Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) recently held its Annual Fall Conference in Philadelphia. Thanks to a travel grant from event sponsors, I was able to attend the conference themed “Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences.” I was also asked to share my own experience on a Triple Negative Breast Cancer discussion panel.
The thing I enjoy most about attending breast cancer conferences is the opportunity to connect with others who share the experience of coping with the disease. This year’s LBBC Fall Conference was certainly no different. However, as I near my 4-year canceversary, I felt very different.
I attended my very first breast cancer conference (C4YW) as a 9-month survivor still undergoing reconstruction. I remember that conference being the first time I connected with other survivors like myself. I remember being surrounded by nearly 1,000 survivor sisters who understood what it was like to fight breast cancer. When they shared their experiences, I felt like they were living my life. I remember seeking out those 5+ year survivors. I wanted dearly to know they existed. I wanted proof that there was life after breast cancer. At that conference, I found hope.
Since that conference, I have attended several others and have made many lifelong connections along the way. So when I arrived in Philadelphia for the weekend, I found many familiar faces in the crowd. For some of us, we picked up right where we left off. For others, we were finally able to put a real face and a real hug to a Twitter handle or Instagram avatar. And for many others, we formed a new unbreakable bond.
As I sat on the TNBC discussion panel and looked around the room, I saw so many faces. Some scared, some filled with worry but also many smiles. As the panelists openly discussed our individual experiences with breast cancer, we drew many comments, questions and thanks from the crowd. It was on that panel that I realized what was different this time. I was now sitting where so many of these women battling this disease aspire to be — on the other side of treatment.
Coming up on my 4-year mark, I was proof that there is life after breast cancer. At this conference, I was hope.
To watch some of the recorded conference sessions, visit LBBC’s YouTube channel.
Earlier this year, I was invited to share my story as part of a collection of breast cancer survivor stories for a book. Each contributor was asked to include a quote along with their story. Here is an excerpt from my submission:
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Nelson Mandela
Courage is a word that often gets thrown around when you mention breast cancer. It may seem ironic for those newly diagnosed because we often feel scared and anything but brave. However, it takes an immense amount of courage to face a fear of the unknown.
Through breast cancer, I learned that courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes, simply living, holding onto faith and doing what we may be afraid to do takes courage. Fighting breast cancer often means doing whatever it takes to overcome the disease. Although we may not always feel strong, we face the pain, grief and loss associated with breast cancer head on. That, my friend, is courage.
Faces of Inspiration is a collection of breast cancer stories shared from the hearts of the newly diagnosed, survivors and caregivers. This books speaks to the breast care community in a unique way – one that seeks to not only inspire, but to offer hope from a place of realness and sincerity. The stories shared in this book are transparent and convey the importance and power of inspirational words from one heart to another. Order online.
Maya Angelou was such an inspirational, phenomenal woman. May she rest in peace. And we always remember her wise words.
Moments before being honored with the Courage Award at the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation Peace, Love & A Cure 2014 gala, I watched as the following video commemorated the theme of the night, Hope Grows Here.
As I heard my own words and saw my daughter’s face on screen, I couldn’t help but fight back tears. I wasn’t immediately sure how I could possibly share my story of hope with dry eyes. But I got myself together and did. After all, I was receiving the Courage Award!
While I shared insight into my battle against triple negative breast cancer while pregnant, I looked around to see that there weren’t many dry eyes in the audience. Like mine, they were tears of joy. I was there to give hope to others, just as I had drawn hope through my journey from fellow survivors, many of whom I connected with through the Foundation’s online forum and social media networks.
Pictured: Milli Rodriguez (left) and Roxanne Martinez (right) at Peace, Love & A Cure.
It was truly a blessing to be among this year’s Peace, Love & A Cure honorees, along with Celgene Corporation and Dr. Tiffany Traina of Memorial Sloan‑Kettering Cancer Center, and to share this special evening with friends, TNBC supporters and survivors.
Thank you to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation and its supporters for raising awareness, funding research in pursuit of a targeted treatment for this disease and for supporting patients and families affected by triple negative breast cancer. The organization’s endless efforts to find a cure gives hope to so many, including myself. To learn more, visit www.tnbcfoundation.org.