Brighter Magazine Fall 2022

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A magazine for women affected by cancer

BREAST CANCER at every decade

FINDING FA LA LA when you’re feeling Blah. Blah. Blah.

Game-Changing Technology to Get Clean Margins


Editor’s Letter

Live. Learn. Shine.

According to a Harvard Health Publishing article “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness”. Derived from the Latin word, gratia, gratitude means grace, graciousness or gratefulness. It is through gratitude that we realize many of our good experiences and joy are the result of others’ involvement in our lives. This awareness gives us a feeling of value and love from others and brings a greater sense of self-worth. As we approach this Fall season of gratefulness and hope, I’m reflecting on what we have done and all we have to be grateful for at Brighter magazine. Over the past 12 months, we have been hard at work, serving the community of women affected by cancer. While continuing to produce the magazine (which gets better every issue), we received our legal nonprofit status, hosted our first survivor model photo shoot, were featured on WFAA Channel 8 news, began recording a podcast, held our first-annual giving campaign, and are now preparing for our first Brighter Market - a product and services fair to benefit local survivors. It has all been done with the goal of bringing encouragement and hope to you, our readers. What a privilege it has been. We recognize that it is only through our donors and volunteers, who have so generously given their time and talents, that Brighter is the encouraging resource it has become. Without you, we would not have the content to share, the photos to brighten our pages, the stories to tell or the finances to pursue our mission. It is you, our donors and volunteers who bring our mission to life and give us the ability to proceed forward with a feeling of purpose. We are thankful for you,


Table of Contents Subscribe to Brighter magazine at Advertise to expand your reach. Contact us at Donate to support Brighter on our website or save fees by mailing a check to: Brighter Magazine 3950 Royal Lane Ste - E 161 Dallas, Texas 75230 Brighter Magazine, a Texas nonprofit Corporation, 501(c)(3) Tax Exemption status pending.

Information in Brighter magazine is to provide you

Education 5 Reasons to See a Dentist


Game Changing Technology to Get Clean Margins


Genetic Testing




Empowerment Secret Weapons


Finding Fa La La When Feeling Blah Blah Blah


Encouragement Breast Cancer at Every Decade


Why Not Me - Survivor’s Guilt


The Power of Movement


with encouragement, awareness and education. The articles reflect the opinions of the authors and are not to take the place of professional medical advice. There may be a variety of perspectives on the subjects


covered in Brighter. Tips, treatment and advice that is found helpful for some may vary based on the person. All of us at Brighter suggest that you talk to your medical team before making any changes to your lifestyle or daily living.

The magazine for women affected by cancer

To Polish or Not to Polish


A Fresh Face for the Season


Holiday Gift Giving Guide

12 3

To Polish or By Jayna Dave

Getting your nails done can be great for your mental health. It’s an activity that relieves stress, boosts your mood and improves your overall mental state. With the craziness of life, going to the nail salon can be a way to relax after a long week. Studies show that even 30 minutes a day of a stress-relieving activity can have significant benefits for your energy level and health. A manicure or pedicure is a great way to schedule time for yourself, allowing you to destress. Furthermore, it’s often difficult to find time to focus on yourself. Treating yourself to a nail appointment lets you do just that, ensuring that you spend some time catering to your own needs and desires. After just a short amount of time, you will leave the salon feeling more confident, calm, rejuvenated and ready to continue tackling life. Be aware, though, that your nails reflect your body’s current condition. If being treated for cancer, your nails may be in a weaker, more fragile condition. Chemotherapy medicines can make your nails more brittle and sensitive, potentially causing them to grow at a slower rate or causing your nail beds to lift. In addition, grooving, discoloration and heightened sensitivity can occur with chemo. While getting a manicure or pedicure may help to strengthen your nails and improve their health, there are specific measures you should take when getting your nails done in order to ensure that your nails remain as healthy as possible. As a chemo patient, you can absolutely wear nail polish, especially if the appearance of your nails bothers you. That being said, nail polish can have a drying effect on your nails, which will likely already be drier from chemo. It is recommended that you wear nail polish for only a few days at a time before removing it and letting your nails rest and recover for a few more days. In addition, remember to moisturize your cuticles, nails and the skin around them on a daily basis. If you experience dryness, hangnails or splitting in your cuticles, rub cuticle cream into the area. Rather than


Not to Polish

cutting your cuticles, use cuticle removers when necessary. Choosing a thicker, more concentrated lotion can help your skin and nails retain moisture.

While nail polish is relatively safe for those being treated with chemo, wearing artificial nails is generally unsafe. Because chemotherapy causes your nails to become thinner and more brittle, artificial nails can be dangerous to remove, as it is possible that your real nail could come off with the artificial nail. Also, both the glue applied under artificial nails and the tools used to remove artificial nails have drying effects on your nails, meaning your nails could suffer further damage. If getting your nails done at a salon, be careful about the place you choose to go. Chemo weakens the immune system, causing your body to be susceptible to infections. Nail salons can harbor bacteria, so be sure that every product and tool used is sterilized. Be sure that your manicurist does not cut your cuticles in order to prevent infection. And of course, make sure that your nail salon provides you with a relaxing, peaceful setting. When it’s time to remove your nail polish, use acetone-free nail polish remover. Acetone will further dry out your nails and irritate your cuticles. After removing your nail polish, moisturize your nails and cuticles thoroughly with a lotion or oil. To further soften your already-moisturized hands overnight, you can put gloves or a pair of socks over them. This technique traps the moisture, allowing it to stay on your skin longer. Remember, as long as you treat your nails with care, doing your nails while undergoing chemo can be great for your mental health. Keeping these tips in mind will help you maintain your nail health, allowing you to continue painting your nails. Of course, before you do anything to your nails, it’s never a bad idea to check in with your doctor ahead of time.

