Vallory Jones: Survivor Anthem

The C4YW Blog welcomes Vallory Jones back for a very special VLOG entry! Be sure to  check back often, as Vallory offers us insight and experience about her diagnosis and life after celebrating her first Cancerversary.  Her strong voice is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent, and we are very excited that she has chosen to share some of her stories, writing and outspoken-support via video!  Be sure to visit the We can’t wait to see all of you this weekend for the big event: C4YW: SEATTLE!

Victorious Val.

Vallory is a breast cancer survivor, Zumba freak, and fitness fanatic.  She has taught middle school English for 19 years and enjoys mountain biking, singing, writing, and playing guitar.  She recently celebrated a milestone, her first Cancerversary. 

Jennifer Acee: Mommy Don’t Like That

The C4YW Blog is overwhelmed by the amazing and inspiring writing that continues to pour in! Today, we welcome another new blogger, Jennifer Acee, with her first blog entry.  Her strong voice and particular story is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle as time is running out!

atparkI am 28 years old. I have breast cancer.

I am two weeks into my first round of chemotherapy and the ominous day in which my scalp beings to tingle and feel heavy has just arrived. I run my hands across my recently-chopped-short hair and they come away covered in dislodged strands. It’s happening.

Immediately, I want it shaved off. I don’t need to lose it in clumpy stages or to hang on to scarce strands among a desert of baldness. (Gross.)

The metamorphosis into bald is a pretty significant kick into the emotional struggle of a cancer diagnosis – the full weight of which will take me months to understand. Overnight, I will become a person who looks so ill that people actually perceive me, with one glance, as someone who is dying.

Tonight, I lose it (my hair that is.)

I am sure my husband never imagined he would shave my head. We’ve dated since high school, been together a decade now and faced all manner of odd things that life pitches. But this is a new one for us both.

I didn’t envision it as a particularly traumatic experience for him. Rather, I think I know him well enough to accurately conjecture he would be thinking about how I was handling the situation as he passed the buzzer across my scalp. But a girlfriend implanted in my mind that shaving his wife’s head might be a little hard on him too. Fair enough.

So on this night, as we were (quite literally) facing tribulation head-on, I attempted to lighten the mood, for his sake. Okay, cue lame attempt to be light-hearted: “Well,” I say, “I guess I don’t need my keys anymore…” too long of silence while I try to build up the punch-line suspense and he stares at me blankly… “I’ve lost my locks.”

Out to the driveway we head, for ease of clean-up, with a chair and the clippers. My 2.5 year old, in PJ’s and rain boots, follows behind and out into the action, as though this were a normal family activity.

As my husband passed the noisy buzzer across my scalp, which hadn’t been exposed since I was an infant, I had planned to look up at him and say, “I better not wear a turtleneck, I’ll look like a roll-on deodorant,” my second, prepared bald joke that I had looked up online moments before we began. But I ended up not having the heart. The clippers were really loud and uncomfortable and I just wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. (Note, my husband was keen on starting by shaving a mohawk and taking a picture, so I guess he was handling the situation just fine after all.)

So yes, in summary, my husband shaved my head in the driveway while my son stomped around in the hair in his rain boots. Just another normal evening…

The first person I let look at my bare, bald head is my 2.5 year old son, a good 24 hours after our driveway-shaving. We were in the bathtub when he suddenly looked surprised, noticing my naked/hairless head joining us in the tub. I tried to explain to my happily-oblivious toddler that my hair is simply gone now, which I don’t really like, so I’ll be wearing a lot of hats.

My son nodded casually and then concluded our heart-to-heart by pointing at my head and saying, “Mommy don’t like that.”

“That’s right son, I don’t really like it like this.”

And so went the next 5 minutes with him repeating “Mommy don’t like that,” as he pointed at my head and tried to process what I had told him.

Over the next week, as my baldness morphs into normal for him, he will occasionally recall this conversation and repeat the mantra. With beautiful succinctness and accuracy, my toddler will walk around proclaiming, “Mommy don’t like that.”

