Monday, April 12, 2010

Breast Cancer; We Can Make a Difference.

This is sponsored content from BlogHer and KFC.

Three weeks before I turned 9 my Great-Grandmother died.   She lived a long full life and it came as no surprise when she finally died.  It was hard for all of us though.  She had many names in her lifetime; Cora, Mom, Dear, Grandma, Pockey...the last one was the one I knew her by. 

My Grandma Pockey was a hard woman, but could give the best snuggles.  I have very specific memories of visiting her in the summer.  Planting flowers in her yard, eating Ritz crackers with Easy Cheese and marshmallow Pinwheel cookies.  I loved laying on the bed in the guest room surrounded by sunlight and books and later snuggling in her bed as she would get ready for bed at night, the smell of Noxema thick in the air and watching her take her little pillows from her bra and place them neatly in a drawer.

I didn't know much about those “pillows” except that I would play with them whenever I could.  They were soft and smelled like Pockey.

It wasn't until I was in High School that I put two and two together and realized that my Grandmother was a Breast Cancer survivor.  I realized how strong she must have been and how at ease she was with her body.  It wasn't always that way though.  My Mom was very close to Pockey, she was her grandma after all.  When I asked her about Pockey's cancer, she teared up and shared this with me.

I remember a feeling of helplessness when my grandma, the light of my life and my best friend in a world of parental abuse, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It felt like someone had punched me with all their might in the pit of my stomach…being a selfish teenager, it was all about me and how her diagnosis would affect my life.  Never did I stop to think about what she might be going through.

Breast cancer…it wasn’t the common cancer in the 60’s that it is now-I hadn’t heard much about it when my grandma was told she was needing a drastic surgery to sustain her life.  In fact, I knew NOBODY who had been affected by breast cancer-I had to read up about it to even understand the implication of that disease.  It was still all about me-how her disease would change my life.  Little did I realize how that diagnosis would impact me…

She had her surgery, a double radical mastectomy, and was hospitalized for three weeks.  Back then, insurance would allow people a relaxing recovery under the supervision of healthcare professionals, much different than today’s surgeries.  Her healing was slower because of her age-she was in her 60’s.  I visited her every day-she was my lifeline to normalcy and I needed her daily.  Never did I think of her life as being in danger-her mortality was never an issue.  She wasn’t going to die…not my grandma.

She came home from the hospital and stayed with our family for another month as she recovered.  That was a wonderful time for me but my mother ‘didn’t care much for’ my special grandma so there was some tension.  I helped her as much as I could but I was in school so the days were long for her.  She never complained, she just rested and tried to heal in preparation for returning to her home and my grandpa.  Why didn’t she recover at home?  I am not sure but they didn’t have a shower in their bathroom and now, years later, I suspect that was the reason.

One memory that has burned itself into my mind and one I remember frequently as I hear of women suffering through this horrible disease occurred one Saturday morning when she asked me if I would help her with a shower.  I was nervous-I hadn’t seen her breasts, or the lack thereof, since her surgery.  What was I getting into?  What would I see?  Should I look?  Should I act nonchalant?

She was in the shower when I entered the bathroom.  I thought she wanted my help?  I was confused but soon realized her goal-to help me to realize the impact of her surgery and ‘break the ice’ between us.  As I walked into the bathroom, she slid the glass door open and there she stood, naked and raw.  As I peered into the shower, she looked back at me with tears rolling down her cheeks and with the wail of a little child, simply said, “look what they have done to me”.  Fully clothed, I reached in, hugged her and we sobbed together.  She was my life!  I loved her more than anyone on the face of the earth and someone had violated her.

She recovered and healed physically but in my opinion, she never healed emotionally.  Back then, the prosthetics weren’t what they are today and she was forever unbalanced.   But she lived!

As I read that I cried for my Grandmother.  This woman who was still so young and yet had lost something so connected to being a woman, her breasts.  I can't imagine the pain, both physical and emotional that she must have felt.  And to be alone in her recovery with only a teenager to turn to had to be equally difficult.

But, like my Mom said, she LIVED!  They caught the cancer early enough that she didn't need chemotherapy.  She was able to see all 5 of her great-grandchildren be born and watched us grow.  She came to Christmases, Easters, plays, recitals, musicals, nothing stopped her.  She came and stayed with our family every summer.  We went to visit her often and she was such a bright spot in all of our lives.