A Fresh Face for the Season By Amanda Guillot Executive Director, BeautyCounter

The seasons are changing, the weather cooling and even nature is beginning to sport new colors. With fall upon us and winter approaching, you have an opportunity to shift your makeup slightly for a fresh, fashionable take on these cooler months. While some trends might be a bit risky for everyday life (bright shadows, dramatic winged liner, etc.), a simple swap of one makeup bag staple can give your entire face a fresh update. A classic red lip never goes out of style. For those with fair skin, you can opt for a red with warmer, orange undertones, while those with darker complexions might go deeper, with a classic blue-red. For a twist on this classic look, you can navigate toward more berry or deep plum shades - universally flattering. When going bold with your lip, everything else should remain simple and classic. Fresh, dewy skin is popular this year, and a bold, matte lip modernizes the overall look.

The magazine for women affected by cancer


5 Reasons To See A Dentist Before Cancer Treatments

By Jill Meyer - Lippert Founder of Side Effect Support

Oncology and dentistry are often viewed as very separate and unrelated areas of healthcare, but just as oral health has proven to impact a variety of other health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease; problems in one’s mouth can significantly impact cancer treatments and survivorship. Preventing oral health problems is far easier and more beneficial than repairing damage after it has occurred. In this article are 5 reasons to see a dentist in the window of time between a cancer diagnosis and starting treatments. Doing so can both improve one’s quality of life, and potentially help achieve more successful treatment outcomes.



Focus on prevention

Many types of cancer treatments can cause problems in the mouth, and once oral side effects start, they tend to recur and become more severe as the course of treatment moves forward. Your cancer team and your dental team can work together to anticipate what problems may occur during the treatment process and develop a prevention plan. While not all medical or dental professionals have training in the specialized area known as dental oncology, online resources are available for guidance.


Get the information

It is important to take an active role in your care. This requires being aware of what mouth problems may occur and understanding what can be done to reduce these risks. Using the proper oral care tools, techniques, and products each day can make a world of difference! Make sure these recommendations are coming from a trusted source, as advertisements and social media commentary may be misleading or provide incomplete information.


Reduce infection risks

Dental problems, such as cavities, broken teeth, gum disease and poor oral hygiene can accentuate the risks of side effects and treatment complications. Removing and/or repairing damaged teeth or areas that may cause tissue irritation alleviates discomfort and helps one chew better. Cancer therapies often also affect blood cells. When the number of white blood cells decreases, it becomes more difficult for the body to fight infection. If there is an infection present inside the mouth, it can potentially spread throughout the body. Low platelet levels make the blood less likely to clot efficiently. In those cases, bleeding gums can become a very serious and urgent complication. Proactive oral care will reduce the risks of mouth problems causing alterations or delays in treatments.

“Preventing oral health problems is far easier than repairing damage after.”

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Establish a baseline

Accurate oral health records can not only help to determine immediate needs but also provide a baseline to enable the dental provider to gauge the level of changes that occur in the mouth during the treatment process. This will show the effectiveness of any procedures or preventive strategies that are implemented to determine if alterations are necessary to achieve the best results moving forward. Baseline records can also potentially aid in future coverage by insurance and other benefit programs by documenting what conditions were present or absent prior to treatments.


Create a follow-up plan

Some oral side effects may stop as soon as treatments are complete, others may take more time to resolve and some may never fully go away. Establishing a schedule of follow-up appointments with your dental team after treatments are done will help catch problems early to reduce the complexity of the solutions and prevent new problems from occurring. It’s important that dental check-ups also include a yearly thorough screening for oral cancers. Always report new or worsening symptoms to your oral health provider. Making a commitment to continuous personal and professional oral care routines throughout your lifetime will provide greater protection against the physical, emotional, and financial stresses that dental disease can cause, and help to keep you smiling!


Secret Weapons

November is National Caregivers Month

By Jennifer Looney

Can I get an amen for the spouses, partners and friends out there who keep the game going? In this championship game called life, we learn to “trust the process” designed by our medical team. Athletes and high performers trust the process. Believe me. You, and those you lean on, have also earned the designation of high performer. Whether we voice it or not, our lives have acquired other new labels, such as before cancer and after cancer. Often, life before cancer is near unrecognizable. We cannot play the new survivorship game with old rules. Let’s face it. We play the game to win. Caregivers keep us in bounds and avoiding penalties. We do not win without these secret weapons, the precious caregivers. Caregivers do not have a hand book to navigate our lives affected by cancer. Caregivers wear no neon vest like the fluffy animals wear proclaiming “emotional support person.” Heck, a cape would be more fitting for our people in this game. They deserve super hero status. Think about it. “Giver” is 50% of their label right now. “Care” comes in multiple forms and is never selfish. Allow them to receive the care they need also. These inspiring humans need time alone to spread their wings and use their grown up minds. If they experience self care, it will, in turn, fuel our process. Sometimes we need to simply soften up. Let me explain with a story. Treatment was over, yet during what seems like the endless recovery phase I would hear, “Honey, what’s your plan today?” It’s a question that made me crazy, although my husband’s intention was kindness. Completing treatment doesn’t yield the sudden resumption of before cancer activities. A plan is an endeavor that requires energy and clarity. Frequently, depositing the laundry from the closet to the washer is all the plan I can tackle. Try not to bite their head off when they see us as strong, yet we feel fragile. Receive those inquiries as loving compliments, as equipment for our championship game. Caregivers motivate us to persevere when we cannot do that for ourselves. Collect and appreciate as much love as you can.


Consider the countless contributions and sacrifices made by our caregivers. Give them a break if they seem to bungle our stories or our progress. Many are managing households and putting out fires for us. Occasionally caregivers over-share; it can be cringy. From time to time they omit the most important parts, or at least the parts most important to us. I discovered that my husband was struggling to share my story the way I wanted him to. Sharing was extremely painful for him, but I overlooked that part while my head was literally buried in treatment. Go easy on them. Life after cancer is a balance that requires real passion, reframing perspectives, joy and celebration of the privilege to play. We don’t always have the same techniques, but we desire the same outcome. The showering of support we receive from our caregivers is often at the expense of their employment opportunities, business goals, fitness goals, family gatherings and social lives. Remember, our partners take the hits with us. While we acquire cancer medals of sorts, such as hair loss, weight loss or paralysis, they feel the punches deep inside. The pressure to be a secret weapon for a cancer survivor is no joke. Without them, this process of healing and recovery would be lonely and deficient. It’s time the caregivers raise their hands high in a victory pose. We honor you. We thank you. Most of all, we love you.


of light This Holiday Season

This holiday season, consider Brighter Magazine for your end of year giving. Your donation will provide women affected by cancer with a resource of hopeful and helpful information. Featuring articles from grief to hair loss to adaptive fashions, Brighter magazine is there to help brighten a woman’s spirits and lighten her burden while reminding her that she is not alone. Only through the generosity of donors like you are we able to produce a high quality publication that delivers encouragement and education and distribute it free of charge to survivors. Please give your tax deductible gift today at Every dollar makes a difference.

