When the international SCAR Project exhibition premieres in Washington, DC this October, kicking off Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2012 from our Nation’s Capitol, the timing couldn’t be more perfect if it tried.
Besides pulling the proverbial pink carpet out from under October, the DC exhibition is also smack dab in the heat of election season.
“In the end, by bringing The SCAR Project to our city, we hope to make a strong statement about breast cancer by showing our country what it really looks like,” said Donna Guinn Kaufman, breast cancer survivor, former vice-president of the Tigerlily Foundation (supports young women before, during and after BC) and founder of the Kill the Cancer Beast Foundation (empowering people with cancer to fight), the organization spearheading production of The SCAR Project DC Exhibition. “We hope that The SCAR Project will change the way that people look at this disease, seeing it for what it is, terrifying, disfiguring and deadly, and as such, take real action to end it.”
Last month Kaufman and her planning committee of mostly survivors and previvors kicked things into high gear toward that end at their SCAR Project DC Exhibition Kickoff Fundraiser which was held at The Dunes art gallery. (Thank you for your gracious hosting of the event, Deidree Bennett, Fine Arts Director at The Dunes.)
(Thank you to all the photographers who covered the event: Kipp Burgoyne, Marcus Bennett, Diane Crawford, Joey Darley, and Mayrev Mary Goren for all your lovely photos. And a special thank you goes out to Kristen Berset, WUSA9 sports anchor and reporter for her graceful emceeing of the event. Also to WUSA9 weekday morning anchor Andrea Roane for her gracious support of The SCAR Project DC Exhibition.)
If I were writing notes on cocktail napkins during the SCAR DC kickoff fundraiser, here’s a few of the highlights I’d have scribbled down:
Breast cancer is a political issue – SCAR DC Producer Donna Guinn Kaufman
Breast cancer is not prejudiced – SCAR girl Heather Salazar (caucasian) adopted her friend’s daughter after her friend (African-American) passed away from breast cancer. Then Heather was also diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer does not wait until you are “old enough to get breast cancer” – SCAR girl Eliza Hewitt who was diagnosed last year at age 22.
Breast cancer does not care if you are in a wheelchair because you already have Cerebral Palsy. – SCAR girl Sara Boghdan.
Breast cancer is not very patriotic. – SCAR girl Marathon Barbie the Marine who was diagnosed while serving our country in Afghanistan.
Breast cancer does not play fair. -SCAR girl Darcie who shared recent news of her breast cancer’s progression. (Cheers to your health, love, and godspeed beautiful Darcie, as you strive for stable disease once more.)
Breast cancer may SCAR but it does not define those who’ve stared down its ugly face and face their own absolute realities of surviving cancer. And yet, get a bunch of these crazy ass kicking cancer chicks in a room together sharing their SCARs and all I can say is cancer better watch out. One of these chicks is a marine and the rest of the women in the room have her back.
With that said, here’s the drill for the SCAR Project DC Exhibition:
Monday, October 1, the first day of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Kaufman is organizing a “Young Women Surviving Breast Cancer Day on Capitol Hill.” Kaufman is arranging meetings for any young women who can make the event to meet with their Senators and Representatives while young women in SCAR DC t-shirts deliver invites for The SCAR Project DC Exhibition to members of Congress and and their staff on Capitol Hill.
Monday evening, The SCAR Project DC will host a VIP Reception/Press Conference by invitation only from 6:30 to 8 p.m. to kickoff the exciting week of DC Exhibition events and introduce The SCAR Project to the nation’s Capitol.
The DC Exhibition will open to the public the same day Monday, October 1 and will run until Sunday, October 7. General admission hours will be from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (except for during ticketed gallery tours with the photographer, Monday evening VIP Reception/Press Conference and Thursday evening’s Black & White Opening Night Gala). The price of general admission is FREE.
There will be daily gallery tours with SCAR Project Photographer David Jay, and when possible, various SCAR girls will be available for Q&A. Stay tuned for a schedule of gallery tours TBA.
