Category Archives: Survivor Story

Becoming A Cancer Conqueror



Karen Garcia, a guest blogger, is 5 and a half years out from her breast cancer diagnosis.

She decided to use ‘alternative’ therapies rather than the standard of care prescribed by her oncologist.  We asked her to write a series of articles surrounding her decision and the subsequent practices she has used.  This has got to be a scary place.  Much of what you decide to do, guided by intuition is not covered by insurance. Since our site is based upon making choices for what you feel is right for you, we feel this and other articles should support that point of view.

We invite you to discuss this by submitting comments below and on our social media pages.

I am more than halfway through my sixth year as a cancer conqueror, which is what I call myself. Every time I hear of someone receiving the news that they’ve got cancer or I hear of someone who has had a recurrence of cancer, I think about how the choices are made as to the treatments and therapies that will be used.

I have to admit, just like probably everyone else who receives a cancer diagnosis, my initial reaction was one of fear and disbelief. I did what I imagine a lot of people do — I cried, curled up in a ball at a friend’s home, until I couldn’t cry anymore.  And then, as I drove home, I called another friend to let her know what the doctor had told me. It wasn’t too long after that call – and because of that call – that I was able to move away from fear and feel somewhat empowered.

My friendship with the person I called that day – Linda – began in a very serendipitous way. One afternoon, several months before my diagnosis, I received a call from this woman I didn’t know from the man in the moon. She had gotten my phone number from someone else — who I also didn’t know — and to this day I have no idea how he had my phone number to give! Linda is a very holistic, spiritual person who contacted me thinking I might know like-minded women in the community she could interact with. We developed an immediate rapport over the phone, and I asked if she would like to meet.

We quickly became friends and spent quite a lot of time together over the months leading up to my cancer diagnosis. Because of how close we’d become, it was just instinctive that she be the one I called on my way home. I told her the surgeon had explained to me the lump was malignant and that my options for treatment were surgery, chemotherapy and, possibly, radiation.

On that call, as I headed home, Linda made a statement to me that changed the course my life would take. She said, “You do know those are not your only options”!

Well, you can imagine my surprise at hearing those words. Obviously, no, I did not know those weren’t my only options! She proceeded to give me a couple websites I could visit to find out more information. Being the information junkie that I am, I began doing hours, days, and weeks of research … and I haven’t stopped.

At this point, I began to notice other “messages” being given to me (the first being the way in which my new friend had come into my life).  Being a spiritual person, I believe the “Universe” was guiding me on this unexpected “journey.”

I moved into a new apartment five days after my diagnosis. While unpacking a box of books, I found two on top of all the others in the container that I didn’t remember buying: “Making Miracles; An Exploration Into the Dynamics of Self-Healing” by Dr. Paul C. Roud, and “Love, Medicine & Miracles; Lessons Learned About Self-Healing From a Surgeon’s Experience with Exceptional Patients” by Dr. Bernie S. Siegel. Both of these books opened my eyes to how miraculous our bodies are given the right tools for healing.

I also read a book called “Getting Well Again” by Dr. O. Carl Simonton, an oncologist, who, along with this wife at the time, Stephanie Simonton, had founded a clinic for cancer patients to help them understand the importance of the mind/body connection in conquering the disease. This book also explained that there is a gift in having a diagnosis of cancer and that I needed to figure out what mine was.

I did figure it out. But that is a topic for a future blog post.

At this point, I made the decision to fight and conquer cancer using alternative, holistic treatments and therapies, rather than the traditional ones that had been explained to me. Of course, my surgeon (and some friends and family members) was none too thrilled to hear I was refusing to do the standard, allopathic treatments. However, I have never doubted whether or not the path I chose was the right one. It has been the right one for me.

And that is what I feel each person who faces a diagnosis of cancer must determine — what is the right path for the journey ahead. The decision should be made having as much information as possible, along with the love and support of the people important to him or her.

After all, it is your life, to live out for as long as you have, in whatever way you are “guided” to do and conquer cancer on your terms! (http://www.conquercanceronyourterms.com)

By Karen Garcia

The Real Terror of October

October can be a real Fright Fest. Zombie walks and Vampire Balls, Haunted hayrides and Spook Houses, the air is cool, the leaves are crunchy underfoot, and glowing jack o lanterns light windows and walkways. Marauding kids armed with toilet paper sneak through the underbrush and wary citizens bring their pumpkins and gourds inside lest they be smashed. The crisp air is thick with ghouls and goblins and gap-toothed pumpkins.

Ehhh, who am I kidding…. Nothing is more frightening than a strutting man at 10 am on a Saturday draped with a pair of heavy, naked, pendulous breasts. I didn’t scream in bone-curdling terror exactly, but my breath caught in my chest, my heart rate accelerated, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. If it was just some dude exercising his right to be a jerk on city streets, I’d be more forgiving. Unfortunately, this guy was wearing pornographic faux breasts for “breast cancer awareness” and he was participating in one of the many pink runs/walks that inundate NYC every October. Short of staking him on the spot, I cursed leaving my phone at home, as I dearly wanted to take his picture (he would have loved that) and then coldly inform him that he was the winner of my “Asshole of the day award” for his sexualization and trivialization of an ugly and serious disease. More terrifying than a vampire-warlock hybrid, indeed.

I try to be tolerant about the October PinkSplosion but it’s increasingly difficult. It’s shameful how little money goes into research, particularly for metastatic cancer, and I’m deeply disturbed that “Breast Cancer Awareness” now translates into companies and base profiteers hawking pink products, with very little of the money trickling down to cancer organizations.