Finding the FA LA LA

When You Feel BLAH BLAH BLAH By Meredith Mitstifer, Psy.D

Licensed Clinical Psychologist Ovarian Cancer Survivor & Advocate The holiday season is upon us. Travel, family gatherings, work parties, delectable foods, irresistible desserts, spirits and gift ideas fill stores, windows and social media. Some cherish traditions passed down, while others create their own. I personally love holiday lights and decorations. Unwrapping decorations from their marked bin in storage and reliving the memories attached to each always fills my soul with cherished nostalgia. I credit my Nana with this “addiction,” who gave me full authority to decorate her house every December during my adolescent years. When I say full authority, think tinsel overload. There was no such thing as too much tinsel or garland in my Nana’s house. One would think she would fix or alter my extreme endeavors after I went home, but sure enough, when I returned to her house, it was exactly as I left it. My inability to balance, place, hang or position decorations in any understandable semblance was revered as perfect.


Not only did she make me think I was extremely gifted in style and design, but she would also credit my unique gifts to others who visited. My imperfection was beautiful to her. This feeling, space and connection was truly the best gift one could receive. After a cancer diagnosis, it may be hard to feel jolly. Holidays can be difficult for those who are isolated, alone, ill or in treatment. Winter and holidays can also trigger previous hurts and or transport one back to traditions not fondly remembered. The weather can be dark and cold, and Seasonal Affective Disorder can steal your jingle-allthe-way mentality. Add in cancer or treatment, it can feel like a recipe worse than yule logs and fruitcake. A cancer diagnosis can shift perspective, and the idea of buying gifts, attending gatherings, shopping and decorating may feel more like a chore than holiday spirit. The list of to-dos

during the holiday season can perpetuate depression, anxiety and or stress. Here are some strategies to help you avoid holiday hostility, ghosts of Christmas past or understandable cancer strain and drain. Practicing these strategies can help you reclaim your holiday joy and deck the halls.

Goodbye Grinch and hello Cindy Lou Who.

While cancer and treatment can make you feel like the Grinch, don’t allow it to isolate you. There is no research that suggests isolation is the best medicine. Instead, open your mind to the possibility of problem solving some of the things that worry you. Channel your inner Cindy Lou Who. She is smart and inventive and always comes up with ideas to solve some of life’s problems.

Harvest new traditions

Just like the new year encourages, out with the old and in with the new. If you don’t have holiday traditions, or only have ones that you wouldn’t want to repeat, create your own. Cancer can strip of us of many things. I get it. The process is life-changing, like leaves in the fall. While

I am never grateful for cancer, I am grateful for the new relationships and support formed during treatment, as well as my own personal growth and strength that I can continue to nourish and develop in the new year.

Give thanks

Research suggests focusing on gratitude can promote various aspects of well-being. Daily journaling or listing reasons for gratitude have led to higher levels of daily psychological functioning, greater perceived support and increased use of adaptive coping strategies. Gratitude can build resources that function as reserves to be used in difficult times, help you cope with negative emotions, and restore one’s adaptability when faced with everchanging treatment challenges.

Give “Nana” gifts

Whether you have “elves” accessible or not, if lights, tinsel and garland bring you joy, spread them all over. It may not be the Better Homes and Gardens portrait of the holiday season you once envisioned or created, but embracing the beautiful imperfection in yourself and others may just arouse the silent nights and have you rocking around in your overly bedazzled space.

Thank You Donors! Over $35,000 raised

As a young and lean organization, these funds are crucial to our livelihood. With the assurance of funds, we’re able to focus on the next steps in our business model, which will ensure that Brighter remains a healthy, collaborative and unique resource in the cancer community. Over the course of the next year, we plan to continue to build our volunteer staff with eager and qualified personnel, increase our distribution channels and partners, and most importantly, secure sources of both larger and more consistent funding resources so that we can strengthen our position as the most creative and encouraging source of encouragement for women with cancer. Because you have invested in us, we can accomplish these things, and we are so thankful!


CELEBRATIONS Campaign 2022

The magazine for women affected by cancer


Brighter Holiday Gift Super soft adaptive intimates made for the cancer survivor $39-$59

The Survivor

6’ charging cable great for hospital rooms and doctor’s offices


Medical Barrier Cream provides a surge of hydration for very sensitive skin types, including visibly red and irritated skin. The Hopemore Spa (214) 414-9097 $50

High quality athletic socks with grippy bottoms. Great for those hospital visits. $10

Priming Oil: This healing oil contains safflower seed oil to combat dry, itchy skin, along with nourishing and healing coconut oil and meadowfoam seed oil. The Hopemore Spa (214) 414-9097 $50

Satin pillowcases for those sensitive hairless heads Warm and cozy cover ups for those chilly nights and infusion rooms. $60

Giving Guide Gift cards or dinner deliveries with no required interaction $10-100

Run errands for the caregiver.

The gift of time. Offer to stay with the survivor and give the caregiver some time away

Gift cards for massage or house cleaning $60-$200 Notes of encouragment Tell the caregiver you see them and recognize their efforts.

The magazine for women affected by cancer

The Caregiver

Concert or event tickets Give an experience to be shared or enjoyed alone.


