Monday, 30 April 2018

When Your Rose Coloured Glasses Get Smashed.....

We opened up our Pink Ribbon Project planning this year by taking some time to look back at the past 5 years. We asked ourselves, is this where we thought we would be? Is this what we hoped PRP would become? What are the biggest things we've learned?  And for me, where am I at personally, as the daughter of someone living with metastatic breast cancer?  It's hard to look back because so much has changed; so much has happened.

When I think back on the early days, following my Mom's diagnosis and ask myself.... Is this where I thought we would be? Honestly, I had no idea. I could never have predicted what these 5 years would bring. I feel like I was too scared at that point to make any real plans or predictions. It felt like our world had just been blown up and my heart was broken. I’ve always been a really positive, glass half full, things will get better kind of person; but I feel like this experience has changed me. This experience has changed the way I view the world. Sometimes things don’t get better, sometimes the glass is just empty.  Cautiously optimistic is my new mantra. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s been a tough lesson. There’s been lots of tough lessons.

Looking back on this time as a family, I am faced with many memories I wish I didn’t have….watching my young, vibrant, beautiful mom, "free from cancer" for 11 years, walk with a cane as her breast cancer returned, metastasized to her bones. Seeing my usually strong, big sister crumble with the devastating blow that Mom’s cancer had spread to her liver just two short years into the return of the disease, when the only thing keeping her going was the hope of keeping it "just" in Mom's bones for as long as possible. Holding our breath and bracing ourselves for the worst while my oldest sister had a big breast cancer scare of her own.  Watching my strong & silent Dad remain largely strong & silent while he, for a second time got the news that the love of his life would face this disease and this time he would be faced with the reality of losing her. Not to mention the son-in laws, having called her Mom for 10, 15, 20 years come to the realization that she may not always be the permanent fixture in their corner that they have come to count on over the years. Trying to find the right words earlier this year, when we were finally forced to explain to all of our littles that ‘Damma Jode’ has cancer, that she will lose her hair and that she may not be here forever, like she should be.

Photos : Rachel Boekel Photography
But at the same time, I also have 5 years of amazing memories that I thought I may never have. 5 years of memories that I truly thought would be stolen from me. When my mom was first diagnosed I was 29 and yet to become a Momma myself. We have been so blessed that my mom has been able to see not one but two of my babies come into this world. She’s fulfilled her dream of seeing 5 of her grandchildren come through the doors of her preschool at BELA and been able to send them off to big kid school, with #6 headed her way this fall. She crossed a bucket list trip off with a once in a lifetime Alaskan cruise with my dad. Plus 5 years of birthdays, Christmases, anniversaries and family vacations that can never be taken away. Not to mention all the little things: recitals and hockey games, sleepovers at Gramma’s and countless family dinners and trips to the park. It's often those little things that feel the most important.

Such is the reality of a family with a loved one living with metastatic cancer (MBC); another difficult lesson learned. There’s two parts to every day, two versions to every memory, two sides to every decision.  Well meaning people, cliches and counsellors tell us to ‘live for the moment and take it one day at a time...because none of us know when it will be our last day...any one of us could be gone tomorrow!’ While that may be true, everyone isn’t living with that constant fear, waiting for the other shoe to drop, every single day. It is the fear that is the hardest to overcome! And it never gets any better. Of course there’s times where we can just be present in the moment and soak it all in; but it’s always there, always looming. As a family we are faced with that reality every second of every day. Cancer is everywhere, every day of our lives. Every choice in our lives is made with the consideration of cancer. While we are so blessed to have the time, happy moments are often tainted with the thought that there will never be enough time. We get this Christmas, but will we get the next? She may see my son Burke go to Kindergarten, but will she see him through middle school? We live with the weight of two sides to every situation....there's even two sides to that!! It's a weight but we are very grateful that we get the chance to consider the two sides. Many people have a loved one taken away from them in a second, or in weeks instead of years and never see it coming. They don't get to consider the two sides.  While that part never gets any easier, I have learned that although I’ve been forced to make so many decisions with an ever ticking clock in the back of my mind, I don’t regret a single one.