For many years, she was the face of Cancer for me.  Because of that, I thought it was a disease that really only effected older people.  That was until 2 years ago. 

I had recently started working with Desi in our Church work.  She had 1 little boy and was just so beautiful and fun.  A few years younger than me, I thought she had everything going for her.  And then I heard the news, she had breast cancer.  I was floored.  Seriously, this doesn't happen to young people, right?  That is what she thought also.

On April 29th 2008 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I felt like I had just received a death sentence.  How could this be, I was only 26 with a husband and a two year old boy.  I have no history of breast cancer in my family and the very thought of it was something so foreign.  Only old women got cancer, not me.  All I knew about cancer was that those who had it, died.

It all started when I found a lump but because it couldn’t have possibly been anything serious I didn’t do anything about it.  Some months later when my husband and I started thinking about having a 2nd child, at this time I decided to first have this lump looked at as it had become painful.  I went to my gynecologist to have it examined and was referred to a local surgeon.  He, the surgeon, did an immediate biopsy, all I could do was wait.

The next day my life would change forever.  I received the phone call from the surgeon around mid afternoon.  His diagnosis was a shock; I struggled not to cry and used all my strength to simply try to hear the doctor out.  While on the phone my son came into my room, the sight of him and the thought of not being around to watch him grow old and to see him play and be a cute little boy was more than I could bear.  I broke down and started to weep, I told the doctor goodbye and sat and held my son for some time and cried like I hadn’t cried before.

About an hour or so later my husband came home from work.  When I told him I was balling, he was stone cold and could only say “It’s going to be OK.”  I felt angry that he didn’t have a bigger reaction, I realize now that he was trying to be strong for me.  I know that he hurt and felt anguish.  His father had passed away a few years before we met after losing a battle with Leukemia, now the love of his life was entering the same battle.

The surgeon scheduled a lumpectomy for the very next Monday, the next day however he called and explained that after speaking with some colleagues he decided that I should have a mammogram first.  The results indicated that my right breast was full of cancerous lumps, great.  He then recommended that I get an MRI to get a better picture of the cancer and to determine if my left breast was also cancerous.

After waiting for hours and hours, after the MRI,  I was told that they needed a biopsy of my left breast because there were some suspicious areas.  Never before had I been so poorly treated and talked down too.  The doctors were very rough, insensitive and emotionless.  One technician who showed us the MRI images said that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, was very serious and acted put out that I was so upset about it.

After the surgeon took a look at the data my cancer was diagnosed, I had DCIS or ductal carcinoma in situ and that it wasn’t present in my left breast.  I had to then find an oncologist to help orchestrate my surgery and all that having cancer entails. 

I was able to get in to meet with my husband's Dad's oncologist, even though she was not accepting any new patients.  She loved his Dad and would do anything for our family.

On our first meeting she was absolutely perfect.  She sat us down and spoke to us on our level.  Spoke about our concerns and fears.  I remember that she gave me a big hug and said that I will have kids again.  This meant the world to me and I’ll always remember her for the hope she gave my family. 

After meeting with them we then arranged my surgery for 6 June 2008 which gave me a month to prepare.  I don’t think I’d ever been so scared in my life.  I feel lucky to live in the world that we do with all the advancements in science that we have.  I really am pretty lucky.

On the big day I underwent a skin sparing mastectomy which removed my right breast but left the outer tissue and skin, they also implanted a tissue expander which would stretch the remaining tissue and muscle and aid in forming a new breast.  The people at the huntsman were great but I won’t lie, I hate being in the hospital.  After a few days stay I was able to leave and start the long recovery process.

The mastectomy revealed that it had NOT spread to my lymph nodes YAY!  What a relief.

Over the next three months I would visit my plastic surgeon weekly for saline injections.  They were gradually filling the tissue expander with fluid to form my new breast.  After it was sized back to normal I had to begin radiation therapy.  So for the next eight weeks I had to go to the hospital every day barring weekends and endure the radiation treatment.  It wasn’t as bad as it sounds until the end when my skin was so burnt that it started to crack and bleed.  It helped that the staff at the clinic were so kind and funny.  What a support.  They told me that they were going to do three things to me that my mother had warned me about never doing.  1) Gave me a tattoos, 2) Took nude pictures 3) and asked me to take my clothes off for a stranger.