I know some survivors derive purpose and comfort from the Pinkness of October but I don’t know any survivors who would think a dude wearing a big pair of naked breasts is funny. The only thing that could have possibly made him more gross was if he had been wearing a “Save the Titties” sign. Which I’ve seen. Quite a few times. Right alongside the slogans and t-shirts of “Save the Ta-tas,” “Save the Boobies,” “I like Boobies”… well, pretty much any variation you can think of that talks about breasts in a sexual manner. I’ve officially awarded the “Save the Pits, Save the Tits” t-shirt as the most head scratching. Pits as in pitbulls. The dogs. Because, well, obviously. In a race to the gutter, some fundraisers are equally offensive: Boobie Bingo, Boob-aque (sponsored by a cancer organization…. my head just exploded), “Tee off for Ta-tas”…. the list is dispiritingly long.

I don’t know any survivor who thinks cancer, any kind, is funny or sexy. And I don’t see anyone wearing a pair of lungs around their neck for lung cancer awareness or supporters smeared with faux blood for blood cancers, or women dangling a pair of testes for testicular cancer advocacy. Can we Please. Just. Stop. the sexualization and the cutesy motifs and the focus on a body part rather than a person? The month-long inundation of “awareness” makes me swing between wrath-filled and combative to sluggishly depressed with the urge to crawl into a cave for thirty-one days. And I wonder, How did breast cancer get co-opted from us, the actual women who continue to be affected and suffer and die from the disease? And how can we push back and deflate some of the Pink fizz of October?

My first step is to Speak my mind. Ask questions. Where is that money going? “For breast cancer research” is not an adequate answer. Ask the bartender, the shopkeeper, the mother hawking cookies…. Where is the money going? And how much of the money? Twenty-five percent? Ten percent? Five percent? One percent? Voice your displeasure. Tell someone in charge that a “BobbieThon” is kind of offensive. Or really offensive. Speak up when someone is wearing a T-shirt to “Save Second Base.” This fall, I’ve been heartened to see many people speak up and push through all the pink confetti. And maybe even change some minds.

Megan, a fellow survivor in Philadelphia, posted directly on a national chain’s Facebook page, asking where the money for their ample display of pink products was going. It took a few days for her to go up the management chain, but she got a response and a concise list of the organizations they supported. And then she got an even better response when she wrote that as a survivor she was offended by their “I’m a Breast Man” t-shirt. The company ended up pulling that shirt off of their website and out of their stores. Super score!! I’ve seen other survivors use social media to ask companies where their “awareness” money is being allocated. Other people directly ask in stores. It’s not being nosey, it’s being proactive. It’s a surefire bet that if a company or store can’t or won’t answer gentle questions it isn’t a good investment.

After a FB friend posted about “Bartending for Boobies,” and even worse, posted how much he “liked saving Titties”, my boyfriend publicly responded to him, writing: “Come on man, as men we are too smart to sexualize cancer. This isn’t right.”

Most people aren’t trying to be malicious or offensive; they really do want to help! And if we don’t always like the messages, it’s up to us as survivors, advocates, family members, friends, and anyone who cares about basic fairness and integrity to push people to help in more productive, smarter, and less exploitive ways. Every little act is important. Every little act can be real breast cancer awareness, helping to educate the general public that survivors can be very negatively affected by the commercial and sometimes demeaning nature of the Pink movement. We really do have power against this!

Jennifer Jaye is an editor, writer, yogini, general adrenalin junkie, and in her newest role, a cancer survivor. She lives, works, and plays in New York City as she attempts to navigate life as a young survivor of breast cancer.

In honor of the many productive, educational and awesome Breast Cancer organizations that strive every single day of the year to educate and to help, I’m listing a few that fill me with great optimism. Some I have personally benefitted and still benefit from; others I am happy from the mere fact of their existence.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC): Provides programs and services to people impacted by breast cancer. They provide information, community, and support. Located in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, but expanding nationally. www.livingbeyondbreastcancer.org
Metavivor: Devoted to researching and supporting Metavivors, women with Stage IV breast cancer. One hundred percent of all donations from supporters are strictly allocated to research grants. www.metavivor.org

Young Survival Coalition (YSC): dedicated to women diagnosed under the age of 45 and their unique issues. YSC offers resources, connections, and outreach to help young women feel supported. (Full disclosure: I volunteer and have benefitted immensely from YSC.) www.youngsurvival.org

Breast Treatment Task Force (BTTF): NYC-founded and focused, they provide community education and breast cancer screenings, as well as fund the further diagnostics and treatment for women who are at risk or diagnosed with breast cancer and who are uninsured. www.the-bttf.org

Cancer Connects: Provides programs and services to facilitate the cancer journey for patients throughout Central New York State. It is a prime resource for those impacted by cancer and supplies community resources, guidance, and support. Located in Syracuse, New York. www.cancerconnects.org

4wholeness.com: An online community that provides quality education and resources surrounding integrate healthcare options.  With a focus on breast cancer, the site supports women as they make important health and wellness decisions.  www.4wholeness.com

By:  Jenn Jaye

Karen Gagnier, Yoga Instructor & Breast Cancer Survivor

I had heard a lot about yoga and how wonderful it is to help the body.  And I thought, I am just too active to sit around and breathe.  But I listened to my friend and took my first yoga class and fortunately the yoga instructor had said I need to give yoga a shot and not just go with one class but to give it a commitment of maybe two months, and I did.  And then about six months later my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer.  And I found that it was an escape and a place to go that supported me.  And from there, six months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It was very fear invoking and lots of anxiety and the yoga can help to calm all of that so that you can ground yourself and make better decisions.  Yoga supported me throughout everything from the beginning with the testing to the mastectomy to the chemotherapy to the radiation, it was there and this was something that I had decided at the end of the journey to move forward with and give back and enable other women to participate and have the same advantages and benefits that I did. Continue reading