Jenny Saldana breast cancerWomen in the United States get breast cancer more than any other type of cancer except for skin cancer. It is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death in women. Each year it is estimated that nearly 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die. Approximately 1,700 men will also be diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 will die each year.

That little blurb came from The National Breast Cancer Foundation‘s website, which is a great source of information if you’re interested in learning about Breast Cancer. I personally became a lot more interested in cancer and the people diagnosed with cancer when my mother was diagnosed with Leukemia in a few years ago. I gained a completely new respect for the people who are affected by it as well as the medical process of treating the disease. As a tribute to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to put together some inspiring stories of Breast Cancer survivors that I’d found on Realbeauty.com. These women are absolutely amazing.

Marlena Ortiz

Marlena Ortiz breast cancerAfter being misdiagnosed for three years, Marlena found out she had breast cancer 17 months ago. Channeling her inner vamp, she has since started a non-profit that helps women look and feel confident while fighting and overcoming life’s biggest challenges. Its name? Beating Cancer in Heels, of course. I was diagnosed in… “May 2009. My new doctors actually think that I was misdiagnosed for three years. Got to love the health care system!” My immediate reaction was… “‘F***! You got to be kidding me!?’ They sure weren’t kidding.” Now, to me breast cancer means to me… “A time in my life when I had to learn to put myself first.” I’d tell someone recently diagnosed with breast cancer… “The mind is a lot more powerful than you think. Always believe that you will beat cancer, no matter what negative thoughts you have, or what anyone, even the doctors, say.” I’m inspired by… “Anyone who is faced with a challenge in her life and becomes a better person because of it.” The things that keep me strong are… “Reminding myself that I can’t control the future, and I can’t change the past. All I can do is make the best of the time I have, which is now. Also, if I can beat the crap out of cancer in high heels, I can do almost anything.” I get stressed out by… “Health insurance, the economy, my non-profit, and people who only care about their own needs.” I unwind by… “Writing. I have kept a diary on-and-off since I was in elementary school. Now, I share my journal on my website in the hopes that it will help other young women going through cancer not feel so alone.” If I were to stand in the middle of the street and scream something, it would be… “I AM HERE!” Breast cancer is… “The reason why I am alive today. While it tried to take me out of the world, it gave me a reason to stay in it.”  

Maria Digiuseppe

Maria Digiuseppe breast cancerPersonal trainer, Maria , is a two-time breast cancer survivor. It wasn’t enough for this fitness fan to kick the disease on her own, though. She now creates specialized gym sessions to help women recover from lumpectomy and mastectomy surgeries. I was diagnosed on… “The first time was Memorial Day weekend, a few months after my 40th birthday. The second time was around Thanksgiving, seven years later.” My immediate reaction was… “There was anxiety and sadness, but overall, I thought that I could get a minor procedure, and that would be the end of it. The funny thing about cancer is that it highlights your weaknesses and strengths. If you’re a complainer, then you’ll have plenty to complain about. But, if you fight and take one day at a time, you’ll discover that you’re doing all you can. The rest is not up to you.” Now, breast cancer means to me… “That I’m not in control. A large part of the experience is surrendering to the doctors, to the treatment, to surgery, and to God. It also means re-prioritizing. You get so busy with fighting cancer that you have to eliminate certain things in your life, and, by default, you start to see what’s most important to you. That helped me recognize that I already had everything I wanted. To be able to see this in my hardest moments is a real victory.” I’d tell someone recently diagnosed with breast cancer… “Just like weight training or sports, beating cancer requires focus, discipline, and effort. It’s painful and takes up a lot of your time. There’s healing and growth that comes later, but it’s comes as the result of trial, testing, and refining who you are as a person. I would also say that even in the worst times, God is with you as are those who truly love you, so you know you can lean on them.” I’m inspired by… “Music, love, friends and family, working out, scriptures, and Dancing with the Stars. I’m pretty fantastic at… “Motivating and encouraging others to be their best.” The things that keep me strong are… “Strength training keeps me physically strong, and God’s word keeps my spirit strong.” In my spare time… “I’m trying new recipes and writing my fitness book. I would love to take up ballroom dance—I even bought the shoes—but I’ve only taken one lesson. I also want to start playing tennis, but it’s difficult in NYC.” I get stressed out about… “Spoiled, critical, and narrow-minded people.” I unwind by… “Enjoying a good book or movie in my recliner. I also love yoga!” If I were to stand in the middle of the street and scream something, it would be… “You are not the center of the universe! Be considerate, please!” I first felt comfortable in my own skin… “In my late 40s. I think the cancer had a great deal to do with that. I’m more honest with myself now; I don’t do things that make me uncomfortable or go against what I believe.” Breast cancer is… “A pause button. It’s a reminder to serve others. It’s a reminder of how much I’ve been blessed. It’s a reminder of my mortality. It’s a reminder of what’s really important.”