When that was all said and done and I had healed a bit I made my appointment with my plastic surgeon, to have the final reconstructive surgery.  On Dec 22nd I had my final surgery and left Cancer behind me in 2008.  It was a fairly easy recovery compared to the mastectomy.  For what I went through the final results were great.  That being said, I’d much rather have my old breasts back, but I’ll take life and what it brings, even if it’s single breasted.

I’m happy to say, that on November 11, 2009 I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.  This is my way of fighting back at cancer and showing it that I’m not afraid.  Life is to be lived.

Cancer can and does hit everyone at some point in their lives.  1 in 8 women in the US will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer in her lifetime.  If you are not diagnosed, you will know someone who is.  This disease doesn't care who you are, how old you are, what you look like, how many children you have or what you have to do tomorrow.  It is hard and cold and will take from you as quickly as it can.  Breast Cancer is the leading cause of death among US women ages 40-59.

I started doing self breast examinations when I was 18.  I was visiting my brother and sister-in-law and saw that she had a self exam card in the shower.  I did one that day.  I have found it easiest to do it on the first of every month.  That way I remember and I get it done.

I will admit that I don't always remember.  When I am pregnant and nursing (like I have been for the last 8 years) it is hard to remember.  But it is so important to know your breasts.  To know what feels normal so that when something doesn't feel normal you can do something about it.

I am so grateful for organizations like the Susan G Komen foundation that is constantly educating women about Breast Cancer.  KFC has teamed up with Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to raise money to find a cure for this terrible disease.  Susan G. Komen for the Cure is the world's largest, most progressive, non-profit breast cancer organization.  They have invested almost $1.5 billion in breast cancer research and community programs.  You recoginize the pink ribbons, and that is because of Komen.  They have transformed how the world talks about and treats this disease.  They have helped millions become survivors rather than patients.

For every Pink Bucket, KFC makes a 50 cent contribution to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  The Pink buckets will be available in KFC restaurants through May 23rd  KFC has teamed up with Blogher to raise money. BlogHer will donate $1 for every comment left on the blog posts and across the other posts from the Exclusive Offer page at BlogHer.com, up to a total of $1000 for the entire program.

This disease has effected so many women in so many ways.  Whether it is your Mother, Grandmother, sister, friend, daughter, or self, this disease takes so many and changes so many lives.  The survivors I know try to make a difference in other's lives.  They take the second chance they have been given and strive to improve the lives of others.

You can make a difference too by buying a pink bucket of chicken, or going to Buckets for the Cure.

It really can be that simple.  Do your monthly exams, be smart and help others.  Do you want to help?  Leave a comment here and Blogher will automatically donate $1!  It's that easy.  Want to do more?  Go read the other amazing stories of strength and courage, leave a comment and help more women in the race for the cure.


Together we are strong, together we can make a difference.  What do you do to make a difference in the lives of others?

68 comments:

  1. Excellent post Kim. I don't do self exams regularly enough. I have an aunt who beat breast cancer.

    I ate KFC yesterday and was pleased with my pink bucket!!

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  2. While in Oregon, one of my good friends died of breast cancer after fighting for a couple of years (and beating it once). She was...35? 36? Two little girls. I was pregnant at the time and just...I don't know. Floored. She was actually the first of two friends to die of cancer that year.

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  3. Cancer is such an icky word...my dad died of cancer 2 years ago and I know several people who have had breast cancer. I don't do self exams regularly enough, but I'd like to think I am in tune with my breasts, since I nurse and am dealing with them all the time. Thanks for the post!

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  4. Nice post, Kim.

    Cancer can suck it, big time.

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  5. Thank you for sharing your mom's story of her grandma. It was a different life back then. My mom is a survivor, and there are days I wonder how her diagnosis will affect myself and my 3 girls.

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  6. Wow, your sweet Grandma was so brave and you were lucky to have her support, but I can tell how much you miss her. What a shame she had to go through that. I think it's wonderful that Blogher will donate to the cause through your comments.

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  7. Breast Cancer runs in my family so this subject is near and dear to my heart. My sister's husband has a sister who had breast cancer at a young age also.

