So, Scarlett is a member of my tribe. We consider ourselves the glitter tribe, which means we are all things fabulous and just like glitter we leave our mark wherever we go. I haven’t known her long, but my soul connected with hers immediately! To meet her is to love and adore her and she has been an immense blessing in my life.
Please hear some words of Wisdom from Scarlett
Give us some background on what the Susan G. Korman walk means to you?
My support for Komen began ten years ago (2006) when I participated in the NCAL Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for the first time. In 2011, I used the annual Race as a platform to show my love and support for my high school band director who was a breast cancer survivor. That year, I was team captain for the first time and worked to build a team of support for the organization and to overwhelm Betty with love. The entire experience was so amazing, we began planning how we could make an even bigger impact for Komen. One member of our team had walked the Komen 3-Day in Atlanta in memory of her mother. 3 days, 60 miles, huge fundraising opportunity for the cause. Count us in! While we walked through Birmingham’s streets together in October 2011, we committed to walk the 3-day in October 2012. Ironically, a brochure I picked up later that day from one of the exhibitors at the event would dramatically change those plans.
For several weeks before the walk, I had been experiencing a slight but nagging pain in my right breast. I figured it was hormonal, but it didn’t pass with my cycle and I convinced myself I felt a lump. With that on my mind, I turned to one of the brochures I had absent-mindedly picked up from one of the tables at the Race. It said I should see a doctor for such pain if it didn’t go away. Now if I’m completely honest about the day I went to the doctor, a big part of my motivation was to avoid a monthly required meeting at work, but I wouldn’t have thought to go to the doctor if not for that brochure. I visited the doctor for the first time on October 22, 2011, feeling in some ways like the world’s biggest hypochondriac. Really, Scarlett, you caught the cancer at the cancer walk? Drama much? My doctor reassured me that she did feel the lump I felt, but was confident it was not cancer. Since I was 34, she wanted to get a baseline mammogram for future reference and total reassurance. She attempted a needle aspiration biopsy, but was unable to get the tissue she needed.
I was sent for an official needle biopsy after my mammogram showed a little something they didn’t care for. Again, they were unable to get the tissue they needed for the test. Ultimately, I had a mammogram assisted surgical biopsy on a spot that was hiding behind the painful, but benign fibroid lump I had felt. My first doctor was correct – the lump that brought me in was a hormonal – drink less caffeine and other little life changes – harmless nuisance. On December 13, 2011, I learned that a very small Triple Negative tumor was deep inside my breast, almost to my chest wall. If it had not been for the chain of events I have described, who knows when the tumor would have made itself known to me.
In the early days of my diagnosis, I devoured the book Promise Me which was written by Komen founder, Nancy Brinker. It helped ground my emotions and built a strong admiration inside of me for Brinker’s work and life mission. It also fully ignited a passion I will always have for this organization. In recent years, Komen has come under attack from multiple sources. My support has been unwavering because I know the group changes lives. It changed and possibly saved mine. I believe Brinker has followed a conscience informed by her loving memory of her sister whom breast cancer took from her as well as her own breast cancer survivorship. Has the organization made decisions I don’t agree with 100%? Sure. But ultimately, Brinker has worked her tail off for this cause in ways I can’t imagine, so who am I to armchair quarterback.
One of the only side effects I have experienced since my treatment is a group of cognitive changes commonly termed “chemo brain.” I am currently participating in a study on the effects of targeted brain exercises on those cognitive changes specifically in breast cancer survivors. Guess who funded the study…. The local Komen affiliate partnered with the graduate nursing program at UAB to bring real, meaningful research home. I was honored to participate in the study because I know the impact chemo brain has had on my life, and I hope the data they collect in the study will lead to early intervention to make the condition less debilitating.
So for all those reasons, 2016 is THE year, I finally fulfill the goal I set back in 2011. To walk the 3-day and to raise at least $2,300.00 for cancer research and survivorship programs. The day I started my first training walk, I weighed 324 so I should mention the physical challenge is no joke for me. With my training and changes in my diet, I have lost over 60 pounds and am on my way to greater health in my own life!
To be successful at life, you have to face down those deep inner fears and do it, afraid.
What are some things that inspire you?
I’m most inspired by people who have a laser focus on their dreams and steadfastly work to accomplish them. Women who fearlessly step out in faith to do what they believe God is leading them to do. Or women who have that fear, but do it afraid. Whether it be by empowering women by blogs such as these, healing youth and sexual trauma survivors through literary arts or creating the first women’s cancer survivorship movement of its kind in the U.S. I am so fortunate to have the three women I just described in my life right now. And as I write this on the morning after the first American woman in history accepted a major party’s nomination for President of the United States, I’m pretty inspired by a woman who has been ridiculed, attacked and demonized (and that’s on a good day) and just keeps on keeping on to achieve her goal.
