"When life kicks you, let it kick you forward."
First of all, tell me about your hubby! How long have the two of you been together?
My husband, Sean is the best man I know. He’s kind, caring, compassionate, and values the same things I do, including friends and family. What initially drew me to him, and what still draws me to him is that he’s so strong, driven, and determined. He always knows what he’s doing and has both feet on the ground. If he wants to do something, he’ll do it. He’s also incredibly supportive of me. He started promoting Pink and Pearls from my very first entry, and has been behind everything I do, from my career in journalism to Tour de Pink, to my speaking engagements. He truly is my world. We started dating in fall 2008. We got engaged in February 2011, and married in March 2012.
When did he propose? How did he propose?
He proposed Feb. 2, 2011, which is Groundhog Day! President Obama was scheduled to speak at Penn State the following day, which he was going to attend, so he asked to borrow my camera for the event. When he brought me my camera case it seemed really light. I opened it up and instead of a camera was a black box! He got down on one knee (me wearing pajamas and sitting on the couch) and proposed!
Did you know what kind of wedding you wanted or did you jump onto Pinterest for ideas?
I knew certain things, like my colors and flowers: pink and black, and pink roses (with pearls incorporated) to be the décor. I knew I wanted elegant and classy, a black-tie affair. Sean and I both have huge families and tons of friends so we knew the wedding was going to be big. (264 people!) Both of us wanted a big, big wedding, and that’s what we got! Ironically, I didn’t use Pinterest to plan my wedding! I kind of used what I knew I wanted and expanded from there. I knew I wanted a vintage feel – lots of lace and delicate things. We used a vintage hat box to keep vanity items in the women’s bathroom, and I had my bridesmaids pick their own chiffon black dresses; I just wanted an elegant, glamorous evening.
At what point during the engagement did you conduct a self-breast exam? What prompted you to do it?
I had been doing self exams pretty regularly since high school. I won’t say I did them every month like you’re supposed to; I just kind of did them when I remembered, usually in the shower. Not because I ever thought I would find anything. It was just kind of engrained in my head to always do them. So I did.
I'm ashamed to say that I do not know how to administer a self exam-- do I just literally feel around?
Honestly, before I was diagnosed with breast cancer I didn’t know either. I DID just kind of feel around, and actually the lump I found was so small I nearly missed it. I later learned from my doctors that you kind of go around in a circle using your index and middle fingers like a “pulsating” move if that makes any sense. Sorry to get too personal!
I assume you felt a lump, what was your initial reaction?
I think I knew right away something was very, very wrong. The lump felt so different than anything else; it felt completely out of place compared to the normal lumps and bumps you have in your breasts. I cried that day because I was scared and I knew something was wrong. I told Sean and right away we called my doctor.
On your blog recently you described the feeling you had when you went to the doctor and he indicated the mass was hard, which usually means cancerous. You mentioned connecting the dots (hard=cancerous) in your mind at the time-- do you panic? How did you push through?
I kind of tried to ignore that feeling. I told myself it was a waste of time to worry about something I didn’t know was true or not yet. I told myself I’m not a doctor so I’m not going to “diagnose” myself. But deep down I was panicking and until I got the results phone call I really didn’t eat or sleep. The test was Friday and I got the results Monday morning that it was cancer.
After the exam, where did you go?
I actually ran a 5K that day!! Then Sean and I went to his parents’ house in Philly since it was the first day of Passover the next day. We were setting up for the Seder Monday morning when we got the call.
When you told your family, how did they react?
Sean was there when I got the call, and we were with his family, so they all knew right away. The hardest part was calling my mom and my brother. My mom knew I had found a lump so she knew I was getting the test done, but she wasn’t too concerned. When I called her she cried and called my grandmother. Being a childhood cancer survivor, this news was REALLY hard on my family.
Even harder, though, was calling my younger brother Drew. He didn’t know about the test (I didn’t want to worry him), so when I called it was the first he knew about it. He was 9 when he watched me go through three years of chemotherapy for Leukemia, so my main concern was him. He was upset, but I kept reassuring him that Sean was taking good care of me and the wedding was still on.
I updated him every step of the way. He’s not a huge talker, but I knew he was worried, so I called after each biopsy and test, and basically told him everything the doctors told me. I passed on everything I knew to him. I knew, as hard as it was, I had to be honest and open with him. I knew he wanted to know everything. The older sister in me wanted to shield everything from him, but I knew he wouldn’t have wanted that.
I bet the wedding was the last thing on everyone's mind (they were probably more worried about you surviving this)! How did they react when you dove into wedding planning?
