Kick-Off Survivor Speaker Missy Bartel

Our 2021 Chicago 3-Day Virtual Kick-Off started Saturday morning, September 12th, with an inspiring morning session hosted on Zoom. The highlight was getting to hear Missy’s moving survivor story. If you missed it, here is Missy’s story, in her own words.

Hi. I’m Missy Bartel.

My first exposure to breast cancer was when my paternal grandmother died from it in 1985. That was the first time someone in my family had cancer. Back then it felt like a diagnosis was a death sentence.

I had heard of people I knew getting a diagnosis of breast cancer, but it wasn’t until 2012 when one of my dearest friends was diagnosed that it hit close to home again. Maureen was in her late 50’s, in great health. She had “spider web” tumors throughout both breasts and opted for a bilateral mastectomy. She did radiation after that and after a while, she breathed a sigh of relief.

I was diagnosed in October of 2017. I had missed my annual mammogram that year because life was just really busy. I almost put it off until January, but decided I needed to take my health in hand and be proactive. When I checked in, the receptionist told me that their office was now also doing 3-D mammograms. I could do that or do the 2-D. My insurance wouldn’t cover the 3-D, so I opted to stick with the 2-D pictures. I was on the way to the airport for a trip to Boston with my stepmother when I got a call for a follow up. I was convinced that because I didn’t do the 3-D option, they were calling me back to get more money…

Imagine my surprise when I went back and was told there were two spots that the radiologist was concerned about, one on each breast and that they would be doing the 3-D pictures for free to get a better look. So much for the “out for the money” theory. The spot on the right breast was dismissed, but the one on the left was concerning. They wanted to do an ultrasound. “Please come right this way and we’ll do it now” they said. This is where I started panicking. Breathe! Breathe! The results of the ultrasound were given to me right away by the radiologist herself. There was definitely something there, and they wanted to do a biopsy. How about this Thursday?

I balked. I had just been away from my office for a week. I couldn’t take more time off. I planned to do it the following week. The biggest lesson I learned from this is NEVER do a biopsy on a Thursday. The weekend becomes the LONGEST of your life, waiting for the results. And the results came in as positive for a “malignant neoplasm, estrogen receptor >95% positive” in the left breast. Estimate Stage 1.

I was blessed to have the most compassionate, caring and detail-oriented surgeon a woman could hope for. Dr. Kaufman shared that it takes approximately 84 days for a tumor to move from one stage to the next. I was so glad I hadn’t waited until January to do the mammogram. My surgery was on December 6. He was confident he got it all and only had to take one lymph node. I was at Stage 2A.

Treatment from there was radiation for 20 sessions. Except I had an infection in the lymph node site removal, so things got bumped. I ended up finishing radiation in the first week of March 2018. And started that long road of recovery. “Keep working” the doctors said, to help with the fatigue. I was so surprised at how tired I really was.

It’s amazing how many women came forward to share their stories with me. What really struck me was just how many women have dealt with breast cancer. And how everyone’s stories, while similar, are as unique and individual as we are as people. That’s something else I learned on this journey. No two paths are going to be the same. I really wish people hadn’t told me “Oh, I just did radiation too. You won’t have any problems.” I almost felt like a failure because of how long my body was taking to get back to my “new normal”. Sara, a mentor from my church who also went through breast cancer about nine months before me shared “I wake up every day and feel more energized than I did before. I just didn’t realize how tired I was the day before”. That helped me get through!

I was surprised about how I handled things mentally too. I was in fight mode from diagnosis to the end of treatment and then just floated. In July that year, I went to the Relay for Life, something I have strongly supported as a walker in the past. I was there as a survivor this year. I walked three laps and had to go home. It was time to deal with the fact that I had just survived cancer.

My friend Maureen was awesome as well. She let me cry, shake my fists at the fates and coordinated tea dates when I needed to get away from it all. She shared some of the new information about treatments and helped me work out questions for the doctors. It was quite a shock when in January 2019, I got a call from Maureen. She shared that she’d had a pain in her hip for a few months that wasn’t going away. She finally went to the doctor and they sent her for a scan. She had stage IV metastatic breast cancer that had spread to her bones. They were estimating six months to a year for her to live.

Many thoughts crossed my mind. Horror for what my friend was going through. Despair for what her daughter was going through. Empathy for how I could help the suffering of both of them. And way down deep, a huge bucket of fear, because how do I know this isn’t going to be my story in five years?

