10 Inspiring Breast Cancer Survivors
Helen Hosein-Mulloon, breast cancer survivor
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Helen Hosein-Mulloonis a certified health coach, certified records analyst (CRA), and an information technology (IT) professional. She has worked in Trinidad and Tobago’s energy sector for the past 28 years and has worked with leading multinational companies in different roles involving IT, facilities management, and records management. She is the current president of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Records Managers and Administrators (ARMA) chapter.
Helen has volunteered with local cancer and multiple sclerosis societies for several years. She is a poet and a writer, plays piano, and is a globe-trotter, avid health enthusiast, devoted wife, and doting mother of 21-year-old aspiring arts journalist Kadeem and 16-year old artist and chef Marina. She has a grand-dog Cocker Spaniel named Snow.
Here is her story:
Three days after my 40th birthday, I began chemotherapy. What seemed to be a routine checkup three months before turned into a diagnosis of triple negative stage II cancer in my right breast. My children were 14 and 9, and my husband worked a two-week rotation offshore. My own mother (a nonsmoker) was dead at 61 from lung cancer. Already diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years earlier, I did not need another challenge.
But my journey was laid out, a path I had to walk to a destination that I now see has made all the difference in my life.
After 20 weeks of chemo, one month of daily radiation, a few falls, countless tear-filled nights, and lots of home-cooked meals from family, accompanied by hugs and love from friends and loved ones, I celebrated the end of treatment with a gluten-free Tinkerbell cake. My life, which seemed to be ending with that horrible diagnosis in August 2009, got a jolt in May 2010.
As a family, we vacationed every year, and I decided to make lifetime memories over the next few years before the children went on to university. My focus was more on my life’s purpose than the other things I had previously pursued.
My children had to deal with a mother who is still battling critical illness issues. They had to grow up a little faster than their peers, but they are empathetic, warm young people as a result. My husband has been my rock, and without him, his support, and our shared faith, I would not be here.
My favorite Biblical passage, Psalms 23, is still my comfort. I don’t fear death — I’ve been at its doorstep and back. I fear not making my life count. God brought me to a place where I still stand today: a better wife, a more devoted mother, an advocate for self-care, a volunteer to NGOs whose causes have impacted my life, a certified health coach, and a woman with a passion to help people be better and live healthier.
My mantra is to be a positive force to every person with whom I connect.
Linda Doyle, breast cancer survivor
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Linda Doyle is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She works as a senior data management specialist.
My world changed at the beginning of 2013 when I was diagnosed with stage I invasive lobular cancer on my right breast through a routine mammogram. Thank God for the persistence of the radiologist who called me back for additional screening.
The first surgeon I went to see performed the biopsy but said I probably didn’t have cancer so I was not too concerned at this point. When the results came back, he came into the examining room and blurted out, “Just as I suspected, you have breast cancer.” I did not expect to hear that, especially since he had told me it was probably nothing. I was in shock. I looked over at my husband, and the look on his face was an expression I never want to ever see again.
It was important to me to get all my questions answered and have trust in my doctor. I wasn’t feeling it. I decided to call Johns Hopkins Bayview Breast Center for a second opinion. I immediately knew this is where I was meant to be after meeting my surgeon. When I walked into the examining room, the nurse saw my fear, looked straight into my eyes, and said, “This is not a death sentence.”
The doctor answered all my questions, told me what needed to be done, and assured me that I would be all right. I believed this doctor. The staff was wonderful in addressing all my concerns and fear and ensuring I had all the information I needed and my appointments lined up. The staff at the Breast Center always went that extra mile for me. I had a lumpectomy in February 2013, and thankfully the lymph nodes were clear. The course of treatment was radiation therapy.
My support system was great. My husband was my champion, my daughter my caregiver, and my son was my comic relief. And most important … my God. In prayer I would always thank God for walking each step of my journey with me, and yes, He carried me at times. My promise to Him was to be an advocate for breast cancer and to help any way I could. I knew the fear and promised Him to help others with the same fear of not knowing what was to come.
