Why I bit off more than I could chew. Why I finally felt capable of making a huge commitment of time and energy for an event 6 months in the future and why I said yes.
Four years ago when I was diagnosed with Stage II invasive breast cancer I was stunned. For weeks I did what was in front of me. See this doctor, go to this test, have this scan, tell this person, make sure the girls’ teachers know. Make sure I have enough help so their lives don’t get interrupted as much as possible. Make some food. Order some clothes. Pray. Hire a dog groomer. When I arose from the craziness, I was recovering from surgery only to go into chemo in a month’s time. Then came all those thoughts.What will my life be like now? What will I do if something goes wrong? How will I take care of my family? And then the big one, How can I protect our daughters? And I do mean our daughters, yours and mine.
At 3 in the morning I entered, “How to teach breast self-exam for girls” into the google search box. I was awake at 3 am because I was on steroids from a chemo treatment. Why that sentence? I was deeply aware that I had given my girls a horrible legacy, a first degree relative with premenopausal breast cancer. They would always have to check that box. I wanted to protect them and since no one had taught me how to a breast self-exam in any formal way until I asked my doctor when I was 29, I thought that there must be a way to teach them to teach young girls how to do breast exam.
Up popped getintouchfoundation.org. I started poking around the website and when the video started playing I sat stunned. When I went to my doctor after finding a lump in my left breast the first thing he had me do was place my hands on my hips while standing. It is the second step on the daisy wheel, The Get In Touch Foundation’s way of teaching breast self-exam.
Sitting there at my desk I fired off an email to the woman who started it all, Mary Ann Wasil. Within minutes, it seemed, she emailed me back. Right there on the internet we connected. She read my blog and complimented me. We became fast friends. She was the first person I would ask for help parenting my girls through the maze of treatment and its aftermath and she helped me to no end. I am blessed to have her in my life.
My high school AP US History teacher, Sister Margaret Mckenna, told me, when I was her student, that every given has a gift. I can swear to that as well. Even cancer, one of the scary givens in life, has given me great gifts, especially Mary Ann.
I would love to say that everything was smooth sailing post chemo but for me it wasn’t. It took two and a half years and a whopping case of pneumonia and several more surgeries before I received my final implant surgery. But all that time I was looking into ways to help implement the Get In Touch program at private and parochial schools. I spoke to parents and teachers and heads of school. Finally things started to happen. I was invited to speak at La Reina and taught the girls on a day when they choose various thirty minute classes in life skills. Then came Marymount and I taught their seniors and juniors one year and then their junior class the next year. I went back to La Reina to their program as well.
I have a crew of parents asking their schools but it was still not enough in my mind. I needed to do something to make sure that Get In Touch continues and that meant doing a fundraiser in Los Angeles. Mary Ann and I talked about it.And talked about it. Part of the time we were talking about it she was getting ready for her Connecticut fundraiser and I was planning on surprising her at it. Talking about our LA fundraiser meant I wouldn’t spill the beans about my trip to CT. I went to Connecticut and surprised her, literally the most wonderful surprise for both of us. She threw me up in front of that room to say we were going to have an event in Los Angeles in 2014. So now I was committed. She is infectious with her enthusiasm. I was thrilled and terrified.I had spent the last four years making few commitments more than a couple months out as time after time I had to cancel due
to a further health issue. Trips, parties, meetings all had gotten cancelled at the drop of a hat. The stream of complications post treatment for me had made me gun shy. Not any more.
One day she said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could honor, Dr. Kristi Funk and Angelina Jolie.” I answered with, “Dr. Funk is a graduate of Marymount.” I clicked to her page on Facebook and saw magical words, “One Mutual Friend.” Within 12 hours Dr. Funk had agreed to be our honoree at the Los Angeles event and to come to our event. This was no longer going to be an event in my backyard.
After contacting an old college friend who is producing “Unbroken” in Australia which Angelina is directing, we got a no from her. She was making no commitments outside her family for the months after shooting. As a mom I completely understand the desire to just be with your family. We got a yes from Dr. Nalini Chilkov who is my D.O.M. and has changed my life with her revamping of my supplements and diet. She has brought me back to health and healed my body from multiple surgeries and chemo. She is one of our biggest supporters.
I announced on my high school class facebook page that I was doing this and Jennifer Salke said, “How can I help?” Jennifer is a friend from Marymount High School and the head of NBC Entertainment. I said, “Be my co-chair.” She is a previvor, a BRCA gene carrier and the daughter of a cancer survivor.
When you are diagnosed things become very clear very fast. You see who your real supporters are and you are so grateful to them. From the nurse at the infusion center to the doctors deciding your care to the valet parker of your car to the fellow survivors you meet and to your family and friends, these relationships are engraved upon your heart. There were some relationships that went by the wayside –people who were scared of me and my diagnosis.
And then there was Mary Ann who I could email in the dead of night and she would answer me before I woke thenext day. Whose kindness and support were endless. Who’s “your daughter is acting normal, be grateful, it means you haven’t scared the @#$$%^ out of her,” kept me sane through the long months of trial and tribulation until the celebration at the end.
Then it was her turn again and all I could think about was how to support her through all this, how to lift her spirits when she called, how to make her laugh and most of all, how I could help to make GIT last beyond us all.
Things are busy in my house these days—I try valiantly to be done with all things GIT by the time I see my girls after school. Sometimes I make the deadline sometimes not. I am grateful I have the ability to do this for GIT. And for Mary Ann who is a lesson in positivity on a daily basis and my dear dear friend. I couldn’t be more grateful for the visit of cancer to my life for the gift it brought in her. Wish we could have met some other way but we have a shared passion to teach the girls and women of this world to understand and appreciate the power and beauty in their bodies. We also teach them to not be afraid to speak up if something is wrong. I have come along for the ride and I love the journey.