Texas Surgeon Using Game-Changing Technology to Get Clean Margins Article courtesy of Perimeter Medical Imaging


How will you know you got it all? That’s the million-dollar question patients often ask their surgeons about removing all the breast cancer during the first surgery. The concern is understandable. Even for skilled surgeons using the latest techniques, the odds of needing a repeat surgery are relatively high – 1 in 4 for some types of cancer.1,2 Another surgery can delay next steps in the treatment plan, such as radiation therapy, and impact patients’ financial, physical, cosmetic and emotional well-being. “A breast cancer diagnosis is one of the most lifechanging and stressful events a person can endure. Patients are afraid and overwhelmed, yet determined to seek out the best care,” said Dr. Amelia Tower, a Breast Surgical Oncologist in Fort Worth, TX. “When developing treatment plans with my patients, I take a patient-centric approach, tailored to each person’s diagnosis. Although many factors are taken into consideration, if possible and a candidate, an option for surgical management is breast-conserving surgery, where I remove the cancerous tissue while leaving as much normal breast tissue as possible. This allows for optimal cosmetic outcomes, preserves the functionality of the breast, often leaves little evidence that a surgical intervention occurred, and still achieves long-term survival rates comparable to mastectomy,” Dr. Tower explained. For a breast-conserving surgery (also referred to as lumpectomy) procedure to be successful, there must be a rim of healthy tissue, referred to as clean margins, around the removed cancerous tumor. These clean margins are especially difficult to detect in cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), where the cells that line the milk ducts have become cancerous but have not spread into surrounding breast tissue. Traditional imaging devices used in the operating room (OR), such as X-ray, do not have the resolution needed to detect this microscopic disease. The standard of care is to remove the cancerous tissue and send it off to pathology for microscopic evaluation. The pathology report comes back several days later, confirming whether there are any cancer cells remaining

on the edges of the margin. If the margins are positive – meaning cancer cells were detected – the surgeon must bring the patient back for a second surgery to remove more tissue.

“Telling a patient she has cancer is one of the toughest conversations I have, second only to telling her we didn’t get all of the cancer the first time and she’ll have to come back for another surgery. I now have a new tool to address this challenge.” – Dr. Amelia Tower The Power to See More

Developed by Perimeter Medical Imaging AI, based in Dallas, TX and Toronto, Canada, a new imaging technology is now available after a decade of research and development. The FDA-cleared S-Series device provides high-definition, 3D images of margins in the OR during the initial surgery, giving surgeons like Dr. Tower the clarity she needs to make decisions in real time. The Perimeter device uses Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), developed out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1991. It is similar to ultrasound but uses optical light instead of sound, with 10x higher resolution than X-ray and ultrasound, and 100x higher resolution than MRI. Perimeter is the first to bring proven OCT imaging technology – used for decades in ophthalmology, interventional cardiology, and dermatology – into the OR for margin visualization. Learn more at

What to Know About OCT for Margin Visualization:

– Ultra-high-resolution imagery helps surgeons make informed decisions right in the OR, when it matters most. – Allows the surgeon to tailor care based on each patient’s scans. – Imaging is non-invasive and safe – nothing touches the patient.

The magazine for women affected by cancer


Understanding Margins During surgery, the goal is to remove the cancerous tumor and a rim of healthy tissue around it to avoid leaving cancer cells behind that could spread. After surgery, a pathologist examines the tissue to see if there are any cancer cells remaining in the margins. Ideally, surgeons would know whether or not the margins are negative (no residual cancer) before their patient leaves the operating room. That way, they could remove more tissue until the margins are clean. – Margins that are free of cancer are called “clean” or “negative.” – Margins that have cancer cells in them are called “positive.” 3

Powering Hope

Breast cancer has likely touched you or a loved one. The most common cancer among women, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, and it affects a smaller number of men as well. The good news is that it’s very treatable, especially when detected early. Giving surgeons and patients the latest diagnostic and treatment tools is essential to good outcomes. Dr. Tower is passionate about helping women navigate the fight against breast cancer. “Cancer is a relentless disease that does not play by the rules. We as surgeons are continually rewriting the rules, too,” she said. To see if there is a surgeon near you using the Perimeter S-Series OCT device, email References 1 Metcalf LN, Zysk AM, Underwood HR, Et al. Beyond the Margins – Economic Costs and Complications Associated with Repeated Breast-Conserving Surgeries. JAMA Surgery; Aug. 2017 2 Chen K, Liu J, Zhu L, Su F, Song E, Jacobs LK. Comparative effectiveness study of breast-conserving surgery and mastectomy in the general population: A NCDB analysis. Oncotarget. 2015;6(37):40127-40140. 3


Amelia Tower, DO, FACOS Dr. Amelia Tower is a board-certified general surgeon with advanced fellowship training in breast surgical oncology. She is Board Certified by the American College of Osteopathic Surgeons and is designated as a Fellow. She is a member of the American Society of Breast Surgeons, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Society of Surgical Oncology, and the Association of Women Surgeons. She has published several academic papers and book chapters on breast research and has made multiple presentations at national conferences. Dr. Tower serves at the Medical Director of the NAPBC-accredited Breast Program at Texas Health Harris Methodist in Fort Worth, as well as the Associate Program Director of the General Surgery Residency. Tower also is an Associate Professor of the Department of Surgery at HSC-Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine and an Assistant Professor at TCU School of Medicine. Dr. Tower is Hidden Scar® Certified and treats benign and malignant breast diseases in women and men starting at ages 14.

This is

Breast Cancer

By Madeline Muller Photography by Erin Schreyer

at 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70

The magazine for women affected by cancer


Patricia Mendoza 26 years old Triple-negative breast cancer, February 2021

Biggest Challenge Patricia struggled most with the not knowing, and she had to process the fear that came along with that. She compares the cancer journey to a foggy bridge. You don’t know what lies ahead or if you will even make it to the other side, but you have to take the next step, no matter how scary. “It’s a leap of faith,” she said.