Later that year, my company had a major reduction in its workforce, and I was one of them. I took a few months and decided to help at the Breast Center. I would sit in the waiting room with patients and accompany them during the needle localization procedure before breast cancer surgery. I would be there to lend emotional support and hand-holding. I also assisted with the health fairs and assisted with planning and activities with the Johns Hopkins Breast Bayview Medical Center Community Support Group.
I make myself available to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients through friends, co-workers, and just about anyone I meet. I remind women on a monthly basis on Facebook to self-examine, and I stress that early detection is the key to beating this disease. I am an active participant in various breast cancer walks and fundraisers, and my team is known as the “Pink Gorillas.” I serve as a strong advocate for breast cancer awareness. Each year I proudly wear a necklace of pink ribbons with names of survivors and those we have lost. The necklace is getting full; too many in my circle of family and friends are being diagnosed with breast cancer. But I am happy to say most are surviving and living life!
My life has changed since the diagnosis. I look at it differently. I’m happier. I cherish my husband, son, daughter, and grandchildren. Life is precious. Fears I had dealt with before breast cancer, I don’t have them anymore. I figure if I can beat breast cancer, I can do anything. I’m living life! I’m thankful I wake up each morning. I don’t waste time on negativity and I accept the challenge of the unknown. I have come to realize I’m stronger than I thought I was. I do things I would have never thought of doing before my diagnosis. I used to have a fear of flying, which hindered me from seeing the world. Now I fly and have been to Iceland, Alaska, Ireland, Puerto Rico, and many islands in the Caribbean. My next travel experience is Tahiti! I am a survivor!
Breast cancer survivor Felicia Smith
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Felicia Smith is a field sales representative in the pharmaceutical industry.
At age 47, I was diagnosed with left breast multifocal (two or more areas of cancer) breast cancer in December 2013. I listened to my breast surgeon at Johns Hopkins about the treatment options, length of treatment, and recovery, and I decided to remove both breasts. I knew that my high-paced job and day-to-day commitments, as well as keeping my sanity, wouldn’t allow me to entertain the thought of breast cancer coming back, so I had to make a decision that would reduce my risk of recurrence significantly.
I had a mastectomy of the left breast with temporary placement of a tissue expander, until I could complete my final breast reconstruction with my plastic surgeon. I underwent breast reconstruction in August 2014, where my tissue expanders were exchanged with a DIEP flap.
When I look back at my breast cancer experience, I realize why I was diagnosed. I no longer question God. I know that God designed my breast cancer experience to help others and to stop taking life for granted. I continue to be an advocate and navigator for many of my friends and colleagues, supporting them through their breast cancer journeys by connecting them with my breast surgeon and other cancer specialists within Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and Johns Hopkins Hospital. I cannot speak highly enough about my breast surgery team at Johns Hopkins because they helped me to find hope, trust, and the will to live. On the morning of December 11, 2013, my breast surgeon looked me in the eye and told my family members that everything will be okay, and immediately all fear and worry were removed from my mind because he said it with such compassion and sincerity.
Prior to my breast cancer, my life was living on the edge due to the fast pace of my job responsibilities and always having to say yes to things when I should be saying no. Since breast cancer, I’ve learned to slow down. I have decided to stop and enjoy life. In my personal life, I have committed to being present with my friends, family, and personal relationships. I take time to listen and empathize more, and I am less reactive. I am a mentor for young girls, counseling about the importance of breast exams and screening mammograms.
Life is short, and no one should take it for granted. During my breast cancer journey, I took the time to finalize my living will and testament, ensuring that my beneficiary was listed on all insurance and deed documents. Even though breast cancer didn’t take my life, I know that I will die one day. Because of the love I have for my son, I don’t want to burden him with planning my funeral. So, yes, I did also plan my funeral. I am celebrating my life to its fullest because I got a second chance of redemption.
At 50, I now look forward to achieving my future goals: retiring sooner, spending more time vacationing, not taking my laptop computer on vacations, and respecting my quiet times.