Jennifer Acee is a working mother who recently underwent treatment for Stage II Breast Cancer. She enjoys reflecting on life through her writings and her blog. Visit here to read more. 

Lindsay Ruland: Ovary Overload

As we finish out the month of January, the C4YW Blog welcomes back, Lindsay Ruland, for the third installment of her monthly series! Check back often to read more into her journey. Here, Lindsay shares with us the experience of egg retrieval surgery. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

There’s nothing quite like the moment you hear those three little words,“You have cancer,” unless, of course, they are then followed by,“Treatment may compromise your fertility.”

While some young women in this situation may initially worry about losing their hair or their breasts, the first thing that popped into my mind was that I could lose my ability to have children.

As soon as my breast surgeon called for neoadjuvant chemotherapy, I asked, “Is there any way I could freeze my eggs before we get started?”

He pointed me in the direction of several fertility clinics, but reminded me that I had a very small window of time to complete a cycle of IVF before beginning chemo: 3 weeks.

Two days later, I found myself uncomfortably sitting in the office of a fertility specialist. He went over the procedures very brusquely, explaining that I would need to have blood drawn every day to measure my estradiol levels, and that every 3 days or so, I would need a vaginal ultrasound to check on what my ovaries were cooking. I would also need to take an estrogen blocker while undergoing the fertility treatments to avoid feeding the tumor.

“We have to start now,” he said, abruptly getting up from his chair and opening the office door. Confused, I followed him down the hall and found myself in the ultrasound room. Without drinks or dinner, that man had my pants off and my legs up in stirrups in record timing. Needless to say, I was a little embarrassed. Apparently, however, he liked what he saw with that alien probe. My insides got the green light and he sent me back to meet with his nurse to go over my hormone shots.

My head was spinning as all of this information was flying at me. I had just been diagnosed with cancer, how could I keep track of everything they were telling me? I started to cry in the consult room with the nurse as she gave me my first hormone shot, not because the needle hurt, but because I was totally overwhelmed. My mother had been wise enough to bring along her notepad and had recorded everything that had been said along the way. Without her, I would have been lost.

The next day, I showed up for my blood work and they found that my estradiol levels weren’t high enough, so I would need to bump up the dosage. This would also be the first time I would give myself the shot at home. I had to find YouTube tutorials to remember how to accurately mix the hormone solutions. I prepped the site, pinched my skin, and stuck the needle into my abdomen. A huge welt appeared on my skin and I freaked out, hysterically calling the nurse on call. Apparently, I’d used the wrong size needle tip and hadn’t stuck it in deep enough. As the days went on, I got to be somewhat of a pro at giving myself the hormone injections.

Lindsay Post-Op

Lindsay Post-Op

“Wow! You’ll have enough eggs to fill an Easter basket!” the doctor said as he examined my painfully full ovaries. About two weeks in, I certainly felt as though I was pregnant. I found myself waddling to get around because my ovaries were so huge and full of eggs. I was officially on ovary overload.

The nurses called and said that my hormone levels were so high that I would likely be triggering over the weekend. That meant I would need to get a giant intramuscular shot of HCG in my buttock. My mom and I combed over trusty YouTube and found a crazy Russian video of this very procedure. When the time came, I lay on her sofa, pulled down my pants, and let her jab me in the butt muscle with HCG.

The day of my egg retrieval surgery, I was being a wise-ass  It was the only way I could cope. They took me back to the cold OR and had me get onto the table. They strapped me down and put my legs up into stirrups.

“What is this, some kind of bondage movie?” I asked as the anesthesiologist shot me up with the good stuff. I never got to hear a response. I woke up and I felt as though someone had taken a baseball bat to my uterus. All I could think about was getting a vegan “ cheese steak.” The doctor walked past and gave me a double thumbs-up,

“Thirty-seven!” he exclaimed.

