Life As A Co-Survivor

A co-survivor can be anyone who is there for a breast cancer patient through their diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Some examples of co-survivors include: family, friends, spouses, partners, children or co-workers. Remember that as as a co-survivor need support too! Sometimes watching a loved one battling breast cancer is just as scary as going through it yourself. Visit komen.org/cosurvivor to learn more about how you can be there for a loved one during their time of need. The more you know, the more you can help!


By: Nicole Bozek
May 2016

When I was a kid I used to think that one day I would eventually lose my hair. That one day I would have to wear a wig before I go out in public. That when I was an adult, I would get a big girl bra with my own silicone breast form so the world would never know I only had one breast.

Breast cancer interweaves itself in and out of my childhood memories. I don’t vividly remember the day my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. In fact, I was only four when it happened. Some days I see in my thoughts my mom cheerfully waiting for me on the front school steps where would we walk back home, holding hands, singing songs and picking flowers on our way home. Days where we would walk on the beach, picking up seashells, chasing seagulls and eating ice cream on the pier. Those are the fun memories.

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Nicole, her mom and brother.

Other times, I recall the distant memories of my brother, family friends or even neighbors picking me up from school. Each day someone different with a new routine. At home I would find my mom lying in bed, her face more tired, pale and less mom-like then I remembered. I recall wanting her to play with me, to run around and pick flowers in the neighborhood. She was too tired to play. Those days I remember missing the fun mom.

I grew up watching my mom brushing and adjusting her wigs to look just right. I still recall the intense questioning I had as I inspected and prodded the silicone breast form when my mom wasn’t looking. I remember watching my mom struggle to make the breast form sit properly in her bra.

“Breast cancer will always be a part of our stories.”

This year marks the 23rd year anniversary of my mom being a breast cancer survivor. Her brush with cancer over two decades ago has not only shaped her life, but mine as well. Breast cancer will always be a part of our stories. All I have ever known is what it’s like to grow up with my mom having one breast.

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Nicole and her mom.

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#IAmKomenAustin – My Life With Cancer

By: Diane Castillo 

I have always participated in different events that raise money for those with cancer. Cancer runs in both sides of the family. It’s a small world when you tell someone you have cancer.I found out my paternal grandmother had breast cancer and had to get a double mastectomy. She tends not to tell people of what illness she is dealing with. She’s a very strong woman and is now in remission. My paternal grandfather passed away of brain cancer, it will be 18 years he has been gone. I miss his laughter, smiles and hugs. My mother passed away from breast cancer and double lung pneumonia, it’s been 22 years she has been gone. I also found out my maternal aunt also had breast cancer, she is in remission.

I won’t forget when I told family members I had cancer. Some just said, “ok” or “I’m sorry,” and that was the last I heard from them. My only family support is my paternal grandmother. Other support I get are from less than a handful of friends and from a BRBC nurse navigator named Jessica Garrison. I met her when I was getting treatment at Brack’s Shivers Cancer Center, we still stay in touch with one another.

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Photo of Diane Castillo

I didn’t know what to expect from treatment,  before, during and after. I went online to gather as much information as I could. At first, it seemed overwhelming. I took notes in how to pack a chemo bag. I learned to have items in it to keep me busy during chemo and packed healthy snacks.

One of the websites I stumbled on was the Susan G. Komen® website through Facebook. Everyday, I would read, take notes and print any information I wanted to understand more. When I would go to chemo, I was alone. My paternal grandmother did her chemo alone. I figure if she could do it, so could I. While in chemo, I would read more on staying healthy while going through chemo, read positive quotes and read more on make up. I didn’t know that besides hair loss on your head, you can lose your eyebrows and eyelashes. Putting fake eyelashes on is not a easy task. I also lightly “painted” my eyebrows with eyebrow powder,  I can say I can do eyebrows like a pro. Many would think make up is the least worry of a cancer patient, for me, the normal was fixing my hair and face every morning.

I wanted to still have that same “normalcy.”

I also purchased several wigs when I could. I enjoyed looking different with the wigs. Everyday was a wig day. I wore wigs when I left the house. Otherwise, I wore pretty bandanas. Bandanas that I bought more than ten years ago at WalMart for 25 cents as they were on sale, who knew I was going to use them!

Finding out I have cancer has changed my life. The old saying, “you don’t know you have strength until you are at your weakest.”