Actually, to maintain some normalcy, people pushed for the wedding planning. I was hesitant and kept saying I didn’t want to keep planning something I wasn’t sure was going to happen. But my doctor told me there was no reason to believe it wouldn’t happen, so Sean kept encouraging me. I had mixed feelings. I was having so much fun planning, but I kept thinking it was for nothing, which was discouraging. I found, even though sometimes I didn’t believe we were going to have the wedding, I really enjoyed planning and it gave me something to look forward to. “Surviving” this was never a discussion: we just kind of moved forward.
Did your doctor's suggest any particular books to read or resources to help navigate you through the process. How did you educate yourself? Did your physicians say anything about your diet during this time?
I got a LOT of resources where I was referred to, which was Penn State Hershey. Lots of pamphlets. And it’s hard to remember exactly, but I think people sent me books in the mail. I also got a care package from the PA Breast Cancer Coalition. As a new breast cancer patient they send you all this stuff, including books. But nobody told me specifically what to read. I think at that point I didn’t care, I just wanted to start the process of getting rid of the cancer.
My doctors didn’t mention anything about my diet or overall health. They didn’t make any recommendations. I had my surgeons, a few times, tell me my weight and my physical state of being active, was going to really help my surgery recovery time. After my first mastectomy, that night I was walking to the bathroom by myself. I healed very quickly, and I’m lucky. Any diet changes I’ve made now are solely my choice.
What are some of your favorite healthy foods?
I LOVE all fruits and vegetables, and I’m not just saying that! On a regular basis I eat apples, bananas, berries (raspberries, blackberries and blueberries), peaches/plums, oranges and grapes, as well as asparagus, sweet potatoes, and brussels sprouts. I aim to eat 4-7 servings of fruit and vegetables every day. I love oatmeal and fish, and quinoa, things like that, plus seaweed, etc.
What has having cancer taught you about diet/exercise/self-care?
That I have one body and I have to treat it right and love it. If I take care of it, it will take care of me. Because I was active and had built muscles when I was diagnosed, I was able to use stomach muscles only (no arms) to get myself out of bed after my mastectomies. That’s just one example of how my body helped me. My body is here for ME. It is my friend. I know that sounds silly, but when I eat right and exercise I feel better and look better. When I eat fruits and veggies I have more energy. When I sleep well I feel well. I have to take care of myself so I can live a long life.
From your blog and instagram, I can see that you're very active. Have you always enjoyed running? Was running part of connecting with the greater breast cancer community, or for other reasons?
The first 5K I ran was in April 2011, the same day I found the lump. (I found the lump later that day, after the 5K, in the shower). Initially, Sean got me into running. We started doing it together. We trained enough so we could do 5Ks together. Even between surgeries I would run with Sean. It connected us, and also connected me to my body. I think I’ve always enjoyed being active, but specifically, running is such a release for me. I carry a lot of anger and anxiety and running helps alleviate that. Running on my own, with Sean, or during a 5k, I feel so connected to my body. I can’t explain it, really. It’s just become something I love. It’s challenging, but also so rewarding.
I cannot imagine how my husband would react if this happened to us during our planning-- what did yours do? Did he help keep your focus on the wedding, and all the positive stuff ahead? Tell me the role he has played (I imagine it's a biggie)!
He was always so strong and certain. He believed I was going to be fine, he believed we were going to have the wedding. He kept my focus on moving forward. Yes, he let me cry in bed and scream and throw tantrums, but he always made sure my focus was on the future. He is one of the strongest men I know. He took the reins and led me. I know he was scared on the inside, but he never let that show. He knew he had to be strong for me, and he was. He’s always so certain and grounded. He was my rock, and still is.
In talking about this previously, you mentioned the wedding was a distraction, but in a good way. Can you elaborate on that?
I have always loved planning events and parties, ever since I was a little girl. So when I was planning the wedding, it’s almost like I forgot about everything else. I would become immersed in all the details and I loved it, like I was on another planet. And it was hard, because in the back of my mind I tried to keep myself from getting “too excited” because I didn’t want to let myself down if the wedding didn’t happen when it was supposed to. But it did help to have details to focus on. I went crazy with details. I spent literally a year gathering gifts for my bridesmaids, picked out a Penn State garter for Sean to remove during the wedding, put “I do” decals on the bottom of my shoes, and even went really into “decorating” my bridesmaids with pink pashminas and a pearl brooch for my Maid of Honor. I think having those things to focus on kept me moving forward. I felt like I was doing something with my time, instead of just stirring. With the breast cancer it always felt like I was waiting. Waiting for the next test, the next test result, the next surgery, the next recovery. With the wedding planning things were actually happening, things I could see, touch, feel.
What treatment plan did you chose to go with? In hingsight, are you glad you chose that path?