Biggest Victory Patricia said, “Chemotherapy took a lot, but it also gave me a lot of opportunities to get to know myself.” Patricia can now show her personality in so many ways she never considered pre-cancer, like through turbans, hats, etc. After losing her hair, she rethought her definition of beauty and how she perceives herself. Patricia cancer’s journey actually increased her confidence, and she found a lot of self-love. She told us, “I am not fearful of speaking out, of putting myself first.” If Patricia could speak to herself before cancer, she said “I would just hug her,” which demonstrates the affection she has grown and maintained for herself throughout her journey.

Quote “Always try to find the brightness in anything.”


Activity Patricia picked up a few new hobbies during the cancer treatment process. Her husband encouraged her to start crafting, and she bought a Cricut and began to make shirts and other fun items. She also started a flower arrangement business, which allowed to work her creative muscles and also brought in a bit of income. Ultimately, she made sure to take care of herself, whether staying active or learning to draw in her eyebrows. She commented, “If I look good, I feel good.”

Biggest Supporters: T’Cambria’s biggest medical supporter was her nurse navigator, Laurie Taurianen. T’Cambria said that when the two first met, “the first thing she did was hug me.” Whenever T’Cambria would email her, whether looking for information or comfort, Laurie “would really dissect that email” and thoughtfully reply to each concern. “She just goes above and beyond. When she says ‘call me at anytime’, she really means it,” T’Cambria told us. Her biggest personal supporter is her mom, T’Cambria’s “saving grace.” Her mom is with her at every appointment and in every moment of need. T’Cambria told us, “She’s my alarm clock, chauffeur and chef.” Her mom encourages her to keep faith and keep going.

T’Cambria Page 35 years old Personal Change:

HER2+ breast cancer, September 2021

T’Cambria’s cancer journey tested and affirmed her spirituality, as well as her trust in the medical field. She told Brighter, “It solidified my faith in a higher power.” Similarly, she discovered a fresh hope in doctors and nurses. Being healthy her whole life, she did not have much of an existing relationship with hospitals or medical professionals. However, cancer gave her a “different level of trust with the medical field.” She urges everyone to get their body checked twice a year, saying, “A week, a month, or six months can make a difference.”

Biggest Victory :

During her cancer journey, T’Cambria picked up journaling. She began to write more, saying, “[Cancer] ignited something in me for a selfhelp book that I’m working on.” A publisher is now sifting through that very journal for inspirational quotes for her upcoming book. Though she values her personal faith, T’Cambria wants her book to remain nondenominational, so that anyone who could read it can find solace and inspiration. This inclusive approach highlights T’Cambria’s welcoming personality, evident throughout our conversation.


“Know that it’s okay to cry.”

The magazine for women affected by cancer


Biggest Personal Challenge:

Favorite Support Group: Best Buddy:

One of Mandy’s biggest personal challenges was showing her daughter how to hug her again. Her daughter was afraid to hurt her in any way, so hugs concerned her. Mandy would grab her daughter’s hands and place them around her, promising that she was not in pain, so that the two could embrace and feel close. She told us, “It’s really hard to have to show somebody how to love you again.” Mandy emphasized that cancer can affect the patient and their loved ones in so many more ways than one might predict.

Women Rock, a Texas breast cancer support organization, gave Mandy a lot throughout her cancer journey. It helped her loved ones to understand the extent of what she was going through. When her best friend Veronica attended a meeting, she almost had to leave multiple times. She would ask if it was really that hard, and Mandy would respond yes, even if she didn’t always show cancer’s toll on her own life. “It’s been rough for [Veronica], and I can tell,” said Mandy. Women Rock also broadened Mandy’s own mindset. She didn’t realize the true diversity of the stories of cancer patients, which Women Rock showed her.

Mandy’s good friend Gloria lives right around the corner, and she supported Mandy in every possible way. She would cook for her because Mandy couldn’t smell or taste and therefore couldn’t season food properly. When Mandy’s hair began to fall out in the shower, she felt intense pain, as if someone was yanking all of her hair out. So she called Gloria, and the two shaved Mandy’s head immediately. “It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was what I had to do.” A few months later, Gloria herself was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the pair have now bonded in a way they could never have imagined before.

Manuelita (Mandy) Davila 47 years old Invasive ductal carcinoma, August 2021

Quote “We all have cancer, but every story is different.”


Quote “You need people, people that you can really trust to be around you, because they see the worst of you.”

Gloria Munioz 55 years old Ductile carcinoma in situ, January 2022

Biggest Supporters: Gloria’s biggest supporter was her close friend Mandy (who we also interviewed). Mandy was actually diagnosed with breast cancer before Gloria, and Gloria had already been shaving her head, cooking for her, and supporting her in every way for months when she was diagnosed. Mandy and Gloria now look out for each other and have bonded in a very unique way, united by their hardship but stronger together. Gloria’s family has also encouraged her through her cancer journey, and she wants to specifically thank her sister’s stepson, Steven, who brought up genetic testing, which led to her cancer diagnosis.

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Biggest Challenge: Gloria’s biggest challenge was taking time to care for herself. She identifies as a caregiver, both in general and for her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. She said, “My name is Gogo because I’m always on the go. I’m always doing something. If I’m not doing it for me, if I’m not doing it for my family, I’m doing it for somebody else.” However, after cancer, Gloria needed to focus her energy on her own wellbeing. She began to forget to do basic things like eat, which caused moodiness, headache, and nausea, all things that inhibited her ability to care for others. She told us, “That, to me, was the hardest thing I had to do, to let go.”

Advice : Gloria encourages all cancer patients (and anyone else) to gather all the information they can find about cancer. Join support groups, like Women Rock, which Gloria loves. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and talk to the nurses, as well as the doctors. The nurses often have more time and information they can give you.


Linda Mikalik

Bilateral breast cancer (ductal carcinoma in situ in left breast, invasive ductal carcinoma in right breast), August 2021

66 years old Important Figure :

When diagnosed, Linda urged her daughter Jackie to get a mammogram, even though she was only 36. (Mammograms usually begin at 40.) To her surprise, Jackie had breast cancer, like her mother, only Jackie’s covered a larger area. Linda commented, “The biggest blessing is that, through them finding [cancer] in me, we were able to find hers.” If Linda had not urged her daughter to get checked, the cancer could have been found much later, and the situation could have worsened drastically. “Oh Lord, I would never want to go through something like this with [her],” Linda said. Nevertheless, it brought them closer together. The pair has compared scars, surgeries, and drains. Linda helped her daughter with the complicated terminology. Ultimately, Linda inspired Jackie to think, “My mom did this. I can do this.” The two have encouraged each other every step of the way, now bonded in an unparalleled way.

