The Quote That Pulled Me Through the Fear and Sadness of My Diagnosis

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When I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in April 2013, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. Not only did I mourn my lost breast but I was terrified of dying. Survival rates for people like me were 86 percent, which might seem good on the surface. But what about the 14 out of 100 people who don’t pull through?

I became depressed and weepy, filled with anxiety. I began getting heart palpitations and had trouble sleeping. I often woke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, hoping this was a nightmare. But the pain on the left side of my chest told me it wasn’t.

But then something changed my way of thinking. I reached a turning point and its name was Danielle.

danielle scarface

At first, I hid my diagnosis from the Facebook community, as though my cancer were shameful, embarrassing and somehow my fault. Then I realized how foolish this was and “outed” myself on social media. The outpouring of support was overwhelming. Friends from across the street and across the world in Australia, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands reached out to me and upheld me.

After my slightly cryptic post which said something about “especially in the coming months,” Danielle sent a Facebook message, asking what I meant. I told her. This began an exchange of emotionally-fortifying notes which transformed me from feeling like a victim to a kick-ass warrior. Like Danielle.

danielle jill rosell photography
Courtesy of Jill Rosell Photography

You see, less than two years earlier, in June 2011, Danielle suffered a catastrophic fall while rock-climbing in Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison. She plummeted nearly 300 feet and broke her ankles, femur, pelvis and her back in two places.

After six surgeries and three and a half months in Denver Health Medical Center, she was paralyzed from the chest down. This might have devastated other people, but not Danielle.

My family happened to be traveling in Colorado a few weeks after Danielle’s accident and we visited her. The daughter of our friend, Jim, we’d known Danielle since she was a little girl. We weren’t prepared for what we saw in the Denver hospital.

There Danielle was, beaming her amazing 1,000-watt smile. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she was grateful to be alive, finding joy in the new gelato flavors that came to Denver Health every Wednesday, encouraging our 11-year-old son to play with her electric hospital bed.

I was floored.

Fast-forward 18 months and Danielle was mono-skiing with the doctors and therapists who saved her life.

A month later came my cancer diagnosis. Every time I felt sad or worried. I tried to think of Danielle. Her Facebook page was brimming with inspirational quotes like Nietzsche’s “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

When I told Danielle that this quote kept me going, she countered with, “I’m sure you will go through a period of grief, but I’m glad they found your cancer. You are going to be okay. Now you are in the club of super-strong people who conquered something like this! Sometimes I feel like this accident is the best thing that happened to me.”

Imagine a young woman, not even 30, finding a positive in being paralyzed.

And here I was, being all woe is me because I lost a breast.

When Danielle started a blog, I followed it feverishly. “My surgeon said this had been a record-breaking fall and I had survived the unsurviveable,” she wrote. In her June 12, 2014 entry, she celebrated “three years of extended life.” What a great way to perceive it.

Right then and there, in the throes of chemotherapy, I decided to stop being consumed by fears of recurrence and to get on with the business of living. Like Danielle did.

cancer diagnosis the mighty

Since her near-fatal accident, Danielle has learned hand-cycling, adaptive skiing (courtesy of a scholarship from Oregon Adaptive Sports), and tried her hand at horseback riding and kayaking. Plus she’s learned to drive a car with hand controls.

Instead of being despondent when she was turned down by physical therapy schools across the U.S. (they felt the demands of PT would prove to be too much even for someone with her impressive upper-body strength), she edited her dreams when the University of Puget Sound said she’d be a perfect candidate for their occupational therapy program.

This May, with her first year of OT studies behind her, Danielle will go on a four-day camp out ride in Moab to test-drive her customized ReActive Adaptations handcycle courtesy of her winning GoHawkeye’s Great Adaptive Outdoor Adventure Contest.

Absolutely nothing stops Danielle, and in the wake of my cancer odyssey, I vowed not to let anything stop me either. I’m currently cancer-free and hope to stay that way.