My weakness was not knowing what happens with cancer. I decided I needed to educate myself. With the knowledge I found I realized I’m stronger than before.
Sadly, while dealing with cancer I became distance from friends and family members but not of my fault. I realize those who love you will be there for you no matter what. Instead of being seen as a loving humorous person I was being seen as STRIKEN WITH CANCER.

I’m not cancer and cancer isn’t me.

I’m still that same loving and humorous person. Besides taking care of myself, I have a young daughter. I won’t forget when I told her I have breast cancer. Out of her mouth she said, “we WILL beat cancer together.” I bawled my eyes out. My tween created a group in school with the school counselor for students, who have parents who passed away and those who had became victims of cancer. I asked my tween what made her create the group, she said she noticed too many classmates losing their parents to cancer and other chronic illnesses. The classmates came to school looking hurt and confused. She would talk to them and promise not to tell anyone of their private conversations.  It not only helped those students but helped her as well. I’m the only surviving parent. I lost my husband seven years ago due to a chronic heart illness.

Even in death and in life the world still turns. We are in charge of our lives and we make life what it is. I decided that I still enjoy being an advocate and volunteering in different organizations. It feels good to give back to the community.

I can not wait to kick cancer to the curb. I’m ready to live a more healthier life without cancer!

A Mother Daughter Journey

She will Survive
By: Brandi Spear, daughter of Rhonda Badgett
November 2005

The month was November, and that meant that annual mammogram time for my mother. With three new grandbabies, life was extremely exciting, and she hated to miss even a minute. So canceling the first mammogram appointment and rescheduling eleven days later did seem like a good idea at the time. Why not? She did not have cancer in her family and no signs of any lumps or bumps. Eleven days passed and she went in for her scheduled appointment, with a smile. Four hours later she left with a parking pass for day surgery at Seton Hospital; a lumpectomy on her breast was scheduled for the following day. After completing the lumpectomy on her breast, the Friday before Thanksgiving, and arriving home she received a call from her one hour after coming home.

She left the laughter-filled room of her family to hear her doctor and came back a few minutes later in tears. As it turns out, my mom was one out of eight American women to find out they had breast cancer. As my mom shared the news, the entire family was shocked and speechless. It was as if someone had taken all of my available air supply and thrown it miles away so that I may never reach it again. My heart fell to the floor. How could this be? We said to ourselves, no one in our family has ever had cancer and she did not feel any lumps or bumps.

My mom had stage four breast cancer, which required a radical mastectomy. Eleven and a half months of chemotherapy and 48 treatments of radiation were to follow. The doctor said if they had detected it two months later nothing could have been done. Being one in eight my courageous mom realized the major importance of early detection, the truths and myths about breast cancer, and how using the available procedures today saved her life!

I can’t put into words the gratitude I feel when I think of the dedicated doctors, pathology department, and the wonderful staff at Texas Oncology.

My mother, Rhonda K. is the center of our family tree and always will be.

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Photo of Rhonda Badgett.


She Did Survive 
By: Rhonda K. Badgett
April 2016

My name is Rhonda K Badgett, and my journey has been scary, awesome and I am so full of gratitude.

By the grace of my God I never asked “why me”, I just had an innate feeling that I would survive. My Doctor (the wonderful Dr. McFarland) told me that I had some options for treatments, I could go with a lumpectomy (which he DID NOT recommend), or radical mastectomy with 8 to 9 months of chemotherapy and radiation. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hormone receptive breast cancer. When the first surgery was done both breast were removed as well as 23 lymph nodes.

At the time my daughter was finishing a degree in elementary education. As an aside this child of mine is very accepting of life, and easy going. However in her theology class she asked her professor “WHY MY MOM?” The professor said “Why not your mom? God evidently knows she can accept this and gracefully go through the journey, BUT most important, for you (her daughter) God knows that you can walk with her with grace, love and fearlessly.” This discussion with her professor was such a blessing for my daughter (Brandi Spear), as she was with me for every chemotherapy infusion and radiation treatment. My youngest son was very afraid, as he was a momma’s boy, and he was only 16 years old, but he just watched his sister and me, and sensed that we knew I would survive.

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Rhonda and her grandson.

I was working at a high pressure job (which I loved) at the time of my diagnosis. I was so blessed to have a supportive staff, management team, and a wonderful administrator. I was very clear that I could not STOP working because I needed to stay as busy and not focus only on the treatments and how I felt, and when my team realized I was not going to take time off, they put a cot in my office, (AWE!!). I was totally okay with not having any hair, but I worked with the elderly, and the “no hair” thing frightened them, (one sweet little 95 years old lady asked, “Is your head sick?) I learned how to make crochet hats, in many colors and wore them every day.