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  8. Beautiful post. One of my friends who is only 24 just had a breast cancer scare and it floored me. Thankfully the tumor wasnt cancerous but its still terrifying to think about.

    I agree that the best thing is to really know your breast so you know if something seems weird.

    Thank you for sharing these two stories with us.

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  9. Cancer runs in my family, one was breast cancer. Cancer sucks! It is wonderful that your post will raise not only awareness, but also money for the cure.

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  10. And remember that nursing has a dose response to breast cancer and other reproductive cancers. :-)The longer you nurse, the less likely you will get breast cancer.

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  11. great post. I am a leukemia survivor but have many friends/relatives who have had breast cancer!! What an important reminder to "check the girls"
    Thanks

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  12. Here is another comment for one more $1 toward a cure.

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  13. And another. :)

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  14. Cancer is the big scary word for my husband. I guess because we know so many people (including his dad and brother w/skin cancer) who have been affected. I definitely know too many women who have had to endure this disease.

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  15. Kim, That was so great! Your Grandma was one tough cookie. What a great example. Thanks again.

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  16. Great post! I haven't known anyone personally but know a friend that had a big scare and it scared me! I know self exams are so important! Thanks for the reminder again!!

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  17. Here's another one just for more money! I am watching my waist shrink but I would order a healthier type bucket for this cause! Thanks for letting me know!!

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  18. I NEVER remember breast exams. Thanks for the reminder!

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  19. Man I couldn't stop crying reading your post.
    I will always remember the phone call I got when Desi found out, I was in AZ at the time, I curled up on my husbands lap and just bawled & bawled. Then I thought reassuringly that if anyone can beat this my feisty Desi could!
    Thank you for sharing both of those stories. They are such strong women!

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  20. Thanks for this post and the link to the self exam cards ... they will be hanging in my bathroom from now on. It will make sure I remember and get my little girl used to the whole idea for her future!

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  21. I'm in.
    My dad lost his mom when he was 15 because they didn't find the breast cancer until it had spread through her entire body and brain.
    I can't wait to meet her in heaven. What a family we will have, huh?

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  22. What powerful stories and strong women. Thanks for sharing !

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  23. Such a great article, Kim. You did a great job of handling a sensitive subject with grace.

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  24. Thank you for such a powerful post.

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  25. Great post. You had me crying. My Grandmother is a breast cancer surviver and my Mother was just diagnosed and went through a lumpectomy and radiation. What powerful, strong women breast cancer survivers are! I pray that one day there will be a cure and no one will ever have to experience the pain breast cancer or cancer in general brings.

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  26. Thank you so much for sharing these stories. It's important that people know, Breast Cancer doesn't just happen to "other people".

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  27. Wow, this is such an amazing woman that fought through something very tough... I couldn't even imagine!

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  28. Kim, thanks for this post. My sister (34) has Stage 3 breast cancer, which is now looking like it has spread to her lymph nodes. I hate this disease. I'm so glad your grandma and your friend are survivors!

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  29. What a FANTASTIC post! Thank you for sharing -- especially the fact that breast cancer isn't a Grandma Disease. Way too many young women are being diagnosed!

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  30. Kim's story is touching and raising awareness about this issue is so important. However, I think Komen's decision to partner with KFC is disturbing and I can't believe anyone touched by breast cancer would actively promote this offensive media campaign. Consumption of high fat foods (like fried chicken) and obesity are known risk factors for breast cancer, and grilled chicken products have been shown to contain cancer-causing chemicals. Raising money for breast cancer using fast food is like trying to raise awareness about lung cancer by selling cigarettes!

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  31. Excellent post. I'm a breast cancer survivor that was diagnosed at 32 and just celebrated 4 years of being cancer free. It is hard being you and a breast cancer survivor. You have fears and worries women older than you don't have to deal with. I'll do what I can to pass the message along.

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  32. This post made me cry....a lot. Jeremy never met his grandmother due to breast cancer (45 years old, leaving a very young son and 2 daughters), and his mother died about 15 years ago (she was in her early 50s). I am terrified for my daughters, but am so grateful to live now. I have already had 2 friends from high school beat breast cancer.

    Thanks for spreading awareness. We do the race for the cure every year in honor of Jeremy's mom and grandma. It makes me sad that my girls will never know their grandma, but at least we have this connection to her, and will fight for a cure.