Looking back, I maybe didn’t need to have those babies quiiiiite so close together for fear my mom wouldn’t get to meet them both, but at the same time that’s just more time she gets to spend with them and them with her. Or maybe we didn’t need to plan a hasty trip to Las Vegas in the plus 40s of July in case we didn’t make it to the next spring, but those long summer days soaking up the sun with Gramma and Papa will be cherished forever! And that goes for each and every decision I have made where I chose to spend the time, not just with my mom but with all the people I love. I’ve learned to take nothing for granted, and when I see the opportunity, to take it. To try my best not to get wrapped up in the busy-ness that is life, and make the time for the things and people that mean the most. Grab every single second you can and savour it...then tuck it away for a rainy day that I know will come far before any of us are ready. Go for coffee, fit in a chaotic play date with all the kids, book that shopping trip together, get away for a girls weekend, take that vacation. I know without a doubt that I will never look back and say, gee I wish I wouldn’t have...

As for PRP...looking back to those early planning stages of our first event I feel like I was cautiously optimistic as well. I was so hopeful that this would grow into something big but I had no idea the journey we were in for! I had no idea that we really knew almost nothing about MBC and neither would most people we would crossed paths with over the next few years including many health professionals. So we spent the first couple years learning all about what it is, and what it isn’t; and educating those around us. It’s a disease without a cure that can’t be counted down by a finite number of rounds of treatment, with an end in sight. The treatment protocol can, and most likely, will change numerous times, but people living with MBC will be in treatment for the rest of their lives. We were also very surprised and extremely disappointed to learn that the healthcare and drug approval systems in Alberta and across the country would let us down. I naively thought that living in Canada, one of the greatest countries in the world, cancer patients would have access to the drugs that they need. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. Talk about standing at the bottom of a very steep learning curve, looking up at complicated political processes intertwined with an ongoing battle between pharmaceutical companies and our government, all of which we knew very little about. Definitely not where I would have predicted we would end up. More tough lessons.

However, I also would have never guessed that just a few years in we would be making a goal to push past $100,000 raised for organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Breast Cancer Network that are working on the frontlines directly impacting research, treatment, and supports for those facing a breast cancer diagnosis. Or that our foundation would partner up with some  big game changers in the MBC community to advocate for those living with stage IV breast cancer and push for the approval of the very drug that my mom needs as her disease progresses! I would have never predicted that the four of us would walk up the steps of the legislature to help deliver the message to the Health Minister that what they are doing is simply not good enough. Not good enough for our Mom and not good enough for every other Albertan living with metastatic cancer! 5 years ago I would not have anticipated that our foundation would be supporting this important work day in and day out, by aligning ourselves with organizations, advocates and patients across the country who are pushing for better, faster more equitable access to treatments for MBC.

I think one of the biggest and best things that I didn’t see coming was the overwhelming amount of support we have received from our family, our friends and our community! In fact, just this past fall we were a part of one of the biggest MBC teams in Canada at the Run for The Cure , and I was so grateful and proud of the crew from Brooks that made up a big part of the Calgary team! None of those big wins would have been possible for us or our foundation without the support of the community we have built in the last 5 years. We have countless people reaching out to see how they can help, how they can become involved, and how they can stand up alongside us to advocate for those living with breast cancer. Our family has become so intertwined with PRP that it’s almost impossible to separate the two. It has given us a positive outlet for everything negative that comes along with an MBC diagnosis and shown us that there truly is still so much good in this world. The Pink Ribbon Project and the work of Full Circle has really evolved over the past few years, the more we learn about MBC and what it really means to advocate for those living with the disease, our focus and energy shifts and changes. We are so humbled by the unwavering support of our incredible event committee and Full Circle crew that has evolved into our PRP family. And the generous sponsors and guests that keep coming back year after year have shown us the true strength in numbers. We have been able to share not only the victories with all of you, but we also have this tremendous support system which truly helps to shoulder the disappointing losses as well.

The last 5 years has been full of big wins, big losses and even bigger lessons. I've learned that the patient is the centre of it all with an unpredictable and very powerful disease reeking havoc inside them, but that the patient's career, family, friends, hopes, dreams, are the collateral damage.  I’ve learned that even when you're dealt an incredibly shitty hand, or faced with adversity to put it nicely, there’s still something you can do! Find it. I've accepted that even if all of this isn’t enough to save my mom, we will know that we gave it absolutely everything we had, and so will she. And maybe someday it will save or greatly extend the life of another Mom, Gramma, sister, or friend faced with an MBC diagnosis. Only 22% of patients with metastatic breast cancer live past the 5 year mark and up to 30% of early stage breast cancer patients will have it recur as metastatic 5, 10 even 20 years later! This is a community of people that need our help.

