Who We are Today

| September 6, 2019

Photography by Lands’ End and Keri Oberly

On the 2019 Thrivers Cruise, several women participated in the Lands’ End photo shoot. The experiences of women coming together from different parts of the country and from different stages of the journey turned into remarkable exchanges of personal reflection and growth. Here are some of their thoughts about who they are today.

Toni BoltonToni Bolton
Roosevelt, UT
Diagnosis: Grade 3 TNBC
Invasive ductal carcinoma with lymph node involvement
Diagnosed: December 2017

I appreciate every moment of every day. I look at everyone with empathy, wondering what situation might be shaking their world. I take nothing for granted. I see the qualities and goodness in everyone and not so much anger in them. I have earned the right to look like I look and feel like I feel. Grateful!

The hardest part of my breast cancer journey was getting through the holiday season without telling anyone except my husband about my diagnosis. I found out I had cancer on 12/17/17 – The Holiday.

Christmas is my favorite time of year where family traditions are gratefully enjoyed. Since I have a blended family, this meant that I would need to get though several celebrations. I didn’t want to ruin the holidays for my family. I didn’t know how serious it was.

I was terrified. Each and every moment I was with family I wondered if I would be here next year.

Pity party – 60, Cancer, Grey hair! Neurotic. I must do better!

I am only a memory of the person I was before my diagnosis. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror. My soul has been shaken to the core. Who am I and what have I done with my life? Have I made an impact or a difference for anyone?

Loss of control – My belief system has failed me. I can’t work hard enough, long enough, fast enough to plan a finish to this situation. The hopelessness is excruciating!

Cancer consumes my every thought and is in control of every moment. I have had loved ones tell me I look better but I don’t believe them. Grey hair, Me? Never ever. I realize just how vain I am. I should get over myself.

Emotionally, the hardship was seeing the worry in the eyes of my loved ones. In hindsight I probably would keep it to myself. I will either get better or not. There is no reason for everyone to go through this. This is probably unrealistic, but I think it would be worth it to try.
Being bald for over a year was an unexpected hardship for me. My husband shaved my head for me. Being bald was more traumatic than the breast surgery. One day I had shoulder length hair and the next it was shaved. I felt completely exposed almost as if I had forgotten to wear underwear to kindergarten.

How am I living my life since my diagnosis? I worry a lot more, but I don’t sweat the small stuff. I take much better care of myself. I’ve given up control to God. I’m trying to reconnect with my friends that I pulled away from. I accept help both physically and emotionally.
I now realize how much cancer there is and how many others are affected. The world goes on without me. No one really knows what will happen next. I realize now that most people just do not know how to deal with the topic of cancer. There is no right or wrong way for them to react. Most of us are just not prepared to confront the reality of a chronic illness.

It takes me forever to get dressed to go out. Nothing fits. I have no idea how I should look. I need a new vision of myself. My goal is to simplify my life.

But all of the above leads me to the place that I am excited about my new appreciation and love for every second of life! New friends and experiences that I have been blessed with! TOMORROW! Enjoying my family! Enjoying my new support system! Getting involved with the Breast Cancer Wellness organization has given me new hope! The women took me in with acceptance and warmth. I have been surrounded by such amazing warriors. The women radiate from the inside out almost as though they are angels that understand my sorrow, grief, and worries. These angels provide hope for the future with a new lifeline. This is my chance to change my story.

Diane VarnerDiane Varner
Elizabeth, CO
Diagnosis: Invasive ductal carcinoma stage 1 estrogen positive
Diagnosed: November 9, 2007

I recall vividly where I was when I received the phone call from the radiologist telling me “you have cancer.” I had just flown from Colorado to see my friend in Texas for the weekend and we were in her car when the call came through at 2pm. All I could think of at the time was I wish my husband were here holding me right now. My friend did what she could to make the weekend special, but I was a million miles away thinking about my mortality. That was nearly twelve years ago and today, I remain cancer free and live each day with joy, but it was not something that happened right away.