If I could live through my breast cancer experience again, I would have removed both breasts to avoid me becoming anxious every time I go for a mammogram on the right breast, or worrying whether the right breast will get breast cancer. I am glad that I have my reconstructed breast and my newfound beach abs.
Breast cancer survivor Kelly M.
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Kelly M. is a criminal investigator who works for the federal government.
At age 37, I was diagnosed with triple negative stage IIB breast cancer in my right breast. I discovered the lump while eight months pregnant with my son. I informed my OB doctor of the strange bump. She believed that it could have been a clogged milk duct as a result of my pregnancy. At my six-week postpartum appointment, my doctor decided it would be a good idea to have the lump checked out. Little did I know, my entire world would change a few days later with one phone call.
I was told the lump was cancerous, and I should see a surgeon right away. In October 2013, following that call, I met with two breast surgeons (from different institutions) who made treatment recommendations for my breast cancer. That’s when I met with Dr. Habibi, Dr. Jelovac, and the rest of my amazing breast cancer team at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. I followed the recommended course of treatment, which included chemotherapy, radiation, and sentinel lymph node dissection with a right lumpectomy over the course of the following year. It was a difficult road as I fought my cancer while taking care of a newborn and a preschooler, all while continuing to work full time at a very demanding job. There were too many times I would just break into tears out of nowhere at any given moment. But my family and friends, especially my babies, kept me going and made me want to fight even harder. My fight with cancer was truly a team effort, and today I stand here almost four years later, stronger and resilient.
When I look back at my breast cancer experience, I realize I should slow things down and take time to stop and smell the roses, as well as not allow myself to get stressed about every obstacle or conflict. Yes, I know it’s hard to work 50+ hours per week and be a mother, wife, daughter, and friend. Tomorrow is never promised, and you should live life with that in mind, day in and day out. So I continue to reach out to others diagnosed with breast cancer and other cancers and give them guidance, and even advocate for them as best as I can. Sometimes that means answering questions, offering advice, or just listening. Anyone who faces a cancer diagnosis, whether personally or with a close family member, needs to embrace the fight in their own way, and others should be respectful of their choices. The one piece of advice I would give anyone facing cancer is to take it one day at a time and fight, fight, fight so that one day you can help someone else realize that this, too, shall pass.
I look forward to retiring in about ten years and watching my children fulfill their dreams while my husband continues to drive me crazy as we go through the nesting phase and grow old together.
Joy Walker, breast cancer survivor
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Joy Walker is a rehabilitation counselor. Her sight began failing in her early teens, and she visited the United States from Jamaica, seeking a diagnosis. Declared legally blind, Joy returned to the U.S. as a permanent resident in 1972. After obtaining rehabilitation services for psychosocial adjustment to visual impairment from the Carroll Center for the Blind, in Newton, Massachusetts, she earned a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Springfield College, Massachusetts.
Before becoming a stay-at-home mom, Joy worked as a counselor and as a Braille and communication skills instructor with special-needs blind adults at the Therapeutic Living Center for the Blind in Pasadena, California. She homeschooled her two children until divorce and a diagnosis of breast cancer curtailed those efforts.
At age 48, shortly after the divorce and her mother’s death, Joy was launched into menopause by the first chemotherapy treatment. This only intensified her struggle as a legally blind single mom raising two teenagers. While enduring 8 rounds of chemotherapy and 36 radiation treatments, Joy attended classes at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles, where she acquired computer skills through the use of adaptive technology. Nine years after her mastectomy, she chose to have reconstructive surgery, which, as she puts it, “made me feel normal again.”
In 2016, Joy Walker self-published her book Journey to Joy: An Inspirational Memoir, in which she vividly describes her journey with breast cancer, expressing her emotions in spellbinding poetry and prose.
As a 21-year cancer survivor, Joy continues to be an advocate and speaker for various organizations, using her gifts of poetry and music to encourage others. She is known nationally as a writer, poet, musician, and most of all as a breast cancer survivor speaker.
Abbie Savadera, breast cancer survivor
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Abbie Savadera is a registered nurse.
