When it comes to cancer, there is no holding back. We must fight it! We must kill it before it kills us. Thousands of women in Canada are diagnosed each year. Many die, but thankfully, many survive.
Their stories are about the fight, the battle, and the war. These female warriors are not alone, families, friends, and colleagues battle next to them. While others, in this case, complete strangers help them live life with cancer and beyond it.
After Breast Cancer (ABC) is a charity that strives to meet the personal needs of breast cancer survivors and of those who are still battling the deadly illness. Alicia Vianga is the founder of ABC. As the owner of Premier Jour Fine Lingerie she is an expert in lingerie and bra fitting. Seeing the kinds of struggles many women with breast cancer have post-op and post reconstructive surgery, Vianga decided something needed to be done to help these women feel full again. Finding the proper bra and/or prosthesis can be taxing, frustrating, as well as very expensive. ABC provides survivors with bras and prosthesis at no cost.
For many women who have had a mastectomy or lumpectomy, their insurance does not cover the after treatment needs. After Breast Cancer strives to change that. For the past 2 years it has held a Breast Cancer Gala to raise funds to help improve the quality of life of many.
In the last year, ABC has re-focused its mandate to really shine on one word: ‘Beauty’. It’s a new project that is inspired by a woman who many have referred to as a hero, survivor, fighter, and pillar of strength, Jill Brzenzinski-Conley.
Jill was diagnosed with invasive ductorial cancer in July 2009, just before her 32nd birthday, and 6 months after she married the love of her life. The cancer was aggressive and fast spreading. She underwent 16 grueling rounds of chemo, 33 radiation treatments, a double mastectomy, and several surgeries to remove a severely infected breast implant. After 2 and a half years of treatment and short period of remission, in January 2012, Jill was told the cancer had spread to her bones.
“I am currently undergoing chemo treatment on a weekly basis in an attempt to keep the cancer from spreading any further. My cancer is treatable but at Stage IV it is not curable”
Throughout the treatment process, Jill has had to endure a lot of pain both physically and emotionally. She shares what she is experiencing on her website, www.jillswish.org.
“When I lost my hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, finger nails and toe nails, I felt so far from being a women. The chemo killed every living cell in my body including my spirit.”
But that spirit was found thanks to a special gift. After her intense ordeal with breast cancer, Jill visited her girlfriend Nikki Closser in Seattle, and asked her to photograph what breast cancer looks like. Jill wanted to show the world her battle scars. The scars represented hope, strength, inspiration, and the true meaning of beauty.
“I too struggled with my “new body” but came to realize that you have to embrace and ‘ROCK WHAT YOU GOT!’”
Jill has been rock’in it ever since. As she struggles throughout her treatment, she continues to inspire so many around the world.
“The feedback I receive on how I inspire others when they tell me how I changed their life is my chemo. I want women to feel good about themselves and their bodies with or without cancer. I have even spoken to student classes about bullying. Every woman with weight issues, scars, at any age can feel beautiful. Inner beauty shines through”
It was that incredible act of bravery that inspired Jill’s friend to send the pictures to world famous photographer, Sue Bryce. Sue was immediately captured by Jill’s strength and beauty. She flew Jill, and her friend Nikki to Paris for an incredible photo shoot. A documentary was made telling Jill’s compelling story, entitled, “The Light That Shines”. It went viral and so did Jill.
“The day in Paris made me feel like Cinderella and not a cancer patient. I felt so blessed and thankful for the opportunity that Sue Bryce gave me. I actually felt healthy.”
Jill’s story inspired Alicia Vianga, to give survivors and those still battling a day of glitz and glam. The event is known as The SHE project.
“The project is very important,” Jill explains. “We have similar goals in boosting self esteem.”
As part of The SHE project 12 brave women were chosen as ambassadors. Through donations and sponsorships, the women were given full hair, makeup and dressed in designer gowns, a day of complete pampering. For the perfect icing on the cake they are given the opportunity to pose for a very splashy photo shoot. A shot from each of the ambassadors were chosen and put into a calendar that can be purchased, with all proceeds going to After Breast Cancer.
“After my cancer recurrence, I began to believe God gave me this horrible disease to be a voice to help and inspire others,” says Jill. “After the release of “The Light That Shines” I received thousands of emails worldwide from both men and women who had self esteem issues and needed reassurance during their struggles with the beast.”
The beast. It has killed so many, it has pushed some down, but it has yet to win. Women around the world will continue to stand side by side supporting each other in their battle. Their stories will never be forgotten, they will continue to fight before, during, and after breast cancer.