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  • You Can Be Beautiful Beyond Breast Cancer
    You Can Be Beautiful Beyond Breast Cancer
    by Leslie Spenser, Domenick Salvatore

    Here's a link to my book on Amazon.  Thanks for your interest!

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    Your Stories

    I’ve been inspired by the women I have met and the stories they have to share about the ways in which they have experienced victory in the face of cancer.  I hope you are encouraged as you read them, too. 

    Have a story to share?  Please email me.  I would love to include it in 'Your Stories'.

    Thursday
    Jun022016

    We all have a unique story and in that story are many chapters.  A few of the chapters in my 'book' include a journey through pregnancy, breast cancer, faith and my first figure competition. 

     

    In 2010, my husband and I resolved that after 4 years of trying to conceive a second child, we were meant to be a family of 3.  With the change in focus, I had accepted a lucrative job offer working in the oil sands of Northern Alberta running a concrete plant, which was my vocation at the time.  During the pre-screening drug testing, the nurse had mentioned she thought I had a bladder infection and I should get it checked out before I commenced work.  An odd finding as I had never had one previously, and being a doctor's daughter I knew what 'protein in the urine' could also mean.  Immediately after the test, I left and purchased a pregnancy test kit from the closest Shoppers Drug Mart and sure enough, the big blue X appeared!  That same night I drove the 16 hours back to Kamloops, which was our home town at the time, and little did I know that God had another plan and reason for this surprise finding.  

     

    I had felt and acknowledged the lump on the underside of my left breast, but being 29 and not having breast cancer run in my family, I really didn't pay much attention to it even though it indeed felt different than the typical 'lumpy period boobs'.  During my initial dating pregnancy ultrasound, I brought it to my doctors attention and he suggested I get it looked at to ensure there wouldn't be any complications for breast feeding.  Well, on with the ultrasound and immediately into biopsy I went.  When I felt the coring needle poke through the hard mass, I knew.

     

    An odd mix of peaceful calm, uncertainty and slight fear came over me with the news that it was an aggressive, fairly advanced, invasive and hormone-fed breast cancer.  I am a believer of 'divine appointments' and when all 4 of my specialists and health care team became angry with the fact that I chose to keep the baby and continue with the pregnancy, even though I was told of certain death if I did not abort Luke, I knew there was a different 'plan'.  All of them being colleagues and friends of my dad and family, they were only speaking from their hearts and understanding of what they knew in their professional opinion but I knew I served a Sovereign God and He had this situation.

     

    Some of the events to follow included mastectomy surgery, 6 months of chemotherapy, hair, eye brow and lash loss, attempting to mother my first born who was 7, being a wife in a marriage that was in rough shape at the time, reading obituaries of those I sat beside during chemo appointments, embracing the unknown, prayer and petition and finally delivering Luke one month after my last round.  Tired and exhausted was a slight understatement. 



    Fast forward a couple of years.  I had a few more surgeries including a hysterectomy and I slowly began unpacking the emotions and processing the events that had occurred.  Turning a bit too far to alcohol for relief, I knew I had to draw that line in the sand and make a choice to start living.  I went to a couple 'meetings', hired a trainer and attempted to gain back my inner athlete.  I have a background in competitive figure skating, snowboarding and soccer so step by step and with positive Slight Edge choices over the next year, I transformed my body, mind and life.  Having also buried both of my birth parents, moved to a different province, worked hard to heal my marriage, endured Luke having a badly broken arm and open heart surgery only 2 months ago, continuing my education and running two businesses, the journey to my first figure competition came with it's hurdles.  I stepped on stage last weekend, May 29 for my first ever show and won 2nd in Open and 3rd in Masters Figure in the INBF in Calgary, Alberta.  

     

    I love 'firsts' , I embrace change and life to the absolute fullest and although this is only a couple chapters of my life, I use every situation to grow and learn.  There are no failures only lessons.  I now have a thriving marriage and family and my husband is going to compete with me in the fall of this year as well.  July long weekend I somehow managed to enter myself into my first 1/2 Ironman Triathlon so June is a crash course on getting my butt in the pool and on the bike.  