Emotional Change : This journey has given Linda has a newfound sense of gratitude. “I have felt blessed that I have an opportunity to be here for my kids. And my 13 grandkids!” she said. She is grateful to have a type of cancer with a good outcome because she knows so many cannot say the same. “There will be a day when I can say ‘I am cancer free. I am a survivor.’” she told Brighter. Linda urges everyone to get their regular exams; it can mean a world of difference.

Activity: Linda helps 3 days per week at a food pantry, plus monthly Saturdays, as part of a team that works there. She also does inventory and other necessary tasks. She said that this passes the time and keeps her going, and she is anxious to get back to “her support people.”

Quote “It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to start over again and get mad!”


Catherine (Cathy) Leistico 75 years old Invasive ductal carcinoma with lobular features, November 2021

Activity: Catherine always tried to stay active throughout her cancer journey, whether that meant riding her bike, walking, or attending exercise classes. She now walks a minimum of 40 minutes a day, pushing herself to go as fast as possible while staying safe. Even before cancer, she went to physical therapy because of a compression fracture in her vertebrae in early 2021. The exercises she learned there proved valuable during cancer. She said, “I think what helped was to know that I had pretty good control of what happened to me when something like [the compression fracture] happened. So with breast cancer, what I tried to do was to learn as much as I could about it.” This allowed her to discover what questions to ask. “It helped me recognize where I had control,” she told Brighter.

Biggest Personal Journey: Pieces of Advice: “I’ve always thought I was so lucky,” said Catherine. She patted herself on the back for being active, eating well, and staying healthy overall. However, cancer changed all that. “I didn’t think, until this diagnosis, that I was close to the end of my life,” she said. Catherine struggled to cope with this realization, but it has now molded her outlook on life. During the pandemic, many people, like Catherine, became adjusted to staying inside. But now, she said, “[My husband and I] have talked more about doing things. Getting back to going out more, going to fun places.”

When receiving her diagnosis, Catherine wondered what she did to cause her cancer. Although one can never blame themselves, of course, she has become more aware of potentially unhealthy behaviors, like drinking out of plastic water bottles that have been sitting in the garage. She encourages everyone to be more aware of materials and environmental issues that could be unknowingly harming them. And, of course, she urges everyone to stay active!

Sadly we were unable to include Ms. Leistico in our photos due to illness and medical procedures but her story was too important not to share it.


“Stand up for yourself. Question things if you have questions. If you feel strongly about something, don’t give up on it.”

Big shout-out to Laurie Taurianen, the nurse navigator for all of these ladies! Each one of these interviewees adores her and praised her skills, and we at Brighter are so grateful for her efforts in making this article possible.

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Should I Get Tested? By Juliana Kim, BS, BBA and Jennifer Gill, MD, PhD


Cancer Genetics Over 25 years ago, the discovery of BRCA1 made the headlines as a major breakthrough in cancer research. While people had long observed that breast cancer ran in some families, this finding was transformative because it identified one of the responsible genes. Most importantly, this discovery enabled appropriate patients to get tested for BRCA1 mutations and better understand their risk of getting breast (or ovarian) cancer. In the last several decades, scientists have discovered mutations in dozens of other genes beyond BRCA1 that increase one’s risk of developing a variety of cancer types. Some of these genes include predispositions to colon cancer, melanoma, pancreatic cancer and others. With so many new genes being identified, many cancer patients and their families are eager to know if they should get tested.

While many companies offer direct-to-consumer testing at affordable prices, you should be wary and know the risks. Companies have varying levels of privacy protection over your personal information. Should that information be leaked to other parties, there’s potential that it could impact your personal life. Additionally, companies are not incentivized to disclose or explain that genetic results can often be ambiguous. Each company has its own algorithm for deciding which sequences are categorized as “mutations.” The information provided depends on the company’s reference database of human genomes, which may not include individuals like you.

How is testing done?

Below we answer some common questions that will help you understand what cancer genetics is, who should get tested and how to get more information.

Patients give a blood sample, which will be sent for testing at a health-related laboratory. Unlike direct-to-consumer companies, these centers are federally regulated and must adhere to standards outlined in the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). State governments may have their own regulations as well.

What makes a cancer “hereditary”?

What genes will be tested?

While no one “inherits” cancer, some people are more prone to developing cancer because of gene mutations they were born with. These mutations could have been inherited from a parent or might have developed spontaneously in utero. Because we have two copies of nearly all genes (one from each parent), a mutation in one copy is not usually enough to cause cancer. However, when something leads to a mutation in the other copy (for example, UV sun damage, radiation, smoking or just bad luck), a cell can become cancerous. People starting with only one “good copy” are more likely to develop cancers than someone who starts with two.

How often are cancers “hereditary”?

Most cancers are NOT hereditary. The current estimate is that 90-95% of cancers are from random mutations that happen in cells. However, 5-10% of cancers are thought to arise in predisposed people with an existing mutation in a cancer gene. Identifying these people is important because it can help guide what kinds of cancer screening and prevention they and their family members may need in the future.

Who should get genetic testing?

The decision to get genetic testing is best made in conjunction with a physician and/or genetic counselor. Since most cancers are not hereditary, genetic testing is not warranted for most cancer patients. However, testing may be recommended for patients with one or more “red flags.” These include people with a history of cancer at a young age, three or more unique cancer diagnoses, several family members with the same type of cancer or multiple family members with cancer at an early age. Patients who have one or more of these red flags should ask their doctor about genetic testing. For families considering genetic testing, the ideal person to test first is usually one of the individuals with a personal history of cancer.

Where can I get genetic testing?

