“Pinktober” Winds Down but Awareness is Year Round for Breast Cancer Survivors

As we all know, October is breast cancer awareness month. Pink ribbons! Pink bras! Love your boobies! Cutesy, pink campaigns everywhere–all proudly displayed with the best of intentions. I understand why this month can be a month of mixed feelings for many survivors and those currently fighting breast cancer.

Businesses all over the world recognize this month and focus on raising money for awareness by donating a portion of their profits to different organizations. And it’s wonderful that so many people participate. In past years, I have participated in 5k walks and fundraisers. This year I have a bit of a different take on “Pinktober” now that my best friend is currently fighting Stage 2B breast cancer. Her treatment will continue through December, and then she will decide if she wants a mastectomy at age 30 before beginning radiation. She is one of the strongest, most positive and most inspiring women I know, and she has given me new insight into what it means to fight and survive this disease. It’s anything but pink and cute so I understand how “Pinktober” can rub some people the wrong way despite it’s good intentions.

This month, I focus on the reality that is breast cancer. October is a month to raise awareness and honor those who have been affected–those who have survived, those who are currently fighting, and those who lost their battle and all their loved ones who miss them. I’m incredibly proud of our current partnership with Keep A Breast Foundation. Their mission is to eradicate breast cancer for future generations using four approaches to accomplish this: art, education, awareness, and action. They provide support programs for young people impacted by cancer and educate people about prevention, early detection, and cancer-causing toxins in our everyday environment.

We debuted The TaTa Top in early June of this year, and we immediately began donating $5 per top sold to breast cancer research. As we began selling and shipping, we received tons of emails from survivors and women currently undergoing treatment. The TaTa Top appealed to many women who had undergone mastectomies and were now excited to “have their nipples back”. Michelle and I would read and respond to each email, and we would look at each other–just completely overwhelmed by the appreciation and support. Hearing so many of these women’s personal stories gave our business a whole new meaning.

In honor of breast cancer awareness month, Team TaTa reached out to a couple of their inspiring customers who we now consider to be friends–Laurie and Mary Ann.

 


 

Laurie, South San Francisco, CA

 

 

When were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed in 1998 when I was 34, and I am now 50. At my initial diagnosis I was already Stage 4, and the cancer had metastasized  to multiple bones. I have had a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, Stem Cell Rescue, radiation and drugs to hopefully keep the cancer at bay.

 

What was one lesson you learned throughout your battle with breast cancer?

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. One of my worst moments was hearing I was metastatic because I had convinced myself that there was no way that could happen and was so blindsided by the news. Also, keep in mind that what works for one person may not work for you…what doesn’t work for others may be your life saver. We are all unique chemically so you never know how you’ll respond to treatment or medications. If something isn’t working, find or ask for something else. You have to be your own advocate, because no one knows your body as well as you do.

 

Do you have any advice/words of wisdom for women currently fighting breast cancer?

My advice: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and get a port if you’re doing chemo. Also, find a doctor you can trust, but learn to trust your instincts too–that way you make a good team.

 

Do you participate in Breast Cancer Awareness Month in any way?

I hate to say this, but in past years I haven’t participated. October is usually a month to “grit my teeth and get through”…As many people who have been diagnosed and been through treatment know, “breast cancer is not a pink ribbon”…I am eternally grateful to the people who walk for a cure; who support organizations that look at possible causes; who volunteer for or are employed by companies that help patients in need; artists who expose what women look like after treatment; people who find ways to get real information available to anyone…you get the idea. If people decide they want to do it in the month of October, In the past, I would be staying at home–cheering everyone on, crying, applauding and wishing I didn’t feel this way, because I am aware of breast cancer every day of my life and usually October is so overwhelming, I hide. BUT, this year, I have entered into October with a very different attitude. Sometimes it’s a little belligerent, but certainly more engaged than I have ever been.

 

How did you hear/learn about The TaTa Top?

I belong to a group on Facebook called Flat and Fabulous for women who have had mastectomies and chosen not to reconstruct. While I have decided to pretty much toss the prosthetics and go naturally flat and not try to hide it, I’m not opposed to popping in some lady chest lumps if the mood strikes. Plus, there was a big upset on Facebook about pictures of mastectomies being banned because they show women naked from the waist up… even though there was no breast or nipple in sight. Ridiculous, right?! Then I thought, wait a minute, men have nipples, they show pictures and walk around without a shirt. I hate the double standard, but that is how our culture has evolved over the centuries. The whole concept of The TaTa Top is such a hysterical poke in the side to this accepted convention. I love the simple joke of it, and I love the real message underneath.