     

    The two scriptures I hold near and steadfast are Psalm 40 and Philippians 4:13.  

    Sunday
    Nov042012

    Taking Care of a Cancer Patient Taught Me A Lot

    My wife has often told me that she can’t begin to imagine what I thought after she received her mesothelioma diagnosis. I have actually only spoken with her once about what I went through and wish to share more.

    We celebrated the birth of our daughter, Lily, just three months before my wife was diagnosed. We went from the happiest time in our lives to the scariest so fast. I remember when the doctors told her she had mesothelioma for the first time and she started crying. I was also scared and wasn’t sure how we were going to get through it.

    I just felt so overwhelmed and felt like I was going to break down. However, I was brought back to reality when the doctors asked questions about future medical choices. Even though I was feeling a lot of emotions, I knew I still had a lot of important decisions to make.

    I just felt so angry and scared after my wife was diagnosed with this terrible disease. It was difficult to control my anger and I even used profanity when communicating with others. Luckily, I learned how to control my anger better once I got over the initial shock. I knew that I had to be strong for my wife and daughter and show them that I was there for them. My wife was already so scared, so I didn’t want her to see my fear. It was my job to be the optimistic one, which wasn’t always so easy.

    There were so many things I had to do after the diagnosis. My wife was sick, so I had to work, take care of travel arrangements and care for my daughter and pets. It seemed like too much for me to handle at first, but I learned how to prioritize. I also accepted help from our friends and family members. We were very lucky to have people who loved and cared about us so much. I am not sure how I would have handled all of the responsibilities without them.

    There was a two month period following Heather’s surgery that was extremely difficult. My wife has said that she can’t imagine what I went through. She had her surgery in Boston and flew to South Dakota to stay with her parents. They were taking care of Lily while my wife had surgery. She went there to recover and prepare for the next phase of her mesothelioma treatment, which included chemotherapy and radiation. I only saw Heather and Lily once during this time.

    I drove 11 hours through the night one Friday after work. I drove in the middle of a snowstorm to see them. I felt so exhausted when I arrived Saturday. I only spent Saturday and a little time on Sunday morning with them before driving back home to be at work on Monday morning.

    It wasn’t easy being away from my wife and daughter, but I realize that it was the best choice for us. I wouldn’t have been able to take care of our daughter and work at the same time. I don’t regret any of the decisions we made.

    I learned to accept help from others during this difficult time. I also took comfort in the fact that we were able to make choices so that we had some level of control. Through all of our struggles, Heather is still here and still healthy over six years later.  I hope that our story can be a source of hope and help to those currently battling cancer.

     

     

    Monday
    Mar262012

    Christina Martinez: Cancer survivor starts foundation to help others "Keep Moving"

    I was diagnosed in June 2011 with triple-negative, stage 2 breast cancer.  I have been genetically tested positive for BRCA 2.   Not unlike the majority of people given the 'cancer' diagnosis, I was in total disbelief.  I have been active for most of my life, ate a fairly healthy diet, never smoked, participated in triathlons, and took good care of myself.  I couldn't believe it would happen to me.  I had 3 triathlons scheduled that summer, and had trained hard.  I was discouraged, but knew I would win against this cruel disease and treatment that would temporarily take away everything physically I had trained so hard for.

     I am a 44 year old single mother of four, have one grandson, am a personal trainer/fitness instructor and coach, and at the time of diagnosis, I was  unemployed.  It was very bad timing emotionally and financially for me to have cancer- but then again, when is a good time to have cancer?  Fortunately, I did have one thing going for me, and it was that my body was strong and in good physical shape.  I am convinced being physically fit and remaining active throughout treatment was extremely beneficial in lessening the symptoms that came with the chemo treatments and in helping me to recover from the numerous surgeries that followed.  I had a double mastectomy, breast reconstruction and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes).   Unfortunately, I could not afford to keep my gym membership, and my children had to forgo their extra-curricular sports activities as well.  In a family where each of us relies on some type of movement, dance, or sport as an outlet, a social medium, or just a chance to 'get out of the house to not watch mom be sick', it was very hard to lose that one piece of 'normalcy' we all had been accustomed to.  