Thirty-four eggs survived the freezing. I was proud of myself. At least in some way, my body hadn’t failed me and I had a safety net for the future. One week later, I started chemotherapy. The roller-coaster had only just begun.

Lindsay Ruland is a 26-year-old survivor and a native of Baltimore, MD. She currently works as a histotechnician, and aspires to become an oncology nurse specializing in patient navigation and breast health education. It is her goal to raise awareness and to make resources and information more readily available for younger populations of women affected by breast cancer. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Lindsay, or follow her story on her blog: CANCERLAND

Natalia Valencia: From Bogota, Colombia to C4YW, Orlando

The C4YW Blog  is very excited to introduce Natalia Valencia as one of our newest writers. Natalia reached out to us to share the important impact that attending C4YW in Orlando (2011) had on her as a non-US resident.  Her strong voice is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent, and we are honored to know that C4YW has a growing reach to women affected by breast cancer. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

My Name is Natalia Valencia. I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer the day I turned 32 years old. Today I am 35. I feel fine and am now on tamoxifen and regular checkups, but the worst part, I feel, is over.  I live in Bogota, Colombia, South America. I am happily married, and live in a country house with my 4 cats and my dog. It is very beautiful down here.

Thanks to a travel grant I had the opportunity to participate in the 2011 C4YW that took place in Orlando. It was an experience that changed my perspective on a lot of issues, and that is why I wanted to tell you my story, so you can look at things from a different point of view. This post is probably going to sound like I am complaining, but I am not, I am thankful I am a survivor, I am grateful I am fine, and I never had any complications with my treatment. However, I do want to share the experience as a non US – resident.

Natalia ValenciaEven though medically I felt in the best hands, with great doctors, good nurses and hospitals and clinics, I have to tell you that when I arrived at the C4YW, it was such a shock to me that I (who only cried 2 times during my diagnosis, surgery and treatment) cried for like two hours. You see I constantly read how some of the survivors are “fed up” with October, or pink awareness, or words like struggle, fight, etc., but in my country, there is no talk about it, on a scale of 1 to 10 I would give it a 4. So when I got to the C4YW, there were support groups for women under 45, under 35, with kids, without them, depending on your ethnic group, on the type of breast cancer you had, on the stage, on everything, a support group for Sagittarians, a support group for left handed women (I´m not kidding…well I am, but it felt like they had them).  I felt so alone. I had already been through 17 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy with (I don’t know the term in English) but they took muscle from my back to cover the implants, and I was not able to take tamoxifen because I had reacted strangely to it. I was the only “young” one in the chemo rounds and apart from a friend which I never talk to, I didn’t know anything about the disease nor had any family member, or close friend who had suffered from any type of cancer, so I felt completely isolated.

The C4YW changed all of that. I gathered so much information, I am still rereading everything, there were talks about nutrition, tamoxifen, fear of recurrence, there was yoga, and a mountain if info, I still visit the websites, etc. When I came back from it, I decided I had been given too much to keep it to myself, so I found the NGO in which I am now a volunteer in, it is a great organization, and we do a lot of work, constantly developing new programs.

As for the C4YW, I keep in touch with some of the women I met there, and every piece of information coming from the conference I devour because there is not the same amount of info here. I just wanted to share with you, that it is better to be “overexposed” than not to have the same resources. I wish all of you Happy Holidays, and I hope next year will bring happiness and prosperity, and of course, health.

Natalia Valencia loveslife and learning,  She also wants to share that she loves her husband, cats, dog, family, friends, music, books, art, humor, ideas and the internet. Be sure to check back to the C4YW Blog for read more about her very specific viewpoint, as a young survivor from out of the country, and you can also check out her personal blog, here. You can find Natalia on Twitter at @natyblooming. 