I know humor is very important to you, has that always been a source of healing for you? why or why not?
Humor was a defense mechanism I crafted early on in my life. I had some childhood traumas and experienced my young infancy in two foster homes before being adopted by my maternal grandparents at 10 months old. I was raised believing my grandmother was my mother and my actual mother was my sister. I mean, that’s the set up to a crazy story right there as my birthright. How can I not laugh at the world especially when that biological mother describes herself as a warrior among her people, once got a Glamour shot holding a handgun and collects exotic chickens? And that’s just a tiny glimpse into the DNA I’m working with.
I used humor in my cancer journey in many ways. I hosted a Ta Ta to the Ta Tas party which featured a show by a local drag queen. Attendees were encouraged to make the most of their own cleavage for the evening. After noting the enthusiastic and celebratory display, one friend quipped, “Aren’t y’all glad she didn’t have cervical cancer.” My hospital luggage consisted almost entirely of pink feather boas (isn’t that what everybody packs?) which my friends used to decorate my room once I was in recovery from my bilateral mastectomy.
When I got my head shaved due to chemo hair loss, an amazing woman at a local Head Start helped me achieve and briefly rock the most righteous Mohawk ever before we went all the way to baldness. Later that evening, I laughed when I noticed my dinner waiter’s name on the ticket was Ubaldo because life gives you such rich material, you don’t need to make it up! I wore a blue wig to my final chemo – my graduation. I tried to approach the entire thing as a huge adventure. I have always been an experience junky and this journey provided a wealth of new experiences like having a male nurse and male plastic surgeon draw on my chest with magic markers and getting my new foobs (fake boobs) inflated with saline. It wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns. There were days when the journey got to me in devastating ways, but overall I was able to laugh in cancer’s face.
What was your life like before and then after the diagnosis?
This is an interesting question, and there are many ways to approach it. When you have a serious illness, you consider things like your own mortality and the legacy you will leave behind. When you receive treatment in a room with other people who are fighting their own life-threatening illnesses, you are exposed to more death than you might be on a typical trip through life. In the chemo chair, I met and became friends with two amazing people who left this world because of cancer. They were fighting with everything they had to live. I have struggled with depression and anxiety during my entire life and often felt hopeless or that life wasn’t worth living. So cancer slaps you in the face with ultimate reality – the truth that is under all the busyness we create in our world to distract us from things that scare us. It teaches you lessons. Lots of lessons. And then, if you are lucky to survive, it drops you back into a world where the majority of people haven’t been exposed to those lessons. It is a contrast that I think many survivors struggle to make sense of.
The day to day of my life is not that much different. I have worked for the same company for 13 years so my work life looks the same, and I can’t think of any other super remarkable differences. But I have changed. I feel like I’m in an evolution that I can observe within myself more blatantly than I ever remember before. My father died a few months after I completed the last of my five surgeries and six months of chemo which was Cancerpalooza 2012 in Scarlettland. I think that definitely has impacted my journey into survivorship. I found that when you are “fighting” cancer, you focus on the next surgery, the next treatment, the next doctor appointment. That determination carries you, and it made the journey easy for me. In fact, in many ways that time was the best of my life emotionally. I received so much unexpected support from so many people, and I felt more love than I ever had. All the big existential questions and angst about career or life choices as well as all the pettiness that creeps into our lives was replaced by a clear discernable goal, and my world was united in helping me reach that goal. I believe a huge portion of the feelings work comes after the treatment is done.
Grief for the loss of my father colored that time in my life and has shaped the four years since. Now, I struggle with social anxiety in ways I didn’t use to and I am more aware of my own mortality. But I’m also more peaceful and confident in many ways. I see God’s hand more directly in the events of my life. During my father’s last year on this earth, he called me every single day because of my illness. In the past, he was a man of very few words whom I had to force to chat with me on the phone. What a gift cancer turned out to be to give me such special memories of my precious Daddy without him having to suffer a serious illness, himself. I feel permission to be myself in ways I never did. My sense of humor and lifelong appreciation for the absurdities of the world are still intact, but the volume of outward expression of it has been turned down a couple of notches. I am currently evolving and figuring out the best way to use all these experiences to strengthen my authentic voice.
Do you have any events coming up that will help you in your quest to raise the needed?