Prior to my 46th birthday, I decided to have a very short pixie haircut. I was enjoying my day when I suddenly felt a severe pain on my left leg. I decided to see my doctor for help. I was not given any pain medication, but a multivitamin, and she scheduled me for mammogram, an overdue test. I was relieved from the pain after I took the multivitamins. I ignored my doctor’s call until I was done with my summer activities.
It was August 2, 2013, when she broke the news that my mammogram showed a mass on my left breast. I did not accept the mammogram result until I had a left breast ultrasound-guided biopsy of the mass. I was then diagnosed with an invasive ductal carcinoma. I had my left breast mastectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy in October 2013. I was then confirmed to have stage I left breast–infiltrating ductal carcinoma and was negative for disease in the lymph nodes. I have since been on tamoxifen therapy.
My life changed after the surgery. The journey through breast cancer made me realized that life is too short to waste. With the best team of doctors and nurses, it made my experience lighter and brought me things I hadn’t done in my life. I had my first fashion show “Fashion Saves Lives” (sponsored by the American Breast Cancer Foundation) together with the most beautiful breast cancer survivors and had many opportunities to share my breast cancer story. I became an advocate to friends, family, and co-workers about the importance of breast cancer screening and following up with additional testing in a timely manner.
I have made a choice to enjoy my life and to fully trust God. I never questioned God as to why I had to have breast cancer, but instead I asked what it is He wants me to do with cancer. He healed me and He will also heal others too. I will always be grateful for my journey.
Breast cancer survivor Rhonda M. Smith
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Rhonda M. Smith is an eight-year breast cancer survivor and founder of Breast Cancer Partner, a for-profit consulting organization with expertise in breast health education and breast cancer disparities, survivorship, and advocacy. She also has experience in developing and implementing community outreach, health promotion, and health behavior change strategies. She currently oversees a women’s health initiative focused on heart health, breast health, and diabetes to improve outcomes for underserved women in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in California.
Rhonda is also the Project Director for the Live Healthy OC Initiative, a three-year initiative that aims to transform the model of care from disease-focused to prevention and wellness. She previously served as the consultant/statewide project manager for the Susan G. Komen Circle of Promise California Initiative, an intensive two-year effort to identify evidence-based strategies to decrease the high mortality rate of African American women diagnosed with breast cancer and address disparities at the system, community, and individual levels.
Rhonda has also consulted on an NIH/NCI-funded breast cancer survivorship research study at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in Miami, Florida, targeting the diverse population of Black women in the South Florida community. Her responsibilities included marketing, PR, community outreach and recruitment, and facilitating the study’s ten-week health and wellness education program to the control group cohorts.
Prior to her breast cancer diagnosis, Rhonda enjoyed a career that expanded more than 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, learning and development consulting, and business management with companies such as Eli Lilly and DuPont. Rhonda has broad international consulting experience and has managed client engagements and projects on 5 continents and in more than 20 countries. Rhonda’s international consulting experience includes developing and implementing initiatives for companies such as GE, Office Depot, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol Myers Squibb, Glaxo SmithKline, Abbott Laboratories, Novartis, Rolls Royce, and Xerox Corp.
Rhonda appeared in the October 2010 issue of More magazine as a first runner-up in the magazine’s essay contest on “Why This Is the Most Fabulous Time in My Life.” She wrote an essay about her breast cancer journey and how she has emerged from that experience with a new identity and sense of purpose. Rhonda was also chosen to participate on the 2012 Merz Aesthetics’ expert advisory panel for their Stand and Deliver campaign, a national initiative that recognizes women who stand up for causes they believe in and have an impact in their community. Rhonda was also profiled and recognized as a woman who stands and delivers on the More magazine Reinvention TV show in November 2011.
Rosa Amelia Tena-Krapes, breast cancer survivor
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Rosa Amelia Tena-Krapes is a health educator and advocate dedicated to improving breast cancer awareness and supportive services in Latino communities in the California city of Santa Clarita and surrounding localities.
My name is Amelia Tena, and I am a twice breast cancer survivor. I work with Valley Care Community Consortium, a nonprofit organization. I lead a collaboration of public and private community partners to advocate, plan, assess needs, and facilitate the development of effective programs and policies to improve the health of the residents in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys.
