Stories of Survival Breast Cancer Edition.

Stories of Survival Breast Cancer Edition,

 On September 17, 2014 I had  the privilege of being the Photographer for The Canadian Breast Cancer Survivors Luncheon and Parade.

It was bittersweet really, as I lost a friend three years ago to this terrible disease.  A friend I only knew briefly but made such an impact.  Currently I have another friend surviving and thriving in the face of breast cancer.  It is such a terrible disease, I did this for them to help in raising awareness.

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It was an experience like no other.  So many smiling faces, embraces and genuine happiness.

I was unsure how the day would really go.  I was there to do a job, a volunteer job.  My job was to photograph the event, the survivors and get candid shots.

It became more than just a volunteer job that day.  It became a day of connection, seeing the stories in people’s eyes and hearing them come from their mouths.  These ladies were so proud to be survivors and happy to do what they could to share their experiences with those around them.  Sharing with those who understood and have been there. 

These women captivated me from the start of pretty much every conversation or maybe it was their genuine smile or the slight flirting they did with this photographer.  Captivated by them, their stories, their pride.

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I met an 83 year old woman who was a 43 year survivor who shared that this was the first year her husband would not be there to see her come down the escalator.  Sadly he passed away in the past year.  She spoke of how hard the battle had been, the fear of being told she had cancer. She said it was all worth growing through because of the relationships she has made over the years of attending these events.

Then there was a woman who was in her mid 50’s.  Twice a survivor.  She told me of the toll it took on her husband and her.  Their relationship struggled, after the first battle with Cancer.  Now, because this is a public blog, I won’t share the exact struggle as it is her story to share with whom she wishes, not mine.  I am honored she shared with me.  Anyway, once diagnosis 2 came around with battle #2 they worked together and their relationship became stronger.  She even said “ I may not be as young as I once was but I am still a looker .”  She has had a double mastectomy and a reconstruct and was now a 12 year survivor. This made me smile, she smiled.  It was great to see her confidence.

Pink and Purple hair, not just dyed for that day but always dyed that way.  A 77 year old woman who says she does it so she does stand out, so she can tell people why.  I was drawn first to that beautiful hair then her eyes as they lit up as I complimented her style. 20 year Survivor full of life and youthful even in her 70’s.  I took a few photos of her to ensure I captured her eyes along with that wild hair.

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I spoke with a few 20 plus tear survivors who have attended all 11 years of the Luncheon and Parade.  They told me of being there for others who are new to their battle with Breast Cancerand having a kinship with others who have been there…..because they understand each other.  It really is a sister hood.  These women  hang out throughout the year and for those who don’t they love seeing everyone each year at this event.

As you look into their eyes as they tell their stories you can see joy of survival but still a little hurt as they recall the first diagnosis, the chemo, mastectomies, reconstructs, loss of relationships but gaining of new ones.  Realizing who your friends are by going through all of this and making new life long friends.

I was told of the Rowing Club who recently won the championship.  IN 17 years of the club they have fortunately ( or unfortunately? )  Only had 12 ladies pass from this disease.

The ladies flirted with me, touched my bum and even told the stories of being older but now having the breasts of a 20 year old.  I took over 800 photos and my friend Steve took another 600, we captured the emotion, the excitement, the speakers, the staff and the onlookers.

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The funniest story of the day was during the draw for door prizes.  One prize was for a bag that had lingerie in it.  Well……

Out comes the Lingerie, the thongs and immediately laughter engulfs the whole room as these women put the underwear on their head, flung a thong at Steve and even offered me a private showing later ( which of course was a joke….or maybe not haha.  )

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I could go on and on with stories from today but a blog post does not really allow for that, so , I will conclude with this.

Cancer in any form is scary.  Most diseases are scary.  Sadly many will leave this earth as we still try to find cures and treatments.  If you are a survivor you have a choice.  You can just sit back and do nothing or you can create awareness and encourage others who are going through the battle.  You can get involved by volunteering and offering your talents to whatever cause you are passionate about.  It is not always about donating money.

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OK, one more thing. 

Whether you are a survivor or had struggle of any kind or not, just listen.  Listen to those who have been through some struggle.  Even if their story does not inspire you, the sparkle in their eye from being able to share to anyone who will listen will warm your heart.  Listen for them. Listen for your heart.

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Taking Photos for Heart :)

There is nothing I love more than making people smile and have fun.  Yesterday allowed for than opportunity over and over again.  I volunteered to work a photo booth for The Heart and Stroke Foundation at The Spruce Meadows Masters and I must say the experience was exhilarating and freeing for me.

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When raising awareness for any disease which can be tragic it is good to see that you can do that and make people smile.

Whether it was getting families together to act silly in costumes or having little girls act like divas or having little boys dress up as cowboys and the occasional one who dressed in the diva outfits.  It was fun and it was me being me.  Being a goof, laughing and bringing people out of their comfort zone. 

