When Dawn Ardolino Policastro found out that her twin sister, Allison Ardolino Dinkelacker, was unable to carry a child after undergoing treatment for cancer, she didn’t even hesitate to offer to carry one for her.
Dinkelacker has been cancer free for 6 years now and she and her husband decided they wanted to have another child. However, since the cancer was hormone positive, she could not carry another baby herself. That’s when Policastro stepped in and served as a gestational surrogate for Dinkelacker.
“Dawn accompanied me to one of my doctors appointments and as we sat in my oncologists’ office, he said to me, ‘If you survive this, you will never be able to carry another child,’ Dinkelacker wrote on Facebook, shared by Allison Rose Photography. “Well before he even finished his sentence Dawn jumped in and said, ‘It doesn’t matter because I am going to carry their child.’”
In November 2014, Lisa Vanbeek was diagnosed with an invasive form of breast cancer. Vanbeek, then 37, was blindsided — she had no family history of cancer, had never considered the possibility of a diagnosis and was unsure of what to do first.
So, Vanbeek, a clothing designer, decided to make funny T-shirts emblazoned with the message, “Suck it, cancer” for her friends and family to keep them smiling during the difficult time. Pictures of the shirts then began making the rounds on social media, and people began asking her where they could buy one.
Seeing how strongly the shirts resonated with people, Vanbeek saw an opportunity to turn the enterprise into a fundraising effort.
“Going through this process, I was really overcome by the reality of how much money goes into cancer treatments, screenings, etc., in addition to other everyday expenses like paying for the gas to get to treatments,” Vanbeek, who lives in Pueblo, Colorado, told The Mighty. “Making clothing is what I know how to do, so I decided to turn that into a way to help people who may not have the money for treatment.”
Vanbeek officially launched “Suck It, Cancer,” her sassy new clothing line, in February 2015. Designed to support and invigorate people living with cancer, the clothing features phrases like, “Hey Cancer, you messed with the wrong girls,” and “Sometimes, you just gotta be a badass.” A percentage of every sale Vanbeek makes goes toward She4Life and Cowgirls & Cocktails, grassroot nonprofit organizations that financially support women who have cancer.
Now, the clothing is sold online, at sporting events and, as of August 2015, in a retail store in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Vanbeek says one of her favorite outcomes from starting this company has been the stories and emotional reactions she gets from strangers all over the country.
“People have come up to me crying,” she told The Mighty. “To have people get that emotional was unbelievable to me. On the other side, I see people get so happy and excited about it. It started as just making T-shirts, but it’s turned into an attitude.”
Vanbeek completed her final radiation treatment on August 11, 2015. Now, she’s focusing on getting her brand into more retail stores and building her online presence. In turn, she wants to continue to raise money for organizations that help people afford treatment. She also wants to keep people smiling.
But, most important, she wants to inspire people who are living with cancer to keep fighting.
“[I hope] it gives someone a little extra oomph, that kickstart to rally against it and not be taken down by it,” Vanbeek told The Mighty. “If that shirt can make them feel that way for five minutes out of their day, that’s the most important thing.”
Take a look at some designs from Vanbeek’s “Suck It, Cancer” clothing line below.
“Breast cancer is not fun and sexy,” Fletcher told BuzzFeed. “The treatment is grueling… It’s not glamorous and why people decide to take photos of the part of the body that breast cancer destroys is beyond me.”
“Very subtle dimples underneath that could easily be missed when we’re all rushing round getting ready in a morning,” Royle wrote on Facebook on May 11. “Please take time to look at your boobs. It could save you’re [sic] life.”
In just over a week, her photo was shared more than 64,000 times from her Facebook page.
After visiting a doctor, Royle was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer, according to Manchester Evening News. On Monday, she underwent a mastectomy, the outlet reported, and is now in recovery. Next, she’ll receive radiation and chemotherapy.
I was in eighth grade. It was a beautiful May morning. I was in second period, Social Studies. I sat in a group of people who were all my friends. Some I met just that year, but one I had known for what felt like forever.
He was a great kid (and still is). I think of him as less of a friend, and more like a brother I never got the privilege of having. His name is Nick, and his family had become my second family. One of his family members that I was closest with was his mother. Karen. God, how I loved her and her family, just as my own.
On this May morning in Social Studies, I heard something weird. Nick was at his desk, whispering for me to come over there. Because I knew him so well, I thought, Oh, he’s just going to burp in my ear or something, and I believe I spoke something similar for him to hear aloud.
I was wrong – so very wrong.
His tone changed. His face tensed up. He wasn’t going to burp in my ear. He demanded that I came over to his desk. I did, and when he said to come closer, I got scared. I held my breath. He slowly and quietly uttered the words:
It hit me like a rock. I could barely get the words together enough to ask two questions: 1) What kind? 2) How bad? He gave me the best description he could. He said, “It’s bad… breast cancer…” and that was about the extent of the conversation, besides my closing statement: “I am praying for you – give her my best.”
I walked, with the wind taken from my sails, back to my desk, sat down, and began to think – trying to hold down the tears. I wanted to cry so very, VERY badly. I felt helpless. I couldn’t do anything at that moment, and that broke my heart.
I went home that day, right after school, and immediately got to work on making a card for her. I knew a simple “folded-a-paper-in-half” card was not going to suffice. I whipped out my giant drawing pad, and sketched the first word that came to mind: “HOPE.” I went on to fill the large paper with words that struck me as positive and encouraging. Each word was written in pink, the color for breast cancer.
The very next day, I brought it back to school, rolled up, with a love-filled long letter, and handed it to Nick. All I said was, “Give this to your mom.” Then I left him my phone number, so he could message me to tell me if she liked it or whatever. That night, my phone goes off with a two-paged message from him, telling me all about how much she loved it, and how dear she kept it to her heart.
I bawled my eyes out. Reading that message made me feel so good – so glad that I was able to bring her even the smallest ray of sunshine during such a dark time in her life. I never had a feeling like I did there. Over the coming weeks, I talked a lot with Nick, and his cousin, so that I could get updates.
One Saturday morning, I got a text with a picture attachment. The message read: “Here’s my mom going in for her first surgery. She’s holding your sign. She loves it. She takes it everywhere.” Yet again, I started crying. Then another message came through a few hours later.
That message also had a picture attachment. The words below it read: “Here’s my mom – out of surgery, and recovering. She is standing by your sign, and she still hasn’t stopped saying how much she loves it… Thank you!” Here we go again, here comes the water works…
Time passed, and I never stopped asking, praying and wondering. The text messages became sparse, and I had to make do with what I could. One day, late in the afternoon, I got a message saying that Karen kept the sign I made for her, hung on the wall above her bed, and that she continues adoring it always.
Recently, I messaged Karen to ask how she was doing, and I got the marvelous news that she is cancer-free now, and has been for a little while.
I reminded her that I love her, and think of her often. We spoke of memories, and how we need to get together again soon.
I always knew she could do it… I believe my doubt was in whether or not I could handle it. I am blessed to see her recover so well.
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.
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.
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.
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 [email protected]ghty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.