancer.” Fortunately, I was able to take control of my emotions before I allowed fear and anxiety to gain a foothold. I began practicing a wide variety of calming techniques ranging from recognizing negative thoughts and replacing them with more productive and empowering ones, to incorporating a mindfulness practice into my daily routine. The expression of gratitude, repeating meditative affirmations as well as allowing humor were key ingredients in healing and dissolving fear. Once I set foot on this particular path of awareness my road of treatment was paved with clarity, strength and acceptance.

When I began to embrace the power of good in the universe and slow down and listen to my inner guide, something magical happened in my life. For the very first time I learned be gentle and nurture myself. Releasing old ways of thinking is not easy but with dedication and persistence I was able to break the self-imposed glass barriers which limited beliefs about myself as well as others. We all have the ability to transform ourselves and our lives.

Cognizant of wanting to be passionate about being the best person I could be, every person I came in contact with provided an opportunity. This was true for face-to-face as well as electronic communications. I was able to respect, empathize and be fully present with others. I made amazing new friendships, rekindled old ones, and strengthened relationships. New opportunities presented themselves daily. I began writing a book called “Clear Connections” which documents mind techniques and how I embodied ways of releasing stress and minimizing my fears.

I was invited by a researcher at NYU School of Medicine to participate in her study titled ‘Improving Clinical Practice to Empower Breast Cancer Patients: Reducing the Risk of Lymphedema’ (The Optimal You through the Optimal Lymph Flow Program’). The study focused on self-care strategies in reducing the risk of Lymphedema, an unfortunate outcome of breast cancer treatment. The distressing condition is associated with chronic limb swelling caused by a disruption in the lymphatic system. Being part of this patient-centered educational and behavioral program empowered me to voluntarily teach the knowledge I gained to other breast cancer survivors. Additionally, I became inspired to motivate others through writing. A patient-perspective article titled “Reducing the Risk of LE after Breast Cancer Surgery” was published in The Journal of Lymphedema (JOL) in 2011.  Managing lymphedema has been challenging in my career as a flight attendant because of arm swelling resulting from changes in cabin pressure. I now encourage individuals with disabilities in the workplace and currently represent my airline’s disability initiative program. An inspirational video called “Reaching Blue Heights” can be found on Vimeo https://vimeo.com/106223213 featuring my story.

In my journey I was so fortunate to have found Y4C (Yoga for Cancer) developed by a breast cancer survivor Tari Prinster.  This particular yoga has provided me with an awareness that is now part of each and every move I make and breath I take. Through Tari I was introduced to the Foundation for Living Beauty. It is difficult to find the words to express the gratitude and undying love I have for this organization and all involved. All I can say is attending the “Goddess Wellness Retreat” sponsored by The Foundation for Living Beauty in November of 2014 was like landing in the arms of a million angels.

It doesn’t take a bout with cancer to be a strong and powerful warrior. Coming to know the profound connection between our mind and body and embrace our scars (whether they be physical or emotional) gives us strength of character. Obstacles and limitations mean nothing. Situations are neutral and it is our own thoughts that give them meaning. For it is not what happens to us that matters, it is what we become through experience that is significant. I continue my passion through writing and soon hope to gain a publisher. My mission in life after cancer is to continue to be empowered, shine light where there is darkness and share my gift of wisdom with others.”

The Gift – Stacie G.

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“Having breast cancer has been the scariest, saddest and most humbling time in my life. This horrible cancer not only found its way into my left breast but separated into three tumors climbing it’s way to my lymph nodes. Before cancer life passed by at lightning speed, I was a supper mom juggling schedules and taking care of everyone else but me. This all stopped in March 2015, now it was time to focus on myself, but was it too late? No it wasn’t! I am here today because of my husband. A true life Super Man who supported a sick, depressed wife and three children without a single thought. My Mom who came to almost every chemo and would take me home and stay to help until she too was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months later. We also had family and friends who brought meals, planned play-dates so my boys had something to do over the summer, rides to chemo, helping administer Neupogen shots. These are the gifts that I hold so close to my heart. I am still humbled by the outreach of support and love. Truly, thankful for all the gifts God has given to us.”

