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SDN Spotlight

SDN Spotlight: The Battle We Didn’t Choose eBook

September 16, 2013 by SDN Spotlight

Interviews and Questions from Scarves Dot Net

Interview with Breast Cancer Survivors

As many of you may know, over the past year the SDN gals have been working with bloggers, photographers, leaders, survivors, and patients in the cancer community to share their inspiring and heartfelt stories in our SDN Spotlight series.

Today we are proud to share that our friend and SDN Spotlight blogger, Angelo Merendino, has recently released a photo documentary book that powerfully details his wife’s battle with breast cancer.

My Wife's Fight With Breast Cancer photography

Available as an iTunes eBook and a downloadable PDF on Angelo’s website, The Battle We Didn’t Choose: My Wife’s Fight with Breast Cancer is a beautiful and moving tribute to his wife, Jennifer. We hope you will all take the time to check it out!

50% of the proceeds from The Battle We Didn’t Choose will be donated to The Love You Share, a nonprofit Angelo started in memory of his wife. The Love You Share looks to ease the everyday burdens of cancer patients by providing them with gift cards to local grocery services and transportation to doctors appointments.

You can also learn more about Angelo and Jennifer’s story by reading our interview with Angelo and by visiting his blog.

Knots for Hope Charity Drive

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July 3, 2013 by SDN Spotlight

Knots for Hope

Serving the cancer community is a cause very near and dear to our hearts, here at Scarves Dot Net. Less than one year ago, our team announced the launch of Knots for Hope, a resource designed to instill hope in those affected by cancer. We have been both blessed and honored to receive positive feedback from customers and families who have stumbled onto our site and felt inspired.

Still, we want to do more for those who are battling cancer — a community that inspires us all. That’s why we are more than thrilled to launch the Knots for Hope Charity Drive this week. Through this new initiative, we’ll team with customers to donate head scarves to patients in need at The Cheer Guild of Riley Hospital for Children. Our goal is to donate at least 150 scarves — but we’re confident you can help us do even better!

cheer guild

So, how can you help? Partner with us to donate the Mya Scarf. Just look for “Knots for Hope” during the checkout process and, with a gift of $3.25, you will help us purchase the Mya to donate. But don’t stop there — help spread the word about this charity drive.

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Of course, even if you can’t help financially, we’d still love for you to be involved with Knots for Hope by sharing this resource where you can, watching step-by-step scarf tying tutorials, meeting bloggers affected by cancer, and much more! Read our stories, join our conversation, and start knotting for hope.

Louanne Roark from Look Good Feel Better

May 16, 2013 by Guest Blogger, SDN Spotlight

Interviews and Questions from Scarves Dot Net

Interview with Breast Cancer Survivors

Whether it’s heartfelt anecdotes or inspiring triumphs, the Scarves Dot Net gals love to share stories — especially when they’re incredibly touching. That’s why we’re starting a new series called SDN Spotlight. From influential bloggers to community leaders, we’ve scoured the blogosphere for the most inspiring men and women. So far, we’ve had the opportunity to hear from eight incredible individuals about how cancer has affected their lives.

Today, we’re honored to bring you our interview with Louanne Roark. Louanne is the executive director of the Personal Care Products Council Foundation, a position she has held since 2005. The Personal Care Products Council Foundation originated the Look Good Feel Better program in 1988, when the first pilot programs were offered at Georgetown Lombardi Cancer Center in Washington, DC, and at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Louanne lives in Alexandria, VA.

Look Good Feel Better logo

SDN: Please briefly describe the Personal Care Products Council Foundation and its journey to starting the “Look Good Feel Better” program.

Louanne: The Personal Care Products Council Foundation is the charitable arm of the Personal Care Products industry. The PCPF has a long history of supporting women and women’s health topics.The story of Look Good Feel Better is one of both opportunity and hope. In 1987, a doctor was caring for a woman with cancer who was struggling to come to grips with the changes in her appearance due to her treatment. The doctor contacted a friend who happened to be in the cosmetics industry to ask whether they would be willing to provide her with a bedside consultation on using makeup and other products to help make her feel like herself again. Immediately following that consultation the doctor noticed a remarkable change in his patient — from her outlook, her confidence, and her desire to beat her diagnosis.

From that one encounter, Look Good Feel Better was born. Soon, the Personal Care Products Council Foundation, the American Cancer Society, and the Professional Beauty Association began collaborating to develop the program that we have today and that reaches millions of women around the world with the same promise — to help them once again feel normal in a life that is by no means normal.

SDN: How and/or why did you get involved with the Personal Care Products Council Foundation?

Louanne: I was working for the Council’s meetings/events department at the time and got involved with Look Good Feel Better in 1990 after watching with interest as the program was developed. My grandmother died from colon cancer, so I had the personal experience of watching her struggle with her disease. I wanted to do something to help other women find ways to cope with and manage their disease and the challenges of treatment. Look Good Feel Better presented the perfect opportunity to do that.

Beauty Editors Day

Louanne (second from right) on Beauty Editors Day at Saks Fifth Avenue

SDN: The LGFB mission is to improve self-esteem for women undergoing cancer treatments and to improve self-image through beauty sessions. We understand that a typical session includes tips about makeup, hair, nail care, and styling. Can you discuss, for our readers, how this creates a sense of support, confidence, courage, and community?

Louanne: Our national research among women with cancer and those who are cancer-free demonstrates that for the vast majority of women, how they look has a direct impact on how they feel. When a woman begins cancer treatment she often faces a cascade of dramatic appearance-related side-effects — from changes in her skin and nails, to weight loss or gain, to the loss of hair, including her eyelashes and eyebrows. Those changes leave women feeling isolated from family, friends, and colleagues, and have a negative impact on personal relationships.

Bringing women together in a safe, trusting atmosphere is an important demonstration to these women that they are not alone, and that they can overcome the appearance-related side effects of treatment. Our workshops impart a lot of great information and advice on the practical application of makeup, wigs, and turbans, plus clothing styling tips to mitigate the changes in outward appearance due to treatment. What’s more, the women around the table have the opportunity to share their own experiences — to talk, to laugh, to vent, to connect, and ultimately to bond with one another.

SDN: What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant to attend an event?

Louanne: I would tell them that they are not alone. The vast majority of our workshop participants are hesitant to attend at first. But once they’ve experienced LGFB, almost 100% say they would recommend the program to a friend or family member undergoing cancer treatment. We try hard to create a trusting atmosphere for our participants. No one is ever asked or required to share anything about their experience unless they choose to. It is all about giving women the tips, tools, and control to find themselves in the mirror again.