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  33. Desi you are an amazing woman!! I am so greatful to have you in my life!!
    Love Missy

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  34. i love DESI...she is my hero.
    love .roxie

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  35. just diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer
    Kudos to KFC!!!

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  36. Thanks for telling me! Instead I had to find out two years later on facebook! Always knew you were a fighter Desi, keep it up!

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  37. Thank you for posting my sister's story. Desi is my younger sister and I love her very much. I thank God every day that she is still with us and healthy. I also have a beautiful sister in law who is finishing her breast cancer treatment a father in law who is recovering from prostate cancer and many other relatives who have passed or are recovering from some form of cancer. It is a scary thing but it's nice to know people care and are trying to make it better for those who have to live with this. Thank you.

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  38. Desi is such an inspiration to me! I remember the day she told me about her cancer and I was just floored. This doesn't happen to young people for crying out loud! I know she was scared but she battled the cancer head on which was amazing. I remember her going to radiation and then coming straight to play soccer with us. We were a bit protective of her but I know just watching her gave me strength too!
    Thanks for sharing your story here girl! You are AMAZING!

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  39. Desi, you are one amazing lady! I am so proud of your strength! love you Aubrei

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  40. Desi you are the love of my life. I am so proud of you. The strength you possess is amazing. I'm a lucky man.

    Love,

    Geoff

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  41. Desi I love you :) Youre amazing and one of the strongest ladies I know! I'm lucky to be able to call you my Aunt, even though you are more like a sister to me.

    You're my hero!
    <3

    Ashli

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  42. Thank you for sharing Pockey's story and Dese's story with us. You gave me chills.
    Big kudos to KFC and BlogHer for their support of the Komen Foundation!

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  43. Here's to the strong women who have raised us all. And here's to the strong women who have had to fight breast cancer. It seems that it is more than 1 in 8 women who have this cancer. I know Desi's husband Jeff. He is JUST like his father - full of love. He was surely a blessing to Desi when she was diagnosed - he understood, he loved, and he supported her.

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  44. Thank you for sharing your stories with us!

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  45. Thanks for sharing these stories! No doubt about it, we need a cure for breast cancer NOW!

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  46. What a beautiful post and beautiful memories of your great-grandma. Thanks for sharing.

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  47. awesome post. thanks for doing this. there is no greater organization to support than komen for the cure.

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  48. Kim, thanks for such a moving post. Pockey's experience sounds so much like my grandma's - you just didn't talk about breast cancer at all, and the treatment was so, so severe. I'm glad that Desi's experience was better, but breast cancer shouldn't be in anyone's life experience. Thanks for a great post.

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  49. Keep up the great work!

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  50. Here's another $1

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  51. And another

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  52. Awesome post. I don't know many people who aren't affected by breast cancer....I hope every day that a cure can be found. Thank you for posting this!

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  53. I bawled...so touching. thanks so much for sharing.And thanks for being a strong woman.It is an example to women in general!

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  54. Thanks for sharing your powerful story

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  55. A very moving post. Thanks for sharing.

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  56. here's another $1

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  57. and another

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  58. and another

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  59. and another

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  60. Pockey was my Great Grandma. I loved her so much I named my only daughter after her. The feelings my mother described about her being a light in her life, I shared. As much as I loved her, I didn't know her "story" until reading this post. My grandma who was such an example to me, of love and acceptance in life, has shown me through this story what an example of strength she was as well.

    Thanks Kimmie for creating this post... Love you!

    C

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  61. 2 yrs ago I had a breast cancer scare. I found a large lump in my left breast. Only by the grace of God was my tumor not cancerous. I do regular breast exams & have yearly mammograms. My husbands aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer last year also. She just completed her last chemo session. I pray for everyone who is or know's someone that has been affected by cancer.

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  62. My sister is currently being treated for metastatic breast cancer. Thanks for this post!

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  63. Thanks for this awesome way to contribute just a little bit.

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  64. My grandmother was a breast cancer survivor. She'd be disgusted if she were alive today. The Komen Foundation PROMOTES breast cancer, NOT a cure.

    If you really care about women, and about ending breast cancer, visit www.bucketsforthecause.com to find out what Komen is REALLY doing for women.

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Thanks for leaving your thoughts with me.