A Black & White Opening Night Gala will be held on Thursday, October 4. Tickets must be purchased in advance on the Eventbrite link below. A special discounted price is offered for a pair of tickets purchased before September 1. Also a special “Buy a Ticket for a Survivor” at a discounted price is offered so no survivor who wants to go to the gala is left behind.
On Friday, October 5 after the gallery closes for the day there will be a special ticketed After Hours Party with the SCAR crowd.
On Saturday, October 6 Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Patricia Zagarella will be on hand for a special screening of her EMMY Award-winning SCAR Project documentary, Baring It All. Zagarella, David Jay, and a few of the SCAR girls will be available for a Q&A session afterward.
Tickets for all events are now LIVE on Eventbrite-Click HERE.
For more info and/or to keep posted on The SCAR Project DC exhibition join The SCAR DC Facebook Group. Contact SCAR DC Producer Donna Guinn Kaufman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703.489.2727.
[After Jolene’s Mom, Denise VonMillanich, and Flat Jolene’s special guest appearances at the SCAR Project LA cocktail party kick-off fundraiser last month, quite a few people asked about Jolene’s S.C.A.R. story. Her recent passing in October reminded us all that the absolute reality of cancer is that not everyone survives. It is a horrid, hateful disease that does not care if you are only 17 years old, like Jolene was, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. It does not care if you are only twenty-freaking-five when you lay down your pink boxing gloves and go to your rest in peace after kicking cancer’s ass for 9 years, like Jolene did. Cancer does not give a rip if it’s 2 weeks before your 26th birthday and you have plane tickets to NYC to The SCAR Project exhibition, where your portrait is hanging, and your SCAR sisters are all waiting to hang with you, as was the case with Jolene’s passing. Cancer does not care. But we do. And we remember Jolene. We will always remember and love you, beautiful Jolene.]
by Jolene Von Millanvich
So, a lot of people have asked me to share my story about my fight with cancer. I decided to write it here so anyone and everyone can read it. Just to warn you, it is long, but here it goes.
When I was 17, I felt my first lump in my right breast. I ignored it for months until I finally went in for my annual exam and the nurse practitioner felt it. She immediately freaked out and referred me to a surgeon who ordered an ultrasound. I was like . . . “What is this bitch getting me into? I’m TOO young for this to be cancer!”
I went and got the ultrasound and we found out that it was solid and not a cyst like everyone thought. After that, I went to the surgeon and he gave me the option to either have a biopsy or get it removed. I decided to get it removed. So in July of 2003, I had my first lumpectomy. A few weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything about my results so we figured that no news was good news. I started college to become a medical assistant and after my first day of school, I came home to find my surgeon sitting on my couch with my family! OMG, talk about house calls! He explained to me that my results took so long to come back because they had to send the pathology to Stanford since no one at the local hospital knew what it was. He then told me my diagnosis was a Phyllodes tumor. He said that before me, he had never even heard of it. It was borderline malignant and he didn’t get clean margins. His understanding from what he read about it was that it would be best to do a single mastectomy followed by radiation, then reconstruction.
Being a 17 year old girl, my boobs were my best friends! I couldn’t imagine walking around with only one boob. What an idiot! If only I knew back then what I know now!! The surgeon decided to send me to a specialist at the UC Davis Cancer Center who had seen Phyllodes before. The specialist advised that a mastectomy wasn’t needed and we’d take the wait and see approach.
In October of 2003, I had my second lumpectomy to get clear margins and remove the second borderline malignant Phyllodes tumor from the right breast. After that, we did follow up visits every 3 months for a while. Eventually, it went to every 6 months and I was clear for about a year and a half. In February of 2005, when I was 19, I had my third lumpectomy for another borderline Phyllodes tumor. My doctor still didn’t pursue the mastectomy because he felt that it wasn’t going to turn malignant and wanted to preserve my breasts due to my young age.
