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Learning from the Battle: 12 Breast Cancer Survivors Making an Impact

A cancer diagnosis is a game-changer. It impacts your life, your spirit, and your body. It touches your friends, your family, and pretty much every single aspect of your life. Breast cancer is, sadly, a battle that many women will be forced to face. According to the American Cancer Society, about one in eight women will develop breast cancer. That means that in our lifetime, most of us will be touched, in some way, by the disease.

But breast cancer isn’t a death sentence. With proper treatment and detection, it is a war that can be won. And those who survive often come out of the battle stronger, fiercer, and with a new determination to not just change their own lives, but the lives of others — especially other women going through their own breast cancer journeys.

In celebration of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve collected 12 amazing, inspirational stories about breast cancer survivors inspiring each other and helping to save lives. Check out these wonderful stories here:

  • Terri Wingham | Helps Survivors Restart Their Lives 1 of 12
    iStock_000005364654XSmall

    After winning the battle against breast cancer, Terri Wingham, "struggled with a lack of support when she walked out of the hospital on her final day of treatment. Friends and family wanted her to return to 'normal.' But after dealing with the ordeal that is cancer, finding 'normal' was difficult." It turns out that Ms. Wingham didn't want normal, and instead went and volunteered in Africa for six weeks, where "she found a sense of purpose and optimism in her life again."

     

    From the trip, Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation was born. Since that first excursion, Ms. Wingham has traveled the globe, volunteering across 5 continents, and is now helping cancer survivors "restart their lives after treatment" with their own international volunteer treks. This past February, she took 12 cancer survivors on a trip to New Delhi, India.

     

    "None of us know if the cancer's going to come back or how much time we have," says Wingham. "In some respect, that gives me license to say, ‘Hell, I'm going to live my life.'"

     

    You can read more about the Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation right here.

     

    Photo Source: istockphotos.com

  • Emily Helck | Documented Her Journey for Others 2 of 12
    chemo3n-2-web

    Emily Helck created a poignant and very powerful tribute to her own breast cancer treatment through a series of stop motion images. "At first it had to do with documenting the hair saga," she wrote on her The Real Tumors of New Jersey blog. "But it wound up becoming about something else, too. The photos became hash marks scratched on the wall, marking time spent inhabiting the world of this disease. Every time I set up the tripod was another week down."

     

    But the most powerful thing about all of this is her survival and the fact that she is still here to tell — and show — her story. Her YouTube video has already been viewed over 370,000 times in the last couple of weeks. "It's incredibly heartwarming," she told NJ.com. "My hope is that by showing what it looks like to go through treatment, I can shine a light on a little bit of that unknown."

     

    You can watch Emily's video right here.

     

    Photo Source: Emily Helck via YouTube via New York Daily News

  • Barbara Baldwin | Started an Aromatherapy Company 3 of 12
    essential oil in action

    Barbara Baldwin has survived cancer three different times. Thirty years ago, she battled cervical cancer, then kidney cancer in 2005, and then she fought breast cancer in 2010. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was inspired to help other women going through treatment for the disease. The trained aromatherapist started her own company called Physic Aromatherapy, featuring a line to be used after chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

     

    "One minute you have doctors and nurses running around you and then next thing you know, you're on your own," the survivor said. "I wanted to try and do something about that ... I want people to know I have been through this and there's help to be had. I want to do what I can. I've just been recovering from cancer, I've had it two and a half times."

     

    You can check out Physic Aromatherapy right here.

     

    Photo Source: istockphoto

  • Raquel Smith | Helps Women Get Early Detection 4 of 12
    water bottle lids blurred

    "Yes, Breast Cancer has changed my life," 30-year-old Raquel Smith of Birmingham, AL stated. "But, God has given me a second life. That life is to help other women."

     

    Ms. Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 27, an age that her doctor thought was too young at first. But after a lumpectomy, they found that her cancer was "very aggressive and spreading." She had a double mastectomy and began chemo. After three months, doctors discovered something else. She was two-months pregnant with a son and had to suspend treatment. But she fought the cancer and won. And now she has found her calling — to help other women get early detection.

     

    Ms. Smith is collecting bottles to recycle and is using the money she earns to help to pay for mammograms for women who are 35 years old and younger.

     

    "I really feel women should start being aware of their breasts and the changes they go through as young as 16, 17 and 18 [years old]," Smith said. "If that saves three or four lives ... I feel like I've done my job."

     

    You can read more about her story at ABC Birmingham News right here and check out her website PinkTopps right here. 

     

    Photo Source: istockphotos

  • Christina Applegate | Provides Information and Resources 5 of 12
    20 Magic Minutes: A Family Celebration Benefiting Christina Applegate's Right Action for Women Chartitable Initiative Hosted by LG Electronics

    "As a survivor, I am steadfastly committed to helping women access the information and tests they need to beat this disease," actress Christina Applegate said after her own battle with breast cancer back in 2008. She has proved her commitment with the formation of the foundation Right Action for Women. Her organization provides information, community, and "assistance to those individuals who are at increased risk for breast cancer and do not have insurance or the financial flexibility to cover the high costs associated with breast screenings."

     

    It's so wonderful to see stars give back, isn't it?

     

    Photo Source: PR Photos

  • Laura Evans | Funds Research Grants 6 of 12
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    Back in 1990, Laura Evans was in the midst of fighting Stage III breast cancer with a bone marrow transplant. While recovering in isolation, she "dreamed of combining her two passions: mountain climbing and finding a cure for breast cancer." After her recovery, she felt the need to do something in support of all women battling the disease. She thought that "there was no more appropriate parallel between summiting one of the world's tallest peaks and fighting breast cancer."