Maureen passed away just two very short months later. That was when I got serious about being a survivor. I had heard about the Susan G. Komen 3-Day, but really started researching it. And was so impressed with how much they have done in the fight to stop breast cancer. I decided then that I was going to do the 2020 walk. I invited Maureen’s daughter to walk with me. And I opted for Boston because I have family in New York and they could walk with me. Now, with COVID, we had to change our plans and opted to do Chicago in 2021.

We’re looking forward to welcoming you to Chicago in 2021, Missy!

To hear more inspiring stories like this, you have two more chances by attending our kick-off activities. Our next virtual kick-off is on November 7th. RSVP today.

Fundraising Challenge Winner Charmaine Graham

As part of the 2021 Chicago 3-Day Virtual Kick-Off, we held a fundraising challenge during the week leading up to the Kick-Off, September 7-11. The 3-Dayer who raised the most money during the challenge period won an amazing 3-Day branded prize – a Birdie Box with headphones, a water bottle and a Bluetooth speaker. The winner was Charmaine Graham, who raised $3,730 in just those five days!

We wanted to know how she did it and pass her advice and experience on to other 3-Day participants. So we asked her a few questions.

What techniques did you use to raise $3,730 in just five days?
I sent personal text messages to my loved ones asking to support me as a 6-year survivor to help end breast cancer. I was shocked that I raised $2,400 in one day!

What are your top three fundraising tips for other 3-Day participants?
1: Send personal messages to your friends and loved ones.
2: Make use of social media.
3: Have a garage sale/bake sale!

What is your history with the 3-Day?
I walked in Seattle twice and in San Diego one time. My first walk was in Seattle where I live and found my new pink family for life. My experience has only been positive surrounded by people who have the same passion for finding a cure.

Why do you walk?
I walk because I want to find a cure for breast cancer and I love my Pink Bubble family, making new friends and hearing about their stories and their journeys!

In October, I will celebrate six years as a breast cancer survivor! I am blessed with good health and want the same for everyone diagnosed with breast cancer.

Thank you for sharing your fundraising tactics with us, Charmaine! Just like the winner of the New England 3-Day Kick-Off fundraising challenge, Christine, Charmaine found that the secret of fundraising success comes down to the basics – you just need to ask. Don’t decide for other people that their answer will be no before you ever ask the question. Ask everyone – far and wide – and give them the opportunity to say “yes.” Both Charmaine and Christine are a great example for us all!

Kick-Off Survivor Speaker Lisa Weier

We had such an amazing time with our 3-Day family at the 2021 Chicago 3-Day Virtual Kick-Off on September 12th. One big reason was getting to hear from a couple of our inspiring 3-Day walkers. Lisa Weier spoke at our evening celebration gathering and really moved us with her story. If you didn’t get a chance to hear her speak, here is her story, in her own words.

I’ve been a supporter of Susan G. Komen for years and became even more involved when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 at the age of 57.

My mom was living in Las Vegas when she was diagnosed, but because of my deep respect and admiration for the medical community here in Chicago, I insisted that she come here for a second opinion. The doctors at UChicago confirmed her diagnosis and scheduled her mastectomy. I took it upon myself to coordinate her care and she stayed with me before and after her surgery.

After recovering from her surgery, my mom went back to Las Vegas for her chemo treatments. During that time, even though I wasn’t physically with her, I learned so much about breast cancer: how chemo is supposed to work, side effects of medication, and terms I never really wanted to know like neutropenic. As a testament to her determination, my mom finished her last chemo treatment on a Thursday, got on a plane on Friday, and that Saturday attended a black tie event that I had been working on for the American Cancer Society. We went together to my stylist beforehand to get all glammed up. I got my hair done; she got eyelashes put on and eyebrows penciled in. My mom looked stunning that evening and we had wonderful time.

After that, we planned to walk in the San Diego 3-Day in November 2008, to celebrate her 2-year survivor anniversary. Since there wasn’t a 3-Day in Chicago that year, nor one in Las Vegas, we figured that we’d go to San Diego for the big 3-Day finale with the beautiful weather and stunning scenery. We completed our fundraising goals, created t-shirts and coordinated our gear. We were excited!