Look Good Feel Better workshop

Look Good Feel Better workshop

SDN: Drawing on your experiences with LGFB, are there any assumptions or misconceptions about cancer that you would like to shed some light on?

Louanne: Cancer takes a lot of things, both physically and mentally. But it doesn’t change who a woman (or man) is at their core. It may shake their confidence and rattle their self-esteem, but the power of the human spirit is an amazing thing. For the most part, people with cancer want to be treated like they were before their diagnosis. But due to the changes in their appearance, others often can’t help but affix the “cancer patient” label to them. It becomes a battle between what these people feel inside and what they look like on the outside. So, my message would be that: Yes, cancer changes you in both obvious and subtle ways — but you can still be yourself and feel like yourself by creating normalcy in your life. Spend time with your loved ones, keep going to that yoga class, talk to your friends, and continue to do as many of the things you have always done and enjoyed as possible. Be kind to yourself, and address and control the things you can so that you can focus your energy and endurance to overcome your cancer.

SDN: LGFB has some amazing corporate partnerships. Can you share a few opportunities that allow consumers to get involved and help raise funds for LGFB?

Louanne: We have a number of terrific corporate supporters that raise funds and make it possible for Look Good Feel Better to help 50,000 women each year. These supporters help us reach women with cancer, their family, friends, and medical professionals, and provide education about what they can do to help themselves or others who may be facing a cancer diagnosis. There are over 20 companies who partner with us each year, and each of them offers unique opportunities to get involved. The best way to see the full scope of support is to visit our web site at www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org and check out our corporate partners and supporters on the site.

SDN: Which head knot and/or other knot would you recommend for women to look good and feel better in? Why?

Louanne: In addition to wigs, there are many terrific, stylish alternatives for addressing hair loss during cancer treatment. Each woman’s sense of style, comfort, and creativity is different, so I encourage experimentation with the many available options to find the ones that she loves and are right for her lifestyle, time availability, energy level, and other important factors in her life. It’s an opportunity to have fun and try something new!

A special thanks to Louanne for taking the time to tell us more about this incredible foundation!

For more information on the Personal Care Products Council Foundation and Look Good Feel Better you can visit their website, connect on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

Image sources: lookgoodfeelbetter.org, wellbeingofwomen.org.uk, zimbio.com

Dr. Kathleen Ruddy from the Breast Health & Healing Foundation

April 25, 2013 by Guest Blogger, SDN Spotlight

Interviews and Questions from Scarves Dot Net

Interview with Breast Cancer Survivors

Whether it’s heartfelt anecdotes or inspiring triumphs, the Scarves Dot Net gals love to share stories — especially when they’re incredibly touching. That’s why we’re starting a new series called SDN Spotlight. From influential bloggers to community leaders, we’ve scoured the blogosphere for the most inspiring men and women. So far, we’ve had the opportunity to hear from seven incredible individuals about how cancer has affected their lives.

Today we’re excited to bring you our interview with Dr. Kathleen Ruddy. Dr. Ruddy is a breast surgeon, trained at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In 2008, she completed the first International Masters for Health Leadership at McGill University and then created the first and only breast cancer foundation (the Breast Health & Healing Foundation) whose mission is to discover the specific causes of breast cancer and use that knowledge to prevent the disease — what she calls the Pure Cure. She is particularly interested in the breast cancer virus and the world’s first preventive breast cancer vaccine, which was developed at the Cleveland Clinic in 2010.

Dr. Ruddy’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1974 and is still alive and cancer-free today. She shares about her experiences with breast cancer as a surgeon and as the daughter of a survivor on her blog.

Dr. Kathleen Ruddy and her mom

Dr. Ruddy and her mom (in pink)

SDN: Your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer years ago.  Could you tell us a little bit more about her, her battle, and her recovery?

Dr. Ruddy: My mother found a lump in her breast and had a biopsy that was read as a frozen section. She was told everything was fine. But then a few days later, the doctor called to say that on permanent sections the lump was really cancer. She had a mastectomy, radiation therapy, and then she had her ovaries removed. This all happened before breast cancer was something people were aware of. It was pretty scary for her and for the family, but she recovered and has been cancer-free ever since.

SDN: Coming from a medical perspective, what is the most crucial piece of information that the public should know about cancer?

Dr. Ruddy: I think there are a few things people need to know that they probably don’t. There is converging and compelling evidence accumulating that a virus (human mammary tumor virus) is responsible for 40-75% of breast cancer. Very little research money is spent supporting this research, and that’s a shame.

I think most people don’t know about the world’s first preventive breast cancer vaccine. It is 100% effective in preventing breast cancer in three animal models and is ready for safety testing in women. Money is needed to support this research, too. I hope we can move it along quickly.

SDN: You are the founder and president of the Breast Health & Healing Foundation. Can you explain why you started the foundation and share any accomplishments so far?

Dr. Ruddy: When I discovered that the major breast cancer foundations were not pursuing the causes of breast cancer or primary prevention of the disease, I felt I had to create one that would fill this great, unmet need.

In 2010, I created an iPhone app, Breast Health GPS, which was the #1 breast cancer app in the iTunes store for 18 months after its release. I also created a documentary film about the virus, It’s Time To Answer The Question, which was named Best Film of the Year 2010 by Rethink Breast Cancer. I’ve hosted two Breast Cancer Summits on Capitol Hill about the virus and the vaccine and will be hosting a third this month in New York City.

I launched an app for the iPad, Breast Cancer 411, that brings all the latest breast cancer news to users, and I launched an app for all smart phones, Lobby Me Pink, that allows users to send emails directly to their Congressmen on Capitol Hill.  All of my apps are free, and they are all dedicated to empowering women, giving them good information, and teaching them about how they can reduce their risk for breast cancer.

In 2011, I was invited by the University of Michigan Global Health Network to address their conference in Cairo about breast cancer in Africa and the Middle East. I spoke about the virus and the vaccine, and I think I generated good interest in the prevention of breast cancer in countries that cannot afford a race for the cure.

Dr. Kathleen Ruddy and Gloria Gaynor

Dr. Ruddy with Gloria Gaynor

SDN: The Breast Health & Healing Foundation focuses on breast cancer prevention rather than on “a race towards a cure.” Why do you think it is imperative to shift the focus towards prevention?

Dr. Ruddy: Scientists are certain that at least 30% of breast cancer cases can be prevented using known and proven risk reduction strategies, yet less than 2% of all research money is spent doing so. Even though other breast cancer foundations talk and market prevention, if you look at what they fund, it’s easy to see that they are marketing prevention rather than actually trying to do so. It’s a shame. They’ve lost credibility on so many counts, and this is just another way they try to convince the public that they’re doing something productive to prevent breast cancer, when they are really working more for diagnosis and treatment than anything else.