     

    In 1995, she founded the Expedition Inspiration Fund for Breast Cancer Research, and she, along with her cofounder Peter Whittaker, took 17 breast cancer survivors to Aconcagua's summit — a 22,841 climb, the the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere. And in the process, the Expedition Inspiration Fund for Breast Cancer Research raised a whole lot of money. They were able to fund "$1.75 million in research grants and more than $1 million for education and awareness."

     

    You can find out more about Laura's Expedition Inspiration Fund for Breast Cancer Research right here, and you can check out her book, The Climb of My Life, right here.

     

    Photo Source: Amazon

  • Carol Galland | Creates Stylish Options for Chemo Patients 7 of 12
    cotton-accordion-cancer-turbans

    One of the most obvious signs of a woman going through chemo is the loss of her hair. When one's hair is a big part of their physical identity, the loss can have an huge emotional impact. Carol Galland was one breast cancer survivor who was faced with dilemma.

     

    "I made it through my hair loss with one itchy wig, and one basic surgical cap to cover my head at night," Carol said. "It was a demoralizing experience. I vowed that if I survived, I would change this situation for other cancer patients." And she did. Carol and her daughter Danielle started Headcovers Unlimited, a company that creates reasonably priced hats, turbans, wigs, and scarves for women who going through chemo and facing their own hair loss.

     

    You can check out Headcovers Unlimited right here.

     

    Photo Source: Headcovers Unlimited

  • Dora Arias | Offers Spanish-Language Support Programs 8 of 12
    N

    Dora Arias, a Colombian immigrant, was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 38. Her gynecologist recommended that she have mammograms yearly, due to the fact that she had dense breast tissue that increased her risk of developing the disease. During her second mammogram, they found an abnormality, and after performing a biopsy, they found that she had ductal carcinoma in situ in her right breast. She had a mastectomy and breast reconstruction in 2003. After her life-changing experience, she felt the need to do something to help other women.

     

    She founded Curémonos (which means "healing together") in 2007, where she "has helped hundreds obtain breast cancer screenings and, when necessary, treatment and financial aid," primarily for those who are under-served in the community. Curémonos "offers interpretation services and Spanish-language support programs, and educates medical residents and care providers on the needs of the Latina community."

     

    "In our culture, discussing breast cancer is taboo, and women often hide it from their husbands," Dora explains. "I tried to conceal mine from my girls, confessing only after Daniela eavesdropped while I was on the phone with my doctor."

     

    You can find out more about Curémonos  here.

     

    Photo Source: istockphotos

  • Megan Dwyer and Meredith Campbell | Give Women the Adventure of a Lifetime 9 of 12
    woman and motorbike

    In 2004, two young breast cancer survivors, Megan Dwyer and Meredith Campbell (known as M&M), began Amazon Heart Adventures. Their organization provides "adventures to women living with Breast, Ovarian and other Women's Cancers." Their motto is "cancer changes your life, you choose how." Last year they offered the transformative experience of a 1,200 mile motorcycle adventure for women "living with or have had breast, ovarian or any other women's cancer."

     

    Christine Benjamin, another breast cancer survivor, has since taken over the reigns. There aren't any current "adventures," but you can find out more about Amazon Heart right here.

     

    Photo Source: istockphoto

  • Angelo and Jennifer Merendino | Humanized the Face of Cancer 10 of 12
    the-battle-they-didnt-choose-434x434

    Earlier this year, our own Meredith Carroll wrote a post for Babble about an amazing, inspiring, and powerful breast cancer journey of Jennifer Merendino. Her husband Angelo Merendino, a photographer, documented her breast cancer battle, which hit just five months after they got married.

     

    "[The photos] humanize the face of cancer, on the face of my wife," Angelo said. "They show the challenge, difficulty, fear, sadness and loneliness that we faced, that Jennifer faced, as she battled this disease. Most important of all, they show our Love. These photographs do not define us, but they are us."

     

    You can check out the amazing series right here.

     

    Photo Source: Angelo Merendino via Babble.com

  • Angela Long | Combines Social Networking and Cancer Education 11 of 12
    iStock_000017732823XSmall

    Angela Long, of Sarasota, Florida, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. At the time she was 35 and had two small children, ages 5 and 2.

     

    "It was a challenge — I think it is for anyone at any age — but there was nobody like me to talk with and no one to reach out to who could guide me through the process," she said of battling cancer.

     

    After going through chemo and surgery, she felt the need to fill the void of information and support for other women dealing with breast cancer. "There is so much to know and women need to know they are their own best advocates and they are their own decision makers," said Long. Thus Breast Investigators was born. Her website "combines social networking, education, and breast cancer resources" for the Sarasota and Bradenton areas, but she is hoping that her format of information and assistance will spread to other communities around the country. Her goal is to create a "a community taking the mystery out of breast cancer." She is also embracing social media with a Twitter feed, Facebook page, and YouTube channel.

     

    You can find out more about Breast Investigators right here.

     

    Photo Source: istockphotos.com

  • Becky Olson | Shared Her Story of Three-Time Survival 12 of 12
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    "Becky believes that getting breast cancer was a blessing. But it took getting it twice to finally change her life." Oh, and then she got it a third time. But Becky M. Olson hasn't let her breast cancer battles slow her down or squash her spirit. Instead, she found inspiration and started to share her story.

     

    In 2000, she co-founded a non-profit called Breast Friends, which is dedicated to helping women and their own battles with breast cancer. Becky also wrote the book The Hat That Saved My Life, which is "a humorous and inspirational look at surviving breast cancer." Now Becky is a popular speaker at conferences and events, and for good reason. Her story of survival — not once, not twice, but three times — is totally inspirational.

     

    Photo Source: Amazon/Book available here.

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