I am a woman of faith and place full trust that God has a plan for me, and that I will live each day to the fullest. God provided me a gift of music and song and I love to sing and play my mountain dulcimer which has been extremely healing and cathartic. Through my music, I have fulfilled bucket list items. The new me is writing down things I want to do and experience because time is so precious. I have sung inside the church Martin Luther built in Worms, Germany and inside a pub in Killarney, Ireland. I sung back up vocals for a musician cutting a cd and was the lead vocalist for six years in a classic rock band. My bucket list is long, and I have only completed less than half the entries.

The two biggest hardships for me was the chemo treatment and losing my hair. I felt like a science experiment and cringed when I read that I was being injected with a mustard gas derivative as well as E. coli. I tried to walk daily to help rid the heavy metals out of my body even though my legs felt like lead and barely moved. The hill down the road from our home presented a problem where I could not make it over the hill. When the day came that I finally did make it over the hill, I shouted loud for all the neighbors to hear. As for my hair, I decided I wanted to make the call when I lose my hair and didn’t want the cancer to be the one to do it. Lovingly, my husband shaved my head. He thought it would be quick like when Demi Moore did it in the movie G.I. Jane. My thick hair took 45 minutes for him to shave it off. We saved the hair in a bag and when Easter came several months later, I released the hair into the wind since it was a time of rebirth.
The ironic side of things is that I went to work for a previous employer after I was through with my treatment. It was the radiology group that did my biopsy and I was in the perfect position working with the patients. I was the call back scheduler and when a patient asked if I knew how it felt to be called back, I could honestly answer yes, and relieve their anxiety. I loved my job and retired to join my husband in July 2018 and I truly believe the best is yet to come.

My future is full of hope and I know whatever happens, I have lived each day to the fullest and I have no regrets. I might add, my husband was my biggest cheerleader and the most amazing caregiver. I could not have made it through this journey without his support and love.

Cherrie BriceCherrie Brice
Canton, GA
Diagnosis: Stage II aggressive breast carcinoma
Diagnosed: October 2003

I am a total different person since being diagnosed. Things that once bothered me are no longer in the fore front. God has humbled me in such amazing ways. I love more and a lot harder now. I enjoy being there for others during their times of need, whether it is just for a listening ear, to go to the store, or for a few minutes of company.

One of my deeper pains was not having the person who is supposed to be my soul mate not being supportive during my time of need. Then I realized what family and true friends are. My two daughters, my siblings, all of seven of them, and many friends that were there to comfort me during my time of need. It is during these times that you find out who is a TRUE supporter of you.

I have learned to enjoy life to the fullest because you really realize that tomorrow is not promised to you.

I’m looking forward to retirement in the next five years. I want to be able to enjoy my grand kids and family and be there for them as much as possible. Spending time with my loved ones without having to be on a schedule and doing things when and where I see is convenient for me. I would like to travel more and see the beautiful world which God has bestowed upon us to enjoy to the fullest, be a mentor to someone going through this horrible thing called cancer, and maybe one day the whole world will be CANCER FREE!!

Tiah TomlinTiah Tomlin
Atlanta, GA
Diagnosis: Triple negative breast cancer
Diagnosed: June 17, 2015

After hearing the words “it’s cancer,” no one ever told me that my life would never be the same. Since the very beginning, I slowly began to transform into a new person. It reminds me of the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, only we don’t know what our outcome will be. In the “cocoon”, there are so many hills and valleys that you have to experience. Whether it’s your first appointment with your breast surgeon, having port surgery, your first chemo infusion, the first side effect, the moment you start losing hair, the second you see yourself bald for the first time, the physical pain you encounter, the uncertainty and so much more. But I am happy to say that through my “cocoon” experience, I was fortunate enough to come out as a beautiful iridescent pink and lavender butterfly.
I remember it like it was yesterday. When I got the call at 4pm, I was devastated and full of emotions, that included the fear of dying. I recall sitting in my bathroom crying uncontrollably; God reminded me of what he did for my brother and my father and said “why can’t I do the same for you! Get up!” Just a few years prior my father had a major stroke and my brother was diagnosed with stage 4 testicular cancer and today they are both doing great. But it was in this moment that my Hope was restored. I knew instantly that this journey was bigger than me and that I would get through this with a dose of faith.