Kara Skaflestad

Kara Skaflestad breast cancerKara Skaflestad was diagnosed with breast cancer 13 days before Christmas, at the age of 26. She had dated for boyfriend for seven days at the time. He’s been with her and her “bald head” ever since. I was diagnosed on… “December 12, 2008. My grandmother had just passed away after a long battle with breast cancer, and my friend recently thought she had felt a lump. So, one day in the shower, I decided to do a self-breast exam. But, instead of gently pressing my breasts, I pushed hard and found a lump under my left armpit. My gynecologist told me not to worry about it, but an ultrasound and biopsy proved otherwise.” My immediate reaction was… “Total disbelief. How could I be a cancer patient? My second thought was that I felt so bad for my mom. She had just lost her mother, and now she was going to have to deal with this. It was a nightmare.” Now, breast cancer means to me… “That I’m a cancer survivor, and that’s something more impressive than anything you can put on your resume. I was hit with an unlucky stick and had a few really hard years. But now I get to join the ranks of the many amazing women who know how to fight, all the while making the best out of a crappy situation.” I’d tell someone recently diagnosed with breast cancer… “To stay positive and know that there is light at the end of the long, hard tunnel. You will get through this, and come out on the other end feeling like a better, smarter, stronger person.” I’m inspired by… “The future, my family and friends, and my boyfriend, Nate, who stuck with me during my mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.” I’m pretty fantastic at… “Handling really hard situations. I took this cancer diagnosis by storm. I wasn’t in control of what was happening to my body, so I took control of how to handle it. I rocked a bald head and tried to have fun every moment that I wasn’t feeling sick.” The people that keep me strong are… “My boyfriend. Every time I feel sad, scared, or have “why me?” moments, he calms me down and gets me back on my feet or, at the very least, laughing again. My sister and mom have also been there through everything, including when I had emotional moments about my breasts.” I get stressed out by… “Being pressed for time or knowing that I have too much on my plate. After going through this experience, I get overwhelmed quite easily, so I try to conquer each task as it comes. This was a process I learned during treatment: Try to not think about the next week’s chemo session, just focus on this one. Then, don’t think about radiation until you have to start going. Thinking too far ahead can be overwhelming. And you can’t control it anyway!” I unwind by… “Reaching out to others. During my treatment, I started to blog. I could talk freely about how I was feeling, while also letting my family and friends know that I was okay. I also wanted other people who were enduring similar experiences to know that I was going through it, too.” If I were to stand in the middle of the street and scream something, it would be… “I’m a survivor! I beat cancer and feel amazing!” I felt most comfortable in my own skin… “Ironically, now. I am 29 years old. I have scarred breasts and a little more flab than I did in my early 20s, but I feel smarter, stronger, and more beautiful than I ever have before. I am proud of my scars. I’m proud of my new hair. And, the best part is that my boyfriend loves all of it.” I’m happiest when… “I’m surrounded by the people I love the most and who love me right back. With that by your side, why wouldn’t you believe in hope?”

If you’d like to read more stories, you can find the gallery here.

breast cancerAll of the stories are so powerful and inspiring. I can’t encourage both women and men enough to take care of their bodies, get the required medical tests done and perform regular self-examinations. Early detection is your best bet in fighting against Breast Cancer, or any other cancer. If you’d like to read more articles about Breast Cancer, click here!