When I told Danielle that she would be the crux of this piece, she was humbled. “It really means a lot to me that I helped you through that time,” she said. “We are all interconnected and we can lift each other up!”

The Mighty is asking the following: Can you describe the moment someone changed the way you think about a disability or disease? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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New Film Combines Fiction and Reality to Paint an Honest Picture of Breast Cancer

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A Woman Like Me” follows Alex Sichel as she learns to live with the reality of her terminal breast cancer. Sichel passed away in June 2014, but her perspective on life is beautifully rendered in the film, which she co-directed with Elizabeth Giamatti.

SCENE 43 still selects RS

Sichel initially saw the project as a fictional movie with a character facing a diagnosis identical to hers, Giamatti told The Mighty. Sichel had doubts about the authenticity of fiction because she wanted to create a deeply personal movie. As the team began filming in 2012, the structure of the film took shape. “A Woman Like Me” subsequently blends Sichel’s experiences with the story of a fictional woman, Anna Seashell, who copes with the same diagnosis.

Anna acts as an outlet for Sichel to express her opinions and discuss topics relevant to her life, such as parenting, death and faith. In one scene, Anna recklessly abandons her diet — she wants to enjoy rich food and wine in the time she has left.

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Anna’s sassy character adds humor and levity to the movie and her scenes are beautifully intercut with footage of Sichel’s life.

“When you can’t change your circumstances you can still change your emotional and spiritual response,” Giamatti told The Mighty. “It’s human nature to want to change your situation, [Sichel] was trying hard to reverse the course of her illness and find a way to live somewhat peacefully with it.”

Liz & Alex on set

Cancer can be a taboo subject. “We’re all so scared of it,” Giamatti said. “[Sichel] took a raw subject and tried to transform it.”

“A Woman Like Me” does not shy away from the graphic realities of medical treatments or the morbidity that comes with a terminal diagnosis; the camera follows Sichel to chemotherapy treatments and doctor’s visits.

Alex directing-Edit

Although the film revolves around cancer, Giamatti told The Mighty she hopes the movie can “resonate with an audience that’s not just people who have cancer or chronic illnesses.”

“It’s a movie about the imagination and how to cope with difficult situations,” she said.

“A Woman Like Me” debuted at SXSW March 16th. Watch the trailer here.

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The Moving Moment a Father With Breast Cancer Made Sure He Didn't Miss His Daughter's Wedding

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Hugh Campbell has lived with breast cancer for the last seven years. His daughter, Emily Campbell, is getting married in October, but because Hugh’s cancer has reached stage IV, he isn’t sure he’ll be there for the big day. So, with help from the Norton Cancer Institute, Hugh made his dream of walking his only daughter down the aisle a reality.

On Friday, February 27, family and friends joined Hugh and Emily Campbell for a special ceremony in Louisville, Kentucky. Emily Campbell told WLKY she will carry that day with her on her actual wedding day this fall.

It gives me something to reflect on when my wedding comes,” she says in the video below. “Even if he’s still here, it’s a great memory for us to have together and for us to share this together.”

Hugh Campbell wants to take this opportunity to raise awareness about how breast cancer affects men. Though they make up fewer than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases, men are still susceptible to the disease, particularly men in their 60s, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Watch Campbell walk his daughter down the aisle in the moving video below.

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Extraordinary Mastectomy Tattoos Offer Breast Cancer Survivors Artistic Alternative to Surgery

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Breast cancer survivors looking to conceal their mastectomy scars now have artistic alternative to breast or nipple reconstruction surgery.

vin-diagram

P.ink is an organization in Boulder, Colorado, that pairs breast cancer survivors with tattoo artists who help them cover or alter mastectomy scars with tattoos. The nonprofit was founded by Noel Franus, who got the idea when his sister-in-law, Molly Ortwein, was looking for an alternative to breast reconstruction or tattooed nipples following her double mastectomy, The Associated Press reported.

After consulting her family for tattoo ideas, Ortwein chose a tree blossom design.

