The Faces of STRINGS is a photographic gallery of women, primarily breast cancer survivors, who are in some way connected to StringsforaCURE®. They each tell the story of their cancer journey and offer their tips.
|Hi! My name is Brenda Berchtold. I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer when I was 23 years old. At that time I had surgery and radiation therapy. There is no know cure for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Over the years I have had several surgeries along with several chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments. The past 3 years I have been on three different clinical trials. One of the clinical trials was at Allegheny Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA and the other two have been at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore Maryland. I have had great success with the past two clinical trials with 70% reduction in disease. I have been married for 30 years to a very supportive husband and have 2 children who have given me many reasons to fight for my life. I turned 50 years old this May. I enjoy motorcycle riding, swimming, finding beach glass, working out and spending time with family and friends. I am so grateful and blessed for my family, friends and StringsforaCURE for all their prayers and support. I will continue to live my life to its fullest and fight for a cure!
My tips: Try to have a positive attitude and center your life with positive people, take charge of your health don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek for the doctors that will go the extra mile for you, do self exams, try to live your life as normal as possible, set goals that you want to meet in your life and strive for them.
|I received my diagnosis of breast cancer on New Year’s Eve 2009. An annual mammogram had shown an area suspicious for cancer in November and on December 31, I learned that a biopsy confirmed that it was cancer. An MRI in early January showed a second area of cancer. As frightening as it sounds, I knew I was very lucky. Lucky to have caught this cancer early. I knew I did not have cancer the year before since I had mammograms performed each year. I have now completed my cancer treatment and I am cancer free. I am thankful to have had the support of my husband, Jim, and many friends, doctors and nurses. I hope my story inspires others to have an annual mammogram.
My Tip: Explore your treatment options.
|My motto has always been “Every day above ground is a good day.” But even more so, since my breast cancer diagnosis in January of 2012. My daughter and son-in-law were expecting their first child in March, and there was NO WAY this was going to interfere with holding my first grandchild!
After surgery, radiation was scheduled. Seriously? Seven weeks? Five days a week? It took longer to change my clothes than it did for radiation treatment. A ‘speed bump’ is what I called it.
Medication. Ok. Wait. For 5 years? Really? Ok. Speed bump. Side effects? Ok. Painful joints? Ok. Speed bump. Weight gain? Ok. Wait. 20 pounds? Ok. Stop! Speed bump. Switched to organic/all natural foods.
Speed bumps. That’s all. Surgery, radiation, medication, side effects, lymphedema. Wait. Lymphedema? Ok. Speed bump. Those sleeves and gauntlets I wear? Well. I figure if I have to wear them forever, at least they’re going to be pretty! And what a teaching moment it provides when someone asks “Oh. Did you hurt your arm?”
Stay strong. Keep your head up. Look for that light. And you know what? I was right. “Every day above ground IS a good day.
My Tip: Switch to organic foods whenever possible. And surround yourself with optimism! Even if you’re the only one who is optimistic!
|After the shock of her diagnosis of breast cancer, Karen realized it was a blessing to have something that stopped her from running as fast as she could on the treadmill of life and brought her truly into the moment. Life screamed to a halt. Stopped. In the stillness, finding a deeper spiritual connection and a true appreciation for the love of family and friends, she found the ability to see life anew, as if through the eyes of a child – with wonder, joy and gratitude. Grateful for each day, each flower, each bird, each breath – grateful and happy!
My Tip: Be grateful. Remember that you choose your thoughts and emotions… choose to be happy and joyful each and every day so that you can be the best version of you that you can possibly be!
|As the founder of StringsforaCURE®, I thought it would be exciting to collaborate with Patti Larson, our Development Director and freelance photographer, on the Faces of STRINGS project. I have met so many wonderful women who constantly inspire me and wanted to give them a platform so that they could inspire others who encounter the words “You have cancer”.
Since my original breast cancer diagnosis in 1995, at the young age of 40, I have learned to take charge of my health, learned about nutrition and stayed informed of the latest developments regarding breast cancer. When my cancer returned in 2005, I realized firsthand what it’s like to have a mastectomy and how life can keep going on after a second cancer diagnosis. I am no longer afraid to hear those three words. I am an advocate of early detection because I did not have a lump either time.
The StringsforaCURE® Foundation was started so that we could educate, comfort, support and provide financial assistance to cancer patients, primarily those with breast cancer.
