Tag Archives: Breast cancer

Komen on the Creeper

Ready to go above and beyond a 5K? Take the next step in the fight against breast cancer along the Creeper Trail in Abingdon.

Over 30 years ago, Nancy Brinker began a national organization in honor of her late sister who lost her battle to breast cancer, Susan G. Komen. With a goal to end breast cancer forever, the Susan G. Komen organization has raised over two billion dollars to date and started many programs to inform women about the effects of breast cancer and the importance of mammograms. 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and on October 27th, the Virginia Blue Ridge affiliate of Susan G. Komen is hosting Komen on the Creeper, a 15-mile walk along the Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon to raise money for breast cancer research. In order to participate, walkers commit to raise a minimum of $500. (Did you know 75% of all donations received from every walker will stay in Southwest Virginia to help women in the community affected by breast cancer? The other 25% goes directly to national scientific research.)

The walk will take you through downtown Abingdon and on the Creeper trail in a 10-mile loop. All participants are welcome to a Happy Hour and Sponsor Expo at the Heartwood on Friday and a Celebration Brunch the morning after the walk. Throughout the day of the event, there will be live music, food, and drinks for guests and walkers.

Once registered, there is a training plan available, hydration tips, and mentors to help you prepare for the journey. If you’re looking for more motivation, you can also join a team or make your own! Although each member is still responsible for raising the minimum of $500, you can set a team goal and make a significant impact to end breast cancer.

If you’re not interested in walking the 15 miles and are still passionate about the cause, you can join the event as a Volunteer and help with organizing the event before and the day of. 

Registration is currently open to the public and can be done online at komenvablueridge.org/creeper or over the phone at 540-400-8222 ext. 3. More information about the Komen on the Creeper and the Virginia Blue Ridge chapter of Susan G. Komen can be found at www.komenvablueridge.org.

Creeper photo by Sam Dean.

Stop Suffering in Silence

Perhaps it isn’t the first choice of conversation when you meet up with your girlfriends, mother, or your sister, but it is important. There are options out there to treat and prevent vaginal discomfort that often accompanies aging or illness, and they are not the old wives tales whispered over coffee so as not offend anyone. A real, safe, and easy solution exists. However, to find it, you first have to talk about the problem.

We live in a world where it is ok to discuss erectile dysfunction and treatment options for men, but many women still feel some sort of stigma attached to talking about gynecologic health. If you are living with vaginal discomfort resulting from pelvic floor disorders (PFDs), breast cancer, or hormonal changes, you are not alone. There is no reason that you should remain silent and continue to suffer.

The longer you wait to see a doctor, the more valuable weeks, months, and even years you will sacrifice. There is a better way, and it begins with understanding that you have no reason to be ashamed and seeking treatment.

At Blue Ridge Urogynecology, Dr. James Daucher and his staff want to help you get back to your living your life and feel like a woman again. They use a procedure called MonaLisa Touch to deliver gentle laser energy to the vaginal tissue. It stimulates a healing response in the vaginal canal. The procedure is virtually painless, and is similar to your annual exam. It requires three treatments over the course of 18 weeks, but each one only takes about five minutes. Many patients have reported that they experience relief right way. Most experience it by the second treatment.

For Melissa Zimmerman, Practice Manager at Blue Ridge Urogynecology, the choice to undergo the procedure was easy.

“As a premenopausal woman who is bound and determined to go through the process without HRT due to a family history of breast cancer, I figured I might as well avail myself of the newest treatment in my own backyard,” she explains, “I work hard to maintain my physical fitness, eat right, and care about my appearance. In short, I won’t age without a fight.”

“I have a great marriage and enjoy an active sex life, which is another thing I did not want to be robbed of as I entered my 50’s and became menopausal,” she adds. “Vaginal atrophy and dryness happen to all of us as our estrogen declines and I want to be proactive in that respect as well.”

“The procedure lasted less than ten minutes. It was painless and produced great results. I worked out the day after and then rode and showed my horse from Thursday on, so there was literally no down time.”

For many women, the option to have this procedure is a priceless reassurance that life can return to what it was before events like breast cancer, PFDs, or menopause. If you are interested in learning more about MonaLisa Touch, please visit www.blueridgeurogynecology.com.
Also, join them for their open house on Friday, September 2 from 4-7pm, where they will be serving light appetizers and refreshments. We’ll see you there!

Big (Pink!) Wigs!

Today, the Virginia Blue Ridge affiliate of Susan G. Komen launched their 2016 BigWig Challenge with hopes to raise $10,000 (at least) by February 15. The money raised will go towards local breast cancer services and research. Ten community leaders in the Blue Ridge region are appointed the title of ‘Big Wigs’ and will guide the campaign with various pink hairstyles on top their heads and the weight of the challenge on their shoulders.