June of 2008 rolled around and my doctor retired and my insurance changed, so I had to find a different Surgical Oncologist. Of course, I slacked on that until I felt a lump in my left breast in October of 2008. I found a really great surgeon and he did a lumpectomy that December. Immediately after that lumpectomy, I started to feel a lump in my right breast. It was pretty big by the time I got into to see my surgeon and at that time we decided that I was done getting lumpectomies every few years and it was time to do the double mastectomy. My new surgeon couldn’t get me scheduled until February of 2009 for the double mastectomy. By that time, my tumor was 11CM; the size of a softball. I had grown out of my B-Cup bra and even out of a C-Cup bra. I thought my boob was going to explode! It was so painful!! The pathology report from my mastectomy showed that the tumor in my right breast was, in fact, now a malignant Phyllodes tumor. My left breast had more Phyllodes tumors and DCIS.
This is where the fun began! A PET scan was ordered and revealed hot spots in my right lung, right shoulder, a lymph node in my right armpit, and a lymph node in my right groin. My oncologist ordered a bone biopsy in my right shoulder because that was the easiest one to biopsy. That came back as a rare benign lesion. Then we decided to biopsy the lymph node in my right groin. Unfortunately, they didn’t get a good enough sample. The biopsy was inconclusive. My oncologist decided that since the bone biopsy was negative for cancer, the other spots weren’t cancer, either. What a mistake. I went back to work and went on with my normal life. About 4 months later, I had a repeat PET scan. It showed the spots were getting bigger. The lymph node biopsy was repeated, and what do you know, it came back positive for Phyllodes. My oncologist diagnosed me as Stage IV and referred me to a Sarcoma specialist at UCSF because he had never seen this kind of cancer.
I started chemo in October of 2009. I did Doxorubucin (aka Adriamycin, the Red Devil) and Ifosamide and had to be admitted to the hospital at UCSF for 6 days for each treatment. I completed 3 rounds of this protocol and had another PET scan. It showed that the cancer was unresponsive. So, in Febuary of 2010, I started Taxotere combined with another chemo that I can’t remember the name of right now. LOL! After 3 rounds of that protocol, I had a PET scan and it revealed it was working!! Yay!! My oncologist and I decided to do 3 more rounds. After completing the first round of this three, I noticed the right side of my lips were really, really numb. My local oncologist ordered a CT of my brain which came back normal.
About 3 weeks later, I noticed what I thought was an abscess in my mouth where I had 2 molars removed the year before. I went to the dentist and got x-rays done and they said it wasn’t an abscess but a cyst or a tumor and it was sitting on my nerve in my jaw which was causing the numbness in my lips. It started getting bigger and bigger and was really starting to get painful. I was, FINALLY, referred to an ENT oncologist at UCSF and he did a biopsy. The biopsy revealed a sarcoma. I, of course, assumed it was another Phyllodes. I would find out at a later date that I was wrong. On June 24, 2010, I had the right side of my jaw removed and reconstructed with my Fibula and a steel rod. I was in surgery for 15 hours and the ICU for 9 days, but I only remember 3 of them. LOL! All together, I was in the hospital for 2 weeks. The tumor measured 7 cm and grew that big in only 7 weeks!!
In August, I learned that the tumor was a whole different kind of sarcoma. So I’ve had 3 different kinds of cancer and they’re planning on testing me for Li-Fraumeni Syndrome next month. It’s a genetic disorder that increases your chances of getting different kinds of cancers and, usually, affects kids and young adults. I started a clinical trial at UCSF the beginning of this month. It’s a mixture of Avastin, Taxol, and a brand new drug that doesn’t even have a name yet. I have to go to San Francisco every week for eight weeks. Then we’ll do another PET scan. I’m praying that this works!! Third time’s a charm, right?!? I can’t wait to just be done with this and get on with my life cancer free!!
[Addendum: Jolene’s chondrosarcoma in her jaw recurred before the end of 2010. About a month later, she was advised the genetic testing for Li Fraumeni (genetic syndrome) was positive and she underwent another grueling 18 hour surgery in April 2011 almost identical to the surgery she had in June of 2010. More of Jolene’s jaw was taken and rebuilt. A couple of months after that jaw surgery, it was determined that Jolene had two chondrosarcoma tumors growing in her sinus cavity/brain. Jolene underwent surgery to debulk those tumors and relieve some of her pain. After that surgery, Jolene (with the support of her family) decided to enter hospice care and live a life of quality over quantity. Jolene spent the last three months of her life making memories with her family and friends.]