My Tip: If you have a mastectomy and opt out of breast reconstruction, you may want to consider a breast prosthesis. Go to the prosthesis provider prior to surgery, so that you can see it, feel it, and decide if it’s for you or not.
|I thought it was just a dimple. A small unusual dimple, that looked back at me in the mirror for months. I was never very concerned that it was anything more than just a strange dimple. Breast cancer had never occurred to me. I was young, had no risk factors and was the picture of perfect health. But, it was this small unusual dimple that sent me to my very first mammogram. On November 2, 2010 at the young age of 35 I found out what was behind this dimple. Cancer. Stage III invasive ductal carcinoma.
Life as I knew it was over. I was now faced with the task of fighting cancer. My days as a busy single working mom were replaced with doctor appointments, chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries. Although I was terrified I knew that cancer would not win. Looking at my beautiful children every day gave me the strength that I needed to fight this battle. They are what got me through the worst year of my life. It has been almost 4 years since that dreaded day and I am happier and healthier than I’ve ever been. Life does indeed go on. This experience has given me physical and emotional scars that will last forever. It has also given me wisdom and compassion to help me see the world through different eyes. I am beyond grateful for every day that I get to spend on this beautiful Earth.
My Tip: Educate yourself and be your own advocate. Explore all of your options and never be afraid to ask too many questions.
|Being diagnosed with breast cancer did not come as huge shock to me due to my family history—my mom and my sister are survivors as well as many other close relatives. Being diagnosed at the age of 43 was a surprise! An MRI and diagnostic mammogram saved my life. Three spots in my right breast were biopsied and all were positive for cancer. Life got very busy and complicated with appointments and uncertainties. Following a 9 hour surgery which included a mastectomy with immediate TRAM flap reconstruction (silver lining—a tummy tuck!) I went through 4 rounds of chemo and 1 year of Herceptin treatments. It was not easy but I discovered something about myself—I was STRONG!!! More than I ever knew.
I could not have gotten through my journey without my husband’s constant love and support. He taught me that laughter truly is the best medicine. He was there with a joke when I was struggling or needed a pick me up. My children, family, and friends also rallied and provided me with so much that this journey became a life lesson. My faith in the good of mankind was renewed. I will never forget the smallest of favors that people did for me to make life easier. And now 5 years later I try my best to pay it forward.
Love Life—Be Brave! Words I now live by. Cancer is life changing but we need to face each and every day as the gift it really is. There are no promises for tomorrow….make the most of each moment!
My Tip: ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS look for your Silver Lining! It is there if you look hard enough!
|I never thought that I would be a person affected with cancer. Earlier in my life, I lost my father to cancer, but did not think it would touch my adult life, at the age of 38. A checkup with a non-related issue led to the discovery of Stage 4 Ovarian cancer. Through a series of protocol treatments (chemo, surgery and homeopathic treatment) I have been able to continue to live my day to day life, just like everybody else…except with the knowledge that I have cancer. Cancer is scary. Not knowing the outcome of all of this treatment causes me to worry. I worry about my family, I worry about my accomplishments. Have I done enough? Could I do more? Have I experienced all that I can? Have I done all that I can do to affect the world in a positive manner? These worries can consume a person. I would be lying if I said that from time to time all of this doesn’t get to me as well. This is why I lean on my faith to help me overcome my mind.
I am strong. Through this experience I have learned just how resilient I am. I am spiritually strong. Faith has kept me alive, prayers have helped to maintain my living with cancer in a positive manner. All of this positive thinking and prayer has provided me with the courage and hope that in the end, all of this will be fine. Along with my faith, I have been touched by the outpour of friends and family. I have found that doctors, nurses, and organizations such as StringsforaCURE, have allowed me to take this negative experience and turn it into a positive one. Without the experience of cancer, I don’t know that I would have realized just how fortunate I am to be surrounded by such wonderful people. Six years ago, I would not have realized just how blessed I am. For that, I am grateful.
