Just ME: The Art of Moving On

It’s October, that time of year when football teams sport bright pink apparel to raise breast cancer awareness. I’m tickled by the image of big, tough athletes wearing such a feminine color to spread the word about the importance of breast cancer screening.

Breast cancer became my reality six years ago. Cancer—that big, scary word that we hear all around us—suddenly hit home when I was diagnosed with stage 2 ductal carcinoma.

The first thing I did was to allow the overwhelming sadness. Everyone deals with bad news in his or her own way. For me, I had to just allow some time to take it in, with my family and closest friends. I shared the news with my boys, who were 12 and 14 at the time. I relied on my husband, Thom, and my twin sister, Jenn. I reached out to my buddies—not every one of them, but the ones I felt I could be vulnerable with.

Then I did my homework. The doctors will give you information and statistics, and the numbers can be overwhelming. The treatments they recommended, including chemo, radiation and tamoxifen, had recurrence rates that ranged from 13 to 30 percent. With two young kids, that wasn’t good enough for me. Over and over, I asked, ‘if I were your wife or sister, what would you advise?’ Or, ‘has anyone regretted following this path?’

I sat in what I call the “big grey cloud” for a long time. It’s a really uncomfortable place. But what I’ve learned is that if you can sit in your discomfort—really feel it and not try to stuff it or fix it—you’ll be able to move through it.

That’s what I call the art of moving on. Whether you’re dealing with a decision about where your kids should go to school, or a divorce, or breast cancer, there can be so many opinions and noise out there that you can’t hear yourself think. I have to stop long enough to acknowledge the unsettled feelings before I can get clarity. You can miss the moment if you’re not willing to sit in the grey cloud and listen to your instincts.

For me, the moment of clarity came when I was lying in bed with my boys, and my younger son said ‘Mom, do whatever will give you the best chance of this never coming back.’ That’s when I knew I had the strength to make a big decision—to get a double mastectomy. I didn’t want to live in fear that the cancer would come back. Once I made my decision, I was able to move forward. Nothing was holding me back. The uncertainty, the fear, the sadness—I had gotten rid of it all. I was clear that I was doing the best thing for me.

I feel like part of my journey has been to share the wisdom I’ve learned. I want to be there for other women—maybe that’s why I was given this challenge. (Of course there were times when I thought ‘why me?’ Especially when I never had big boobies, and I saw other women around me with much more bodacious tatas, and thought ‘how did it find me and not them??’ Now I can laugh about that!)

Whatever discomfort or fear you’re facing, listen to those you trust and then allow yourself the space to hear yourself think. Whether it’s through meditation, yoga or hiking, find your quiet place and don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. Listen to what your body and mind are telling you. Ask yourself ‘what will allow me to be my best me?’ Feel it, and then move on.
A dear friend gave me a hand-painted ceramic starfish when I was going through this, with a note that said ‘like a starfish, you may lose a piece of yourself, but you’ll be whole again. Now six years later I feel alive and full.

BreastCancer1

If you’re stuck, find that one friend who you can confide in or reach out to the greater community of women. Ask for advice or share your wisdom here about how you’ve moved on from life’s challenges. We’re here to support each other. Shine on and be full.

Mary Ellen Vernon

In celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, please join Fresh Produce in donating to help fund breast cancer research and beat this disease. If you would like to donate, please click here.

28 Comments

  • October 17, 2014

    Kate

    Right on Mary Ellen! I appreciate your honesty and wisdom and sharing! You inspire me! Honored to be your friend!
    Xoxo, Kate

    • November 12, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Thank you Kate!

  • October 17, 2014

    Adrienne

    Keep rocking Starfish ! Love You , A

    • November 12, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Thank you Adrienne!

  • October 20, 2014

    Linda Misencik

    My daughter, Caitlin (who works at FP) passed this on to me. I’m so glad she did – I too was diagnosed with breast cancer 6 years ago – and it was ductal carcinoma stage 2. It is amazing how we cope with these types of things thrown our way. My faith and family helped me thru it and I’m proud to say that I’m a survivor. I now try to look at life daily for it’s beauty and wonder. Life is good! Thanks for sharing!

    • November 12, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Hello Linda,
      Thank you so much for reading our post and sharing your own story! Life IS Good! Stay positive and keep spreading that positive energy!

  • October 24, 2014

    Lynn

    Beautiful post Mare! You are a true inspiration.
    Love, Lynn

    • November 12, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Thank you Lynn!

  • October 25, 2014

    Joyce

    This is the first time I have ever left a comment on any site, but I was so moved by your essay I felt compelled to do so. Seven years ago I, too, was diagnosed with stage 2 ductal carcinoma. And, like you, I went thru the same agonizing journey–reeling with the shock of it, researching this new reality, making many difficult decisions, finding comfort in friends and family and, finally coming to terms with the fact that I had cancer! For me, the reality of this journey is that I wake up each morning thankful to be alive, I appreciate all that I have and the people in my life. I don’t stress over things I have no control over–like SoCal traffic! Life is good…..

    • November 12, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Hello Joyce,
      Wow! We are so honored that you read the post, and proud that you felt the courage to comment for the first time and share your story!! Doesn’t it feel good to share? I’m glad to hear that you looking at life in a less-stressed, more appreciative way. Keep loving and living the good life!