It's 5 years of PRP and 5 years for my Mom and I can hear the ticking of the clock louder than ever. But we can't stop the ticking, we have to learn to live with it and keep pushing to get her what she needs because what we need,  is to keep her here where she belongs as long as we can.  These past 5 years I’ve learned that we are all so much stronger than we think we are.  Even if we get knocked down and our rose coloured glasses get smashed,  we can still drag ourselves up and find the will to fight. You have to. I’ve learned that you truly won’t know what your community is made of, until you have the courage to stand up and ask for their support.

Photo: Em Rose Photography
We can't wait to share Pink Ribbon Project 5 with you, as we look back at everything that’s been accomplished,  the important role each and everyone one of you has played and with a healthy dose of cautious optimism,  look ahead to what the next 5 will bring!

~Ashley Williams

*PRP 5 Tickets are now available. Email to get yours. *

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Pink Ribbon Project 5

This June we will host our 5th Pink Ribbon Project. To prepare for the event, we decided as a team to take 5 and reflect on that; what we’ve learned and what we’ve experienced through PRP.

I sure have learned a lot over these past 5 years. When I think about the big things, the things that stand out the most, I think most importantly, I've learned to appreciate having regular, everyday problems. Having these problems doesn't seem so bad when you take the time to notice others with real, life threatening problems.

Photo: Em Rose Photography

I started my journey with the Pink Ribbon Project after my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt like I needed to do something positive, at a time in my life when I felt helpless. It is a crazy thing when a real problem shows up in your life. Suddenly all your other problems seem so small. I became aware of many other people going through their own experience with cancer. It was almost like I entered into a new level of awareness because all these people had been fighting for their lives all around me and I had no idea. It opened my eyes to how sometimes, we all get so caught up with insignificant problems that we don't know or we forget about what real problems in life are.

Now, that’s not to minimize problems that are less serious than a cancer diagnosis, I get that we all go through stuff everyday, I do too. Sometimes that stuff is annoying, frustrating, sad, even heartbreaking and some of those things can be life changing too, or at least at the time we might view them that way. I just know that a cancer diagnosis is something that rocks people to their very core and not just the patient, the family and the friends too. It’s life changing, for better or for worse. It’s a serious problem, one so serious that our everyday worries, struggles and frustrations fade away and our biggest fears come sharply into focus. Over time that fear will give way to many other emotions and responses depending on the person. For me that fear gave way and allowed many other things to come through, eventually leading me to the need to take action in a time of great uncertainty for my family. Getting involved with the Pink Ribbon Project which later grew into a whole organization, the Full Circle Foundation has been a great experience with so many wonderful people. It has taught me to weigh the importance of everyday problems compared to serious ones and to give my time to support those who are facing a gravely serious situation; a breast cancer diagnosis.

photo: Em Rose Photography
While giving my time and resources to PRP has positively impacted me and many others, like anything it has its challenges. I’ve learned first hand that raising money for a cause is not a simple task but it is one of the most important parts of the what we do through the Full Circle Foundation. Without support from our community we would not be able to raise significant amounts of money, that in turn goes to charities who are making the most impact in breast cancer. When you ask friends and family for donations year after year you start to feel like sometimes people would like to avoid the topic. I completely understand and yes we know it’s asking a lot! I have been the one who has tried to avoid giving away my money when it seems nearly impossible to get ahead. These days it seems that everyone is struggling with the way our economy is in Southern Alberta but most of us forget while we are struggling with our own problems, the people around us that have a different kind of struggle going on. People who don't know how much time they have left. I'm not including this to sound negative or to bring any guilt to the situation. I just want to acknowledge it to say, we see and completely understand when it doesn't work for you. I do want to share the reason I continue to ask for support. It’s because of my awareness of the many people who are fighting this disease and because of my desire to help; and it’s the sad fact that I know there will be more. More people I know, more people you know that will be impacted by this disease. I think when we give a little time or a little money to an important cause it can pull us together and even make us feel better about our own struggles.

