Pink Became My Color, A Reflection

This week I celebrate 9 years of Cancer Survivorship and I am filled with gratitude and reflection. It has been 9 years since I heard the words that literally sent me crashing to the floor, “The cells are malignant, you have breast cancer.” 9 years since I was filled with questions like, “Will my children know me? How many years do I have left with Jay? My mom had 4 years, will it be the same for me? Where do I find the strength to get though this? ”

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A sweet moment with Nate after surgery and before chemo started. I thought the worst was behind me, I was wrong.

A sweet moment with Nate after surgery and before chemo started. I thought the worst was behind me, I was wrong.

Breast cancer was not a new word for me. I knew it well. My mother died of metastatic breast cancer when I was 20. I assumed one day I would get breast cancer, I just thought it wouldn’t be at the age of 32. I thought I had more time.

Following my diagnosis I woke up every morning thinking it was a nightmare, then the reality would sink in. Reality of long days of Dr. appointments in New York City, reality of the pain after my bilateral mastectomy and removal of lymph nodes, reality of the sickness from chemo, reality of the anxiety of having triple negative breast cancer that had high recurrence rates. The reality of being a young mom and wife through all of it. Lillian was 4 months old and Nate was 2 1/2 when I was diagnosed, I was overwhelmed and anxious while trying to just welcome each day I had the best I could.

This cancerversary seems to be occupying more mind space than other years. I have such immense gratitude and there is a part of me that wishes I could talk to that scared young woman.

I remember I didn’t want my picture taken and in hindsight I am glad I have some photos of those difficult days. Sometimes I feel like I lost 2 years of my life due to cancer, but when I look through photos I am reminded of the joyful moments and smiles and beauty of life.

The only photo of me bald, spending time on a weekend away, doing one of my favorite things!

The only photo of me bald, spending time on a weekend away, doing one of my favorite things!

Photos also remind me how far I have come, how many bonus days I have had. Facing your mortality at a young age is hard and trying but also has brought many blessings. It is a true dose of perspective whenever I need it. It has made me more compassionate, empathetic, a stronger and more grounded mother and wife, and reminds me of what is important in this beautiful life we all have.

When I thought of what I would tell myself after my breast cancer diagnosis I immediately thought of the photo below. It was the night that I shaved my head. That morning I woke up to clumps falling out and knew I needed to take back some control so out came the buzzer. It was one of the most empowering moments of my life. I asked Nate if he wanted to help me and he was overjoyed to. We were in his bathroom and he was giggling and said, “Mom, you look silly.” I asked him if I could shave his and he said, “No Way!” Ha! We continued to laugh and I looked in the mirror, cue the scene from The Legend of Billie Jean and Pat Benetar…

The night I shaved my head with Nate and baby Lillian had more hair than me

The night I shaved my head with Nate and baby Lillian had more hair than me

“We are strong 
No one can tell us we're wrong 
Searching our hearts for so long 
Both of us knowing…”

What would I tell that scared young mom in the photo smiling through her fears?

Seriously though, why didn’t anyone show me how to “paint” eyebrows on?

Seriously though, why didn’t anyone show me how to “paint” eyebrows on?

First, I would tell her she is going to be o.k. “No matter what happens, you are going to be alright!" The truth is there is no other choice. We can’t choose our circumstances but we can choose our reactions and our next steps.

I GOT TO TURN 40!!!!!! Bring on the birthdays and more candles!!!!

I GOT TO TURN 40!!!!!! Bring on the birthdays and more candles!!!!

I would tell her that her children will know her! “They will know your smile, your crazy kitchen dancing, the love you and Jay have and what is important to you. They will know you like listening to Jack Johnson and your love of the salt air. You will get to annoy them by limiting their sugar and they will challenge you on why our family is so healthy. You will get to visit new places with them and they will have you there for the start of Third Grade and Middle School!”

One year post chemo in OBX.

One year post chemo in OBX.

“Yes, they WILL see you at your worst, but also your best! They will know a mother’s love and your hugs and reassurance.”

“THERE WILL BE DAYS WHEN YOU DON’T THINK ABOUT CANCER! It will take some time, years, but one day you will realize, ‘Wow I didn’t think of cancer today!’ That day you will know another layer of healing has taken place.”

I would tell her that healing isn’t linear. That there are layers upon layers of healing. “One by one they will peel back and you will feel whole again. Like you, only better.”

Healing through a Cancer survivorship camp, Camp Koru in Maui 2012

Healing through a Cancer survivorship camp, Camp Koru in Maui 2012

“You will be grateful for everyone that has been a part of your life journey. Your husband, sisters and friends will be your lifelines. You will learn kindness like you never knew and you will learn how to ask for help and to accept it!”

I would tell her that she will have other health challenges, but she will get through, as she did with cancer, one day at a time.

“You will deal with anxiety, and even some panic attacks, but will fill your toolbox with more tools than you ever though could fit in one! You will even learn to meditate and enjoy it.”

“You will know more joy than you thought possible and you will feel healthier than you ever thought possible.”

“You will learn so much about self care that you would not believe me if I tried to tell you at the moment! You will create a healthy home for your children to reduce their risk of cancer. You will be overwhelmed, but if you just slow down, you will be o.k. Take small steps, the more you force being o.k. the longer it will take to achieve healing. Embrace it instead of fighting it. Give yourself time to heal. The cancer cells are gone, but survivorship is even more challenging in many ways.”

“You will become a cancer and wellness advocate, helping and empowering other young women along the way, as you were helped by other survivors and amazing organizations! Your passion will be helping others choose a healthier way of living.”