SDN: You are determined to find a “pure cure” for cancer. Where do you find the strength to pursue this goal day in and day out?

Dr. Ruddy: I was born with a good constitution. I was raised in a very disciplined way. I was taught to work hard and well. Passion runs through my veins right alongside my blood. I come by this drive naturally, but I do get worked up even more when I sense an unmet need — like preventing a disease such as breast cancer.

SDN: As a medical professional, you go above and beyond by exploring options, where others have previously given up hope. What drives you to go the extra distance for your patients?

Dr. Ruddy: I’ve written a manuscript, a very rough draft autobiography told in a series of tweets. It’s a fast read; take a peek and I think you’ll see I’ve always gone the extra distance. I guess I like the exercise!

SDN: You have used your blog to provide medical information to others about cancer treatment and research in easy-to-understand terms. What are you hoping that others take away from your blog?

Dr. Ruddy: I want to explain what is often a bewildering subject — breast cancer. Because I have worked my way up the ladder of medicine from secretary to surgeon, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to lie on a stretcher, completely vulnerable and needy, and how valuable a kind word and sound information can be. It can make all the difference in the world. If I can do that for more women than I can actually lay hands on — and I can, via the Internet — then why not?

Quite simply, I love what I do and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I’d like to help other women and make it easier for them to cope with the unknown and the dreaded known.

Special thanks to Dr. Ruddy for sharing with us! To hear more of Dr. Ruddy’s story, you can visit her blog or connect with her on Twitter. And for additional information on the Breast Health & Healing Foundation and ways you can get involved, check out their website

AnneMarie From “Chemobrain”

March 14, 2013 by Guest Blogger, SDN Spotlight

Interviews and Questions from Scarves Dot Net

Interview with Breast Cancer Survivors

Whether it’s heartfelt anecdotes or inspiring triumphs, the Scarves Dot Net gals love to share stories — especially when they’re incredibly touching. That’s why we’re starting a new series called SDN Spotlight. From influential bloggers to community leaders, we’ve scoured the blogosphere for the most inspiring men and women.

So far, we’ve had the opportunity to hear from six incredible individuals about how cancer has affected their lives.

Today, we’re honored to bring you our interview with AnneMarie Ciccarella. AnneMarie is a native New Yorker, a mom to kids in their 20s, and the oldest of five in a large, close-knit Italian-American family. She is a volunteer for the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, and writes about how cancer has affected her life on her blog, Chemobrain.

AnneMarie of Chemobrain

SDN: Throughout your personal journey, you have become a dedicated activist for different organizations — serving as a Patient to Patient volunteer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and getting involved with Love/Avon Army of Women. Can you share a little about these organizations and your role within each?

AnneMarie: I first began volunteering at MSKCC because I was involved in a clinical study being conducted at the hospital. I was four years post-chemotherapy and something wasn’t right. I then realized that it was through the donations of others that made the study even possible. Because of the results of the evaluation, I realized I couldn’t “do numbers” any longer, which presented a problem — I was doing high-level accounting at the time. I felt a bit like Meryl from Bridges of Madison County, asking myself, What now?”

I then participated in a writing program called “Visible Ink” — which is available to all MSK patients — and again realized it was the time of volunteers that afforded me what has been a life-changing gift. It was my volunteer mentor who helped dust off my writing skills and guided me through the mechanics of launching what was supposed to be a space for me to “unclog” my brain.

Because I had received so much through the generosity of others (with their money and with their time), I began looking at volunteer opportunities for myself at MSKCC. As a Patient to Patient volunteer, I speak with women who are newly diagnosed or still in treatment.  There are things that can only be truly understood by someone who has lived through a cancer diagnosis and treatment. I visited patients on the surgical floor, and we have monthly meetings where we discuss many aspects of patient care at the hospital.

I began volunteering with the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation and the Army of Women (AOW) initiative because I believe in the work of Dr. Love. She is devoting her life’s work to determine the cause of breast cancer. Rather than continue to find ways to kill cancer cells, her approach is different. She wants to understand the cause of breast cancer with the hope that we can ultimately prevent the disease in the first place.

I staff events on behalf of AOW hoping to get more women to enroll in the database.  There is a big problem filling clinical studies, and the Army of Women sends out email notifications to let women know when a research study opens and participants are needed. The quicker we fill studies, the quicker we can find answers. People are raising money to fund the studies, but if the researchers can’t fill the studies, in a way, the money is not being used efficiently. An empty lab or a half-filled study still costs money. Research saves lives.

SDN: You are also an advocate for The National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC), which has started the Breast Cancer Deadline 2020 Initiative. Can you talk about this initiative and what people can do to help meet this deadline?

AnneMarie: NBCC recognizes that there has been little meaningful progress in decades. They have been instrumental in giving patients a voice at the table when research grants are being reviewed. Because of their efforts, I am a consumer reviewer on the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program. I had the privilege and honor of being invited to sit on a review panel alongside scientists from many major research centers.

The biggest thing that people can do to help advance the goal of eradicating breast cancer is to do whatever they can to advance research. Take precaution with monetary donations to any organization. If donations are being made for research, always make sure the majority of the donation will be used to fund research.

SDN: On your blog, you often talk about friends who are also battling cancer and emphasize the importance of telling their stories. Can you explain where you find the courage to continuously fight for others, as well as why it’s important to you to share their stories?

AnneMarie: I think telling our stories helps others realize they are not alone, and it helps us to incorporate the reality of a cancer diagnosis into the tapestry of our lives. Not everyone is comfortable sharing in such a public space, but I would hope that anyone with any life-threatening or other chronic illness has at least one person who will listen. I think it’s so important to have our feelings heard and our fears validated.

blogger AnneMarie Ciccarella

SDN: Your mother, who is one of your biggest supporters, was declared NED (No Evidence of Disease) — and then things suddenly changed. You mentioned that you were “supposed to be a daughter, not a fearless friend to her.” Could you tell us a little bit more about her and your relationship during her battle with cancer?

AnneMarie: About a year ago, several of us began to refer to ourselves as “fearless friends.” We are breast cancer patients who were diagnosed at early stages. Those with metastatic disease often talk about how they feel isolated. Their reality is often our worst nightmare. They will be in treatment for the rest of their lives, and many of them don’t have the energy to make sure their voices are not lost. The Stage IV patients need to know that those who are advocating for meaningful research are advocating on their behalf, too.

In January, my mom was diagnosed with a late distant recurrence. My mom had two breast cancer diagnoses — the first one was in 1987. She underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy that was even more barbaric than what is administered today. She was by my side when I was told I had cancer. Just months after I completed my chemotherapy, and weeks after my dad died, a new cancer was found in her other breast. She had a second mastectomy to remove her other breast and was put on an aromatase inhibitor. That was in 2007.