There are two upcoming events I would like to talk about. The one that directly impacts my fundraising for the Komen 3-Day will occur on September 15. I am so excited to partner with Sister City Connection, a group of amazing spoken and written word audiences, to raise funds for my Komen 3-Day Team. Each member of our team must raise at least $2,300.00 to be able to participate. I have offered various incentives which included donated art from amazing friends. We are half way to our team goal because of those efforts. The Sister City Connection event is called Phoenix Rising: Stories of Survival and Renewal. It will be a joint fundraiser for CanSurvive, a local GYN cancer support group. It is occurring in the middle of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and two survivors of ovarian cancer will be among the women who share their stories that evening. As with all Sister City Connection events, I anticipate a beautifully diverse group of voices which makes these spoken word evenings so special. The event will be held on Thursday, September 15, 2016 at Beloved Community Church in Avondale. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Light refreshments and soft beverages will be offered. Suggested donations are sliding from $5-$20. We want the event to be accessible to everyone and hope attendees who are able will give as they can.
If you can’t attend the event but would like to make a donation to my team’s 3-Day efforts, please visit www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/susan-g-komen-3-day-team-bust-a-move. On that site, you will find multiple incentives for donations, and I will be adding more soon! Komen tax receipts will be mailed to the donors along with their incentive gifts.
So cancer slaps you in the face with ultimate reality – the truth that is under all the busyness we create in our world to distract us from things that scare us.
The second event I would like to tell you about is an exciting professionally produced stage show coming to Birmingham for the second time. My 2nd Act: Survivors Stories from the Stage is a national touring show which features women survivors of all types of cancer who are local to each city where the events are held. Each cast member shares her own story about what she is doing in the second act of her life after cancer drew a line in the sand. Last year, I was a member of Birmingham’s inaugural cast, and this year I am so excited to be a special producer for the show! This year, the show will be featured as part of a new television series on Vrtuo Interactive Networks, a Smart TV platform launching in August.
We are holding auditions to find our local cast members on August 23 and 25 at Dawson Family of Faith Church from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. The show will be held on Sunday, November 6, 2016 at 3 p.m. at the Dorothy Jemison Day Theater at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Women cancer survivors who are interested in auditioning can reserve their time slot at survivors2ndact.org. Tickets will be on sale for the event later this fall. This show is not to be missed. It is empowering for the women who share their stories and inspiring for the audience that witnesses it.
What are some of your favorite quotes and why?
“So much has been given to me, I have not time to ponder over that which has been denied.” – Helen Keller
In my depressed times, I viewed this quote as completely unachievable and Helen Keller as a super human do gooder. It became my mantra during my illness because of all the blessings I received. The loss of my hair and breasts seemed a small price to pay for the amazing gifts that entered my life like the example I gave about my father’s daily calls. There were so many other stories I could share of big blessings. I wanted to be more like Helen Keller and strived to use my illness to craft that in my life. I fail daily to maintain this level of gratitude, but I am working toward it.
“Do it afraid.” – Joyce Meyer
In many ways, I have always seen myself as fearless, but the more I get to know my authentic self, the more I realize I am very afraid of intimacy and failure, and those fears have shaped my choices and limited my potential. This quote was one of those that showed up in my life on a day when I was feeling low and defeated. To be successful at life, you have to face down those deep inner fears and do it, afraid.
“If you want to be found, stand where the seeker seeks.” – Sidney Lanier
Over the years, I’ve meditated on this quote a lot. It often comes to mind when I am longing for an adventure or questioning my place in the world. I don’t know if I’ve figured out where to stand yet, but I think I’m getting closer.
What do you want your legacy to be?
Simply, I want to leave things better because I was here. Not grand things, but just the small things in life. I want it to be said at my funeral that wherever I went, I did something to make things better in some way – friendships, jobs, volunteer opportunities, decorating my house and yard, making people laugh and caring for and loving my fellow human travelers on this bizarre and wonderful journey.
How has being involved in organizations that focus on cancer research and support been helpful to you in your recovery?
The external focus has helped me to get outside of the social anxiety I mentioned and to interact with others who have been impacted by breast cancer in ways that inspire and invigorate me. Being with other survivors helps assure me that some of the feelings and changes I have experienced are normal, a new normal, but one that is common to survivor sisters. I got a lot of gifts from cancer and have framed it as a positive experience in my life. But it is not an experience I would have chosen (I’d have rather taken a trip across Europe to experience personal growth). I think Komen and other organizations that are meaningful to me such as the Women’s Survivors Alliance are impacting cancer treatment and survivorship issues in a positive way. I hope the efforts I make in support of these groups will be a part of the ultimate cure for this terrible disease.
How could you NOT be inspired by her? I don’t mean just for the survival of breast cancer, but her overall approach to LIFE in all aspects. I will be at the Sister City Connections event sharing my own story of renewal and would love to see additional sisters there to support this wonderful effort.
Showing love and support to our fellow ladies is vital to our own health and recovery! Please support Scarlett and her efforts!