Co-Op For A Cure

October is fast approaching. And since losing my mother to breast cancer 3 years ago, October has become a time of reflection and advocacy. And although my efforts with #TeamJudy last all throughout the year, because breast cancer isn’t just a month long fight, I do enjoy participating in all things Pink for the month of October. I feel like it’s necessary and important; another piece in the puzzle that is living life after losing a parent to cancer.

This October #TeamJudy will be participating in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5k in downtown Tampa, and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Glow run in downtown St. Pete!  Continue reading


#BeBrave and the Race for the Cure Recap

ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage

What comes to mind when you hear the word “brave?”
A firefighter? Police officer? Soldier? 

We all understand what it means to be brave in those aspects, and appreciate and honor those who dedicate their lives to defend, help and protect us each and every day. They are true heroes and display braveness, above all else, in their daily lives. 

However I’m here to recognize a different form of brave. 
A quiet form that often gets overlooked. 
An internal brave that many people must endure at some point in their lives.
Probably one of the most difficult situations where one may ask you to “be brave”. 

When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 of an aggressive form of breast cancer, we knew we would need to encourage her to be brave. It was important for her to stay positive; to keep hopeful; to trust her doctors.

When she courageously underwent weeks of chemo, radiation, surgeries, and days where she just could not get out of bed, we would encourage her to be brave. And on that last week, when the outcome was inevitable, we would continue to tell my mother to be brave.

My mother bravely fought for her life until her last breath, and above all else, that is what I remember her for most. My mother was strong and outgoing; fun and positive. She was SCUBA certified, and wasn’t afraid to try new things. She was all about grabbing life and making the most out of it. She was one of the bravest people I had ever met. 

I often think about my mother in moments where I need to find my own braveness, and because of all that she went through, I have adopted this motto for my own life and for #TeamJudy. Because being brave is what makes life worth living. 

Being brave is about fighting against the things that try to take life from us. 
It’s about staying strong and positive; even through the roughest of life’s moments. 
It’s about being there for the ones you love. 
It’ about going for your goals and the things you want. 
Being brave isn’t about being fearless. Being brave is about feeling the fear, and doing it anyway. 

Last weekend we showed our support for #TeamJudy and our #BeBrave campaign by participating in the Race for the Cure  5k in St. Pete. It was an amazing event honoring those who are fighting cancer, the brave survivors and remember the ones we have lost. Here are some snapshots from race day. If you’d like to join us next year, please check back for details as race details are released. 









Mother’s Day Weekend in Pictures

Happy Mother’s Day! 
I hope you had a wonderful weekend with all of the mothers in your life. 
I had a lovely weekend celebrating two special moms in my life. 

On Saturday, #TeamJudy completed our third Miles for Moffitt in honor and memory of my mom Judy. It was a beautiful day with friends and family and we raised an AMAZING $1,400 for Moffitt Cancer Center!  Continue reading


Know what you have part 2

**Disclaimer** This post covers sensitive medical and wellness related topics involving breast cancer and preventative reproductive screenings. If you feel uncomfortable discussing or reading about these topics, please skip this post. I won’t be offended because I know you’ll be back! Additionally, I am NOT a medical professional. I am simply a patient and health/wellness blogger giving my opinion on how to be proactive with women’s health issues. Please consult your own physician with any individual medical questions or concerns.

Before you read Part 2, please take a moment to read part 1 of this post: Know you what you have part 1

In October of 2013, I returned to my OB/GYN to have my annual well woman exam. I wasn’t as nervous as the previous year, and knew what to expect as far as having those “tough conversations” go. I did get a bit emotional while the nurse was taking my vitals and updating my records on their new computer system.

Family history:

  • Mother: deceased
  • Maternal grandmother: deceased
  • Paternal grandfather: deceased
  • Paternal grandmother: deceased

Needless to say, seeing it all there, in my face, on that screen was a little tough to handle. And I couldn’t help but get a bit weepy as she pumped the blood pressure cuff around my arm. Four of the seven core people in my immediate family are no longer with us. And even though it’s been a year and a half since my mother’s passing, and almost 10 years since that first death of my maternal grandmother, these losses still shake my soul.