She passed her five-year mark and was still taking Arimidex when our oncologist found a spot on her rib. The biopsy confirmed our worst fears, and I still don’t think I fully grasp the fact that my mom is now a Stage IV patient. She began treatment, and her first scans will be done later this month. Hopefully, this treatment is working and it will continue to work for a long time. She is tolerating it well. Last week, we were scheduled to do an interview together. When I asked her if she would be interested in joining me, we both laughed at her reply: “I can see you are pulling me into your world.” I told her she was already in my “world.”

My mom reads my blog. She’s been my biggest cheerleader since I stepped into social media, and she supports all of my advocacy efforts. When I completely invaded her privacy by sharing her diagnosis on the blog, she was so taken aback by the support and love left in the comments. Every so often, she will email all of her friends and family with a link to something I am doing. I know she sent that blog link to everyone with instructions to “just read the comments.” She was so overwhelmed with gratitude.

SDN: You discussed the misconceptions of lung cancer in a recent post. Are there any other assumptions or misconceptions about cancer and metastatic cancer that you would like to shed some light on?

AnneMarie: Lung cancer is stigmatized, and it is terribly upsetting. With lung cancer patients, they are are often asked, “Do you (or did you) smoke?” More than any other cancer, there is tremendous blame placed on the patient.

With breast cancer, one of the first questions we are often asked is, “Is it in your family?” The truth is, most breast cancers are “sporadic.” There is no BRCA mutation and no family history. Too many incorrectly think that no one dies of breast cancer any more. The annual number of deaths due to breast cancer remains virtually unchanged for decades. Very little of the research is done specifically on metastatic disease.

Cancer is a scary disease, and I think when these questions are asked, on some level, people want to believe there is a reason why we developed cancer. The fact is that while there are many things we can do to reduce risk, no cancer is preventable. So many people do all the right things and still develop cancer. With breast cancer, 30% of those of us diagnosed at an early stage will have our cancer spread. Metastatic breast cancer is terminal. Five years is not a guarantee. Early detection is not a guarantee, but early detection, in most cases, does afford the best shot at a good outcome. There is no place for blame in any of this.

SDN: Your blog, which started as a tribute to your father and a way to relay your medical procedures to close friends and family, has become much more than that. What do you want your readers to take away from reading your blog?

AnneMarie: I hope that those who read my blog realize they are not alone, that there are so many people who are willing to reach out, to share their fears, to celebrate their victories. I hope that readers will learn about their own medical situations and understand they are vitally important members of their medical team.

SDN: You said, “Maybe I’ll make a difference, or not, but doing nothing feels selfish.” Can you give a few examples of ways that others can make a difference?

AnneMarie: We can all make a difference. We can help on a personal level, or we can be part of something much larger than ourselves. Each is equally important. Offer to help if you have a friend that isn’t well. Listen if they want to talk. Don’t ask what you can do since most people won’t know how to answer — instead, call if you are going to the market to see if they need anything. If you have ten dollars to spare, pick up some non-perishable items like paper goods or cereal and just leave the bag at their door. If someone has younger children, ask if you can meet their child at the bus stop or if you can provide a ride for other activities. Offer to drive them to a doctor appointment if you have the time.

Some people prefer to be alone for some appointments, so it’s a good idea to be clear. “I’ll drop you off” or “I’ll be waiting for you in the car” or “Call me when you are finishing up” are good phrases to say. Know that some people do isolate themselves, but don’t stop trying. If you manage to do one small thing to lighten someone’s burden, it’s not a small thing. You’ve made a huge difference.

On a larger scale, there are organizations in almost every community. Grassroots groups depend on volunteers — call and ask if there is something you can do to help. Even if you can only spare an hour each month, every hour helps. We can all help researchers begin to unlock the mysteries by joining Army of Women. If eligible, consider joining a study. The studies being filled are not clinical drug trials; they are observational studies. The success of the researchers will depend upon how much we are willing to help.

Consider enrolling in the Health of Women Study, which is another initiative of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. All women can participate. We have the answers in our bodies, and I can’t think of a better or easier way to make a difference that has the potential to impact so many!

To hear more about AnneMarie’s story and ways you can make a difference, be sure to visit her blog. You can also connect with AnneMarie on Twitter.

Many thanks to AnneMarie for sharing her story with us!

Jacki From “My Breast Cancer Blog”

February 14, 2013 by Guest Blogger, SDN Spotlight

Interviews and Questions from Scarves Dot Net

Interview with Breast Cancer Survivors

Whether it’s heartfelt anecdotes or inspiring triumphs, the Scarves Dot Net gals love to share stories — especially when they’re incredibly touching. That’s why we’re starting a new series called SDN Spotlight. From influential bloggers to community leaders, we’ve scoured the blogosphere for the most inspiring men and women.

Jacki Donaldson is an Ohio native now living in sunny Florida. A mother of two boys, she works from home as an editor and writer, and runs her own business — JustEdits.org. Since 2004, Jacki has been sharing her cancer experience with readers on My Breast Cancer Blog. In addition to a career in writing, breast cancer has launched her into a life of healthy eatingvigorous exercise, and a big appreciation for the little things in life.

Jacki's sons and nieces

My boys, ages 12 and 9, and my sister’s girls, ages 8 and 5.

SDN: When and how was your breast cancer discovered, and how did you and your family deal with the news?

A few days before Thanksgiving in 2004, my hand landed on the lump in my left breast while washing in the shower. I knew it was breast cancer because it was unlike anything I had ever felt. I had been aware of my breasts for a long time because they had always been dense and lumpy; I had a breast reduction in 1996, and the surgeon who removed four pounds of tissue said the tissue was so dense, he had trouble taking some out and leaving some in. I always wondered how I would ever distinguish between normal lumps and abnormal lumps — until I felt that small, round, hard mass under my fingertips. It was like a frozen green pea, and even though everyone in my family suspected it was nothing serious, I was sure it was cancer. It was. I was 34 years old.

SDN: Can you briefly describe your journey as you battled breast cancer?

My first stop post-lump-discovery was to see my OB/GYN. He sent me for a mammogram, which did not show anything suspicious — this is not surprising because mammograms often do not detect cancer in young women with dense tissue. A follow-up ultrasound did show the mass, which was solid. “It is not a cyst,” said the doctor who did the test. “I want this out and in a jar.” I asked if it could be cancer. “Yes,” she said.

