Breast Cancer Awareness: Inspirational Survivor Stories

In our line of work, we have the honor of interviewing outstanding leaders. This month, when we considered the topic of leadership in light of Breast Cancer Awareness, what came to mind were the millions of women and men who are fighting cancer. “Leadership” may not be the first thing you think of when you think of cancer survivors, but many of the survivors we talked with pointed to the same values and behaviors it takes to fight cancer: bravery, teamwork, and a dedication to helping those “beyond you.” Here are just three stories from women in the Leadercast community who are winning with perseverance and positivity.

Silver Linings
Imagine…you are eager to start a family with your husband, you are elated to find out that you’re having a baby, you go in for your first obstetrician appointment, and during the routine check-up, your doctor feels a lump in your breast. That’s what happened to Jodi Browell, who was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer when she was pregnant with her first child. “My mom is a two-time breast cancer survivor,” says Jodi, “and at first, I felt doomed to a cancer diagnosis. I decided not to panic; I knew then that I was going to be strong and do whatever I needed to [fight this].”

Jodi with her first child, Jordan, at this year’s “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” walk in St. Louis. “Jordan saved my life,” says Jodi.
Jodi with Jordan, now 5, at this year’s “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” walk in St. Louis. “Jordan saved my life,” says Jodi.

 

Jodi’s biopsy revealed that her breast cancer was triple negative but had not yet spread to her lymph nodes. She took action. “Being my own advocate is one of my top three keys to success. I met with a team of doctors and learned that I could have chemotherapy treatments during my second trimester and it would not harm the baby.” Education is one of Jodi’s most heartfelt goals in speaking out about her cancer and giving back.

“More pregnant women than ever before are learning that they have breast cancer during their baby check-ups because cancer is occurring earlier in life and women are delaying pregnancy until later in life. I want to make sure my story is shared; that women know there is a positive outcome for this. You don’t have to choose between yourself and your baby.”

Every three weeks Jodi met with her doctors, received chemo, and went back the next day for an ultrasound. The best news? Baby daughter Jordan arrived healthy and on her own at 34 weeks. “Five days later, I had a double mastectomy,” recalls Jodi. “It was hard not to pick up my daughter and hold her in my arms, but I had round-the-clock support from my family.”

Twin Fighters
For many women fighting breast cancer, family support comes from sisters, mothers, grandmothers, and aunts who are also survivors. But perhaps no family fight story is as heartbreaking—or inspiring—as the story of identical twins, Dana Manciagli and Tracy Frank.

Dana had just started her new job at Microsoft’s headquarters, heading up a new global sales force. Cancer was the furthest thing from her mind. Just 41 years old, she had no history of breast cancer in her family; still, she had recently had a mammogram as part of “the routine stuff you do when you turn 40. It was only my second one,” recalls Dana. She remembers where she was sitting when the phone rang in to her new office: “They said, ‘We have your biopsy results; come into the doctor’s office now…and bring your husband.’”

Dana had a biopsy at Virginia Mason’s Breast Clinic in Seattle that confirmed what Dana’s primary care doctor suspected…Dana had cancer. She had a lumpectomy and radiation therapy that appeared to have eradicated the cancer.

But that’s when the rest of the story began. Following Dana’s surgery and treatment, a genetic counselor at Virginia Mason found that Dana carried the BRCA gene. This meant that Dana and her identical twin, Tracy, were at continued high risk for breast cancer as well as ovarian cancer. “We’re identical – so whatever genetic makeup I have, so does Tracy,” says Dana. Three years later, Tracy was diagnosed with a more aggressive type of breast cancer. That year, the sisters both had double mastectomies and their ovaries removed as a precaution. Tracy got the “all clear.”

The sisters continued to support each other and keep cancer at bay with chemo, radiation and “tools” that Dana and Tracy talked about often: therapy; crying on the shoulders of family and friends; meditation; fitness; and “the best healer: sleep,” says Dana. But on July 4th, 2013, Tracy learned her cancer had metastasized into her liver and ribs.” On May 18, 2014, just 53 years old, Tracy passed away with her twin sister by her side. “I am lucky that I got to be her ‘go-to’ person,” recalls Dana. “I got to care for Tracy and make sure we fulfilled her wishes for her son and everything she wanted.”

Tracy is the reason behind “Dana’s Gladiators” – the team she organized for the American Cancer Society’s “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” walks each year. For the second year in a row, Dana is the American Cancer Society’s “Survivor Ambassador.”

“Dana’s Gladiators
“Dana’s Gladiators:” her mom, husband, two sons, and sister Tracy’s son.