 

Where have you worn your TaTa Top or where do you plan to wear your TaTa Top? What has been your experience wearing it?

So far I’ve only worn it at home, and my husband said “Hey, that looks real!” I’ve only just started gaining the confidence to wear clothes that show I don’t have breasts anymore, so wearing The TaTa Top in public is still too scary for me. So, I’d like to re-answer this question at a later time, because I want so badly for others to see it.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you are doing with your life currently…How are you feeling, what are your goals, plans?

Over the past 15 or so years, I have developed chronic pain from surgery/radiation, and the medication I’m on for “maintenance” has several side effects that are a challenge to living a normal life, but I limp along.  I have good days, and I have bad days. I have a good attitude, and I have a bad attitude. My husband of 24 years retires soon, and we both are looking forward to having lots of adventures together. I can’t help but feel happy about getting older since there was a time when I wasn’t sure I would.

 

Anything else you would like to add!

I salute the women who have worn their TaTa Top out and about… they inspire me to be fearless too.

 


 

Mary Ann, Walla Walla, WA.

 

 

 

When were you diagnosed?

I am 52 years old, and this past March my family physician found a lump in my right breast during a routine gynecological exam. She sent for mammogram and immediately an ultrasound and core biopsy were performed. Pathology indicated the tumor was cancer, and three days later I had a lumpectomy.  The pathology report revealed cancer cells went to the edges of the mass removed, so it was determined a mastectomy was necessary. After some discussion I elected to start chemo and hold off on surgery due to the aggressive nature of  the tumor. Six weeks ago I had a mastectomy and am now receiving radiation for a total of 30 days. I have stage 3 breast cancer.

 

What was one lesson you learned throughout your battle with breast cancer?

Just breathe. Do I have stage 3 or stage 4 breast cancer? Breathe. How am I going to make it through this day feeling so nauseous? Breathe. This scenery is so spectacular. Breathe.

 

Do you have any advice/words of wisdom for women currently fighting breast cancer?

Do things to empower yourself during your treatment and recovery to allow you to cope and stay predominantly positive. When you feel at your worst–move. I learned this from Lance Armstrong. I combined empowerment with movement by biking to my chemo infusions (not too far, 3 miles each way). My husband, Sean, biked with me to the first two infusions, which was so lovely. In particular, I remember biking home from the first infusion…it was April, and Cherry trees were in full bloom–it was breath taking…never would I have this experienced in a car! At the time of my third infusion, my friend, Charles, mentioned he would like to accompany my husband and invite some friends. I later invited more friends. We had parade status! The show of support was energizing! Arriving to my chemo infusions in this fashion made me feel strong physically and emotionally despite a very serious diagnosis. I appreciated the dichotomy that being active seemed counter while being ill and taking some very potent drugs.

 

How did you hear/learn about The TaTa Top?

My sister-in-law, Graycen, bought two TaTa Tops–one for herself and one for me. I could not wait for its arrival!

 

Where have you worn your TaTa Top or where do you plan to wear your TaTa Top? What has been your experience wearing it?

My treatment included six chemo infusions. However, there was some uncertainty as to whether I had metastatic cancer and would need more infusions. I elected between my 6th and possibly 7th infusion to take two of my sons to Philadelphia for a senior trip rather than see my oncologist 5 hours away to hear a definitive decision about my diagnosis. Upon returning, I immediately had an appointment to go to our local cancer center for my 7th infusion–still not knowing whether I would be staying or going. I was definitely feeling a little down. I did start to feel better when my son, Seamus, rolled out of bed early that morning and agreed to accompany me by bike. Then my sister-in-law rolled up with her TaTa Top on and I was game!  We started on the 3 mile bike ride to the cancer center with the TaTa Tops on, and I felt such a sense of freedom and joy. The first reaction was “OMG!”  Many drivers did double-takes. It was so liberating. A number of friends later mentioned they had seen me…one mentioned she laugh so hard throughout the day thinking of me because at first she thought I really was topless! Once at the cancer center, the nurses were coming around to see me and laugh. Two of the nurses actually order TaTa Tops of their own after this incident.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you are doing with your life currently…How are you feeling, what are your goals, plans?

I am married and have 4 children. I am currently still in treatment, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Only 15 more days of radiation. I have radiation everyday, OT twice a week, acupuncture once a week and antibody infusion every 3 weeks. Although I feel well mostly, the cancer is still a part-time job at this point.  I am a potter and am starting to get back in the studio and it feels amazing. It is so joyful! In the works of planning a trip for next summer–possibly a long extended bike ride or walk, such as a pilgrimage…trying to make big plans for accomplishing a big endeavor!

 

 

by Linze Rice