Vallory Jones: Cancer, You’ve Got the Wrong Girl

As 2013 starts with new opportunities and adventures ahead, the C4YW Blog welcomes Vallory Jones as one of this year’s recurring writers. Be sure to  check back often, as Vallory offers us insight and experience about her diagnosis and life after celebrating her first Cancerversary.  Her strong voice is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent, and we are very excited that she will soon provide us with VLOG entries! (Video blog entries, to be exact!) Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

One evening, I emerged from my shower, ran both of my thumbs down the side of my body, and unknowingly landed on a suspicious lump.  It stopped me dead in my tracks. I sat down and inspected what felt like a BB—pressing it with my fingers and tracing around the hardened outline of its edges.

It was Friday evening, so waiting out the weekend to see my doctor seemed like agony.  By the time Monday rolled around, however, the urgency had faded.  I mean, what were the odds it was cancer, right?  Afterall, I don’t just work out.  I’m dedicated to fitness, and at age 40, I was in the best shape of my life.  I’d committed to a healthy lifestyle because I planned to live a long life, enjoying the adventurous and physically demanding activities I loved, well into my golden years.  No one around me expected me to get cancer, and most certainly not me.  While I wholeheartedly intended to get it checked out, with teaching, the gym, and my social activities, it landed at the bottom of my list.  I simply reminded myself, “I’m a fit, young woman.  I’ll do this when I have some time off.”

Prior to my lump, I either missed or dismissed the warning signs because I had no reason to suspect my body was fighting disease.  Yes, I had noticed my night owl curfew of around 1:00 am had inexplicably turned into I-can-barely-hold-my-eyes-open at 10:00 pm, but I chalked that up to the intensity of my weight training.  And yes, my clockwork periods now showed up whenever they felt like it, but even after detecting the lump, I never connected it.  I was a healthy, active, young woman—not a candidate for breast cancer.

Over a month later, after seeing another young woman, Giuliana Rancic, from E! Network, announce her diagnosis during Breast Cancer Awareness month, I finally made an appointment with my doctor.  When my physician felt the hardness, I could tell by her serious tone that this was not to be taken lightly.  The sense of urgency I felt during the first few moments of my discovery returned, and it saved my life.

She did not waste any time ordering a mammogram and ultrasound, and the following day I found myself in the imaging center.  The doctor reviewing my scans reassured me, “It doesn’t look alarming.  I believe it to be old debri.  I’m 99% sure it’s nothing to worry about, but since we can’t get a clear picture because of your dense breast tissue, we’ll biopsy it just to be safe.”

Waiting for those results was the longest weekend of my life.  The 99% the doctor spoke of echoed in my head, but by this time, I knew.  I don’t know how, but I just did.  Call it intuition.  Call it whatever you like.  I shared my suspicions with a few people, and after several of them told me that I had no possible way of already knowing this news, I dismissed myself as being silly.  With false confidence, I signed onto Facebook and posted, “The doctor says I will have my breast biopsy results in half an hour.”  I convinced myself, again, that it was nothing, and I fully expected to update that post later with, “False alarm, everyone!”  But just as I’d chalked it up to an overactive imagination, I got the call.

Vallory Jones“Vallory?”

“Oh, crap!” I thought.  My doctor was calling with the test results.

“Are you driving?”

My chest tightened.  I was actually backing out of my parking spot at work.  I put the brakes on and replied, “Not yet.”

“I’m afraid it’s not very good news.  You do have breast cancer.”

I don’t recall much else about that conversation other than thinking maybe I just didn’t hear her correctly. At the end of our call, I found myself asking, “So, wait, just to make sure I got this right, what you’re telling me is that I have cancer?”

“Yes,” she replied flatly.

As I sat in my car dumbfounded, I sobbed until my chest hurt.  The reality of what was ahead slapped me hard in the face that afternoon.  Thoughts raced through my head at warp speeds.  I just celebrated my 40th birthday.  I work out five times a week.  I do everything right!  Cancer, you’ve got the wrong girl!  It took me two days to wrestle with the news before I could go back on Facebook and tell everyone, but by that time, I’d formulated a game plan.  Yes, this might get me down—but not for long.  Goodbye cancer, and hello, Victorious Val!