The affiliate will stay true to their tag line, “W​hat’s raised here stays here.” ​Seventy-five percent of the money will be used for provincial screening and diagnostic mammograms, breast health education, and treatment for medically underserved women in our region, while the other 25% goes to research for improving methods of early detection, prevention, and treatments.

Side by side with Brett Winter Lemon Photography and WSLS 10, Bella Magazine is proud to be sponsoring the BigWig challenge. Already the foundation has raised $1, 870, which is­ 19% of their total goal! In addition to Janurary 15th being the first day of the BigWig Challenge, it also signifies the 10 year mark since the creation of the Virginia Blue Ridge Affiliate of Susan G. Komen. Over the decade, the organization has invested more than whopping $1.8 million locally, providing a 2,324 diagnostic services and 3,404 clinical breast exams.

Meet the Ten “BigWigs”:








Sara Bremer, owner of Just Dance Roanoke
Monica Brooks, from K92 Morning Thang
Joe Cobb, pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge
Dr. Bill Fintel, oncologist at Blue Ridge Cancer Care
Lindee Katdare, co-­host of Daytime Blue Ridge
Morris Masinter, small business owner in Roanoke
Greg Roberts, host of Greg Roberts Live on WFIR
Rob Rutherburg, on ­air personality for 101.5FM and stand-­up comedian
Dr. Bob Williams, founding board president of Komen VA Blue Ridge and breast surgeon
Erin Wolfe, blogger

Go to www.komenvablueridge.org to learn more about the 10 ‘BigWigs’ and to support your favorites today!

Written by Madison Correiro

Young Survivors: Kimberly Wyrick

In our October issue, three local young women courageously shared their breast cancer survival stories. Their experiences show that this can happen to anyone. Not only is it important to get your clinical breast exam each year, but it is also important to talk to your doctor (and maybe get a second opinion) if something is off.
Our third story is from Kimberly Wyrick. In her words:

In the fall of 2013, at 38 years old, I felt a small pea sized knot on my left breast while taking a bath. I initially didn’t think much about it. I saw a nurse practitioner and we decided that it was probably just changes in breast tissue.
About a month later, I started getting sharp pains that shot into my armpit and through my chest. After a few weeks of sporadic severe pain almost daily, at my mother’s urging, I made another appointment with the nurse practitioner. She said she thought it was a fibrous cyst but she wasn’t a “boob doctor” and wanted to send me for further testing due to dense breast tissue.
On Thursday, November 14, I went to the breast care center for a mammogram and ultrasound. The doctor told me that they had detected three masses in my left breast and it was cancer. I asked him if it could be anything else. He said “Well, I guess it could be but it’s not.” 
I needed to return the next Monday for a biopsy. It was at that point that a tear ran down my face.
I wasn’t really concerned about the word cancer. I was worried about telling my mother, who had already lost a daughter to leukemia when my sister and I were young. I was separated from my husband and I worried about who would walk through this with me. I was also sort of hoping that my diagnoses might save my marriage. I was worried about my 4-year-old son. And, as vain as this is, I wasn’t concerned about cancer, but I didn’t want to lose my hair. Finally, my biggest concern was how I going to afford treatment. We prayed all weekend.
My doctor called the day after my biopsy and confirmed that I had invasive/infiltrating ductal carcinoma. 
A verse that stuck with me that night was James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete – not lacking in anything.”
I was preoperative stage two breast cancer. The MRI showed that there were cancer cells throughout my left breast and it was determined that it would have to be removed. I decided to have a double mastectomy.
I chose a wonderful team of doctors and had an amazing support system. Many loved ones, friends, and even strangers rallied around me in support and prayer. On January 20, I had my double mastectomy and started reconstruction which was complete that April. The surgery was far easier than the reconstruction. However, it was neat to see how doctors could make your body transform. I continue to have checkups every six months and have to take a medicine daily for the next 10 years.
Never before did I want to be in this club. However, I am thankful that God was present in so many ways, allowing me to persevere.

Young Survivors: Decca Knight

In our October issue, three local young women courageously shared their breast cancer survival stories. Their experiences show that this can happen to anyone. Not only is it important to get your clinical breast exam each year, but it is also important to talk to your doctor (and maybe get a second opinion) if something is off.
Our second story is from Decca Knight. In her words:

