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Girlfriend's Guide to Breast Cancer

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A Podcast on Tina's Breast Cancer Journey, a "Girlfriend's Guide" to Breast Cancer.

Tina's story must be told.  She has lived the breast cancer journey both as the survivor and the daughter of one.  Tina knows both sides of the story.  She has been the ears that have heard, the eyes that have watched, and the hand holder.  She too has been the body that has been sick, weak, and worn.  Her soul has come forward with unyielding optimism about her own future and that of her fellow survivors.  Through her experiences, those affected by breast cancer will find inspiration that they too can hope for a promising future that will wipe away the pain of the past, replacing it with joy and gratitude.  Sit back and listen in to her inspirational Podcast debut, DJ Breast Cancer.

  • Writer's picturedjbreastcancer

Hope is Forever!

What a feeling to celebrate 10 years of being a breast cancer survivor. What a difference a decade makes?! 10 years ago, I was literally choking with the news of a cancer diagnosis, bouncing like a pinball from doctor to doctor, and could not think about my future. Everything in my life was on pause. No plans, no trips, no promotions, nothing except cancer. I lived and breathed waiting rooms, judging them and wishing for HGTV to break in and make them more cheerful. I was resigned to scheduling my week around appointments and waiting for my marching orders, my treatment plan. That was my future. In August of 2013, there are zero pictures on my camera roll. None. I was diagnosed on August 5, 2013 and spent the next month as a breast cancer survivor, trying to find out how I was going to survive this. The first year after my diagnosis, I moved forward milestone to milestone, accepting small victories as tiny battles toward the war of my health. I learned grit and grace as my mom had shown me, in her previous 2 occurrences with cancer. I knew that sometimes standing still was still moving forward. I accepted the setbacks, however painful, as bumps along the way.

16 rounds of chemo, 25 rounds of radiation, 2 mastectomies, 15 lymph nodes removed (4 with cancer), reconstruction, 3 support group sessions consumed my minutes, days and weeks. Years slowly moved by and cancer loomed further in the rear view mirror, still a painful memory but I focused on looking ahead. Never too far ahead, but a firm grip on the future. When my 5-year cancerversary rolled around, I breathed a small sigh of relief and planned a fun trip to Traverse City, Michigan to visit 5 breweries with my husband and parents. One Mother May I step forward into non-cancer, I exhaled and moved forward boldly. As my 10-year cancerversary approached, my soul needed something big, a way to honor and pay tribute to a huge milestone. I have a dear high school friend in the airlines industry, always inviting me to exotic and amazing destinations. “Sounds amazing, but no” has been my canned answer 99% of the time as she rattled off Acapulco, St. Petersburg, Iceland, Paris. When she asked me if I wanted to go to South Africa, I didn’t immediately say no. I asked her when she was going, and she replied August, the month of my 10-year cancerversary. I didn’t go looking for a trip of a lifetime, my soul found what I needed and placed the opportunity in my lap. Add my best friend (also of high school) to the maybe/yes conversation and we started dreaming, researching, making the idea into a possibility and then action.

The more I researched, the more I fell in love. First, there was a trip to the Cape of Good Hope. Can you think of anything more fitting than the Cape of Good Hope, the end of the world and the beginning of another world. As a young child, I studied the large paper globe, spinning my fingers purposefully over “where I would live”. I loved to stare at the end of Africa, from explorers in History class I can barely remember to the spice route, this remote area seemed so far from real life, yet steeped in history, culture and beauty. For months, I studied every morsel, examined every Instagram worthy location and made timelines, plans, reservations and let my soul lead. Together, with my 2 best friends from high school, we could not wait for this trip of a lifetime. We all needed a break. It was a bucket list place I never even knew I needed.