I think it helps to ease that burden of giving when you see what those dollars turn into when they are put into trusted hands. As an example, we are able to allocate some of the funds from PRP specifically to metastatic breast cancer research through the Canadian Cancer Society. We know that until more research is done on how to stop breast cancer from spreading (metastasizing) outside of the breast, people will continue to die from breast cancer. Your support of PRP is the kind of action that allows research like this to happen.

It’s the promise of new treatments and discoveries that keep us asking for assistance and we are so humbled by the trust instilled in us to continue to invest in the work that truly makes a difference for those living with breast cancer! The only way for us to continue to get support for PRP is if we continue to ask. It’s the people that give that are truly amazing to me, to all of us! The companies and individuals that have sponsored PRP over the past 5 years are wonderful and gracious to the core. The individuals who attend year after year offering their support, are the ones who are making it all work! We are excited to share more at this year’s PRP about what your investment looks like 5 years and over $84,000 later.

Photo: Em Rose Photography
It was time for us to take a look back, to help us find a way forward. There is much more work to be done and issues that are so complex they will make your head spin. But I’m proud to be part of a team that isn't afraid to dig into the issues and keep pushing forward to help as many people as we can. We hope you will be part of this 5th and very special Pink Ribbon Project, a night full of hope and support . We have so much to show you and so much to thank you for!

~Cody Shepherd

***Pink Ribbon Project 5, in support of the Canadian Cancer Society & the Canadian Breast Cancer Network will be on June 16, 2018.  Tickets go on sale May1.   Watch our Full Circle Foundation social media for more info*** 

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Legend Tournament 2017

20 % of our event day volunteers have lost a parent to suicide.
80% of our event day volunteers have lost a family member or close friend to suicide.
100% of our event day volunteers either struggle with  mental health issues or love someone who does.......

This wonderful group of people gave their time generously to the tournament to support others because it's a cause that is personal and important to them. In recognition of the day and of their contribution we asked to hear their perspectives on the day and we offer them as our official thank you........

"I chose to volunteer this year for a few reasons. The first was to support others affected by the loss of someone that died by suicide. Second was that proceeds from the tournament were going to a cause that is so incredibly important to me and third was to listen to other people's story regarding mental health / suicide and share my story as well. I also want to do all that I can to decrease the stigma around mental illness. Three and a half years ago, I lost my dad to suicide. Being a part of the tournament  allowed me to connect with people the "get it" and have experienced this bizarre and frustrating grief cycle....." ~ KB

"There is strength in numbers! Not only does the tournament raise money for this important cause but it also brings a whole bunch of people together and starts a conversation. If talking openly about mental illness/suicide was more common, people may identify the 'symptoms' and feel like they are not alone...." ~AL

"Having anxiety myself and having been open about it through social media, a lot of people privately approached me to tell me their own stories. There are so many people fighting their own battles in secret. I hope events like this can change the stigma so people are able to be open about what's happening for them and  also be able to find the courage to reach out for help..." ~SW

"I know that a lot of people probably think that I volunteer for the Legend Tournament because it's affiliated with my workplace, but no one actually knows how much it means to me. I do it because it's important and because it reminds me that I don't have to be ashamed that I have depression!" ~ LF

Our continued mission to bring education, resources and inspiration to the community via the golf tournament was all kicked off  this year by bringing in our special guest,  Mr. Andrew Jensen. He is a professional golfer, mental health advocate and Bell Let's Talk Ambassador. He was embraced by our community as he shared with us some parts of his story that include his own struggles with depression and anxiety.

"There was more than one part of Andrews speech that I found powerful. I loved though how he spoke about how it is his dream that one day people will talk as openly about their mental, emotional  scars as the physical scars on their body...." ~AL

"In addition to the loss of a loved one by suicide, I also have an anxiety disorder. I work hard to manage it with healthy eating, exercise, hobbies, friends, family and medication however; there are days that are hard. So I find it very admirable when someone can stand up and share their story in hopes of normalizing and increasing awareness. I agree with so much of what Andrew said,  in that mental illness shouldn't be treated any differently than a physical illness or injury. Some of my friends have lost a parent to cancer and I lost mine to mental illness...." ~KB