A needle biopsy came next, then a phone call the following day from the surgeon who did the procedure. “Unfortunately, cancer cells were found,” he told me, and that is when my crazy journey began. There was a lumpectomy and a horrible allergic reaction to the tape that bandaged my skin, a port surgery, four infusions of Adriamycin/Cytoxan dose-dense chemotherapy (given every two weeks instead of every three weeks), growth hormone injections, two hospitalizations, one blood transfusion, six weeks of radiation, one year of Herceptin infusions (given every three weeks), physical therapy, psychotherapy, antidepressant therapy, port removal — Whew! Now, eight years later, I visit my medical oncologist and radiation oncologist once a year, and I get an annual mammogram.

Early on, I was sure I would die and leave my babies, who were almost 4 years old and 18 months old at the time of my diagnosis, and I had some very dark and lonely moments. Now, though, I am able to look back on all of the horror and view it as something not all that bad. I try to use my cancer experience as a vehicle to better my life and spread hope for others.

8 years cancer-free

SDN: You were recently informed that you have zero chance of your cancer returning. Can you explain the emotions you felt when you heard the news?

I was stunned when my doctor told me my cancer is not coming back. I was not sure when I heard her make the declaration that anyone could honestly say such a thing, so I asked for clarification. What I learned is that my type of cancer (stage I, grade 2, no lymph node involvement, ER/PR-negative, HER2/neu-positive), while very aggressive, has only been shown to recur within five years. “If it does not come back in five years, it is not coming back,” my doc said. Now, she did not say that I am forever immune to all cancers, just that I will never have a recurrence of the very same cancer. I am beyond thrilled about this.

SDN: Who was your biggest support through all of this? What advice can you give for those who have a loved one facing this fight?

I had a husband at home, a mom in my neighborhood, and a sister three miles away; these three people were key to my survival — so were friends and family members near and far, the bunches of moms in the MOMS Club I belonged to for a few years, the Chemo Angels who sent me cards and letters, and I could go on and on.

My advice to those with a loved one fighting cancer is to do what these people did for me — sit with the patient during chemo treatments, deliver meals, send cozy socks and brownies and books, babysit kids, and most importantly, do not say, “Let me know if you need help.” Just show up and help. Oh, and saying to a cancer patient, “Everything will be okay,” is not always a good pick-me-up. Saying, “This really sucks,” sometimes means a whole lot more.

Before shaving my head, I put my hair into three ponytails and cut them off.

SDN: You said that losing your hair was even worse than surgery, chemo, and radiation. Can you walk us through your hair transformation and the effect it had on you?

I wanted nothing more than to not lose my hair, which, about 11 days after my first chemo dose, starting pulling out in clumps. Despite my best efforts to hang onto my locks, I surrendered one February day and allowed my then 4-year-old to assist my husband while he shaved my head. It brought some relief — falling-out hair was painful; each strand felt like it weighed a ton, and my scalp was super sore — but it was mostly crushing. Losing my hair stripped me of normalcy. Not only was I sick, but I also looked nothing like myself, and that was hard to swallow.

Fortunately, I had prepared for this dreaded scenario and was armed with a human hair wig that matched my color, texture, and length. It was so seemingly real that a neighbor one day told my sister, “It is so great Jacki did not lose her hair!” That comment helped a lot, and I spent the rest of my bald days confident with my cover-up. I wish I had been bold and courageous enough to bare my noggin in public, but I was not. Sometimes, I would show the real deal at home, but I felt most comfortable when I looked like my old self, and that required a wig, which I now send to women who, like me, find hair loss a traumatic experience.

Forgot pink apparel; this is my favorite cancer t-shirt.

SDN: Last year, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you declined all “pink” offers and published a series of “Raw October” posts on your blog, featuring detailed cancer information and personal interviews. What inspired you to make this change?

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I bought into pink, but that is because I did not really know any better. When I started realizing that people were profiting from pink, often via unhealthy products, I decided I would not align myself with the color or the campaigns that compromise real progress in the fight against breast cancer. Does fried chicken in a pink bucket do anything more than boost food sales? Nope. Sure, perhaps a portion of proceeds go to some cancer charity, but often, the total is not enough to make any real difference. And fried chicken is not what women trying to minimize cancer risk should be consuming. I prefer fundraising for and donating directly to worthy causes.

SDN: You have used your blog as a personal outlet and a source of inspiration for others going through similar situations. What are you hoping that other women take away from the blog?

At first, I did not even know my blog would help others. I launched it after my husband suggested I log my progress online so family and friends could check in at their convenience. My posts were simply a means of communication. Then, they became a form of therapy. Journaling my hopes, fears, milestones, and setbacks helped ease my anxiety and soothed my soul. The magic of reaching other women was an unexpected surprise. Today, my blog averages about 200 unique worldwide visitors a day — if only a few of these people find a take away from my 8-year-long story, then I am happy.

A special thanks again to Jacki for being a part of our SDN Spotlight project and sharing her inspiring story! 

Nancy From “Nancy’s Point”

December 13, 2012 by Guest Blogger, SDN Spotlight

Interviews and Questions from Scarves Dot Net

Interview with Breast Cancer Survivors

Whether it’s heartfelt anecdotes or inspiring triumphs, the Scarves Dot Net gals love to share stories — especially when they’re incredibly touching. That’s why we’re starting a new series called SDN Spotlight. From influential bloggers to community leaders, we’ve scoured the blogosphere for the most inspiring men and women.

So far, we’ve spoken with Barbara JacobyAngelo Merendino, and Ann Silberman about their experiences with breast cancer. Today we’re happy to bring you yet another Spotlight interview with blogger, mother, and educator, Nancy Stordahl. Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, just two years after losing her mother to the same disease. Today, Nancy shares her experience on both sides of breast cancer on her blog, Nancy’s Point. When she isn’t blogging or immersed in her advocacy work, Nancy enjoys reading, traveling, and gardening.

Nancy from Nancy's Point

SDN: You lost your mother to breast cancer in 2008. Could you tell us a little bit more about her and her battle?

Nancy: Breast cancer rudely and abruptly intruded into my life on my birthday in 2004 — the day my mother discovered a lump in her breast. I often refer to cancer as the very unwelcome “uninvited guest” that showed up at my birthday party and never went away. My life forever changed that day.

My mother’s diagnosis came shortly after, and from that day on, my life began following a new and very different path. She underwent a lumpectomy, followed by radiation. After thinking we had successfully held the cancer beast at bay, in 2007, we were devastated to learn her cancer had metastasized to her liver. She died of metastatic breast cancer in March of 2008.

SDN: In 2010, you also discovered that you have breast cancer. How did you deal with the news, and how has your mother’s history affected your journey?

Nancy: While still grieving, in April of 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer as well. And like my mother, I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation (it’s important to note we did not know about my mother’s BRCA status at the time of her initial diagnosis). I was stunned, not so much by the diagnosis itself, but by the timing and wrongly assuming I would at least have more time.