  • October 25, 2014

    carol

    Thank you! I was just diagnosed with DCIS but caught so early it was not even stage 0 yet. BUT as happy as that is I am struggling with the fear of what I have now and will it come back again. Some friends and family have been less sympathetic once they knew it’s not as advanced as it could have been…but that does not displace my fears completely. Your blog post hit home for me. Thank you!!!

    • November 12, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Hello Carol,
      Thank you so much for sharing your story and reading the post. Quiet the fearful noise, and do what you need to do to walk strong without fear and with clarity everyday!

  • October 25, 2014

    Bonnie Keeshin

    Been there done that! As sisters in a group no one wants to join, thank you for continuing to raise awareness! And want to make you aware of a wonderful organization- Casting for Recovery- fly fishing for breast cancer survivors..please check it out! Always loved Fresh Produce for the ability to wear post surgery and with my compression sleeve.. Nice that you may still have merchandise for the survivor! Keep that thought!! Stay well!!

    • November 12, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Hi Bonnie,
      Thank you for sharing and supporting our brand! Keep spreading the word with your organization, Casting for Recovery, and raising awareness!

  • October 26, 2014

    Jackie

    I too had ductal ca and on the strong advice of my doctors (breast conservation was paramount then), I had a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. Twenty-seven years later that cancer never returned. However, 18 years after that cancer, I had a second primary tumor in the same breast (lobular) which was caused by the radiation therapy. If I had it to do over, I would have had a double mastectomy, and that’s what I tell those who ask me now.
    You made the right decision! All the best to you

    • November 12, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Hello Jackie,
      Thank you for reading and for sharing your story! At the time, we all make the best decision for ourselves. Keep sharing your experience and advice to others! Shine on!

  • October 26, 2014

    Randy Bieniek

    I’m a new customer and just this week helped your marketing firm (great couple!) do a video in my home w a couple of girlfriends and one at the store near me. Was just reading every part of today’s Fresh Produce email and realize you are a twin! Me, too! I’m a 13 year survivor of Ductal Carcinoma (mastectomy and chemo) found from a routine mammogram when my triplets (yes, 3!) were 14 mos. old. Talk about scary…but WE share a sisterhood of survivors now. I’ve had so many friends survive breast cancer after me…so common now. I’m sure you especially worry about your twin as do I, but she’s diligent and well. Let’s all stay that way. My philosophy:”Live fast and with purpose”.

    • November 12, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Hello Randy,
      Thank you for reading and sharing! We like your philosophy on life!
      It’s important to be supportive within this sisterhood, and help each other through our own experiences. Shine on!

  • October 26, 2014

    Jaylyn

    Wonderful, story and so true, and each stage you worked through you came to the right decision for you.
    Blessings, Always

    • November 12, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Thank you Jaylyn! Keep shining!

  • October 26, 2014

    Marge Porto

    I was a Breast Cancer survivor for 23years and now have a recurrence. I am amazed how much has changed in detection and treatment. With prayers and great skills of my Doctors, I hope to survive another 23 years. Considering my age, 77, that would indeed be a miracle. This is the first time I have written anything down , thank you for the opportunity. I have many clothing items collected over the years from Fresh Produce. They never fade or have ripped seams etc. love then!!

    • November 12, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Hi Marge,
      Thank you so much for reading this post! We are SO proud that you had the courage to comment and write it down for the first time on our blog. And thank you for supporting our brand!

  • October 26, 2014

    lori

    I too had a double mastectomy 30 years ago and have NEVER regretted my treatment decision. I wish the same peace for you. Maybe this connection is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to your line of clothes.

    • November 6, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Hello Lori,
      Thank you for reading and commenting on this post, and thank you for supporting our brand! We ARE all connected and within a sisterhood where we share and take care of each other!

  • October 26, 2014

    elizabeth smith

    Hi Mary Ellen, This is Momma Lizzie from your La Jolla store. I, too, was diagnosed last November and have had three surgeries this year. My dear Mother passed away 13 years ago with breast cancer and her two sisters have it. So, needless to say, I was not shocked. But, decided I was not going to allow it to take one more famiy member. Have struggled this year but am fighting back with a vengeance. I’m looking forward to returning to work next week. Elizabeth

    • November 18, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Hey Mama Lizzie!!! It’s so great to hear from you! I am so sorry to hear about your mother’s passing. But everyone here at Fresh Produce HQ is hoping that you are healing well, both with your surgeries and in her passing, and we are cheering for you in your fight. We are so proud to have you on the team! Please keep us updated on how you are doing!

  • October 26, 2014

    Barbara Dawkins

    I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. Mine was microinvasive ductal carcinoma in situ. I did not have radiation. I took Tamoxifen for 5 years, but never said I was on chemo! I was blessed! Someone told me they didn’t know how bad they felt until they stopped taking Tamoxifen. I did not notice any change because I felt fine!

    I encourage all women to have an annual mammogram. Even then, my surgeon said mine was so small he was they could pick it up on the mammogram.

    • November 6, 2014

      Fresh Produce

      Hello Barbara,
      Thank you for reading and sharing your experience! Keep spreading your story and encouragement.