"It's easy to pretend you're tough and can get through anything but this year I had people step up and tell me they could see that I wasn't ok.  I wasn't happy about it at first but now I'm so grateful. They saved me! I spent the year going through numerous doctor appointments, medication changes, and counselling appointments. So listening to Andrew's speech really hit me because it was the first time all year that I put everything into perspective. I know it's ok to ask for help but I never want to burden anyone with my problems. The burden is the biggest obstacle I have to face but by doing this tournament, I know where to go for advice and help. Most importantly, I know that I'm not alone in my everyday battle! To see that a successful golfer & speaker like Andrew can live his life with this problem makes me feel like I can also succeed...."~LF

"With hosting this tournament I feel like we are for sure helping decrease the stigma around mental illness and suicide. I think coming together as a community and listening to each other's stories will hopefully give those who are seeking help the courage to reach out and the avenues to access proper resources and tools..." ~JW

"I think hosting the Legend Tournament brings a variety of people together to advocate for suicide awareness and it gives people the opportunity to hear from someone who is relatable and still struggles with it. Each person leaves the tournament with the message that 'it's ok to not be ok.'" ~ AL

This year the Legend Tournament raised just over $11,000!  Proceeds will benefit CMHA to support Survivors of Suicide Loss Day  (SOS Day) & be utilized for local mental health and suicide prevention initiatives including Grasslands Innovations School Wellness Team.

We are grateful  for the opportunity to honour Dallas' life in this way.  Thank you to our amazing sponsors for their generous support, all those who attend the event and of course the volunteers who join us for the day and bring smiles & support for all! 

~The Full Circle Team

Friday, 30 June 2017

What More Looks Like.....

Over the past year, and particularly as we began work on PRP 4, we asked ourselves a couple of big questions. How can we do more for the breast cancer community? What would “more” look like to those facing a breast cancer diagnosis or those who are living with metastatic breast cancer. We knew we needed answers to help us move forward, but those answers did not lie with any of us. The answers lie with those who have lived through breast cancer and those who are living with it today. And so we asked, listened, and learned ways that we could begin to do more.

One of the most clarifying answers to our wonderings came to us by way of a blog post written by Beth Caldwell, an American woman living with and advocating for metastatic breast cancer who explains that “it’s not about being part of the community that needs help, but about standing with them and using our privilege to help them.” Our privilege of being healthy or of surviving cancer. And that “an ally is someone who not just cares about a community in need, but also does something to support them. And what that something is, is what the community says it needs, not what allies think that community needs.” As we moved through planning PRP, these words shaped our thoughts and even some of our words that night. Guidance like that, coupled with talking to patients, researching, and participating in other advocacy efforts have helped us move towards becoming a strong ally for those facing breast cancer.

Photo credit : Em Rose Photography
For more PRP Photos please see Emily's Blog or the full gallery 
One of the biggest ways we can use our privilege of health is by hosting Pink Ribbon Project. It takes a team to do it and we all give of our time, energy, and experience to make it happen. Our team is mindful and deliberate in the messages that we share regarding breast cancer. Our focus remains on honouring all breast cancer experiences, as they are all unique and important; while still sharing the entire breast cancer story. That story includes metastatic breast cancer. Only when we share the whole story, all the possibilities and realities, are we truly honouring all and educating in a way that may serve others. Only when we include all experiences, can we find ways to support people, regardless of the type, stage, and prognosis of the disease.

For us, this concept of “more” is not an end, a measurable to be reached, a check box to be ticked. It’s just the beginning. We see now that “more” will evolve with our experiences with loved ones living with breast cancer and our interactions with the community. It will change in response to levels of funding for metastatic research, access to treatments, and the ever changing landscape in cancer research.

While we don’t know exactly what “more” will look like in terms of our work, we are extremely fortunate to know exactly what “more” looks like when we ask it of our community.

“More” looks like partners and sponsors who have supported us again and again, even through the uncertain times in our economy. It looks like friends who travel to be here and friends who stay late, like really late to visit with us once the work is wrapped up! It looks like the familiar faces who grace PRP every year and bring with them friends who have never been. It looks like vendors who bring our vision to life, giving of their time and talents knowing the budget is tight. “More” looks like hugs, handshakes, circles of friends, and a balance of tears and smiles.