I dealt with the news by doing what I always do when I need an outlet — I started writing about it. I had been in the process of writing about grief and breast cancer from a daughter’s perspective, and suddenly things changed dramatically. Now I had a new cancer story to tell — mine. Writing was how I coped then, and it’s still how I cope today.

My BRCA2 positive status directly impacted my course of treatment. In June of 2010, I had a bilateral mastectomy, began the reconstruction process, and shortly thereafter began chemotherapy. Later, I was also advised to consider a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy and hysterectomy. I chose to have both surgeries.

Naturally, I turned to writing once again, in order to maintain my sanity and sense of control and also hopefully to be a resource for other women with or without cancer. I write candidly about all of these things and more via my blog.

SDN: You have been on both sides of the spectrum. Is there any advice you can give to breast cancer patients and to those with loved ones fighting, too?

Nancy: I’m not sure one can really prepare for either one. The best advice I can offer is to do the best you can in both cases. No surprise there, right?

If you are in the caregiver role, don’t try to do it all. It’s just not possible, anyway. Take care of yourself too. And remember the most important gift you’re giving your loved one is your presence. Some of the most painful memories I have of my mother’s illness are also some of my most treasured ones.

If you are a breast cancer patient, I try to emphasize the same advice through my blog — do the best you can. Try hard not to compare your experience to anyone else’s. You are entitled to your experience and your truths, whatever those might be. Something about that is very empowering.

SDN: You wrote a post titled Ten Things Wrong with the Pink Ribbon. Could you talk a little more about your thoughts on breast cancer awareness and pink culture?

Nancy: Boy could I ever! (On a side note — when I began blogging, I didn’t anticipate taking on this kind of advocacy role. Things sort of evolved in that arena.) But seriously, there is much to be discussed. I believe the pink ribbon morphed into something no one ever expected it to become. Somewhere along the way, it became a hugely successful marketing tool and that’s the problem — things got out of control. In a nutshell, the million dollar question is this: Who is really profiting from all of this pink and all this ribbon-ing? The whole notion that breast cancer is so tied into shopping is problematic.

Additionally, there’s also the implied message that there is a certain way “to do” breast cancer that is too often portrayed (intentionally or unintentionally) in today’s pink ribbon culture. Generally, you see the “happy ending” stories and constantly hear metaphors such as the “brave warrior.” Many resent such labels and implied expectations.

Also, such messages too often leave the metastatic breast cancer community in the shadows. It is terribly ironic to me that the segment of the breast cancer community in need of our greatest support so often feels shunned. No one seems to want to talk about or listen to their stories. All of these things are troublesome.

However, I believe change is coming. In fact, it’s happening right now. People are questioning everything about “pink” more and more these days. People are demanding greater transparency because they are realizing the right to know where their charitable dollars are going before buying a pink ribbon product, and what those dollars will be spent on.

Another important change is that the “rubber stamping” of the breast cancer experience is hopefully coming to an end. Everyone is entitled to their own unique cancer experience. And the most important long overdue change of all might be the fact that finally the voices of those living with metastatic breast cancer are being acknowledged and listened to. We still have a long way to go here, but again, I’m feeling more optimistic than I was even a year ago.

I’m actually pretty excited about the discussion going on about moving beyond pink ribbons and simplistic awareness campaigns. This discussion seems to be gaining momentum. I’m both humbled and honored to be playing a small role in changing this conversation.

Nancy and her dogs

SDN: Are there any other assumptions or misconceptions about breast cancer and metastatic cancer that you would like to shed some light on?

Nancy: Perhaps the biggest misconception of all is that breast cancer is the “good cancer.” So much about this disease has been misrepresented in recent years and there’s plenty of finger-pointing to go around, but ultimately, what I want people to remember is the fact that breast cancer can and does metastasize in 25-30% of cases — no matter what stage it is diagnosed at. Breast cancer is still too often deadly, and in fact, roughly 40,000 lives are still lost to this disease every year in the United States alone. This number has stayed basically unchanged for years now. Too often breast cancer is portrayed as being “not that bad” and completely “curable” if you just “catch it” early. Of course early detection is important, but there’s more to the story than the simple sound bites often imply.

Another hugely important point I wish to make is that the portion of dollars being spent on research is small when you consider the vast amount of money being raked in. Of this relatively small portion, an even smaller fraction is spent specifically on metastatic breast cancer research. In my mind, this is completely unacceptable.

Of course, this leads right back to that million dollar question: Who is really profiting from all of this pinking?

SDN: You have shown so much strength, and we admire your list of resources on grieving. What or who has helped you through the loss of your mother and recently your best friend?

Nancy: Well, my family, of course, has been a tremendous source of support, especially my husband. Without my family’s support, I’d be a mess! And my friends have been great too.

The biggest surprise to me has been the support of my online friends. I have met some amazing people through blogging — some of them fellow bloggers and some of them readers. They inspire me and help me to cope on a daily basis. I consider them to be dear friends. Thank you for mentioning my friend Rachel. She died from metastatic breast cancer in February of this year, and she is greatly missed by many.

SDN: You have used your blog as a source of inspiration for others going through similar situations. What are you hoping that others take away from the blog?

Nancy: I started blogging in order to openly share my experiences about loss, grief, my cancer diagnosis, BRCA, reconstruction, and all aspects of a cancer diagnosis. From day one, I wanted to share candidly. Otherwise, what’s the point? I strive to make my blog an informative, helpful, and empowering resource. I encourage interaction and open dialogue. Ultimately, I hope it’s a welcoming place where others can find support and a safe place to share, vent, or do whatever they need to do.

Mostly, I want others to always remember that they are never alone in this maze that is cancer, and that they are entitled to their own unique path and their own truths.

To hear more about Nancy’s story, be sure to visit www.nancyspoint.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Barbara From “Let Life Happen”

November 19, 2012 by Guest Blogger, Lifestyle, SDN Spotlight

Interviews and Questions from Scarves Dot Net

Interview with Breast Cancer Survivors

Whether it’s heartfelt anecdotes or inspiring triumphs, the Scarves Dot Net gals love to share stories — especially when they’re incredibly touching. That’s why we’ve started SDN Spotlight, a new series highlighting the most inspiring men and women from around the web.

In case you missed it, our first interview was with Ann Silberman, who opened our eyes to supporting breast cancer research all year long. Our second and most recent interview was with Angelo Merendino, who proved the power of love between a husband and a wife battling breast cancer.