Working for Vera Bradley made my packing and organization so much easier! From the large spinner to check a weeks’ worth of clothes. It was winter in Cape Town, so thankfully I had a set of packing cubes to scrunch it all down into manageable little sections. My cord organizer held my every cord imaginable for the 15 hour flight from Atlanta. Earbuds to chargers to converters, everything electronic was in one place, all neatly organized; giving me great peace. I loved my deluxe travel wallet to put my passport, credit cards, Starbucks gift card, and my paper boarding pass. It was nice to have it all organized together and fit perfectly in my Campus Backpack. Ok, so my favorite travel item is forever the Campus Backpack. I use this style every time I travel domestically as my personal item. The Side pockets perfectly hold my water bottle and current novel. All of the pockets are so thoughtfully designed for travel. There is a pen slip for any customs forms, there is a back hidden zip for my phone. The middle section perfectly held a travel organizer, along with my cord organizer and my noise canceling headphones. Leaving my laptop at home this trip, the back pocket was perfect for my journal and set of colorful pens to document the entire trip. Additionally, I had put all my notes from Pinterest in this journal to keep rainy day ideas handy, best winery picks and addresses for Uber references.

With the landing gear groaning in place, I felt like a kid looking out the window exclaiming, “Wow that’s Table Mountain and that’s Lion Head”. All the Pinterest places, coming to life right before my eyes! It was here and I was here for all of it!!! The first night was a bit of blur with definite jetlag, but we managed to get some delicious seafood and a Belgium ale in the V&A Waterfront. Our hotel in Cape Town would be home for the next 5 nights, and I loved unpacking all my clothes for the upcoming day trips. Next up, an amazing day of sightseeing!!! Cape of Good Hope, here we come! My best friends surprised me with matching rose gold bracelets with my quote inscribed “Never say never, hope is forever” and matching shirts. Since it was a beautiful, clear day, our tour guide asked if we would like to start with Table Mountain. Often clouded over with a “tablecloth”, the answer is always yes if you have a clear day. We took a vertical tram all the way to the top of the mountain (no room for those scared of heights). It looks extremely flat from the ground, but at the top it was rugged and beautiful with hiking trails throughout the mountain. Next up across the ocean, well, that’s Antarctica!!! The cool ocean mixed with mountain breeze made me feel even more alive.

From there, we made our way to a series of beautiful stops from scenic Chapman’s Peak that reminded me of California twists and turns, Hout Bay with silly seals, and of course Cape of Good Hope. I changed into my Vera Bradley Hope t-shirt to mark the special occasion and take photos for Instagram of course!!! The waves crashed with thunderous roars and there were rocks and a strange looking seaweed or kelp dotting the ocean. I even saw a wandering ostrich and some strange looking horned deer. A friendly reminder, that THIS is Africa. Climbing step after step to the lighthouse, I marveled at my body and how far it’s come. I took in every inch of the view with wonder and amazement. I was right where I needed to be!

Every second with my friends was filled with laughter and love. It was as though time had stood still and we were back in high school, silly and carefree. As high school cheerleaders, we love to make a cheerleading pyramid in cool and unusual places. From Cape of Good Hope to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens to the oldest winery Groot Constantia, we found ways to make our time together even more fun! The best part was hanging out in the hotel after the sun went down, in our Vera Bradley pajama pants and cozy life slippers, hair in messy buns and wine glass in hand, poking fun of each other and laughing at the pictures and videos of the day (we found ostriches especially amusing). We also loved a tour to wine country, 4 wineries in 3 wine region, this was serious business, meeting a friendly Midwest couple, an Australian couple with a love of wine and another couple from a remote island near Madagascar. Thankfully our tour included some much needed carbs in the middle. My chicken curry was divine, and the scenery was one part Europe Alps and one part where the heck am I! I loved my mini belt bag for keeping my phone closely secure along with a few credit cards. My featherweight backpack was perfect for day trips with room for a water bottle (yes, I was hydrated beyond wine), my cord organizer to keep my phone juiced up, my journal with notes and snacks too.

This was a trip my soul needed. It was a thank you to my body for 10 years of grit. It was a celebration of friendship and adventure. Sometimes life takes you to the extreme, and in exploring the extreme end of the world, you make peace and simply say wow, what a wild ride it has been. It is such an honor to carry products that support Vera Bradley Foundation, an organization dedicated to breast cancer research. So much has changed in the past decade for cancer research, and yet there is so much more work to do. I have lost countless friends to breast cancer in the past decade, seen posts from husbands, daughters and sisters with funeral information. I count my blessings every single but push forward with hope for tomorrow. More treatments, more trials, more options. Never say never, hope is forever!!

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Sibylle Schwarz
Sibylle Schwarz
Nov 23, 2023

What an achievement! I am only 4 Months after chemo and I am so scared of the next years. Well done you!

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