     It has been researched and proven there are many benefits to exercise during treatment, and I wanted to be able to help others, 'keep moving'.  I am in process of developing the 'Keep-Moving Foundation' to help other cancer patients financially unable to pay for their gym membership, sport, or other movement activity during cancer treatment.  By providing funding, free memberships, or reduced fees my goal is help cancer patients and their families 'keep-moving' during this very stressful, life-changing time.
     
    If you would like more information, or to donate, please contact Christina Martinez.  christina@keep-moving.net.

     

    

    Friday
    Mar022012

    Doris Stava: Cancer "Previvor" and Bikini Competitor

    My name is Doris Stava.  I am 46 years old and the wife to a wonderful and supportive husband, Steve.  I am a mother to two beautiful daughters, Emily (14) and Kristen (11).  I am the network administrator at my church and the Christian school that my daughters attend.  I am a “previvor”, which means that I had a mastectomy BEFORE I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

    On November 17, 2010, I underwent a prophylactic mastectomy. I'm sure many of you wonder why in the world someone would remove their breasts if they do not have breast cancer. I have a BRCA2 genetic mutation which increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer by up to 85% over her lifetime. That is scary! With 2 girls at home, I felt like I needed to do whatever it took to make sure I'm here for them. But, I worried about what people would think. I worried about what I would look like when it was over. I worried about a lot of other silly things, too.

    One year later on November 10, 2011, I celebrated the body that God gave me. How did I celebrate the one year anniversary of my surgery? Well, I did something about as far out of my comfort zone as I could get. I competed in an amateur bodybuilding competition in the Masters Bikini division. (No, I didn't win, by the way. I only know I didn't place in the top 5.) Why did I do it? I have a lot of reasons, but the reason I'm writing about it is because I hope someone who is toiling with these same decisions will see that you can take steps to reduce your risks and prolong your life, and come out the other side looking and feeling great!

    Last year, I spent a lot time cursing this body God put me in. I kept saying, "I wish I could just skip the next year and fast-forward to one year from now when it will all be over with." I can say, now, that I am so glad it is not possible to do that. The last year has presented itself with some pretty low "lows", but also some very high "highs." I have learned so many things in the last year, and have been blessed in so many ways.

    What are some of the lessons I've learned?

    1. I will never "have" the time to do the things that matter most to me. I must "make" the time to do them. No one really knows how long they have left on this earth. There may never be a "someday" to take the family trip, see a friend next time they pass through town, take time to get healthy, or do that one thing I've always wanted to do.

    2. People and relationships are more important than things and to-do lists. Things and to-do lists are important only to strengthen relationships and build people up.

    3. My family is there to help me, and by the way, people do not need to be my blood relatives for them to be family. There is no shame in asking people to help me. The people who love me WANT to help. They are honored that I asked. Over the last year, there were people there for me, encouraging and supporting me on a daily basis. Many of you did things for me and prayed for me that I didn't even know about. I can never thank you all enough.

    4. I should not be afraid to try new things, take some risks and get out of my comfort zone. If I really want to do them, then I should give it all I've got and don't let “nay-sayers” discourage me from doing it. I learned a lot about myself in the process.

    So, today especially, I praise God for this body and for everything that makes me Doris. Even with all my flaws, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God's works are wonderful, and I know that full well!

    What’s next for me?  Well, I am competing in my second Bikini competition on March 17, 2012 in St. Louis.  While I’m very excited about this show, there’s also a bit of sadness, as it may be my last one.  Due to some complications from my hysterectomy, I need to have another abdominal surgery and my doctors are telling me that I may never be able to weight train again (at least not lift more than 25 pounds).  I’m looking for some alternatives here, but haven’t found any good solutions yet.  I welcome your thoughts and suggestions!

    Psalm 139:13-14

    For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.