Today, just four years later, while I still deal with challenges from the sides effects, like neuropathy and chemo-brain, I have overall become a better person. This ‘can’t-cer’ journey, what I like to call it, has caused me to see life differently. My priorities have now shifted from being focused on climbing the corporate ladder to living a balanced life so that I can enjoy what matters most. I have learned to not stress over things that are outside of my control. I have learned to take time to smell the roses and enjoy what God has created for us. I now do things that I have never done or was never interested in doing. And I take every experience and try to find the lesson in it.
This journey has also given me LIFE. Before cancer, my life consisted of work and left me feeling as though something was missing. But it has pushed me to live a healthier life and has allowed me to find my purpose. I birthed a sisterhood support group for women in the Greater Atlanta area called My Breast Years Ahead. I co-founded My Style Matters, a 501c3 non-profit organization that helps to educate survivors (and their caregivers) on making healthy choices. And I have become community change agent to advocate and help fight against cancer by increasing awareness, speaking out about prevention, calling people to take action with their health and giving people HOPE.

Shelley MorenoShelley Moreno
Los Angeles, CA
Diagnosis: stage 3 triple negative
Diagnosed: October 2012 &
March 2015

I’ve changed since I was first diagnosed. Today, my heart is free and open. Previously, I kept myself hidden, trying to be perfect. By letting go of the need for perfection, I am watching my true strength and beauty unfold.

My greatest hardship was grieving the lost dreams I felt cancer had robbed from me. Being a single mom and sick for so many years with a toddler, I was beside myself with loneliness and desperation. I watched other young families enjoying life and supporting each other when I could barely even find the energy to go to the grocery store. I worked with myself to feel safe and cry the tears needed to let go, and replaced it with a deep self love and admiration of all I have survived and been through.

Today, I live my life differently. I take my time. I say no a lot. The things I do choose to experience in life are more meaningful because I savor them instead of trying to cram it all in. This lets me hear myself. My body used to be dragging behind me saying, “Hey wait up, you are going too fast for me!”

My new realization is that I matter just the way I am. I don’t need to be or look a certain way to be loved or make an impact on the planet. It’s God’s job to use who I am so I gave myself permission to stop molding and perfecting myself and asked my Higher Power to show me what’s next.

I am most excited about living life with less baggage! When we are sick, we don’t have the energy to carry around old baggage anymore. I have been unpacking a little at time. And hopefully making room for new wild experiences I haven’t thought of yet. Because I am game! And I would love to take my son to Hawaii and celebrate us.

Pauline A LeclercPauline A Leclerc
Raymond, NH
Diagnosis: with stage 2 estrogen positive, Left breast cancer
Diagnosed: December of 2002

Since my diagnosis I have embraced the many challenges, changes, lessons given to me by having cancer. I overcame things by finding the goodness in each day given to me, laughing and looking at things just one day at a time and simply living in the moment.

At the time of my diagnosis the biggest hardship was being a newly divorced woman with a daughter in college and a 16 year old at home, wondering how in the world was I going to do it all by myself.

Through the love of my daughters and the support of my older sister, every day was looked at as a positive moment to cherish and to hold for life was good and could only get better.

Now after 17 years cancer free, I live my life knowing at any moment things could change. Another diagnosis could come along, a life taken too soon, or even a bigger challenge than cancer could arise again. I live for the laughter of my five beautiful grandchildren, the sunset on my cruises and the walks on the beach knowing God is good and has my life in his hands.

I have realized that at any time in your life someone (often the ones you least expect) will step “up to the plate” and hold your hand, walk beside you and just be there – no questions asked to see you through a tough patch in life.

As I enter my 60th year of life and my 17th year cancer free I am excited to let people know it is possible to beat this cancer creature and live the life that is in front of you. I have five beautiful grandchildren and look forward to many more years of watching them grow, laughing with them and my saying goes “cloud jumping” on the puffy white clouds, where they will always know I am watching when the time comes.

Live Life to the fullest, many wonder-filled surprises lie ahead if you open your mind heart and eyes.