“More” is when things changed suddenly before PRP and we had to say……. we have an important story we want to share with you, but we can’t tell it in the way we intended to. You listened anyway. “More” sounds like being able to hear a pin drop in that room as we told you. It sounds like a story that highlighted the reality and uncertainty of living with metastatic breast cancer………. “More” sounds like you telling us that you were glad we told you the story anyway,  that you understood and you cared. It sounds like us telling the whole story about breast cancer, even though it isn’t easy to hear.

Maybe most importantly of all, we know what “more” feels like. For those of us in the thick of it: patients, former patients, loved ones, caregivers; we get to know what “more” feels like because you keep bringing it to us every year! To me, it feels like joy, sadness, and hope intertwined. It feels like strength and support. Even though I know that we are never alone in this, for that one night I get to see "more" come together all at once and even more importantly than that, I  know that my Mom gets to experience it too! 

PRP 4 was truly an incredible evening and we are proud to share that this year we were able to raise $22,000 to be shared between the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the Canadian Breast Cancer Network! The work of both these organizations is vital to those facing breast cancer. We are proud to support their efforts in our province and across the country.

As we close the door on our fourth installment of PRP, we are proud of the work we accomplished, but we won't rest for long. There is much more to be done. We are already dreaming up ways to bring a most special and unique 5th anniversary of PRP to life. In the meantime, we will continue our advocacy work, while continuing to explore how we can best support the breast cancer community, knowing that our “more” may change again and again over time.

To our sponsors and guests; you continue to bring “more” to PRP year after year, and we are proud to be part of a community that stands beside those who need an ally! Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. 

~ Carmen Powell
On behalf of the Full Circle Foundation & PRP committee

Monday, 15 May 2017

Hoping, Helping & Healing

I am looking forward to volunteering at The Legend Golf Tournament again this July. By the end of the day last year I felt overjoyed at how many people came out to support such an important cause. Volunteering with the Full Circle Foundation for the tournament was an opportunity that came to me at just the right time in my life and I knew it was something I had to do!  The intention behind the tournament is to increase awareness and understanding around mental health and suicide, while raising funds to help support related community programming. The tournament is a chance to reduce stigma,  talk about  some very difficult topics and take the opportunity to say , "It's ok, to not be ok!".  It brings me happiness and a sense of purpose to help raise awareness around these important issues; it allows me to be actively involved, and the message speaks right to my heart. Two years ago I lost my Dad to suicide.

For the longest time I was full of guilt. I would think about things I could have done differently. I wondered if I could have done something, anything that would have allowed my Dad to still be with us today. I've been working hard to learn more about suicide over the past two years so that I can have a better understanding of what happened, but I know that I did everything I could. Volunteering for  the tournament allows me to find some purpose and some peace in the wake of my Dad's death. I feel like I am doing my part to help others; raising awareness about mental health,  encouraging others to ask for help. After losing a loved one to suicide, I know that work like this could potentially save a life.

If you notice out of character behaviours or are worried about a loved one, coworker or friend, don't be afraid to talk to them. Depression and other mental illnesses are just that, an illness. We have to treat it the same as we would a physical illness. It's ok to talk about it.  There are so many people out there struggling and they might be unaware of whom or where to go to for help. If we all work to reduce the stigma around asking for help, we could support so many people. No one deserves to feel alone.

Being involved with the tournament gives me another way to do some healing of my own, while supporting others.  Somehow it helps just to see people come out to support each other!  Its also a chance to hear stories and meet other people who have had their lives impacted by suicide or mental health issues in their own families. The first year after losing my Dad was so, so hard. If you have ever been through the grieving process, for any reason you know that it isn't easy.  I had really great days and really bad days. For the first while I found it very hard to be by myself, I did whatever I could to distract myself throughout the day which helped a lot, but once it came to night time I really struggled.  Time went by and I still wasn't doing any better. I thought nothing would ever feel normal again. A big factor in moving forward and healing came to me by way of a very special event called SOS day.