As a health educator, I work in the Nutrition Education Obesity Prevention Program funded by California Department of Public Health’s Network for a Healthy California, with funding from USDA SNAP-ED, known in California as CalFresh, which provides assistance to low-income households to help buy nutritious food for better health.
One of my roles in working with the community in the San Fernando Valley is promoting fitness and good nutrition through weekly series of classes. It also gives me the opportunity to share my story as a breast cancer survivor and bring the awareness into the Latino community, where the resources sometimes are very limited — for reasons including language barriers and cultural competence. I am using my expertise to improve how research studies and clinical care benefit the Latino and medically underserved communities.
I’ve volunteered at two Spanish support groups for the past seven years. It’s very important to advocate for you and to stay informed of all your options. I share with other cancer patients as a volunteer with the Aliada program at the Cancer Support Community. As an Aliada, I help Spanish-speaking cancer patients navigate the healthcare system and stay informed throughout their cancer journey.
The more knowledge you have, the better control you have as a patient with your health and your emotions.
Linda Butzner, breast cancer survivor
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Linda Butzner is a registered nurse at Wound Care Specialty Center.
My breast cancer was diagnosed during a routine mammogram when I was 47 years old. To say I was shocked is an understatement. To be walking around feeling perfectly healthy and then be told you have a potentially life-threatening illness takes your breath away. From the very beginning, I had no fear — a lot of anxiety for what was to come, but no fear. I had the utmost confidence in my surgical, oncology, and radiation treatment team. I felt sure of the decisions I made, the support I would have from family and friends, and my strong faith in God.
I chose to have a lumpectomy, followed by radiation because my cancer was estrogen-positive. It wasn’t easy, and for the first time in my adult life, I had to allow myself to be taken care of — I was used to being the caretaker in my personal and professional lives.
I returned to work as a registered nurse five months after my treatments ended. I quickly found out that I would never be the same physically. I could no longer tolerate the 12-hour shifts and the physical demands of nursing due to the lifelong effects of what I had been through. It took me a year to admit this to myself, but I eventually found a less demanding job in another area of nursing.
Life after breast cancer has changed me in many ways, physically and mentally. The most significant lesson I have convinced myself to embrace is to always choose joy in this life. Don’t allow anyone or anything into your life that doesn’t bring you happiness. The amount of time we have been given on this earth can’t be taken for granted. Wake up every day with a purpose and make a conscious decision to choose joy for yourself.
Breast cancer survivor Alice Loh
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Alice Loh is currently the breast health project director at Herald Cancer Association (HCA) in San Gabriel, California. Established in 2002, HCA is a nonprofit community organization with the aim of fighting against cancer by (1) raising cancer awareness through public education, (2) increasing the survival rate of cancer patients through early detection and prevention programs, and (3) assisting cancer patients and their families with proper guidance and support groups toward an improved quality of life. HCA also works as a bridge between the portion of the Chinese American community affected by cancer and the entire Chinese American community at large.
As breast health project director, Alice is involved in the planning and implementation of a variety of breast health and breast cancer–related programs, events, and research projects. She has been the lead staff for the breast cancer support program Joy Luck Academy (JLA) since its inception in 2010. JLA is a social support intervention designed to provide both informational and emotional support through two major components: peer mentoring and education. JLA has also been a five-year research project since September 2014.
Alice first became a volunteer at HCA in 2008 after her own encounter with breast cancer and later joined the staff team in 2010. As a breast cancer survivor, she feels a special connection with other women who have been touched by the disease. She is grateful for the opportunity to serve the local Chinese American community with her personal experience. She is also sharing her experience and community expertise by partnering with researchers at City of Hope to bring voice to the Asian community, particularly the Chinese community, in breast cancer research and culturally responsive care.
Alice was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the United States in the early 1970s. She is happily married to her husband of over 35 years, and they have three grown children. Outside of work, she enjoys traveling to foreign countries, experiencing interesting cultures, and tasting delectable cuisines.