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The Gift – Cindy S.

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“I have come to think of my cancer diagnoses, as my universal reboot. Weeks before my first cancer diagnosis, my anemia problem was growing worse due to increased bleeding, while I was adjusting to a new role at a job I was trying to feel better about. I had been unhappy there for some time, and crazy stressed by new responsibilities that I thought were just the thing to fulfill me as an Inventory Control Specialist.

May 6, 2013 I checked into the hospital for a hysterectomy that would end the horrible bleeding I was experiencing. The doctors were so sure I just had vicious fibroid tumors. As I awoke from the anesthesia, I saw and heard my surgeon say, through my foggy state, “We found cancer.” They found 4th Stage Metastatic Endometrial Cancer. They found the neck met, the next day in a CAT scan, as well as 3rd Stage Triple Negative Breast Cancer in one breast. What a sock in the face! Two advanced cancers. My excellent cancer team administered a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. The PET scan follow-up showed no signs of active cancer, my oncologist told me.

I get a call a couple weeks later, from my internist. There was a tiny bright spot that he noticed on the scan. I had Thyroid Cancer. Might as well make it a triple. So, out went my thyroid gland. I took the radioiodine treatment, a standard treatment for thyroid cancer, and that cancer resolved, as well. No more cancer activity in my body.

As I was getting the treatments, recovering from cancer and the treatments, new people and opportunities began to enter my life. I joined a cancer support group and met two dear friends. We know we were all meant to meet each other. The bond took effect so quickly. Had the three of us not had cancer, at that time, in that city, seeking that support, we probably would never have met each other. I formed many new relationships that started with the common denominator of cancer, but developed into deep connections of caring and trust among individuals.

I lost my job in the course of receiving treatment. Yes- in the course of receiving treatment. It happens to people with cancer, more than it should. Truth is, I wanted a different job anyway. I was miserable in my position, for quite a while, but never made the full commitment to myself, to change that situation. My thinking is that, I was not on the true path for my life, so the universe did me a solid, and stepped in. Universe: “Yeah, uh, Cindy is not getting it. Time to pull out the big guns.” So they did.

The gift of my getting cancer was it stripped away all the things that prevented me from living true to myself. The spirit-draining job, trusting the wrong people, and keeping a toxic friendship. All of them had to go, so I could give my all to fighting cancer; not to struggle uphill for things that do not enhance my life or my spirit’s happiness. Cancer’s “gift” is different for each person. Look for it to propel you into your own life’s truth.”

The Gift – Marlene W.

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“Tumultuous: involving a lot of violence, confusion, or disorder

I have a tumultuous relationship with cancer.
“It” caused complete havoc in my life in the Spring of 2014. When I was diagnosed, I was shocked, angry and confused.
Forced to prepare for the unknown and armed with the absolute determination not to allow anything to control my Life, my decision was to fight back and live a meaningful life.
Once the short-lived shock, anger and confusion had subsided I began to focus on strengthening my Spiritual relationship. God’s grace & mercy allowed me to weather this stormy health crisis. The strengthening of my faith was the first ingredient to my recovery. The second component was a large number of family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances and others that helped me, everyday, with everything.
I was blessed to experience for the first time, what “It takes a village” truly meant… The third element was exercise, particularly yoga.
I never liked yoga but I now love yoga! I attended a life-changing yoga retreat in June, 2015, sponsored by The Foundation for Living Beauties in Santa Barbara, California. The yoga retreat linked me to the amazingly sensitive photographer, Cynthia Perez and The Scars Project. I was actually part of a professional photo shoot! I have never experienced more freedom, physical beauty and empowerment in my life. The past year has been unbelievably difficult with so many insurmountable hurdles but as I continue to rely on God’s guidance, my journey becomes easier and less tumultuous yielding manageability and ease.”

The Gift – Laura A.

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“‘The Gift’ that cancer gave to me….