Every year CMHA hosts an event at the Calgary zoo called Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. November  2016 was my second year attending SOS Day. The first year I attended I was super skeptical about going. It had only been about six months since my Dad's death. My mind was still all over the place. My life was still all over the place!  I honestly had no idea what to expect. I was absolutely blown away with how many people were there. It was heartbreaking but also heartwarming. By the end of the day I had cried about a hundred times and laughed about a hundred times. The whole experience was honest, raw, eye opening and it gave me hope. I felt SO much comfort knowing I wasn't the only one going through a situation like that.  I felt relieved hearing and seeing first hand, that eventually I was going to be doing better!

I think events like SOS day are super important. I didn't know how to even start to cope with my situation. I just happened to come across SOS Day and thankfully I took the opportunity to go. SOS day is place where if you aren't ready to open up about your experience you can just sit and listen to others;  or if you are ready to open up, its a safe place full of people you can lean on without any judgment at all.

I was so excited to learn that this year, some of the proceeds from the tournament will be going to CMHA to support SOS Day. I hope others who have been thinking about going to SOS day will go for it and those who haven't heard about it will look into it, learn more and take the opportunity to go. Thats why events like the golf tournament are so important. They open people's minds and encourage them to learn about mental health. They bring resources and people together and may open the door to new possibilities! Losing a loved one to suicide is a very difficult situation to deal with, but when we have events like the Legend Tournament it brings those of us who have been through it together and puts us alongside people who care and are there to help and support us and I am so thankful for that!

You know that saying “Time heals all wounds." It definitely does not heal everything, but you know what; it does help to heal.  Today I am in a totally different place and mindset from what I was in two years ago. I am coming to terms with my grief.  I still have bad days but I have great days too! Grief will always be there, it won't ever go away but eventually it lessens with time and support.  Support is so important and if we are lucky, it comes to us in many different ways.

~Jayna Whitrow

**Registration for The Legend Tournament is now open. Please email to request a registration package and register your team.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Two Words....

Breast Cancer......... two words that nobody ever wants to hear! Unfortunately,  I had to hear them when I was diagnosed five years ago. I cannot believe how fast the time has gone since then. While the years have flown by, I have lived with a little bit of fear every day since my treatment ended, wondering if I would ever have to face breast cancer again......

I found a large lump in my left breast on November 17, 2011. I wanted to ignore it, thinking I had maybe pulled a muscle or something. I kept it to myself for a couple of days and my husband and I headed to our home in BC that we were in the middle of constructing. I kept feeling it, every 15 minutes to see if it was still there, and it was. I was hoping it would feel smaller or disappear. Two days later I finally told my husband what I had found. We packed up and came home and I booked an appointment with the Doctor. The appointment for my biopsy came shortly after, and I waited, and waited for results to come back. While at work I was finding it hard to focus. I would go to one of my closest colleagues at work every day and ask her to feel the lump to see if she could feel a difference in the size. We went through that Christmas with a dark cloud over our heads. We left for BC with the family for the Christmas holidays. l knew in my heart what I was going to hear, but still held onto the hope of good results because “No News Is Good News," right?!

On December 29th, 2011, I finally received a call from the Doctor to tell me that I had breast cancer. My heart sank, and it seemed like all my blood was leaving my body. My husband and my daughter were standing beside me and embracing me as I hung up the phone.

There were tears of helplessness. All the while, my little 7 year old granddaughter was sitting on the sofa watching and not saying a word. I looked over at her and motioned for her to come to me. She sat on my lap and I said “honey, Grandma just found out that I am sick, and we are all just a little scared right now” She said, "I know Grandma, I get scared too when I get sick”. We all started to giggle with tears in our eyes. It is funny what sticks out in your mind, when you look back on it.

 In those early days, before treatment started I watched my daughter, my husband, and my son closely. I could see that they were absolutely crushed by the news. I decided I had to be strong! I was willing to do whatever it took to get me through this, keep the fear away and protect my family.

I was going to fight, and I was going to live! I had a lumpectomy in January 2012, and then started 4 rounds of chemotherapy, and shortly after that I attended three weeks of radiation. The support flowed in from everywhere. I had boxes of food delivered at my door from my co-workers. Our dear friends offered me an apartment in downtown Calgary as I went through my radiation treatment. Cards and flowers were coming from people I hardly knew. Friends were showing up at my door to check up on me. I was overwhelmed. It taught me that giving support to someone that is struggling is so important.