That June 2008, my dad suffered from a ruptured brain aneurysm leaving him comatose. Nine days later, we took him off life support and he passed away. He was the rock of our family and my mom and I were devastated.

As anyone who’s lost someone they love can tell you, grief is profoundly exhausting. My mom and I weren’t sure if we would have the energy to actually walk 60 miles that November in the 3-Day. But we decided that my dad would want us to walk and so we did.

Since my mom was incredibly creative, she could sew, knit, crochet, pretty much do anything (I luckily inherited a small portion of talent), we decided that we needed to make it our goal to win the tent decorating contest at the 3-Day. We asked friends to give us names of people they knew who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and we put them on ribbons which encircled our tent. We used small twinkling lights, glow in the dark stars and pink carnations (my mom’s favorite). We won! That ribbon is one of my most treasured possessions because of everything that went into it.

The time we spent time together on the 3-Day was incredible, but I had no idea just how important those memories would become until 2 months later when my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This meant that while she had easily and happily walked 60 miles, her body was betraying her the entire time. For those of you who have been diagnosed when you feel completely fine, it is unnerving to know that your body is doing something unbeknownst to you and completely out of your control.

I was sitting by her bedside one night at my home where I was caring for her, when I told her that one day I thought I’d start a foundation and do something “more,” whatever that was. And she looked at me, and said, “I’ll be right there watching over you when you do.” That was the first time she even hinted that she knew it was her time to go. Then I asked her if she would do me a favor: “When you see dad, can you give him a hug for me?” Her eyes became really bright blue and she had this great big smile and nodded and said “Of course.”

Just six months after our 3-Day adventure and only 11 months after having lost my dad, I lost her, too.

I am eternally grateful for the time we spent together and all that she taught me about being brave and strong (as an aside, I personally hate that word “strong” because it just means you’ve just been through a bunch of crap that nobody would want to go through).

That next June, just after a year from losing my mom, when I was going through a divorce, working and raising my two boys who were 6 and 3, I was downtown at Northwestern for my mammogram. I was 37.

I discovered it is never a good sign when everyone in a doctor’s office, including those who arrived long after you did, go home and you are still there reading some “Us” magazine from 1988 waiting for someone to talk to you about your test results. So, I wasn’t surprised when the radiologist called me back to show me my images and said that it looked like I had breast cancer. I just sat there while the nurse who was seated next to me waited for me to fall apart. But you see, I didn’t. That’s how I knew my Mom was right there with me. And because I had been through her journey, I knew what was coming and just said, “Ok, what’s next?”

Two months later I had my mastectomy at Northwestern. And not only was my mom there with me that day too, but I had a waiting room full of beautiful friends who were, and still are, my biggest cheerleaders and advocates. My surgeon said that he felt like he was addressing a crowd when he came out to report on how things went. Like many of you, I often have a hard time accepting help because, of course, I can do everything myself. Except that I can’t and we aren’t meant to. Learning to accept help, love and support from those amazing friends is the gift breast cancer gave me. And I’m beyond grateful.

Three weeks ago, on August 23, I celebrated my 10-year survivor anniversary!

I decided last year that to celebrate this milestone I’d have a big party, check a few things off my bucket list and walk in the 3-Day since it was back in Chicago. Perfect! I wanted to walk in memory of my mom, in honor of a dear friend of mine who is also a survivor and in joy for all the blessings in my life. My friends were planning to have a cheering station and I was planning to collect stickers and buttons on my lanyard that those of you that have walked in the 3-Day know are small tokens of encouragement that you pick up along the journey.

But as we all know and have certainly been reminded of this year, life is uncertain and unpredictable. So instead of any of those things, I spent my 10-year anniversary going to brunch and watching a movie with my boys. Now that might not seem like such a big accomplishment. But my boys are now 13 and 16 and for those of you with teenage boys, you know how “easy” it is to convince them to spend time hanging out with their mom. The day was uneventful and quiet and ordinary which made it extraordinary and the perfect celebration.

I’m looking forward to celebrating my 11-year anniversary by walking in Chicago’s 3-Day next year and hope to see all of you there!

We thank Lisa for being so brave and sharing the story of her emotional family journey at the Chicago kick-off and again here for you all to read. We can’t wait to welcome you to the 2021 Chicago 3-Day next October!

To hear more inspiring stories like this, you have two more chances by attending our kick-off activities. Our next virtual kick-off is on November 7th. RSVP today.