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.

“Dear Cancer, you lose…”: Meet Survivor and First-Time 3-Dayer, Sylvia G.

If I had to write a letter to cancer it would read, “Dear Cancer, you lose…”

Sylvia just finished five and a half weeks of radiation after being diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her 40th birthday. Though she initially was shocked and numbed by her diagnosis, she gathered her family and friends around her and got “gangsta with cancer” by refusing to let it stop her from living her life and celebrating every minute of it.

Now, after finishing her radiation, she says, “I am feeling strong and just getting settled into my new normal. The silver lining throughout this process has been to just really LIVE because you never know! And of course, if you’re busy living, you have less time to worry about the small (or big) stuff.”

She is on the other side of one part of her breast cancer journey, but that doesn’t mean the journey is over. After her diagnosis, Sylvia did research into all of the work that Susan G. Komen does to support survivors and those living with breast cancer. This, in turn, led her to the 3-Day. She signed up immediately for the New England 3-Day and will be driving in from her hometown of Pelham, New York to walk in her first-ever 3-Day at our New England 3-Day in September. She’s already fundraised more than $3,500 and is continuing to spread the word about the 3-Day and breast health. To say that breast cancer hasn’t slowed her down is an understatement! But don’t take it from us! Sylvia is here to share her story in her own words…

Tell us your breast cancer story…

I had just turned 40 when my world was turned upside down. I received a call I never expected.

“You have breast cancer.”

And just like that I was numb. The music stopped, and the party was over.

While still in shock, my family immediately took me to my mom’s breast surgeon. She had just finished treatment for stage 1 breast cancer the year before and was a total champion throughout it all, I might add. I was able to get positive preliminary information specific to my breast cancer which helped me start to feel the ground a bit.

We decided to go for several other opinions with breast surgeons and reconstruction surgeons. After choosing the team I felt most comfortable with, we opted for the nipple sparing double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery. My diagnosis after surgery ended up being stage 2 breast cancer that had spread to one lymph node. I learned that I would have to have four rounds of chemo plus radiation.

In the days leading up to my first round of chemo, I kept reflecting on how blessed I am to live in a time of so many medical breakthroughs as well as options for treatment of breast cancer. This is when I realized that I needed to be part of helping to continue these advancements and fight to end breast cancer.

And how did this journey lead you to the 3-Day?

I had read online about Susan G. Komen and how much they have done for research, education, screening and treatment. I knew I had found the right match for my mission to bring us closer to a cure so that so many other people, including my children, will not have to suffer through this. I was gearing up to get gangsta with cancer!

And you have! You’ve been very successful with your fundraising efforts!

I immediately started my fundraising by following all the tips on the 3-Day website. Posting on Facebook, personally emailing all my family and friends, remembering to always send thank you emails as well as follow up emails and telling people about corporate matching gifts. At the end of the day, I really am so blessed to have generous and caring people in my life, some of who also have been impacted by this disease, and I am forever grateful for their support.

Though I have had success in fundraising there does come a point that you have to get creative to be able to keep getting donations outside of just family and friends. One way is to go through all your contacts and see who has a business or works for a company that can partner up with you to create a fundraiser. This in turn allows you to use their resources and reach a larger audience to support your cause.

So far, I am very proud of how much I’ve been able to raise, and I am really looking forward to meeting other survivors, hearing their stories of fearlessness, as well as bonding with my team. I can only imagine that feeling of accomplishment after finishing the 3-Day walk!

What are some of your other 3-Day goals?

I want to reach as many people as possible and remind them of the importance of getting regular mammograms because early detection of breast cancer can make the disease easier to treat. I will also continue to stay focused on my health and positivity so that I can be my best self.

I still have a long way to go but since becoming a survivor I don’t think I can ever justify sweating the small stuff.

I have been dealt a couple bad hands but at the end I plan on winning the game!

Coach Heather’s Mom is One in a Million. She’s Also One in Eight.