My tips: You are not a statistic. You are a strong individual that can and has to fight this battle. Eat well, stay away from sugar, surround yourself with positive people, stay as positive as you can, your mind is very powerful. Pray for serenity, courage and wisdom.
|my world has just been turned upside down. “you have breast cancer and before we operate we need to stabilize your heart.” how am i going to tell my husband, my son, my family. i am meeting with the oncologist discussing that the options are limited due to my congenital heart disease. bi-lateral mastectomy is really the only course i have; ok, i always wanted smaller perkier breasts. i leave the oncologist’s office wondering what life is going to be like, how will i act, how will i feel, how can i tell people, will i ever feel normal. through open heart surgeries, an aneurysm that hangs out in my brain and numerous serious skin cancers, i have never been afraid, but i must admit i am feeling a little bit frightened. the one thing i know as i embark upon this journey is cancer will never define me.|
|My name is Nicole Pachell and I was raised in North East, PA. I graduated from Gannon University in 1998 with a degree in Elementary Education. In June of 1999, I became the wife of Dominic and in January of 2002, gave birth to my son, Joshua. I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, a very aggressive form of breast cancer, in 2005 when I was 29 years old. Prior to my diagnosis, I had been working as a pre-school teacher.
During my nine year journey with this disease, I have learned many lessons. The most important lessons were how to stay strong, keep a smile on my face and how to conquer many battles in life. Throughout this journey, I have also learned that it is important to have a strong support system, surround yourself with positive individuals and always stay strong in your faith.
My Tips: KEEP SMILING and KEEP POSITIVE
|At age 50, I had a good job, good health, just got married and returned from our honeymoon in the Bahamas. I couldn’t have been happier. One evening as I was taking a shower, I did my self breast exam. I felt “something”. It barely took shape. It wasn’t painful, it wasn’t hard, actually it was barely noticeable but I knew it wasn’t there before. I called my doctor and she had me come in right away to see her. She thought maybe it was just a cyst but to be safe she sent me for a sonogram. The sonogram showed a small mass surrounded by dark shadows. They told me they thought it was breast cancer. I didn’t believe it because I had 10 years of mammograms that showed nothing. My doctor sent me to a surgeon. He agreed that it had to come out to be safe. As it turned out, it was stage 1 breast cancer. On September 4th, 2007, I became a breast cancer survivor.
Treatment: I wish I could say my treatment went smoothly. We had a lot of questions so my husband took notes. It’s overwhelming and hard to absorb all the information at once. The oncologist wanted me to take chemo, radiation, and 5 years of tamoxifen. I asked him how beneficial the chemo would be. He said it would improve my chances of reoccurrence by 2%. My margins and lymph nodes were clear so I elected not to do the chemo. This isn’t what the doctor wanted to hear but it was my body and my choice, not his. The doctor pushed, he said “If 100 women have breast cancer and do not take chemo, two of them will die. Are you going to be one of the two?” Really? You’re fired. I switched to a different oncologist, who let me proceed with the radiation and tamoxifen but not the chemo. A few years later, the new oncologist told me it was probably the right decision to not do the chemo. After working thru the anger, the fear, and the emotions associated with Breast Cancer, it gave me the time to reflect and heal, and to put things in perspective. I was lucky to have my husband by my side. I consider us both survivors. It changed our lives in more ways that I can say. Our time with our family means everything, more than they know. Celebrating their milestones is in turn celebrating ours. I embrace the unity of women in the fight, we’re sisters, we’re warriors. Strength and power come in numbers and together we will get each other thru this. Every day of our lives is a blessing.
My Tips: Perform self breast exams. You can catch something the mammogram missed. Know your body. Be proactive. It could save your life
|“Me – breast cancer?” Never! Or so I thought. After all, I had no family history and I led a very healthy lifestyle. And yet, in October 2011, I found myself sitting in a doctor’s office and hearing the words, “You have breast cancer.” Thanks to the diligence of my radiologist who had discovered the tumor, it was very early stage. However, it was also a very aggressive type of cancer, known as triple-negative. Treatment was equally as aggressive – surgery, followed by six months of chemotherapy and six weeks of daily radiation. It was neither an easy journey nor one I would have ever chosen. But like so many of life’s challenges, it made me acutely aware of all the blessings in my life. I would count my blessings each day and soon came to realize that a good dose of gratitude can do wonders to offset the emotional side effects of treatment. And while my journey through treatment is now complete, I continue to count my blessings each and every day.
My Tips: Don’t hesitate to ask others for help, and whenever possible, be specific in what you need. It is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength. Your friends and family will welcome the opportunity to help you as you journey through treatment. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate – preferably by drinking water. Try mixing a high quality natural ginger ale with water in a ratio of one part ginger ale to three parts water. It will make the water more palatable and the ginger can help soothe an upset stomach. Pack in the protein. Your body is undergoing a lot of stress and therefore your body’s protein needs increase during treatment. In addition to food sources such as nuts, seeds and beans, consider a 100% whey protein powder that can be added to foods or used in smoothies.