Ultimately I ended up getting a double mastectomy with reconstruction. My cancer was found early enough and my lymph nodes were clear (the cancer hadn’t spread there yet), so chemotherapy wasn’t necessary. Given that I went through three years of chemotherapy at age 12, I didn’t want to put my body through that again. As far as radiation, that was discussed, but ultimately I ended up having another surgery instead, in which they removed more skin to get a clear margin. No other medications were discussed. I am VERY glad I chose that path. Sometimes the more intense treatment can do more harm than good if your cancer is very early stage, which mine was. I have no regrets and think I made the best decision for myself at that time.
When did you find out you were completely cancer-free? That had to be an amazing day! Did you celebrate?
After my first mastectomy I was technically cancer-free since they removed the lump. The next step, like I previously mentioned, was potentially radiation. My cancer was really close to my skin so my doctor wanted to make sure there were no remaining cancer cells on or near the skin. Radiation was discussed, but I ended up choosing another surgery instead, to remove that skin. Then the removed skin was tested for cancer, and found clean. I never celebrated, but after the first mastectomy did feel some relief because the tumor was out. But it was a process after that. Nobody ever says you are “cancer-free” ; it’s really a lifelong process. Breast cancer can and does come back, even 20 years later, so I think instead of celebrating, I just keep moving forward with life. I’ll need MRIs and ultrasounds every year, even though both of my breasts have been removed. It’s just a part of life now. I am lucky in that YES, my cancer WAS removed and I am cancer-free, but nobody really talks about it that way. I think you’re never really “in the clear” – you just kind of live like you are, and hope you are. It’s scary.
Tell me about your wedding day. It looks absolutely gorgeous! You look so, so happy. Was it everything you dreamed it would be?
Thank you! Yes! It was everything I could have dreamed of and hoped for, and 100 million times more! That whole year leading up to my wedding was an exhausting journey, from me not believing the wedding was going to happen, to surgeries and recovery. I spent SO much energy and effort on trying to move forward and believe that day was going to happen. I spent SO much time and energy on my appearance. I think having one breast on my wedding day kind of steered me to focus a lot on the rest of my body. I whitened my teeth, barely ate (not proud of that, lol), and got waxed, manis and pedis in the months leading up. Just so much energy and anxiety. And the day was perfect. I think I kept worrying something else would go wrong with my health or another surgery. And to finally get to the day – a huge sigh of relief. It was a perfect day. Like a dream. But the thing is, even with all the anxiety, looking back, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. None of the worries and anxieties and exhaustion. It was who I was at that time. It was me. It wasn’t supposed to be any other way than the way it was.
I've seen that you're involved in several breast cancer intiatives, which I think is awesome! How can those of us who are not a survivor get involved? There's so many big organizations and to be honest, it's a bit intimidating. How do you suggest we get involved to show our support?
It is intimating! I think for me, when I was ready and I knew what I wanted to do, I started looking locally. I did the “Marjie” thing and joined as many mailing lists as possible to get all the information all the time. I think as time went on I figured out what was important and I went from there. There ARE a lot out there.
What I would recommend is first getting involved locally. Start with a local fundraiser for event. There are so many baseball games, 5Ks, bake sales, etc. And from there you’ll be able to tell what you like, what you don’t like, if you share the same beliefs and values, etc. Then, when you’re involved at a local level you can start to get those emails, meet some people, and then find out about other organizations.
Right from the beginning I became involved with the PA Breast Cancer Coalition because they reached out to me, and BrightPink, where I got matched with another survivor “buddy” my age. We talked on the phone and emailed a couple of times, and she told me about her experiences with breast cancer, and kind of helped me get through the beginning. Then I found the Young Survival Coalition, and am doing the 200-mile ride in September. So yes, it can be overwhelming, so find out what’s going on locally first, and then you can see if that group or event matches your interest.
Why is it important for us to be involved?
In my own opinion, being involved gets you connected to other people who want to help and support you. I personally love meeting other people and to feel connected to something bigger. I love being involved in the community. Having that support and those contacts offers you so much: support, education, etc. it’s important to be involved to work towards something bigger and better. You can do a lot on your own, but with other people who share your passions and interests – wow, you can accomplish anything.
Marjorie, thank you for sharing your story!
I'm honored that you were willing to answer these questions and open up to Fit for a Bride readers.
To learn more about Marjorie, visit her blog, Pink and Pearls. Pink and Pearls got Marjorie recognition with the Lifetime Movie Network for its promotion of the movie “Five” for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in fall 2011, and with the PA Breast Cancer Coalition, in which she was featured in a “survivor spotlight” story. Since her diagnosis, Marjorie has volunteered with and spoke at events for numerous breast cancer organizations, including the PA Breast Cancer Coalition and the Pennsylvania Pink Zone. This September, she plans to ride her bike 200 miles for the Young Survival Coalition’s Tour de Pink, a three-day trek from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C.
Support her cause by donating here.