I soon found out that my doctor had just recently lost her mother, and that this was her first day back to work, so it turned out to be much more of an emotional visit than I had anticipated! But, such is life… Even doctors lose their loved ones.

Just like the previous year’s exam, we started with a routine pap smear, vagina/pelvic exam, and breast exam. We talked a bit about nutrition, exercise, and life in general. During the exam she suggested that I follow up with a yearly pelvic sonogram, and urged me to schedule it before I left the office that day. Of course, the worst case scenario goes through your mind in a moment like this, and I immediately asked her if there was something I should be concerned about. She assured me that everything appeared to be ok, but with a history of breast cancer, comes a increased risk of ovarian cancer, and that the sonogram would be another form of surveillance in my prevention plan.

And, like last year, the BRACanalysis conversation came up again. As I knew it would. I hadn’t thought much about it since that initial conversation last year. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but more because I wasn’t prepared for any outstanding costs that may come with it. I had done some research on it after our original conversation, and thought about the possibility of some insurances not covering genetic testing, so I was a bit concerned I may get stuck with a bill I wasn’t prepared to pay for.


My doctor assured me that with my type of insurance, and family history, I would be covered. Before I knew it, I was making an appointment for a preventative sonogram, BRCA consultation, and blood work for genetic testing.

Flash forward a few months and my appointment day was here. On the first day of my winter break from school, I woke up early to head over to my OB/GYN for my procedures.

I have had a pelvic sonogram in the past, so I knew exactly what to expect. The whole point of this exam is to get a better view of what’s going on with your uterus, ovaries and cervix, through a sonogram, which is pretty much exactly like the sonograms used to observe a baby while in the womb. Except, when you’re pregnant, the scan happens through the outside of the mother’s belly. During a pelvic ultrasound, everything is internal. Basically you will remove your clothing from the waist down (don’t worry, you’ll get a blanket for added privacy!), then you’ll sit on a chair much like the one that you sit in for a pap smear. You’ll place your feet into stirrups, again, like a pap, then the technician will dim the lights and insert a transducer into your vagina (which is a roundish, short, tool in which they will cover with a conducting lubricant for easy insertion and movement). Once the transducer is inserted, the technician will use a monitor to measure, evaluate and observe your pelvic area.

This test may include documenting:

  • Size, shape, and position of the uterus and ovaries.
  • Thickness, density, and presence of fluids or masses in the endometrium, myometrium (uterine muscle tissue), fallopian tubes, or in or near the bladder.
  • Length and thickness of the cervix.
  • Changes in bladder shape.
  • Blood flow through pelvic organs.

Now while a this screening will not be able to diagnose specific things like cancer, for example, it can show abnormalities, such as cysts and potentially dangerous changes in the pelvic area, that could lead to more serious issues, making this an extremely important preventative screening.

The entire exam took around 5 minutes, and was painless and easy, aside from the slight pressure you’ll feel from the transducer when inserted. As always, the more relaxed and calm you are, the easier these screenings will go. During the procedure, the technician walked me through what I was seeing on the screen, explaining to me how everything looked A-ok. Of course, all data collected is sent to the doctor for further review, but again, I received a clean bill of health from her once we met after the sonogram.

Once that screening was complete, I went and met up with my doctor to discuss the ins and outs of the BRACanalysis. We sat down for about 20 minutes discussing what BRACanalysis was, a timeline of events, and decisions I may be faced with if, in fact, the genetic testing comes back positive for any genetic mutations I may be carrying that could increase my risk developing cancer.

gfihgfjhgfMost cancer occurs by chance, however, in some families, cancer is more prevalent than just by chance alone. Determining how these trends and patterns relate to genetic mutation is an important tool used in the fight against cancer. Because my mom was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer, chances of it being genetic are good. Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC) is an inherited condition that causes an increased risk for ovarian, breast, pancreatic, and prostrate cancer due to an alteration or gene mutation in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which can be inherited from both a mother or a father. A person may have an inherited risk of developing a HBOC if:

  • You or a family member were diagnosed with breast cancer prior to age 50, or ovarian cancer at any age.
  • You or a family member were diagnosed with 2 breast cancers, or triple negative breast cancer at any age. (this applies to me).
  • There is already information regarding gene mutations in your family.
  • There are three or more HBOC-associated cancers in your family at any age (breast, ovarian, pancreatic, prostrate). (this also applies to me).
  • Your ethnicity is higher risk for genetic mutations.

If a mutation of either BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes is found, the chances of developing cancer increase significantly compared to just developing them by chance. Breast cancer increases from 8% (general population) to up to 87% (gene mutation). Ovarian cancer from less than 1% to up to 44%. Secondary breast cancer from 11% to up to 64%, and pancreatic cancer, less than 1% to 7%. (These statistics reflect the average person by age 70 and are from 2013).

I knew, at that moment, that I would be going through with this test. Once we finished up our consultation, I went a few steps down to the next room and gave a blood sample. The sample will be sent off for analysis and within 3-4 weeks I should receive the results. Because I am the first of my family to participate in genetic testing, there aren’t any known gene mutations to compare my own genes with. Therefore I am participating in what’s called an Integrated BRACAnalysis, which includes a full examination of the most common changes of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes using the samples collected since the start of this test.

pplplpIf the results come back negative, and I do not carry a gene mutation, then I will continue with regular medical management based on general population cancer screening and personal family history. I will most likely begin breast sonograms once I reach the age of 35, and continue yearly pap smears and pelvic screenings for additional prevention, all the while monitoring my own female health at home through self exams and paying attention to any changes out of the norm.

If the results come back positive, and I do carry a gene mutation in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, then there are a few routes I can take which involve either increased surveillance, including early mammograms, frequent pap and pelvic screenings (twice a year), and blood tests every 6 months which would test for increased CA-125 levels in the blood (a cancer indicator). Additionally, I can start drug regimens which include, but are not limited to, birth control and tamoxifen, a type of chemo-prevention drug that has been shown to reduce the risk of genetic cancer in high risk women. And then there is the option of preventative surgery, having a double voluntary mastectomy and/or hysterectomy to eliminate almost all of my risk entirely. A mastectomy would also include reconstructive surgery, in which there are many options.

Since BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations may be passed on in a family, if I carry one of these mutations, there is a 50% chance that my parents, future children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and even cousins have the same mutation. Since testing is the only way to determine if these mutations exist, I will be sharing my own results with my family, giving them the option to use my genes for them to be able to participate in the Single Site BRACAnalysis, if I test positive for a gene mutation.

Now while BRACanalysis will give me more insight into my own personal plan of action when it comes to developing hereditary cancers, it does not detect all causes of hereditary cancer. uhuhThis is a very long, and informative post, but I have failed to address the emotional side to all of this. How do I feel? Am I nervous? What will I do if my test results come back positive?

Honestly, the only moment where I felt nervous or emotional about this is when I was about to have the blood drawn, as I’m not a big fan of needles. I know I need to know. I know how important prevention is. I know that my mother missed 2 years of mammograms and that is why when they didn’t catch it, and why it had already developed into stage IV. I know that’s why she died. And if going through test after test, scan after scan, is going to prevent me from going through even 1 DAY of what my mother endured, then it’s worth it.

To me, knowing is not scary. Knowing gives me power to choose my destiny; to mold my future and my fate. Knowing gives me the tools to fight. Knowing is what will keep me on this earth far past the age of 57. Knowing will ensure I get to know my grandchildren. Knowing means life.

Since the day my mother took her last breath on April 11, 2012, I have done everything in my power to bring breast cancer prevention awareness to anyone who will listen. Don’t wait. Don’t put your health on the back burner.

Your health is important. You are important.

Update: I tested negative!

Steph <3