My beautiful younger sister Dina during chemotherapy

My beautiful younger sister Dina during chemotherapy

“Your younger sister will be diagnosed with breast cancer a few years after you and you will want to shield her from the path of cancer. Watching her go through it will be harder than you think. You will learn that it is her journey, not yours, and she will be one of the lucky ones too. You will both deal with the collateral damage of cancer, different after effects, but you will both make it years without recurrence.”

“You will lose friends and see other friends deal with a metastatic diagnosis. There will not be a cure soon enough! But in the meantime stay present and continue to find peace in your own journey.”

So here I am at 9 years from that Friday night when I heard my diagnosis and my life was forever changed. I had headed into surgery a short two weeks later and chemo started 4 weeks after that. It is a path I wouldn’t have chosen but it is how Pink became my color. I feel such deep gratitude for the past 9 years, what I refer to as my bonus years.

Wherever this post finds you on your life journey I am sending out peace, love, light and healing!

In health, Katerina

New Business Model: Get One, Gift One Consulting Sessions

I am so excited to announce EcoThriver's new business model for consulting services. For the next year (and hopefully beyond!) We will be offering a Get One, Gift One model. My business goal is to reach the most amount of people I can and help them lead healthier, less toxic lives. I love what I do, helping others through education and empowerment for wellness and less toxic living. 

FOR EVERY PAID CONSULTATION ONE WILL BE DONATED TO A CANCER SURVIVOR.

I will have a page set up for cancer survivors to learn more about the free consultation, and how to apply. Those of you that know me personally, know how passionate I am about spreading knowledge about the importance of our health and wellness through product choices. 

I hope you will join our hive on our journey to wellness and less toxic living. We have two homes, our bodies and our earth! Let's protect them both while living a more nourished life. 

Do you know a cancer thriver (survivor) that wants to make healthier choices but is overwhelmed by the conflicting information? I give targeted suggestions based on personal goals. Gift card services are available

FOR SURVIVORS: UNTIL THE PAGE IS SET UP YOU CAN SIGN UP FOR UPDATES AND THEN EMAIL ME AT katerina@ecothriver.com with the following information

Name

Address

Which consulting package you are interested in

Type of Cancer and treatment facility/treating doctor with phone number for verification

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Pink, October, and Pinkwashing

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Last weekend I took a flight to visit dear friends and to celebrate another 40th Birthday. The morning of this above photo I was with one of my closest friends and her family in NYC. We left the house a bit late to catch some very important soccer games :) at different locations in the city. With my travel I remembered my glass water bottle, but forgot my ceramic coffee mug which led us to a coffee shop where I was handed the above coffee. Darn! First annoyance was I purchased one use plastic, and second it was PINK! 

As I sat in a cab I snapped this photo reflecting on the absurdity of this PINK plastic lid in the name of Breast Cancer Research, supposedly saving lives while poisoning us with BPA, hormone disruptors, and other chemicals and killing marine life. Hmmm... I can not wrap my head around this one. (For the record I did not drink from the lid.)

Here are some facts that a plastic pink coffee cover does not address:

1. In 2017, an estimated 255,180 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men and women with an additional 63,410 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer (also known as carcinoma in situ). 

2. About 40,610 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2017 from breast cancer and 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

3. Overall, African-American women are 42% more likely to die of breast cancer.

4. Only 7-10% of breast cancers are based on hereditary gene variants. 

So the pink plastic coffee is an example of pinkwashing. Companies profiting from slogans such as "for the cure" while contributing to the lack of significant funds for metastatic research and actually causing harm to our bodies and immune system. Here is a list of questions to ask, created by the Think Before You Pink Campaign: http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/resources/before-you-buy/ 

I am so grateful for my life, grateful for my family and friends, grateful I have had the opportunity to turn 40 and to celebrate with my friends as they turn 40. I am grateful every morning as I wake and as I see my children's smiles, and help them navigate through their difficulties. Pink plastic lids are lost on me, and I can only hope that it led to at least one woman doing a self exam and minimal funds raised making a difference somewhere. 

In October we swim in a sea of pink, yes we are aware, yet there are still harsh treatments to treat a terrible disease with the hope that it does not spread to metastatic cancer, or come back as recurrence. And there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, too many of our friends, sisters, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and aunts are losing their lives to this terrible disease. 

So how can you honor survivors? Do a self exam, as this is how most breast cancers are detected. Be your own health care advocate and even if you are young, know that young women can and do get breast cancer even with no family history. Exercise! Did you know that being overweight is the number 1 risk factor? Find one new way to eliminate toxins in your home. Eat one healthier meal a week.

Many women are currently battling metastatic breast cancer and THERE IS NO CURE! If you are looking to donate money to help support research you can donate to www.metavivor.org.  

I am a volunteer local outreach coordinator for FORCE, Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered and a State Leader for Young Survival Coalition. I also co-lead a young support group in the Chapel Hill/Durham N.C. area. I work to empower young women and it is fulfilling in many ways. It is also difficult as I connect with more women each year, newly diagnosed, in treatment, dealing with the harsh aftermath of surgery and treatments, and navigating the world of metastatic cancer. This is why I can't help the resentment when I see a company profiting from a pink plastic coffee lid, (even if a very small donation is made by the plastic producing company) while I know young women actively dying of a terrible disease. Research and health advocacy is needed, not smiling Instagram photos of people with toxic pink coffee lids.  

Resources and Links:

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/12/tritan-bpa-free-plastic-styrofoam-estrogen/

http://www.metavivor.org

http://www.breastcancer.org/

http://www.facingourrisk.org

http://www.youngsurvival.org

http://bcrf.org