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2 Women, 2 Breast Cancer Survivors, 2 Countries, 2 Images & Now 2 Best Friends
Breast cancer touched my life in 2008. The dreaded diagnosis reminded of me of the fragility of life, and it flooded me with sobering thoughts of my own mortality. Within weeks I was transformed from a normal woman living a relatively normal life into a cancer patient. Breast cancer is a beast, but it brought with it a few surprises – good ones, if you can believe that! A year after my diagnosis, I became a part of Michael Colanero’s Breast Cancer Awareness Body Painting Project (BCABPP). It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my life. I am “Stardust.”
But there was another surprise in store for me one year later. Michael called me last summer and told me that a Survivor was flying all the way in from Australia to be a BCABPP model. Her name is Valerie, and Michael said that she was going to be in Orlando for the FORCE conference, and then she was going to drive down to Fort Lauderdale for the photo shoot. Michael asked me if I would reach out to Valerie – she had never been to the USA before, and she was a little nervous. Well, of course I said yes! I am always happy to help another person … especially a “Survivor Sister.” When I met Valerie, I instantly felt like I’d always known her! We spent the whole day laughing and shopping (you should have seen the look on her face when I brought her to Publix)! Since that day, Valerie and I have become dear friends. Although we’re half a world away, we keep in touch via telephone, Facebook and Skype (video chat), and through video chat I’ve even gotten to meet her lovely family! We regularly send each other packages filled with goodies from our home countries and notes of encouragement & friendship. So you see… even something as insidious as breast cancer can have hidden gifts. I firmly believe that the experiences we have in life shape us as human beings and bring people into our lives that we are meant to know. I feel like a very lucky woman. I survived breast cancer, and the choices I made and experiences I had brought some amazing people into my life, and helped me forge forever friendships. And I am so happy to have my lovely Aussie Survivor Sister Valerie in my life. Breast cancer was the “lemon,” my friendship with Valerie is most certainly the sweet lemon chiffon pie!
During one of my late night internet searches, I came across an amazing project that I had to respond to. I live in Australia and the project had its origins in Florida – I had a problem! There was no way I could participate but I felt an affinity with the project – it was what I felt drawn to do to help promote Breast Cancer Awareness.
My name is Valerie and through the organisation Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) two unbelievable dreams came true. In November 2009, I received results through genetic testing – I am BRCA2+ This status opened a whole new world. I applied for and awarded an overseas Scholarship to attend their 2010 5th Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida.
I had never been out of the Pacific Region – the USA was a weird place… they drove on the wrong side of the road from the wrong side of the car!!! Thanks to Michael’s introduction to Melanie, I got the best rental, headed down the “right” road (a very scary experience I have to tell you as I had not slept for 2 days while travelling and turning left was suicidal!) to Fort Lauderdale and began the body painting process. I had to drink in every moment and tell myself that this was really happening. As my image started to evolve, I could see a culmination of my world coming together. At the age of 33, I had to deal with Breast Cancer. I was made to feel that it was my fault: my lifestyle, my diet, my world. My scars (had 2 back then) reminded me daily of the fragility of life and how each day was important. 22 years ago, it was the big “C”. The scars from the free TRAM flap bi-lateral reconstruction in 2008 are now a blessing – I am living life to the full, because I can. I am a Survivor and I am a “Kiwi Flowers” woman.
Still in a state of “is this really happening?”, the following day I met Melanie who had emailed me information about travel options. As soon as we met, it was like we had known each other forever and were catching up. Melanie had this big humongous car – a rental as her car was having work done – and suddenly being a passenger on the wrong side of the road was a weird experience!!! We talked, laughed, shopped (that was an experience) and talked and laughed some more. And you know what, it hasn’t stopped! We use every means of communication available, we have been to each others houses via Skype and she has met my little family. I message her in my morning and it is Melanie’s evening the day before! I love receiving Melanie’s parcels and I love putting one together for her. We may be on two different continents but we are very close. We are more than just friends – we are Survivor Sisters.
Breast Cancer has a flip side and I am a great believer that things happen for a reason. The separate paths that Melanie and I travelled have crossed and I am all the better for it. I cannot imagine my life now without Melanie being an integral part of it. The breast cancer experience has drawn us together – thank you Michael! – where we can live our lives knowing someone special is part of that. Melanie, my Survivor Sister.
BCABPP = Breast Cancer Awareness Body Painting Project: A Fine Art & Photography Essay of Survivors