If you’re interested in genetic testing, it’s best to go through a licensed provider with support from a genetic counselor. Many large academic cancer centers offer these services. The magazine for women affected by cancer

It depends on which cancers run in your family. For example, if you have a strong history of breast or ovarian cancer in your family, your doctor may suggest testing for mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. However, as genetic technology has progressed, many additional cancer genes have been identified. For that reason, genetic testing now often involves testing for a panel of genes, some of which may search for mutations in 50 or more genes.

In the last several decades, scientists have discovered mutations in dozens of other genes beyond BRCA1 that increase one’s risk of developing a variety of cancer types. Some of these genes include predispositions to colon cancer, melanoma, pancreatic cancer and others. What happens if my test is positive?

A positive test result may bring initial anxiety, but it can empower you to prepare for the future. Some gene mutations have associated risks for several types of cancers. This information may prompt your doctor to order screening tests that aren’t routine. Many patients with genetic risks are able to catch their cancers very early, which can lead to much better outcomes. Knowing that you have a specific mutation may also help you obtain personalized treatment that avoids more harmful side effects. Importantly, having a positive test does NOT mean that you will get cancer. Your likelihood of developing cancer depends on


the exact gene, the type of mutation and many complex factors that we don’t yet understand. The goal of testing is to identify people with higher risk so that we can screen and catch any cancers that might develop as early as possible.

What happens if my test is negative?

A negative test is often reassuring, especially when one confirms they do not carry a mutation known to run in their family. However, keep in mind that genetic tests are only looking at the cancer genes we have discovered thus far. Future tests may be warranted, even after a negative test, as new genes are discovered.

What if my test is inconclusive?

It’s possible to have a DNA “variant of unknown significance.” Many mutations haven’t been studied enough to know if they cause problems. Your physician or a genetic counselor can help you interpret these results and assess whether you need to do anything going forward.

What does a positive test mean for family members?

It’s important to remember that family dynamics can be complicated. Genetic test results have impacts on people beyond just yourself. Some relatives may be eager to know information while others may not. If you’re comfortable sharing

your results, it’s a good idea to make family members aware of risks so they can discuss testing options with their doctor. For kids, testing is often deferred until age 18, when they can make their own decisions. An exception may be made for kids thought to be at risk of cancer sooner. Consult with a doctor if you have any concerns.

What resources are available for more information?

For background information about genetic testing from the NIH: - For information on genetic testing for cancer risk: https:// genetic-testing-fact-sheet - For finding a genetic counselor: https://findageneticcounselor. - For insight on cancer genes, genetic testing, and family dynamics: A Cancer in the Family by Theodora Ross As the field of cancer genetics continues to rapidly evolve and expand, patients should be aware of their options. A good starting point is to discuss your concerns and questions with your doctor. Knowledge about one’s genetic predispositions can empower patients, lead to appropriate screening and save lives by preventing and catching cancers early.

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In this podcast series, we will share survivors’ stories of hope and encouragement, interviews with medical professionals, caregivers, and family members, as well as information about products that can ease the secondary issues of a life with cancer. Find us on Spotify

Why Not Me? By Meredith Mitstifer, Psy.D Licensed Clinical Psychologist Ovarian Cancer Survivor & Advocate

Just last weekend, we celebrated our youngest son‘s nuptials to his childhood sweetheart, a magical moment I prayed I would witness. That same week, the family of a dear friend who died from ovarian cancer celebrated her 29th birthday. Her young girls marked the occasion with a cake, birthday song and candles. Will they remember their beautiful momma? Will they understand the bravery she displayed to see them grow and blossom into women? Meanwhile, another cancer sister’s husband posted a difficult Facebook message reporting that the oncologist gave his beloved two weeks to live. Understandably, they are taking it one day at a time, savoring every precious moment together as a family with 3 young children. As a cancer survivor, there is a special bond shared with others who have gone through a life-altering experience. I have met new people while in the infusion room or waiting area, connected with newly diagnosed women through mutual friends and bonded with others through social media. As I progressed through treatment, I wondered why my course of treatment was longer than most, but in the end, I was grateful to reach survivorship. I realized not everyone has the privilege of making it to that milestone. It makes you wonder, why them and not me?

What is survivor’s guilt?

Survivor’s guilt is an all-encompassing feeling of sadness many experience. When you survive, while other people you know don’t, you may feel guilty that you were given the gift of life, while cancer cuts other lives short. All of these emotions are common with anyone who experiences something tragic in their lives and survives it. Not unlike survivors of tragic events, natural disasters or war, battling cancer is traumatic. It’s not surprising survivor’s guilt can impact your emotional health. Researchers distinguish survivor’s guilt from symptoms of PTSD, depression or anxiety as it is not a formal diagnosis. It’s a response that comes from concern and empathy for others. That empathy translates to feelings of guilt that everything positive and good in life is unfair and undeserved.

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There’s also the guilt some people feel when a second chance at life presents itself and you realize you haven’t followed through with all the promises you made to yourself while battling cancer. You may have set goals to make a career change, reduce external stressors, focus on self care and/or reconcile with a friend or loved one. Guilt settles in, and you feel disappointed as if you forfeited a priceless opportunity.

Survivor’s guilt can cause stress.

Stress can become a host to other problems in your life, both physical and mental. Finding a way to relieve it keeps it from taking control of your emotional well being. Many survivors turn to exercise, hobbies or work while others require more formal support. Seeking a neutral person who won’t judge you for what you’re feeling is important. For many of us, we try not to burden our spouse or family with feelings they may perceive as negative. Seeking professional support through a therapist or formal support group can help you learn how to cope with the feelings it evokes.

Survivor’s guilt is NORMAL.