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Molly Ortwein, photo credit David Rose
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Photo credit David Rose
molly-after
Photo credit David Rose

P.ink was launched in early 2013 on Pinterest as a way to share tattoo ideas and artist information with breast cancer survivors. Later that year, the P.ink team fundraised enough money for 10 women to receive tattoos in a single day in Brooklyn, New York.

2013 Pink day

“Mastectomy tattoos are a radical, creative and empowering act of personal reclamation,” Framus told The Mighty. “We at P.ink are thrilled to play a role in helping survivors take back control over something that’s controlled them.”

48.P.INK DAY~Saved Tattoo Brooklyn 2013-STOLL

60.P.INK DAY~Saved Tattoo Brooklyn 2013-STOLL copy

Survivor Cherie with artist Shannon Purvis Barron photo credit Gigi Stoll

The first annual P.ink day was the takeoff point for a much larger movement. Just one year later, the second annual P.ink day featured 37 volunteer artists with past scar or mastectomy experiences and 38 survivors at tattoo parlors in 12 cities across the U.S. and Canada.

For survivors, meeting with a tattoo artist, choosing a design and actually getting the tattoo can be an intimate, emotionally healing process. When a survivor meets with an artist, she can bring a previously chosen design or work with the artist to create something new.

“A great artist will either bring that vision to life in their own unique way, or they’ll help the survivor clarify what they’re looking for, as a therapist of sorts,” Franus told The Mighty. “And they’ll be able to articulate that in the most beautiful, interesting fashion.”

P.INK DAY ~ Saved Tattoo ~ Brooklyn 2013
Photo credit Gigi Stoll

To help provide guidance to people considering a mastectomy tattoo, P.ink released Inkspiration, an app designed to allow survivors to try on different designs privately before heading to a tattoo parlor.

“Most survivors have no idea where to begin when they consider a mastectomy tattoo, especially if they’re not a ‘tattoo person,’” David Whitney, P.ink’s agency communications manager, told The Mighty in an email. “Users select a body type or upload their own photo and see what a tattoo design looks like on their chest. The app offers a growing library of tattoo designs and also points to a wealth of artists with mastectomy experience.”

Franus says he plans to expand the P.ink network beyond North America.

“The need is global, and and we’d like to find those artists around the world who are experienced and talented,” he said. P.ink Day event will now be held yearly on October 10th.

“There are many moments in the patient’s journey for us to address, and that’s what we’re focusing on,” Franus told The Mighty. “Stay tuned.”

To download the free Inkspiration app for iPhone, click here.

Watch a video recap of 2013 P.ink day in the video below.

The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: Write a letter to yourself in regards to a cancer diagnosis. What would you say or wish someone had told you? Find out how to email us a story submission here.

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Daring Series Turns Famous Cartoon Characters Into Breast Cancer Survivors

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As this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to an end, Italian artist AleXsandro Palombo is here to remind us all that the quest to raise awareness for the disease extends far past October. On Monday, Palombo, who made headlines for creating a series where he gave Disney princesses disabilities, released a set of drawings he calls “SURVIVOR,” where he imagines famous cartoon characters as breast cancer survivors.

The series (below) features Disney princesses like Cinderella, Arielle and Tiana and female cartoons like Marge Simpson, Betty Boop and Wilma Flintstone as women who have underwent single and double mastectomies to survive breast cancer.

Palombo told Metro UK that the new series is “a powerful reflection on the disease, mastectomy and its effects, female identity and acceptance.”

Take a look at a few illustrations below, and visit Palombo’s website to view the entire series.