I found another kind of support to be very powerful. I think it helps so much to talk to someone else who has gone, or is going through the same struggles as you. At the time of my diagnosis, I heard of an acquaintance who was diagnosed the day before I was. I called her and asked her to return my call if she was willing to talk. We talked constantly and helped each other through every day. From the initial hair loss to the feelings of anxiety and lack of energy. It made everything so much more bearable for both of us. Experiencing this type of support motivated me to offer the same to others and since then I have remained dedicated to helping others deal with their fear.

Then there was my family!! What an amazing, loving family I have. All my strength was drawn from their love and for my love for all of them. They were with me every step of the way. Every time I opened my eyes after hours of sleeping on the sofa, I would look over and see my husband’s face which could not hide all the worry and anxiety he was experiencing. I would smile at him and he would smile back. The first question was always, "How are you feeling?" At that time I think he was feeling worse than I was! That was the worst part, watching my family.

I received so many different types of support, and it helped me get through the difficult weeks and months of treatment. After each round of chemo, my strength would return and things would become somewhat more normal until the next round.

As with every woman, I think the thought of losing your hair is very frightening. The hair loss started a couple of days after my first chemo treatment. It would come out in handfuls when I would run my fingers through my hair, so I decided to cut it short. By the next day, I called my daughter to come and give me a shorter cut, and by the next day I asked my husband to shave it off for me. I have to say that was one of the hardest things to deal with. But once it was off, I started to feel comfortable with my new wigs. We tried to make it fun. My grandchildren would ask if they could wear my wig, so I would take it off and they would take turns running around the house and making us all laugh.

After my 4th round, I rang the bell at Foothills hospital in the chemotherapy room, everybody clapped for me, and I left with such a feeling of pride and accomplishment. I was done the first part of my journey.

For me, the radiation wasn't as hard to deal with; it was like a bad sunburn. Three weeks later that portion of my treatment was complete and I felt like my life was on a new exciting road.

 I look at things a lot differently than I did before that November 17th. I now realize what is really important in my life and in my relationships. It was painful to watch my family through out my treatment but now we never fail to say "I love you". I choose to see the positives that came out of my breast cancer.

Recently I got the news that my nephew's wife was going in for a breast biopsy, so I called her to see if we could meet and talk. I learned from my own experience that you should never underestimate how much someone may need you. She arrived at my house; shoulders pulled up, on the verge of tears. We hugged and she came in so we could sit down and talk. We spent a couple of hours together and I showed her my journal, gave her my books on breast cancer, and tried to explain some of what I experienced. I explained about what she may have to endure if she was indeed diagnosed with this disease. Knowing what that waiting can be like, I told her that I felt the actual treatment was not as bad the unknown. To me the fear was so much worse than actually living it!  I shared how I had looked at treatment; as a task that had to be done and that the right attitude would help her through those difficult days. I reminded her of the excellent care I received,  the Doctors and Nurses were so amazing and I never felt left in the dark. She left my house with a smile on her face, and I think a feeling of power and positivity. Between then and now, she has been through a mastectomy and is currently undergoing chemotherapy  . I talk with her constantly! She is doing so great, and is so very strong. I am going to be with her every step of the way!!

Events like the Pink Ribbon Project are so important for those of us who have been through this disease or who are going through it now. Funds raised for research and resources are crucial for all cancer patients! PRP offers amazing support, not only for those living with breast cancer but for their loved ones as well! I truly believe that knowledge is power and over the past few years at this event a lot of knowledge and information has been shared. Information that goes beyond the basic breast cancer stats and looks at the bigger picture. Information about what metastatic breast cancer is, including the fact that breast cancer can go on to become metastatic even decades after initial diagnosis.  So while I do live with that little bit of fear, I also get to live with knowledge and with hope and that's what I choose to focus on. That and my commitment to continue to do more for others facing a breast cancer diagnosis, through support I can offer them, and through PRP.  

I am so glad that my family and I have been a part of this event since the beginning! My son, daughter and daughter in law have been working on PRP since day one! I am so proud of my children, and every one of these kids for the effort they have put into this project. PRP is an amazing, enchanting night, and I believe everyone who attends comes away with feelings of hope and understanding. There are  many of us here today because of people like you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

~Brenda Shepherd

** Join us at PRP 4 on June 17th, 2017. Get event info & tickets here: Pink Ribbon Project