Overcoming it can take time. Remember that you had a team of professionals fighting cancer along side you. You can do the same as a cancer survivor. As I sit drafting this article, I’m waiting my turn, dressed in the notorious pink gown. I look around at the other women anxiously waiting for mammograms or diagnostic sonograms. The woman next to me is going through the repetitive drill I’ve come to expect. She jokingly asks if it’s happy hour yet. We strike up a conversation and share our stories, appreciating the similarities that link us together. We quickly exchange numbers and wish the other “luck” as we venture to our respective rooms waiting for the radiologist to break bad news or give us the all clear. Some would say that avoiding these conversations would eliminate the sharing and connections, thus reducing the likelihood of survivor’s guilt. For me, it was these relationships that saw me through dark days, moments of fear or anger and feelings of helplessness. Fostering these connections while knowing that life is uncertain makes the moments shared even more beautiful and sweet. I dedicate this article to my sisters Alyssa and Rachael. May they be made new and whole again. You are forever in my heart.

“When you survive, while other people you know don’t, you may feel guilty that you were given the gift of life, while cancer cuts other lives short.”


The Power of Movement By Libby Warren

Follow Erica Porter: Insta @EndorphasmFoundation

Erica Porter is a professional wrestler from Virginia. She founded the Endorphasm Foundation to empower survivors with movement that inspires, challenges and changes them. Brandy Ramirez is a triathlon coach from Arizona. Her Facebook group, She Strong, provides survivors with a positive environment that support them throughout their fitness journey. Both women have been formally diagnosed with breast cancer, however, they have established an identity beyond diagnosis, harnessing the power of movement to do so.


During a fitness class led by an ex-navy seal, Porter “felt some­­­thing so profound and deep. Whatever that was, [she] want[s] to feel it every single day. Not only that, [she] want[s] others to feel it every single day.” After that moment, she coined the term “Endorphasm,” the point during movement that all feels possible. However, a series of painful, visible lumps in her breast sidelined her fitness journey. She was formally diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer in 2020. When breaking the news to her eleven-year-old son, Porter put it like this: “Every human is terminal. There is a day that comes where we will lose our life. It’s about what we do with the time that we have.”

Follow Brandy Ramirez: Facebook @SheStrong group Upon receiving her diagnosis, Porter realized that there is much discussion about treating the disease but little about providing the patient with self-care like movement. Porter believes that patients can determine their own narrative and push past overwhelming moments through movement. Consequently, she remained active during her journey, even when doctors discovered bone metastasis. For Porter, modified movement was much better than no movement at all. Ramirez carried a similar perspective during her journey. After her 2017 diagnosis, Ramirez underwent aggressive chemotherapy and extreme surgeries like bilateral mastectomy, total hysterectomy and complete axillary dissection. After completing treatment in October 2018, Ramirez signed up for a half ironman set for May 2019. She remembers going out for that first training session after treatment; she could barely finish one mile. Even so, Ramirez kept going, granting herself grace when she needed it, realizing that her body had just carried her through one of the hardest journeys of her life. Many survivors emerge from their journey with a misconception that their bodies can never return to

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their former state. To reenter the weight room or to go out for that first run comes with immense discomfort. However, Ramirez wants all survivors to know that fitness after diagnosis is both possible and encouraged. Consequently, she planned the Monarch Triathlon for October 2022. Named after butterflies that undergo a complete metamorphosis and rebirth, this event aims to bring hope and life to all its participants and their loved ones. All female cancer survivors are invited to participate. Those who have never personally faced cancer but still lost a loved one to the disease can participate with a small entry fee. A portion of that fee will fund scholarships for girls who have lost a female primary caregiver to cancer. She Strong wants all to know: “The Monarch Triathlon will be unlike any other triathlon you’ve participated in or read about. Our finish line will be a celebration of life for the participants and their families.” The body is a fundamental aspect of the human experience. However, that connection runs even deeper among athletes. Cancer can steal a lot of things, but a fitness journey doesn’t have to be one of them. After all, Erica Porter and Brandy Ramirez are living proof.


Rosemary By Miranda Jefferds

This holiday season, use this herb for more than just cooking!

Few substances are versatile and effective enough to maintain healthy skin, hair and nutrition. However, rosemary makes the list. The herb, useful in both natural and oil form, can be extremely helpful for balancing skin composition; its antimicrobial effects can help prevent acne and invigorate both oily and dry skin. Its rejuvenating powers provide a natural, but effective, agent for cancer patients dealing with skin problems as a side effect of chemo. Similarly, rosemary oil’s anti-inflammatory properties can be especially useful for reducing chemotherapy patient’s itchy scalps; though no strong correlation has been proven between rosemary oil and hair growth, other essential oils, like bergamot oil, have been shown to stimulate hair growth. Overall, rosemary, rich in antioxidants and antiinflammatory properties, boosts the immune system and blood circulation. Rosemary is rich in carnosol, a phytochemical or biological active compound which not only promotes immune response but also can slow cancer cell growth and limit the production of cancer-related hormones. Its benefits make rosemary a necessity for the health, lifestyle and happiness of cancer patients.




S I N G . DA . N AY


JAMs Everyone needs a good list of JAMS for a chemo session, a car ride, a walk or maybe a run. Check these out.

Brighter Days - Blessing Offor

Champion - Carrie Underwood

Fight Like a Girl - Anita Cochran

If you’d like to submit your idea for a future JAM list go to and submit your favorite songs.

Thanks to those whose work made this issue possible, and to our donors for providing the ability to produce this publication. Photo Credits

Brandy Ramirez p. 29 Erica Porter p. 28 Hopemore Spa p. 12 Erin Schreyer pgs. cover, 2, 17-23 Perimiter Imaging pgs.14-16 Adobe Stock Photos - all others

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Are you or is someone you know a writer, photographer, blogger, web designer or podcaster? Do you work with cancer survivors and have knowledge and wisdom to share with our readers? We would love to hear from you. Brighter magazine is always looking for people to help us with our mission. If you are interested in lending your talents and giftedness, please reach out to us today at contact@ The magazine for women affected by cancer

Helen Bowles


Helen Bowles Madeline Muller Erin Schreyer Mikaila Swank Rebecca Walden Teri Vedrenne


Helen Bowles Jayna Dave Dr. Jennifer Gill Miranda Jefferds Juiliana Kim Jill Meyer-Lippert Dr. Meredith Mitstifer Madeline Muller Libby Warren


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