Priscilla Bacus
Bakersfield, CA
Diagnosis: Breast cancer – estrogen positive
Diagnosed: July 2001 – left breast
August 2018 – right breast

Being told “you have cancer” was one of the things I never even thought about. In 2001, when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, my first thought was that I might not be able to see my children become adults, and this thought has stayed in the back of my mind, along with the worry that my cancer could return. Then in August 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer again, but this time in my right breast. I was not as scared this time around, and I thought of it as another bump in the road. I have been active with Links for Life, a local breast cancer organization, since 2001 and thanks to this support group of wonderful women, I am more educated about this disease.

When I was diagnosed in 2001, I went in to tell my boss that I was having surgery. I was told that I was being laid off, and needless to say, that was a terrible day. Being laid off was a devastating shock, but turned out to be one of the best things to happen since I was working 50-60 hours a week. I was able to have my surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation without having to worry about getting back to work.

I try my best to help others who have been diagnosed with cancer. I let them know that they are strong and capable of handling all that is thrown their way. I let them know that it is okay to feel down, but to remember to always pick themselves up. I also raise funds all year to help with cancer research so that someday there will be a cure for this disease.

Having cancer is scary, and you realize how many people in the world love you. So many people check up on me on a regular basis, and that really means a lot to me. I would not have met all the wonderful ladies at Links for Life if I had not had breast cancer.

I am expecting to be cancer free for a lot longer this time. I plan to do lots of traveling with my husband and family. There are so many places still to see!!

Leigh Langford 
Leigh Langford 

Brunswick, GA
Diagnosis: Stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma
Diagnosed; June 2005 DCIS /Oct 2013

Being a two time survivor I have definitely looked at life differently. I’m certainly not the same person I was before cancer. I’ve changed physically, mentally, emotionally as well as spiritually. I have aches and pains that may always be with me, but I also have become a much kinder person. I see life through a much different lens now. Life, to me, isn’t about material things. It’s about adventures and sharing them with the people I care about the most. Life is too short to not be happy! 

There were many hardships while going through cancer twice. My income was cut in half. As a single mother that was extremely hard on me. I felt like I was failing my girls. Trying to support my children and pay the bills to keep a roof over our heads was emotionally hard as if having cancer wasn’t hard enough. Depression over that set in hard for me. I leaned on God and we walked through it day by day just as we still do today five years out. 

I try not to sweat the small things like I used to do. I try to frame issues that come up like this, “ will it matter in five years?” For instance, wrecking a car. You can fix a car. It might not be a great financial thing to do at the moment but we make it happen. In five years it really doesn’t matter so I try not to sweat that. On the flip side, if a loved one was injured in that wreck then it will still matter in five years if its a bad wreck. I try to let go of what I can’t fix/help and remember to “Let Go, Let God”. Sometimes we just have to surrender.

I have learned that people outside our pink family really just don’t “get” us. Even our own family. Some of them try. Some don’t try. Pink sisters make the best friends because they do know exactly what we are going through. They have the compassion and empathy that we often don’t get from family and friends. That’s so important when facing cancer. 

You will often hear me talk about my bucket list. I made one after each of my diagnosis. I’ve checked off all of them from the first one and working on the second one now. The truth is…I’m continually adding to it! My motto is “I don’t want to leave this Earth saying I WISH I HAD __.” I want to see and do all I can in this lifetime!

Beverly H. AndersonBeverly H. Anderson
Decatur, GA
Diagnosed: May 1983

Since my diagnosis 36 years ago, I have tried my best to encourage, educate, and advocate for women going through treatment for themselves or a family member. After weight gain and chemo complications caused me problems with arthritis, I decided to get gastric bypass surgery. My new loss of weight has afforded me the opportunity to live my life fully. Going on amazing vacations with the Thrivers group and keeping my body in shape. This photo shoot was such a great opportunity to strut my new body! Getting on the kayak was an eye opener. I was afraid but I faced my fear and went kayaking for the first time in my life. Thanks Lands End! Y’all are awesome.

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Category: Inspire

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