I was diagnosed November 14, 2006. Today I have retired from my corporate gig….I am having a blast, and have such peace and serenity and feel so VERY blessed. God had many more things that he wanted me to do and be.

Today I volunteer at infusion rooms…I go with a smile on my face, I dress up in my funky style (I wore suits in the Corporate gig) and just have fun, and spread as much hope and love as I can.

“My message is you Will and Can Survive!!!!” – Rhonda Badgett

Some of the FUN things I do now: Volunteer for the awesome Susan G Komen® (and have a blast). I have never missed a Race for the Cure, and neither have my children and grandchildren. I worked at the YMCA and had so much FUN! I have 4 grandchildren that always make me laugh and I have an excuse to just have fun…we LOVE to go to Schlitterbahn, Hawaiian Falls, jump at the trampolines and so much more. The 2 oldest grandsons play baseball, and I really do not ever want to miss games. I do English dancing, yoga, interact with a beautiful fellowship, walk the trails with my sweet dog, Gibson. I have the opportunity to volunteer at the school my daughter teaches at, and I was named Volunteer of the year. I am teaching myself to make a quilt, and I was able to make an afghan for all 4 of my grandchildren this past summer. I have such a BIG life. However I am not bragging when I say all of the things I do…I mention it because I SURVIVED and so can you!!!!!

 

 

George Miller: Eliminating the Barriers to Care

President and CEO of CommUnityCare Health Centers, George N. Miller began working for CommUnityCare in August 2013. Miller discusses how CommUnityCare began, takeaways from working as CEO at CommUnityCare and being a Komen grantee.

By: George N. Miller, Jr. M.S.H.A

Geroge Miller

Photo of George Miller

CommUnityCare is truly a mission driven organization. The only reason we are here is to put the patients we are privileged to serve first, because they are the center and core of what we do. In many cases we are the only door our patients can come to and receive the high quality care we provide. This is a unique opportunity, and I am honored to be a part of it.

Our vision is to improve the health of the community by increasing access to the best care possible, and our mission is to work with the community as peers with open eyes and a responsive attitude to provide the right care, at the right time, at the right place.

CommUnityCare began initially under a Community Health Center system through the city of Austin in the 1970s. In 1992, the clinic system earned “Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike” status through the federal government, and then in 2009, the Community Health Center system became a private, non-profit corporation named CommUnityCare. Today, CommUnityCare is a full-fledged Federally Qualified Health Center that provides services at 24 locations throughout Travis County. In 2015, our health centers provide over 321,000 medical and dental patient appointments. This number represents more than 88,000 individual patients. We provide comprehensive services to including family practice, internal medicine,  pediatrics, specialty care, women services, high risk OB services, HIV/AIDS, dental services, behavior health, pharmacy services, mobile teams, street medicine, dietitian  services, nutrition services, social services, case managers, nurse triage, and specialist services.  To provide a continuum of care that meets the needs of our clients, CommUnityCare partners with many private, public, and nonprofit organizations such as: Austin-Travis County Integral Care (ATCIC), Seton, The UT Dell Medical School, and the Community Care Collaborative.

The majority of funding comes from Central Health and the Federal Bureau of Primary Health Care. Public and private grants also support the work of CommUnityCare. In 2010, CommUnityCare was accredited by The Joint Commission, which recognizes quality healthcare institutions around the world, and in 2014, three of our health center locations received PCMH (Patient Centered Medical Home) recognition.  Our team is in the process of having all of our locations recognized.

Over the years, our team cared for women who desperately needed breast health services, but we also saw that these women struggled with numerous barriers, such as lack of transportation or lack of healthcare coverage, limiting access to screening mammograms and diagnostic services that we did not provide onsite.  So, in 2013, CommUnityCare set the goal of providing screening mammograms onsite at our North Central Health Center to help eliminate these barriers to care.  Our team then applied for Komen Austin funding to help support this initiative that continues today.

The power of CommUnityCare’s partnership with Komen Austin is not only reflected in each patient whom we serve, but in the collective peace of mind that we can provide to our patients through onsite screening mammograms supported by Komen Austin.  This year alone, we have already leveraged Komen Austin funding to provide screening mammograms to 750 women who have no healthcare coverage.

In addition, Miller loves the Dallas Cowboys and Ohio State Football. He loves golfing and spending time with his three children- Brianna, Grace, and Trey. His faith is also very important to him.