I hope you’ll come back to the C4YW blog for the next part in my series.

Vallory is a breast cancer survivor, Zumba freak, and fitness fanatic.  She has taught middle school English for 19 years and enjoys mountain biking, singing, writing, and playing guitar.  She recently celebrated a milestone, her first Cancerversary. In fact, check out this charismatic and heartfelt video about celebrating this momentous day.

Sarita Jordan: C4YW, A Place Where I Am Not Alone

This post was originally featured on the LBBC Blog on February 9th, 2011. Here, LBBC volunteer Sarita Jordan shares how she found strength and purpose through C4YW, even through some extraordinary circumstances.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September of 2005. I was 36 years old. Breast cancer was an event in my life that I had no idea was coming. I didn’t have history in my family. I knew nothing about the disease. I was aware of monthly self-breast exams, but that’s about it. When I was first diagnosed, I was told “it probably isn’t breast cancer because of your age.” I am currently a 5-year breast cancer survivor, and counting…

After such an ordeal, it had become apparent that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping other women cope with a breast cancer diagnosis and all the unpleasant episodes that come along with it. When I was in treatment I looked for any and every kind of help because I didn’t really have a strong support system. I developed a relationship with the oncology social worker at my hospital. I later learned about Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) and the Conference For Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer (C4YW) — finally, a venue where I could express age-appropriate concerns. Because I was 36 at the time, this was great!

As a result of the effort to make it to my first conference in 2007, every year I look forward to this event and the source of help available to me. I will never forget the first conference that was held in Arlington,VA. I am a parent of 4 children, one of which I became pregnant with after breast cancer treatment.

C4yw, annual conference for young women affected by breast cancer, YSC, LBBC, orlando, florida

Pregnant, bald and excited, I drove in a snow storm because I was determined to be at this conference. The conference in Jacksonville, Fl., had a workshop about fertility issues that young women affected by breast cancer face. The wonderful speaker described her diagnosis at a young age and how she considered maximizing her chances of future pregnancy, knowing the risk breast cancer treatment had on the ability to conceive. Although my story was slightly different from hers, I was able to offer my experience, which was a sense of hope to some of the other women that were present in this particular workshop.

Attending C4YW keeps me up-to-date with the latest treatments, workplace protocol and rights, medical research, healthcare reform news, etc. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I look forward to meeting up with friends that I met from other states over the last 5 years since I’ve been attending the conference. More importantly, though, I look forward to volunteering and sharing my story, in the hopes that it would encourage someone else. Last but not least, the group photo! The photo is especially important to me because as we all gather — all races, creeds and colors — I am reminded that I am not alone.

Although there are some friends that I have lost to this disease, I don’t get discouraged. This too reminds me that life is precious and we have to just live, love and laugh. Tomorrow is not promised to anyone.

Thanks LBBC and YSC for such an event. This experience compares to no other.

This year’s Annual Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer (C4YW) is being held Friday, February 22 – Sunday, February 24, 2013 in Seattle.  If you, like Sarita, are looking for a network of women who share your similar concerns as a young women affected by breast cancer, C4YW may be a good place to start.

Welcome to the C4YW Blog!

Hello, and welcome to the new and improved C4YW blog! This is forum for discussion, exploration and discovery about what the Annual Conference for Young Women has meant to you during your diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. At C4YW, we like to emphasize the camaraderie and connection that attendees experience while also receiving the most up-to-date health and wellness information.

Here on the blog, we’d like to hear from YOU! Firsthand stories that come from the heart are what C4YW is all about. Also, we’ll be featuring entries from our 2013 presenter line up, so that women interested in attending can get a sneak-peek at the plethora of information available at this 3-day event.

While we line up the new entries to begin filling this space, please enjoy reading some of the C4YW-inspired entries that made their way on to the LBBC Blog.

Happy Blogging,

Rachel, your faithful “Blog Steward.”