SURVIVOR Breast Art Campaign Iconic The Simpsons Wilma Flintstone Marge Lois Griffin Wonder Woman Cinderella Aurora Snow White Jasmine Jessica Rabbit Betty Boop aleXsandro Palombo Disney Princess1b

SURVIVOR Breast Art Campaign Iconic The Simpsons Wilma Flintstone Marge Lois Griffin Wonder Woman Cinderella Aurora Snow White Jasmine Jessica Rabbit Betty Boop aleXsandro Palombo Disney Princess 9a


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SURVIVOR Breast Art Campaign Iconic The Simpsons Wilma Flintstone Marge Lois Griffin Wonder Woman Cinderella Aurora Snow White Jasmine Jessica Rabbit Betty Boop aleXsandro Palombo Disney Prince 3a

SURVIVOR Breast Art Campaign Iconic The Simpsons Wilma Flintstone Marge Lois Griffin Wonder Woman Cinderella Aurora Snow White Jasmine Jessica Rabbit Betty Boop aleXsandro Palombo Disney Prince 7a

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SURVIVOR Breast Art Campaign Iconic The Simpsons Wilma Flintstone Marge Lois Griffin Wonder Woman Cinderella Aurora Snow White Jasmine Jessica Rabbit Betty Boop aleXsandro Palombo Disney Princess 7a

SURVIVOR Breast Art Campaign Iconic The Simpsons Wilma Flintstone Marge Lois Griffin Wonder Woman Cinderella Aurora Snow White Jasmine Jessica Rabbit Betty Boop aleXsandro Palombo Disney Prince 5a

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Tattoo Artist's Incredible 3D Nipple Art Brings Comfort to Breast Cancer Survivors (NSFW)

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When Jeff Paetzold did his first tattoo nipple reconstruction, he felt as if he had finally found what he was meant to do.

The 31-year-old from Batavia, Illinois, has been a tattoo artist for nearly 14 years, but it wasn’t until three years ago that he discovered just how much good he could do with his talents. Since then, he’s helped around 400 people, most of them breast cancer survivors, feel more comfortable about their bodies.

Tattoo artist Jeff Paetzold with his daughter
Tattoo artist Jeff Paetzold with his daughter.

“To be honest it all felt like fate. I felt like I was finally where I belonged,” Paetzold told The Mighty in an email. “Sure, in a studio setting it’s nice to make someone happy by giving them a tattoo they love. But here, I’m helping to give happiness back.”

His skill at working around scar tissue and making realistic, 3D-looking tattoos eventually put him in touch with Northwestern Specialists in Plastic Surgery, where he works two mornings a week helping patients get back a little of what they’ve lost.

Women who have had a mastectomy and then breast reconstruction surgery sometimes opt to have a nipple tattooed on their breast, instead of having one built using other tissues. Often times, the areola tattooing performed by surgeons or aestheticians is very flat and unrealistic in appearance. Paetzold, however, uses shadows and highlights to give the impression of texture and dimension, creating the illusion of a protruding nipple.

“For me, it added more normalcy which made me feel better about myself,” Elizabeth Davis, who was tattooed by Paetzold after her double mastectomy, told My Fox Chicago.

Editor’s note: The following photographs may be considered NSFW.

This patient had left nipple reconstruction, followed by Paetzold’s tattoo.

left nipple tattoo after

This patient had bilateral nipple reconstruction.

bilateral nipple tattoo before

bilateral nipple tattoo after

 Another bilateral nipple reconstruction.

bilateral nipple tattoo before

bilateral nipple tattoo after

Helping these women regain happiness with their physical appearance brings Paetzold great personal satisfaction. He’s often moved by their gratitude.

“The most touching reaction was when I had a patient so overwhelmed with joy looking in the mirror after I told her I was done, she started sobbing,” the artist told The Mighty. “She hugged me and couldn’t stop saying ‘thank you.’ At this point, I couldn’t even hold back my own tears. I’m not a very emotional person, but I couldn’t help but let my guard down. There was something so powerful about that moment. It’s something I will never forget.”

To see more of Paetzold’s artwork, visit his artist page on Facebook or the website of the studio where he works.

The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: Share a story about one moment or conversation related to a cancer diagnosis or experience that made an impact on you. Find out how to email us a story submission here.

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