Today’s interview brings us Barbara Jacoby, a strong-willed woman with a caring heart who battled both breast cancer and domestic abuse. Together with her husband, she created Let Life Happen as a light of support for others facing challenging life situations. We are thrilled to have Barbara speaking with us today, and we truly respect her sincere passion for helping others stay positive and feel empowered.

Read on for our interview with Barbara:

Scarves Dot Net Spotlight on Breast Cancer

SDN: Could you give a brief introduction to our readers about you, your family, and your interests and hobbies?  

Barbara: I am a two-time breast cancer survivor and domestic abuse survivor, but I never want to be defined by my past or this disease. I was born and raised in Pennsylvania and currently live in California with my husband, Kirk. We are a team. Our first project was a music CD titled Let Life Happen, which ultimately became the name for my website. My husband created my website for me after I was diagnosed with cancer for a second time. He continues to update and maintain it for me. He was my rock through the cancer and reconstruction, and he continues to support all of my efforts to help others. He even ran his first-ever 10K last month  to raise funds for cancer research. He also ran to honor our social media friends who are survivors, those who are caregivers, and those who have lost their battle with cancer.

I also love college football. During the season, I am busy crocheting blankets that are donated through our company’s volunteer program to children in crisis.

SDN: When and how was your breast cancer discovered, and how did you and your family deal with the news?

Barbara: I discovered the lump for the first time during a routine self-exam and contacted the doctor the next day. I had surgery two and a half weeks later, which didn’t really allow for a chance to deal with anything other than the medical aspects in that short amount of time.

The second time it was discovered was during a mammogram, right before I was supposed to start radiation treatment for the first cancer. This one was tougher because my brother died on the operating table during his 12th cancer-related surgery, just three weeks before my double mastectomy. Few people, including my family, knew about what was happening, as I did not want to deal with the cancer and family and friends at the same time. I wanted to deal with the medical aspects and continue my work and life as normally as possible.

SDN: Can you briefly describe your journey as you battled breast cancer?

Barbara: I am a pretty private person, so I just worked my way through all of the doctors and testing on my own — except for one needle biopsy. A friend took me from our office to that appointment and picked me up after, and we had some dinner together before I got into my car to go home. My husband was there for each surgery and the first trip to the doctor’s office after each of the surgeries.

Other than that, I chose to be on my own. I think it was my way of feeling in control and not allowing cancer to rule my life or make me feel less empowered and independent. Equally important was my husband’s encouragement to write about whatever I wanted. It would be a way to share some of my innermost thoughts on a website that he would create. This ultimately became the best medicine and release for me.

SDN: How did others support you? What advice can you give for those who have a loved one facing this fight?

Barbara: I can’t begin to tell you the support that I received from those with whom I chose to share those journeys with — they all exhibited such perfect strength for me. The leader was my husband, who allowed me to be me. He offered to do anything I needed, but also allowed me to take control from there. He, and the few others who knew, honored my request that they not share the information with anyone else and offered to help in every way possible. They also knew when to step aside. This was perfect for me.

Although I was the one facing the cancer wars, I did not want advice or direction about what I should do from anyone. The reason for this is that each of my supporters were, in their own way, going through my battles, too. And had they suggested or pushed for a certain course of action — even if I was in agreement — and something went wrong, I would never want for them to feel guilty or take any sort of responsibility for the bad outcome.

As for anyone who has a loved one facing cancer, I think it’s most important to be there if you can, to help and listen. The hardest part about helping others is the potential to not be in a position to do all that is needed for someone else — but this doesn’t just apply to supporting someone with cancer. The most important thing is for the patient to have confidence in the medical personnel. If they are not comfortable with anyone, find someone else for them. A trusted medical team makes all of the difference in the patient’s belief in a successful outcome.

SDN: Are there any assumptions or misconceptions about breast cancer that you would like to shed some light on?  

Barbara: That is a really great question, and one that I’ve never really thought about. I suppose the biggest misconception is if you don’t have a history of breast cancer in your family, you don’t have to be as concerned about it. Like most women, I do not have that history. I constantly hear things like, “If you eat well and exercise, you will improve your chances of not getting cancer.” I hear all kinds of recommendations about what you should eat and not eat, and what you should drink or not drink. My only comment is that no one knows what causes cancer and that is why we don’t have a cure. Good health is most important in warding off any disease, but speaking for myself and a lot of other people that I know who have dealt with breast cancer, there’s more to it than that.

The other point is that breast cancer is not just a women’s disease. Men do get breast cancer, too, so we need to keep an eye out for them.

SDN: What is a helpful online resource for those looking for information, answers, and support from others battling breast cancer?  

Barbara: That is another really great question. Just five years ago when I was first diagnosed, there was nothing other than WebMD, which was so outdated that it was of absolutely no help. However, now there are so many resources. I suggest a person just search for whatever particular topic they wish, and they will find tons of resources. With that said, I do prefer Healthline.com, which covers information, answers, and support. This site is certainly a great place to start.

SDN: What can survivors do to help create awareness about breast cancer and the available resources out there?  

Barbara: Just about anything that they want. There are so many opportunities to help that it has become almost necessary to compartmentalize this as well. All of the major sites have lots of information and are certainly doing everything under the sun to create awareness. The sad part is that many women won’t do anything about it because of fear.  It reminds me of the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

On a personal basis, I am working to help find funding for organizations like MyHopeChest.org, which is trying help women who want reconstruction after breast surgery, but don’t have insurance or the funds for such surgeries. Unless you have had your breast(s) removed, it is extremely difficult for someone to understand how this would affect a person physically, psychologically, and sexually. This is an area that is completely under-served by the current research organizations. After watching a woman with breast cancer go to her grave because of her refusal to give up her breasts in order to save her life, I cannot ignore this aspect of treatment.

SDN: You have used your site as a source of inspiration for others going through similar situations. What are you hoping that other women take away from Let Life Happen?

Barbara: My hope is that they know they are not alone. So many women have had family and friends vanish at this most critical time in their lives and they don’t know where to turn or what to do. I want them to know that I have walked in their shoes. I am here to listen to them. I am here to direct them to the resources I have discovered that may help them with their individual needs. I am here to keep them up-to-date to the best of my ability, regarding new studies and possible breakthroughs to review and discuss with their own doctors.

And I want them to know that there is always the power of positive thinking — it can change their individual experience with this disease. I know that cancer changes every single life forever, but it is up to the individual as to whether that change is a positive one.

SDN: You are a survivor of both breast cancer and domestic abuse. How did you find so much inner strength to be the inspiration that you are today?

Barbara: On the day that I left my abusive situation, I knew I would never have another bad day in my life. I was mentally abused, beaten, and had a loaded gun in my face on more occasions than I can count. I was promised that if I left, I would be hunted down and killed. It was at that point I realized that if I was hunted down and killed, it would be preferable to living one more day with the abuse. I survived that situation, and my abuser is now dead. I am free. Every day I wake up is automatically a great day. That is my philosophy.