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As we approach Mother’s Day, we have a special guest post from Coach Heather, sharing her own family’s breast cancer story. This year, her mom will be celebrating Mother’s Day for the first time as a breast cancer survivor, and Coach Heather is sharing their journey together to remind us all the ways breast cancer can affect any one of us. We all think our moms are one in a million, but when they also become 1 in 8, everything changes.

 

Truly, never did I think that the 1 in 8 would be my mom. There has been zero history of breast cancer in our family. But sure enough, on the afternoon of February 18, 2019, she received the call with me by her side. I didn’t even have to ask…because I already knew. I could tell by the expression on her face. She had breast cancer.

The call came five days after her annual mammogram. In those five days she had two mammograms, an ultrasound, and a biopsy. They weren’t messing around…bam, bam, bam. This was all taking place in the hospital where she spent 37 years of her career and she had her “people” all around her.

Even after the call, we were in shock. Wait, what? Breast cancer? She had had no symptoms, no lumps, nothing that would ever concern her or lead her to believe she was at risk. She immediately started looking to blame this on something that she had done. Maybe she drank too much wine, maybe she consumed too much caffeine. She needed an explanation.

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Now, after some of the dust has settled, she is far more educated and realized that regardless of whether there were symptoms or not, she WAS at risk merely because she was aging, and because she was a woman. Sometimes, there is no explanation or logic.

The day after she heard her diagnosis, she left for a scheduled vacation. While I had the opportunity for the news to sink in and the chance to be angry, sad, and feel the roller coaster of emotions, she had to remain calm and cool because she didn’t want to put a damper on the vacation for those she was with. At least until she came home.

One week later we had a 3-hour appointment at the Cancer Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Macomb. We were so nervous, knowing that once this train left the station, it was rolling and there was no going back to life “before cancer.”

So, like we do in most situations, we walked through those doors optimistic, joking, and ready to tackle whatever came next. We met a wonderful surgeon who really laid it all out there. My mom had invasive ductile carcinoma, Stage 1, with a tumor smaller than a pea. A lumpectomy was discussed and the treatment plan that the surgeon, oncologist, and radiation oncologist laid out was far better than we originally thought.  The surgeon said “We caught this early. You are not going to die from breast cancer!”

Cue the BIG sigh of relief! But Mom still had so much ahead of her.

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The next week we walked back into Henry Ford for what Mom kept calling “three procedures.” We arrived at 8:30am for her 12:30pm lumpectomy. Prior to the actual lumpectomy, she had wires inserted to act as a roadmap for the surgeon, took a quick trip to nuclear medicine where she had dye injected into her nipple to further direct the surgeon to the location of the tumor, and then finally went into surgery. It went as well as it could go, and we were on our way back home by 3pm.  Mom felt great by 5:00pm, ready to eat Chinese food, and only needed two Aleve per day for the next few days. She was very lucky, and we knew that.

Outside of the breast cancer diagnosis, things have gone as well as they can for someone dealing with this life changing news and journey. About a week after the lumpectomy, Mom’s biopsy results came back with clean margins and no trace in the lymph nodes. Great news! Oncology testing results showed that chemo would not be necessary. So, a month of radiation and then five years of medication would be coming next.

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My mom is all about positivity but still knows that her life will never be the same. The days of reading breast cancer books, really “hearing” commercials related to breast cancer, checking labels for soy, and frowning on the red wine she used to love, are the new normal now. She doesn’t want to do anything to contribute to the development of another estrogen-induced tumor.

To say she is and was scared is an understatement. But much good has come of this as well. She is far more concerned about taking care of herself in regards what she consumes, her exercise regimen, and health in general from this point forward. She is also determined to share her story in hopes that her friends will understand the risks, re-evaluate their daily behavior, and (most importantly!) get their annual mammogram. As we always hear, and as Mom has learned, early detection is key.

I am part of a group of 9 women who have been friends since high school and in recent years, as we rapidly approach 50, I often wondered who would be the 1 in 8 to get breast cancer. Knowing the statistic that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, I was prepared that surely it would be at least 1 of us. I just never thought it would be my mom. But breast cancer can affect any and all of us. Now she’s not just one in a million. She’s also 1 in 8, and she is never going to quit.