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I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer on 2/14/07 at the age of 39; however, I had had cancer for a number of years before that. Unfortunately, my gynecologist had told me on a number of occasions that the growing lump was a harmless fibro adenoma, nothing really. It wasn’t until my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2006 and the fact that I was about to turn 40 in April 2007 that my doctor sent me for a “baseline” mammogram. I was then rushed around for an ultrasound and biopsy, which proved the diagnosis to be true. Then the whole journey started – 15 months of treatment, including lymph node surgery, heavy duty chemo, a double mastectomy, and reconstruction – it was a blur of a year-plus, because cancer treatment is a very full part-time job, on top of working full-time-plus hours, running a home, dealing with family and friends, and just living life and problem-solving along the way. I, and most women, will probably tell you that you just plow through it because you have to – you just have to get it done and get to the other side.

Once I got over the shock and disappointment of the diagnosis, I knew I wanted to deal with it using humor, creativity, positivity, and openness. I didn’t have a choice about the diagnosis and not much of one regarding treatment, but I did have a choice in how I handled it. I was/am very fortunate to be surrounded by an awesome, supportive family, friends, and colleagues at work – everyone became my cheerleader and mirrored my use of humor in dealing with the disease. I enjoyed using creativity – from writing in a journal and sending a newsletter to my support network, to making crafts and jewelry to sell at fundraisers, to having a “create-a-headcovering contest” at work - to wearing interesting scarves and hats (the wig was too itchy and hot for me!), to having my head shaved into a “Moe-hawk” at our staff meeting at work – all of these were fun, creative, and empowering activities for me to do to get through treatment. My boyfriend, sister, and brother came to every chemo appointment with me, and sometimes we’d laugh so loud I thought we’d get thrown out of Dana Farber! I also wanted to be open about it, promote awareness and question-asking, and to educate those around me to be their own healthcare advocates. I gave talks at work and for various women’s groups and organizations to tell them my story to educate them and others around them about breast cancer. I also knew I needed to stay positive in order to get through this – at times, treatment can get you down because it’s so loooong and it also changes everything about you – inside and out – how you feel, think, act, and look – but for me, it was always best to stay positive and strong to keep plowing through it.

Breast cancer in young women is an unpredictable, tricky thing, and I hope that the “big chemo guns” did their job in keeping it at bay for a very long, long time -- hopefully forever. I am glad that targeted treatment and knowledge of the disease have come such a long way in the last 10 years; I feel very fortunate for the treatment options and medical and personal care that I received at Dana Farber and Winchester Hospital’s Breast Care Center and various independent practitioners. I just had a six-month checkup at Dana Farber, and so far, so good! J

I was THRILLED to become the recipient of a Susan’s Retreat! It couldn’t have come at a better time. My boyfriend and I had been saying “we gotta get away” for some time, but with all the extra financial burdens that cancer brings, our work schedules, my chemo schedule, etc. etc., we felt there was no way to get away until sometime in the next year. So to be offered a FREE weekend getaway with all the meals included AND a massage AND a whirlpool bath, fireplace, cozy room, etc. – WOW!!!! We were both so excited to go, and I was so grateful to Lana at The Healing Garden for referring me to you. I was actually all choked up about it every time I thought about it before the trip, because it was such a nice thing that was being done for us. And I have to say that everyone we told about it – friends, family, co-workers – were so happy for us – they truly shared the joy that we did.

Our stay was EXCELLENT – we loved it! The food was outstanding, and because the weather was pretty bad (rainstorm, high winds, etc.), we felt we were able to relax even more, rather than running around all day to all the tourist-y type sites. We saw places that we wanted to see – Gravestone Artwear, a very cool shop, and The Stonewall Kitchen store – yum! The massage was awesome – never had one before and we loved it – the Cliff House was an unbelievable location – beautiful, awesome spa offerings, and very professional. The food and the accommodations at the York Harbor Inn were excellent, beautiful – really top-notch. All-around, the getaway was outstanding, and we loved every bit of it, and we were so grateful to receive such a fine offering.

When we were at the inn, we were away from housework, computers, work, bills, etc., and we didn’t have a schedule to keep, emails to check, etc. etc. I felt like we both truly got away from it all. We had not been on a vacation since 1999, and we realized once again the value of getting away and being able to re-charge, and how important it is to do so. I will also share that something pretty major happened during the trip. My boyfriend had been so concerned about me during the diagnosis and treatment and taking care of me, that he ended up neglecting his own health. I think the disease/my diagnosis/prognosis become very real and frightening for him during that trip and hit him very hard, and he came back from the trip a changed person. He realized that in order to be a better partner for me, he needed to be there and be healthy and take care of himself too. Literally, as soon as he returned, he changed his eating habits and started exercising regularly and completely cut out alcohol. He lost 50 pounds over the course of a year and has maintained a healthy weight and lifestyle since November 2007. He was able to get off medication to control blood pressure, and his doctor is thrilled -- it’s like he’s regained his youth and realized that exercise helps with stress management. He’s a changed person and became a much better, more “there” life partner for me. He’s worked hard at it, and I’m very proud and appreciative of him. So I would definitely say that the trip was a long-lasting experience and a life-changing one for both of us. The trip and the entire cancer journey have brought us closer together, and I’m thankful for that positive, supportive relationship.

Closing –

We wouldn’t have been able to get away anytime soon, if it had been left up to us – in short, this offering came at the right time, and Maggie made the process so simple and covered everything for us – it was effortless on our part and it was so inexpensive (just gas $ and boarding our dog overnight) that it was so “doable.” I reflected several times during the trip on Susan’s story, her reason for doing this, and I thanked her very much for making this possible. While I was sorry she passed away from breast cancer, I told her, in my mind, that I was very, very grateful to her for setting up such a foundation and for making such a wonderful getaway possible for me and so many others – what a generous and caring and selfless idea. I have been so moved by this whole thing, between the foundation, Maggie Steig, Lana at the Healing Garden, Warner Nickerson (Susan’s nephew) – I feel so fortunate to have been touched by you all. THANK YOU.

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