 

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I got to work with 3 other amazing people who got in on the fun.  One girl was even racing kids on the little horses. SO. MUCH. FUN.  The fun was contagious no matter what we faced during the day.

 

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The event to raise awareness had four stations. 

  1. Heart Facts Trivia ( Heart Fact Station)
  2. AED awareness ( Stayin Alive Station)
  3. Physical Activity Education ( Heart Racin Station)
  4. Equestrian Family Photo Booth.

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Our role was to help educate people on the important ways people can educate and promote good heart health while assisting in the activity that we were involved with.

 

Each booth had a different activity like learning CPR or doing a little exercise, or creating AED awareness and of course one booth having fun taking photos.  People attending the Masters Event at Spruce Meadows had an opportunity to do each station and get a passport stamped and receive a prize.  Sadly I did not find out what that prize was.

The event was sponsored by Canadian Pacific Railway  you can follow their Heart Efforts and fundraising on twitter at : @CPhasHeart.  Last year they helped raise $120,000 for The Heart and Stroke Foundation while helping to create AED deployment across Canada.

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The more I volunteer with The Heart and Stroke Foundation the more I wish I had done this long before it took a Heart Attack to get involved.  I am re finding another part of me that use to be there when I was younger.  The part of me that was hopeful and wanted to make a difference in this world as a teen.  This Adult is going to keep this up and not let that part go away again.

 

Each of us can make difference, help the world and it does not have to be by BIG actions, even the little ones help.  Sometimes the little actions can have an even bigger impact than the big ones. 

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How do you think you can make a difference, to make our world better ?    I challenge you to find a way.

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First Speaking Engagement- Heart and Stroke Foundation.

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August 21, 2014 thanks to my friend Sabrina I took part in the Big Bike Ride for The Heart and Stroke Foundation.  This lead to an opportunity that I am so happy I was given.

At the event I spoke to one of the coordinators and was able to share my story and was asked if I would speak the following week as the fundraiser was continuing for the Calgary Corporate Challenge.

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Now excuse me if I begin to sound like an excited little school girl but this was amazing for me in so many way !  *Giggle*  ok, no giggle but still amazing.

Before I ramble on I’ll explain that I spoke to participants in 2-3 minute spurts after each big bike ride.  Participants were doing this fundraiser as part of the corporate challenge for their companies. I spoke in front of many company teams in the two days.  I also got to know some of those working for the heart and stroke foundation.  They have a fun crew I must say !

OK, ramble time. 

Look, I have been trying to figure out  how to write about this because it seemed like it all went by in a blur for me but there were things that made it worth it.  I had to process it I guess.

The best part about the sharing my story wasn’t even sharing my story.  It was what happened each time after I shared.

People came to me individually after each presentation.  I heard their stories about themselves, their family, and their friends.

One story  was a man who shared about seeing his father die in front of him from a Heart Attack at age 49.   This man was currently 35 and he wondered about what could happen to himself.  He spoke of  how hard it was to see his Dad die and how Heart Disease had an impact on his family.  Spoke of how scar and shocking it was.  His father was an instructor at a college here in this city and it happened at his school.  They called an ambulance and he was shocked numerous times but sadly he never made it.  We also spoke about my recovery, my current lifestyle and yes a little about my own heart attack. He said it was nice to see someone his age share their experience and be able to relate.  We spoke easily for 20 minutes.  I don’t know what he took from our talk but for me it made an impact and I thought a lot about how we all have a story and sometimes it takes hearing someone else’s to share ours.

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There was a woman who approached me for more detail about my heart attack ( I did only have 2-3 minutes.)  After telling her a little more she then asked how people around me reacted or treated me after my heart attack.  It was a subject that truthfully I really tried to put in the back of my head because there are so many good and not so good ways people treated me after.  I don’t talk much about the not so good because I know most people were well meaning and I did not always share what I needed form them.  The honesty of the subject felt great to talk about.  But that is for another post.

 Back to her.  She wanted to know how to react or be around her sister.  Her natural instinct was to be protective and worried, putting her sister in a bubble, her sister was not receptive.  This, I could relate to 100 %.  I listened and then we spoke about just allowing a person to be who they are even if they themselves don’t always know “ who they are”.   Sometimes those who are recovering just want to be accepted and treated like they aren’t damaged is what I told her.  I did re iterate that many also want to be coddled and felt sorry for.  Her sister was not to be felt sorry for based on what she told me.   This conversation had more detail than a blog post will allow but listening to her ask how to be there showed me that although concerned, that she really wanted to find the best way to support her sister. 

Other people came up and said thank you and that my story was inspiring to them.  Some just simply wanted to know how I am doing a year later and some asked me what scared me now.  Although I got an opportunity to speak, those stories showed me that what I was doing was right.

My story may not be glamorous and unimportant to some but for a few, it does mean something.  That makes this worth it.

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