I was diagnosed at the age of 32. At the time, I was a healthy, active, young mother who ate well and loved running. My son was 1 ½ years old and I was working at a part-time job that I loved. My OBGYN found a mass during a routine clinical breast exam. He thought that it was probably a cyst and said I could wait a few months and come back or get an ultrasound. Luckily, I chose the ultrasound.
It looked suspect so they sent me for my first mammogram and then a biopsy. I can remember my next appointment like it was yesterday. It was there that my breast surgeon told my husband and I that the mass was cancer. We heard that it was aggressive and that the tumor was large.
We went into shock. A stream of doctors appointments with the breast surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and reconstructive surgeon followed. We felt like we were at the hospital all the time. Soon I had a bilateral mastectomy and the insertion of expanders. The latter are slowly pumped up to stretch your skin to allow for implants. During this operation they did a biopsy of my lymph nodes on the infected side and found that the cancer had spread there. This meant that I would have to have radiation.
After sometime to heal, I started my chemotherapy regimen— every three weeks for six rounds. Soon after my first round, my hair started falling out so my husband shaved my head. My sweet little son thought that it was silly. I am so thankful that at that time he was too young to understand what was going on.
Following months of grueling chemo, we went head on into radiation— everyday for six weeks. I kept joking with hospital staff that I should have some type of frequent flyer card that accrued points. After healing from radiation, I had another surgery called a Lat Flap surgery. During this procedure, they take a part of your lattisimus dorsi on your back, cut it out along with the skin, nerves, and blood supply, and transplant it to your chest. This would allow my affected side to hold an implant. After healing from this harrowing surgery, I finally had my last surgery where they took out my expanders and put in my implants. The whole process lasted about one year.
I was lucky that I didn’t have to work while in treatment. I needed all my energy to be able to interact with my young son. My husband, sister, parents, and in-laws took such great care of me. My friends were amazing. They raised about $15,000.00 for the first Virginia Blue Ridge Affiliate Race for the Cure here in Roanoke.
Five years out now, I am doing well. I still take medication that will hopefully keep the cancer from returning.


Young Survivors: Gwendolyn Miller

In our October issue, three local young women courageously shared their breast cancer survival stories. Their experiences show that this can happen to anyone. Not only is it important to get your clinical breast exam each year, but it is also important to talk to your doctor (and maybe get a second opinion) if something is off.
We will share the additional two stories before the end of the month. The first is from Gwendolyn Miller. In her words:

It all started out as no big deal. This past February, I noticed a spot of blood in my bra. After it occurred for a few days, I went to see my doctor. She did a breast exam and told me it was probably an intraductal papilloma— nothing to worry about. I had just turned 33, and she assured me that, being so young, it was most likely something benign. She also reassured me that breast cancer doesn’t typically bleed. About a week later, I went in for my first mammogram at the breast imaging center. There was no one near my age in the lobby or the waiting room.  

Nothing appeared on the mammogram so they sent me to have an ultrasound. The radiologist saw a flicker of what they thought was a papilloma but nothing conclusive on standard imaging. Over the next few weeks other tests and imaging were scheduled.

During an MRI, they saw something concerning. The next thing I knew, I was going in for an X-ray guided double biopsy. They found a papilloma, but behind it they found breast cancer. I was diagnosed with invasive ductile carcinoma. 

Life as my husband and I knew immediately turned upside down. A whirlwind of doctor’s appointments began, so I took medical leave from my job that I loved. I saw surgeons, medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, plastic surgeons, and a reproductive endocrinologist. The best advice I received from other young survivors was to get a second opinion— especially for surgery. I decided that I would consider more than one doctor’s approach and looked at it as hiring the best medical team to take care of me and my needs.

Ultimately, I had a bilateral mastectomy and immediate DIEP Flap reconstruction on both of my breasts. My surgery was supposed to last 12 hours because it’s so specialized, but actually went on for 17 hours because they found a hernia they had to repair. While the recovery has had a few bumps along the way, and I will need another surgery to fine tune some of the reconstruction, I wouldn’t change my decision.  

I’m lucky in that I don’t have to go through radiation or chemotherapy, but breast cancer may have affected my ability to carry a pregnancy. I will be on three types of hormone therapy over the next 10 years. My husband and I are currently in the process of figuring out what a family will look like for us, as we haven’t had children yet. 

I want others to know that if something seems off, weird, or you feel a lump, go to the doctor— don’t put it off. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, be sure to get a second opinion so you know all your options for treatment and breast reconstruction.

The Breast Choice

bellaweb1Any cancer sucks. Breast cancer doesn’t cause any more heart ache, pain, or agony than lung, bone, skin or any other cancer. Breast cancer just happens to cause a change in the two things that as women we value a lot. A whole lot. Our boobs and our hair.

As I’ve traveled this breast cancer journey there are two questions that have been asked more than any other. “Are you getting reconstruction?” and “What are you going to do with your hair?” For the past year the only reply I had that made sense was, “I have no idea”. At the time it worked for both questions; now I have a little more experience and can, hopefully, provide a little advice for anyone just starting out on this road. Just remember – these are YOUR decisions and the only opinion that matters is yours and your doctor’s.

