Breast cancer has given me many gifts.  I am the best person I have ever been.  I have learned that I have the strength and courage to accomplish any goal I set for myself; including earning an AA, BA, and Master’s degree…during two battles with breast cancer, a mastectomy, chemotherapy (both times), radiation, and eight separate surgeries!

Breast cancer has given me the gift of sitting with a stranger last week, while she met with her oncologist for the first time.  Breast cancer has helped to shape my career trajectory.  I have been blessed to walk through the many phases of breast cancer – diagnosis through Stage 4 through the end of life – with breast cancer survivors and their families.

Breast cancer has been a gift that has enabled me to be a gift to others.


At 21 years old, being diagnosed with cancer and putting my life on hold was scary.  I felt that I didn’t deserve this diagnosis, I didn’t deserve to be scarred in this way.  Now, a year and a half in remission, I value my scars and thank cancer for what it gifted me.

Cancer, surprisingly enough, has given me countless gifts.  While this disease was quite literally the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, I’ve learned to look at the beauty that it has offered.

Cancer has given me the gift of knowing my own resilience.
Cancer has given me the gift of holding all the new found joy in my life.
Cancer has given me the gift of loving myself.
Cancer has given me the gift of my closest and most true friendships.
Cancer has given me the gift of finding mission and passion for my future.
Cancer has given me the gift of breaking down walls and wearing my heart on my sleeve.
Cancer has given me the gift of radiance. Literally.
Cancer has given me the gift of gratitude.
And most importantly, cancer has given me the gift of Life.


Cervical cancer has given me the precious gift of time.  Time to self-reflect, connect with survivors and cancer fighters, acquire knowledge, act on that new knowledge, and improve how I care for and nourish my body, mind and spirit.


Cancer has given me clarity.


As I took these photos I cried tears of anger, sadness, fear, strength and gratitude. So many emotions mixed into one and I’m reminded that I’m alive to be able to take these photos.  I struggled for a long time to figure out what in heaven’s name could breast cancer have gifted me?!!  Then it dawned on me, it has given me humility and compassion that I never knew I was capable of.  Cancer has given me the gift of RIGHT NOW. It has forced me to be present and grateful for now, not later or tomorrow, but right now.  The most important gift I’ve received is learning that true beauty has NOTHING to do with external, but beauty is found in the flaws, the pain, the tears, the scars because through all of that I STILL RISE.  I never understood that or believed that until breast cancer touched my life.


Cancer, in spite of being one of the worst things that has ever happened to me, has given me many gifts.  At 29 years old, the last thing on my mind was cancer, but as soon as I was diagnosed, I went into survival mode. I found strength that I never knew I was capable of having.  I knew I not only had to be strong physically for my body to handle everything it was going to have to go through, but more importantly, I had to become strong on the inside.  I had to be strong mentally to endure the chaos I was going through and I had to be strong for everyone that loved me.  That’s what made me fight, I knew couldn’t let my loved ones down.  Cancer gave me strength and I know I can get through anything because of it.

Serendipity: The Gift

At The Foundation for Living Beauty, we believe in serendipity. The kind that brings creative minds together at coffee shops, or, as it were, brings Living Beauties together – 40,000 feet in the air.

Debbie at The Gift event

When photographer Cynthia Perez first approached the foundation’s staff as they met in a cozy Pasadena hole in the wall, the universe had truly conspired. The staff had been dreaming and designing a photo series to showcase the bravery and courage of Living Beauties, particularly through their physical scars. Meanwhile, Cynthia was looking for a new project, hopefully one that would allow her to give back after considerable success in the photography community. A match made by fate.

Over the next few months, the women designed more than a photo project – they designed an experience that enriched Cynthia as much as it did the subjects in her photos. The brave Living Beauties, in fact, were more than still subjects. They were engaged, courageous and healing women, who bore both their bodies and their souls: Some were still working through the changes that cancer had presented and participated in hopes of closure and self-acceptance; Others took part in the project in order to share their stories with other women who might have questions about certain procedures or experiences, including mastectomies. Despite the highly personal, intimate nature of each photo session, the Living Beauties were forming incredible bonds even they could not predict. Together, they got to the root of not only cancer’s difficulties and challenges – they also found its unexpected gifts.


In preparation for The Gift, a cocktail event introducing the photo series at Pasadena’s Armory Center, the staff interviewed many Living Beauties who had participated in the photography project. Cynthia had generously traveled across the country to photograph Living Beauties, and one Living Beauty in New York was still debating whether or not to fly across the country and celebrate her photos in person. After speaking with our staff on the phone about the experience, Kim felt a fire in her soul. She had to be there, and immediately booked a flight.

‪As she sat on her flight to California, Kim began speaking with a bubbly, kind flight attendant. When the flight attendant asked what brought Kim to California, Kim explained that she had participated in a photo project through a foundation for women with cancer. The flight attendant’s name was Debbie. Incredibly, the two women had never met, but Debbie was also a Living Beauty. And she was flying to The Gift.

The Gift – Cathy M.


“…the Gift of my breast cancer has caused me to be a champion for the cause – eradicate breast cancer forever!”


The Gift – Ida R.


“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.


“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.”