“We’re walking in memory of my sister Tracy, in honor and memory of others, AND in the hope that researchers can erase this stupid breast cancer,” says Dana.

The American Cancer Society is part of Leadercast’s 2016 give-back program, through our support and partnership with Relay For Life. “I have depended on the American Cancer Society as a patient and as a caregiver for Tracy,” Dana explains. “I believe in their research programs – the woman who discovered the BRCA gene did so with a grant from ACS; they find new therapies and offer medical trials.”

Research, says Dana, is for the next generation. However, ACS’s patient services are for the here and now. “They provide rides so people can get to their treatments; they pay for a place to stay for those who can’t afford it; they offer free mammograms; and they have a community to connect with other survivors. This is where our donations go.”

Community is also a key to Jodi’s success, as she refers to the teamwork of her family, her friends, and the care and education she counts on from the American Cancer Society. “There are so many relationships you can build with people who are going through the same thing,” says Jodi.

Today, Jodi is an advocate for other survivors in many ways. Jodi walks with her team, the “J Walkers” in St. Louis’ Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, “a celebration of survivorship … hope and our shared determination to make this breast cancer’s last century.” And this fall, her daughter Jordan is happy and healthy and starting pre-Kindergarten. Jordan is also the big sister to twins Julia and Jillian (15 months).

Jodi explains that teamwork and a positive attitude got her through her fight against cancer, especially when she discovered she had Stage 1 cervical cancer, too. “In addition to my family, I found I could always reach out to the American Cancer Society for information and answers, and I formed bonds with my fellow Portrait of Hope honorees.” Even after undergoing a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy, Jodi says her positive attitude has helped her body heal. This fall she will celebrate her fifth year of survivorship.

Early Detection: The Difference Between Life and Death 
Keffie Ann Duncombe is not only a self-advocate, but she says that being diagnosed with cancer has given her the chance to support other women and help save lives. “There is not a lot of early detection in our country,” says Keffie, who attends Bahamas Harvest Church, a Leadercast Host Site. “So we were losing a lot of our women to the disease. As a survivor, I talk with women and encourage them to get tested. Although it seems scary, I can show them that getting tested is the difference between life and death.” Keffie was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer just one year after her mother lost her battle with cancer. “Cancer runs in our family, so I got a mammogram every six months,” says Keffie. “I have small children; I want to give myself the best possible chance.” It wasn’t always easy, particularly because the best care options for Keffie were in the U.S. For her surgery and chemotherapy treatments, Keffie flew to Tampa, Florida. Today she is a survivor of “one year and one month!” As a vocal volunteer with the Cancer Society of the Bahamas, Keffie also educates other women. “God’s grace has given me another chance,” says Keffie. “I speak to other people and let them know that God is in the ‘healing business’ and early detection can be a miracle right in front of you.”

Keffie Ann is an advocate for and living proof that early detection saves lives.
Keffie Ann is an advocate for and living proof that early detection saves lives.

 

With You in the Fight
Three stories of breast cancer survivors…and there are literally tens of millions of others, from all walks of life, all over the world. We imagine that many of you are survivors, and/or rooting hard for a cancer fighter in your life. According to the research, one out of four of us will be stricken with breast cancer at some time in our life.

Dana, Jodi and Keffie tell us they are the lucky ones.

They shared these tips to help all women in the fight against breast cancer:

  • Experts recommend getting a mammogram every year after age 40. Schedule it around a time you won’t forget, like your birthday month or the first day of summer.
  • If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, tell your health practitioner and consider having the BRCA test for the genes contributing to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. That way you are armed with information and knowledge and can make informed decisions.
  • Be your own best advocate. Ask questions, get second opinions, lean into the research and communities of organizations such as the American Cancer Society.
  • Don’t get too wrapped up into the medical advice on the Internet. Everyone has a different cancer journey. Let your health care providers be your guide.
  • Try to keep a positive attitude, take care of yourself, and get plenty of sleep. “Sleep is the way our body best heals,” says Dana.
  • Get support from family, friends, programs, and groups in your community. Many organizations offer free services.
  • Talk to other survivors and remember that you are not alone. Cancer affects us emotionally as well as physically; lean on friends and family

We want to offer a survivor in YOUR life the gift of inspiration! Click here and tell us the name of a survivor you admire. When you share one survivor’s name by November 3rd, we will give him/her a one-year, complimentary Gold subscription to Leadercast Now, so he/she can access all the inspiring leaders, stories and insights on Leadercast Now.

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