I’ll start with the hair. Not everyone going through breast cancer needs chemotherapy so not everyone loses their hair. Everyone diagnosed with cancer, however, thinks about their hair from the beginning. For those of us who did have chemotherapy we view our hair differently. “It’s only hair” or “it’ll grow back” are comments that makes me want to wash a mouth out with soap and possibly stab someone with an ice pick. I also now have less patience for anyone having a bad hair day. It’s a hair day so it’s all good. In the grand scheme of life versus death, yes it’s only hair but as women most of us aren’t excited about going bald. When you’re already sick, having a good hair day means a lot.

If I had a dollar for every person who asked me what I was going “to do about my hair” I’d be rich or at least be able to pay for a really great haircut and a really good bottle of wine. I’ve always been tempted to answer back with, “I don’t know, what are you going to do about your hair?” Until hair actually grows back no one knows what they will do with it so please don’t ask. Just pile on the compliments and leave it at that. No matter what a bald head looks like tell her it’s beautiful.

The question of reconstruction is a little touchier. I didn’t want to lose my breasts and I still miss them. They weren’t perfect but they were mine and I liked them. I knew that I wanted some type of reconstruction so I researched my options, talked to friends who had already went through it, met with more than one plastic surgeon and finally made a decision that worked for me. I’m very lucky that the people around me gave me the space to explore options and make my own decision. I’m also thankful that my perfect plastic surgeon, Dr. Kurtis Moyer (aka Dr. Gorgeous) has been upfront with me every step of the way and gave me tough love when I was whining and kept me focused on the big picture. Albeit not big boobs, but boobs I can live with.

Having reconstruction is not like having augmentation so take the time to make the right decision for you. Not for your husband, partner, family or doctor. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it or at least put it off until you are sure. I know that putting it off isn’t easy. If you’re like me you want to get through and get to the other side. This is a decision you’ll live with forever (you don’t want to go through this more than once). We’re lucky that right here in Roanoke we have a wide range of options such as implants, TRAM/DIEP (gut fat), latissimus dorsi (back fat), gluteal free (butt fat) or TUG (thigh fat) flaps. Just remember that regardless of the type of reconstruction, your breasts will never be the same. Ever.

I wanted so badly to get everything done as soon as possible so I know that waiting is no fun. But sometimes it’s better to wait. You may need to wait until you’ve finished with chemo or radiation, until pathology reports are back or until a time when your mind and body starts to recover from the trauma of diagnosis and surgery. Your boobs – your decision – make your best breast decision for you.

Tara Nepper is a one-year cancer survivor, wife, mother of four, nana to three and happy to be an advocate for self-examinations, enjoys raising funds for research and is getting used to life after cancer.

A Friendship Blossoms

Local author Carol Wall shares the benefits of opening her mind and her heart in her memoir, Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening.  Her friendship with Giles Owita, a local gardener, challenges her to step outside of her comfort zone and learn from his advice, despite her original inclination to judge him based on his appearance and profession.

“One of the most important lesions of the book is not to make assumptions,” she explains, “Just because someone is wearing work clothes, comes from a distant place, and knows secrets about trees and plants does not mean he cannot also be an accomplished scholar and an expert in his field. Assumptions I made revealed my biases and prejudices and made me examine the way I thought about things.”

Wall goes on to say that she was raised never to discriminate against anyone, and she desperately wanted to present her community as accepting of Giles and his family. Unfortunately, there were those in the community that did not welcome him as openly.

 “As the years of our friendship passed, I came to understand that Giles was African and held none of the biases that mark our strained race relations in the United States,” she says, “Though he would have preferred to make everyone his friend, life had taught him early on to detect those who, for whatever reason (including the color of his skin) would not be available for such relationships.”

Prior to meeting Giles, Wall had fought and won her first battle with breast cancer. During their friendship, the disease returns. She also faces the decline of her parents’ health. Eventually Giles’ own health problems surface and their friendship blossoms despite (and maybe because of) the challenges they face. He shares his own cancer story with her and she begins to look at her experience in a new light. She describes this moment as a feeling to which we can all relate, “You have such beautiful things and you are afraid of losing them.”

carolwall2Finally, Wall addresses the subject of illness with a unique and enlightening approach. Those who have experienced something like cancer, as a patient or close family member, will appreciate her honest explanation of the emotions that she faced.

 “I guess you could say I was ‘on strike’ from having a meaningful life,” she recalls, “That is how I was punishing myself for the sin of being sick. There is nothing my husband (or anyone else) could have done to console me. Being well [has become] a double blessing–the wellness itself covering us like a warm blanket that we pull around our shoulders at night, bringing with it the assurance that medical woes are meant for someone less worthy. Fear of illness takes away our logic and compassion and separates us from each other.  There is no disease reserved for the guilty.”

This is one memoir you will not want to put down until you have finished. Be prepared for a few tears and self reflection before purchasing your own copy of Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening on Amazon. We will also be giving away a copy on Bella’s Facebook page this month.   

For more information on Carol Wall and her experiences, visit www.carolwall.com.