Cancer gave me many gifts but the most important one, was the gift of Gratitude.  I use to live a life that I thought was decent, I felt I was a good person, I was appreciative.  I never imagine that i could have been more appreciative, more patient, more loving especially since I already had the “Mommy” title…..In June 2009 my world was suddenly magnified, I suddenly became hyper aware of everything and everyone.  I was dealt the Cancer card ….what i like to call a double edged sword…I wish I didn’t have to ever experience it but I did and because of it, I received so many gifts ….I received compassion, friendship, love, and the most important one was Gratitude. One can read all the cute quotes about how you only live once, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, and so on…Yes, there are many truths to them but to actually live through Cancer or with Cancer makes everything so much more meaningful. Gratitude describes my everyday feeling, even when I am having the worst day I am grateful for what I do have….I have life and I have time.”

The Gift – Gena C.

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“I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer on October 1, 2009. I don’t think anyone wants to hear those words but I knew I would beat it. The gloves were on and I was ready to kick butt.
After 9 months of chemotheraphy, surgery, radiation I thought I knocked it out. To my surprise winning that fight was only the beginning. I spent another year fighting auto immune issues. So the testing begins, MRI’s, PET scans, CT scans, blood work. I was told I would need a liver transplant within a year. I was in a wheelchair for about 6 month caused by my lupus diagnose and fatigue that would keep me in bed for days.
To say that this was a lot to deal with, it was. I know that I’m a strong person but at a point you need someone or something to hold you up. I had my loved ones and friends but I needed someone to really understand what it was like to walk in my shoes. I joined support groups and cancer organization all very helpful but I believe the biggest transformation was my first yoga retreat that the “Foundation for Living Beauty” hosted.
I will never forget the first day. I felt like I belonged and I was understood. More importantly I was embraced so tight I felt completely supported. I could be strong and vulnerable at the same time. I met women whos fight was harder than mine and  the courage they possessed only made me stronger. It is the strength in that room that first day I carry with me.
Now when I’m told how amazing I look or how great I’m doing or what an inspiration I am, I know that I carry the strength and courage of these beautiful women. That is the gift the “Foundation for Living Beauty” gave me and others fighting cancer.
I did know that first day I was diagnosed that I would survive cancer but I could have never imagine the sisterhood that empowers me everyday.

I’M GENA AND I’M A LIVING BEAUTY “

The Gift – Paula V.

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“It’s hard to find a silver lining when you’ve been told you have cancer for the second time. This has been my life for the past three years. I hold tight to the belief that I am a survivor who is living with, not dying from, advanced metastatic breast cancer. This helps provide the balance, hope, and gratitude I try to find in every moment, and with each person who is a part of my life and recovery. Having cancer is such a dichotomy – at times life moves very quickly with the never-ending commitments of treatment, testing, doctor visits. More than a full time job, to say the least. But what happens, out of choice, maybe out out of necessity, is a slowing down, a re-positioning of ones place in life. I choose to surround myself with friends and family who love and support me unconditionally, who hold onto hope and life, especially during difficult times when I can’t. They are my lifelines, they are my ‘gifts’.”

The Gift – Rosario B.

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“I am a lucky girl.
‘Don’t worry it is probably a false positive, most are!’ – My doctor’s words.
I am glad I did!
I am a lucky girl!
I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma stage II shortly after.
After a double mastectomy and several rounds of chemotherapy, here I am!
I lost my hair, my eyelashes, and my eyebrows but, yet blossomed inside.
My energy was gone, however never my inner strength.
I grew strong.
Friends and family stood in disbelief as they watched me go through this journey.
I am a lucky girl!
I am lucky to have such a great husband, parents, siblings & friends.
I learned that we, as human beings, are able to withstand the unimaginable.
For me there was no other choice.
Yes, I have lost my breasts but have gained so much more.
Today I am blessed to watch my son grow into this incredible human being.
I am a lucky girl!
Today I live in the moment because I do not know what lies ahead.
Today I appreciate my loved ones so much more for they are my source of strength.
Today I count my blessings.
Today as always I realize…
I am a lucky girl.”

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