As a result, when the cancer came along, it truly wasn’t a big deal to me. I knew it was something that needed to be dealt with, and I did so as each step in the process came along. I never thought of it as life threatening, but rather something from which I would learn. And boy, have I ever learned. I am so grateful for all of the wonderful people who I have met, what I have learned about social media, and most importantly, what I have learned about myself. These are lessons that I know I could never have learned any other way.

***

To hear more about Barbara’s inspirational story, you can view her video here and check for updates on her website.

Be sure to reach out to her on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Thank you so much for sharing with us, Barbara!

Angelo From “My Wife’s Fight with Breast Cancer”

October 22, 2012 by Guest Blogger, SDN Spotlight

Interviews and Questions from Scarves Dot Net

Interview with Breast Cancer SurvivorsWhether it’s heartfelt anecdotes or inspiring triumphs, the Scarves Dot Net gals love to share stories — especially when they’re incredibly touching. That’s why we’re starting a new series called SDN Spotlight. From influential bloggers to community leaders, we’ve scoured the blogosphere for the most inspiring men and women.

Our first interview was with Ann Silberman. Ann taught us that we should not solely focus on breast cancer “awareness” during October, but instead we should channel our efforts to support cancer research all year long.

We are happy to bring you another interview today, this time with photographer Angelo Merendino of The Battle We Didn’t Choose: My Wife’s Fight with Breast Cancer. Angelo’s blog documents Jennifer, his wife, and her fight against cancer through photography. His black-and-white shots chronicle the honest reality of Jen’s cancer, but also show the unwavering love between a husband and wife.

Read on for our interview with Angelo:

My Wife's Fight With Breast Cancer photography

5-3-2011 Shaving Jen’s head

SDN: How did you meet Jennifer, and when did you know that she was “the one”?

Angelo: I was living in Cleveland, Ohio, and was looking for a bartender job. I wanted to work at an establishment that I would enjoy and where I could be myself. There was a restaurant in my neighborhood, The Fulton Bar and Grille, and I stopped by one afternoon to apply. When I arrived, there was a sign on the door that read “back in 15 minutes,” so I sat down to wait. A few minutes later, I saw a black VW Beetle pull in to the parking lot, and I got up to meet the driver. When I turned the corner I was stopped in my tracks — I saw Jen and knew right there that she was the one.

My Wife's Fight With Breast Cancer photography

September 2007 Honeymoon

SDN: How was Jennifer’s breast cancer discovered, and how did you deal with the news?

Angelo: Jen went to see her general practitioner for a check up. The doctor felt a lump and advised Jen to schedule a mammogram. A short time after that, Jen got the phone call that no one wants to get. We were both numb. I remember that we looked into each other’s eyes, knowing we were together and that would never change.

My Wife's Fight With Breast Cancer

4-25-2011 Jen waiting

SDN: Can you describe your journey together as Jennifer battled breast cancer?

Angelo: Jen was diagnosed in February of 2008, just five months after our wedding. The following eight months brought a double-mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and reconstructive surgery. After this we started to put our life back together, which was tough because we were still so numb and exhausted. We noticed that many people would say, “That’s great, treatment is over and things can get back to normal for you two.” That wasn’t the case at all. Jen was aware of every bump or twitch in her body, and it felt like cancer was always just over our shoulder.

In April of 2010, our biggest fear became our reality, when Jen’s cancer metastasized to her liver and bone. We were back in the non-stop world of treatments, doctors appointments, side-effects, and on and on. Around this time, we realized that most people do not know what it’s really like to live with cancer. We only knew because we were living it, so we started to share our experience with others. Each day brought new challenges, and we did our best to communicate and stay positive. Throughout all of this, our love for each other grew stronger.

SDN: What advice can you give those who have loved ones facing this fight? In what ways can they offer support?

Angelo: It is so important to be there for someone who is receiving treatment for cancer — not only during treatment, but also after. You don’t have to know what to say, you just have to be there. You can also send food or order dinner for someone. You can offer to clean someone’s home. You can even just send a text message telling this person that you love him or her — just don’t disappear.

My Wife's Fight with Breast Cancer photography

8-13-2011 Jen and Beth, friends for over 20 years

SDN: A telling statement that you made on your blog is, “There is no normal in cancer-land.” How did you and Jennifer define a new sense of normal?

Angelo: Jen and I did our best to stay in the middle. By that I mean that our emotions were pushed and pulled in so many directions, and we couldn’t go too far with any of these feelings. Of course we were happy when good news came in, but we also had to stay prepared for news that we didn’t want to hear, because it happens — and vice versa. It’s just that cancer brings so many unknowns and unpredictable situations, and not many people talk about how to deal with this. We had to keep our guard up and always roll with the punches. That said, the most important thing we did was to embrace every second.

My Wife's Fight with Breast Cancer phogoraphy

7-1-2011 Jen getting Eribulin

SDN: Your beautiful photography has been a way to express yourself throughout this experience. What are you hoping others take away from your photographs?

Angelo: Thank you. I hope that people see the love in my photographs. Cancer played a heavy part in our story, but I don’t think that it was ever more powerful than Love.

SDN: What photo resonates the most with you from your journey together?

Angelo: I can’t pick one, but I do love the photos that I made of Jen and me by holding the camera out in front of us. I just like seeing us together.

SDN: How has blogging about Jennifer helped you through this experience?

Angelo: Blogging about our experience has helped me because of the overwhelming kindness that has come in response to my posts. I guess it helps me to believe that although Jen is no longer physically here with us, her legacy and love are still alive and strong.

The Battle We Didn't Choose: My Wife's Fight With Breast Cancer photography

12-16-2011 Jen receiving communion

SDN: You are in the process of creating a book of your photography in Jennifer’s honor. Can you share more about this project and your hopes for its future?

Angelo: Thankfully, Jennifer let me photograph our day-to-day life. Our hope was that we could share with others the challenges faced by those struggling with cancer and the importance of family and friends. My goal is to publish a book that will accompany a traveling exhibition of these photographs, our story. To raise funds I have started a crowd-funding campaign. By contributing to my campaign, you will help bring awareness to the realities of a daily life with cancer and the importance of being there for someone who is fighting for his or her life.

My photographs are not just about cancer. They are about love and life and never giving up. They are about embracing every second.

***

Many thanks to Angelo for sharing his story and beautiful photos with us.

If you are moved by Jen and Angelo’s story, please contribute to Angelo’s crowd-funding campaign: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/241925.

Also, check out Angelo’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter for more photos and updates.