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Gin Schaffer is a former higher education administrator and works part-time at MWHC's Regional Cancer Center as the Coordinator of Integrative Medicine. She lives in downtown Fredericksburg and enjoys walking and biking with her husband and 2 kids (especially if coffee is involved).

Pink Ribbon Journey

Before heading to NYC for the Today Show's special program, #PinkPower, Steve and I talked to the kids to prepare them for a) my time away from home and b) the possibility that I would be on TV.  For as much as they could understand, Jack and Anna seemed equally excited for me and disappointed that they wouldn't be able to come.  I definitely owe them a train ride. 

The Saturday before I departed for the show, we went to Maymont Estate in Richmond; a beautiful historic property with lots of trails, a nature center, and a farm.  It was hot that day, so I took my head-wrap off to cool down.  Jack instantly said, "Mom, put your hat back on, the kids are going to laugh at you."  It caught me off-guard and I knew I had to respond, but not chastise him.  I didn't do such a great job at that.  I sharply said to him, "Look, Jack, I'm hot, I decide what I wear, and I'm sure there is some other bald person here." 

I think that was just too much emotion and information for Jack to process, so he made sure to find an alternate path to hike - preferably with his non-bald dad.  He didn't mention the hat to me again and overall, the day was quite nice, but that moment shared with Jack crystallized for me how hard it must be for a 6-year-old boy to have a hairless mom with cancer.  There is palpable anxiety when I'm at his school (we can't get out of there fast enough).  When meals get delivered to our house by a parent from his school, he's highly vigilant about who is delivering it (I wonder if that's because he will be horrified if the meal is from one of his classmates). 

In Anna’s 3-year-old mind, I think she’s thinking that she just has to be with me as much as possible.  Getting her to school in the morning is not easy and she doesn’t let her dad help her with anything.  I have to do just about everything with her and for her.  This is awfully hard when all you want to do is lie down because your head is spinning from the intense nausea.  Since control is a very big thing at this age, I can only assume that she figures as long as she’s with me, she can make me better and really, who can resist all that snuggling? 

I know it's probably crazy to try to make my cancer an everyday, "normal" thing for the kids, but that's what I try to do, so that I can also make it "normal" for me and survive it...you know, and not totally lose it. 

The exciting and nerve-wracking part about heading to the Today Show was not knowing how it would all work out.  I wanted my mom and sister to have a good experience as well, even though I know those two can make any situation fun.  Like going to Guy Fieri's American Bar because touristy, basic food seemed the way to go for my chemo-controlled stomach.  Winner Winner Chicken Dinner.  If only we had his cool red convertible too! 

I thought it would be great to get on camera with other women who were bald so that I could say to the kids, "see, those women have a booby problem just like mommy."  Of course, if I got to spend time with the hosts or any celebrities, that would be icing on the cake.  From the moment I heard about the event, I just knew I had to go and I'm glad I never second-guessed myself, even when I got nervous or anxious.  The entire experience was exactly what I needed, what my family needed as something positive and energizing to reflect on whenever we lose our way. 

The cast of hosts spent time with us and were so very kind to us all.  I’m really glad I got to spend some time with Carson Daly.  Our sons are both named Jack and we had a good laugh about watching The Voice with them.  His grace and kindness really shined through given he truly understands a mom's fight.  And, he lost his father to bladder cancer when he was only 11.  Carson may be a celebrity, but he's also just a boy at heart, a son who has lived with the roller coaster that is having a mom with cancer (his mother has been in remission for over 10 years).  I was so glad I got to show Jack this picture and let him know Carson's mom was "Just Like Me" and her doctors helped her and she's doing great. 

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Being able to stand beside Joan Lunden and ask her a question on national television was pretty surreal. Like anyone with cancer, you are thrown into a new life you didn't plan for and not only is she fighting for her own recovery, for her family (she has 7 children and just became a grandmother), she's a tireless advocate for everyone else.  For me, #PinkPower was an event that then turned into a state of being.  We can use our #PinkPower to keep fighting, educating, and empowering with hopes of eradicating.

 

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Jack and Anna ask to see me on TV just about every day now and are far more comfortable with my appearance.  I kind of wish every month was Breast Cancer Awareness Month because it definitely helps keep the conversation going with them. 

I met so many wonderful people and heard so many amazing stories, but there is one person in particular that will stick with me.  Our trip had come to an end and we were getting on the elevator to head to our car at Union Station in DC.  A man in the elevator with us simply lifted his wrist to mine, he had a pink "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" bracelet and said, "My Grandmother, 1956-1957, she lived until the age of 98. Keep Fighting.

I get up each day knowing that I have so many wonderful people helping me with this journey, this marathon of fighting one ugly disease. Whatever you have going on in your life, don’t hesitate to ask for help, hope and inspiration can come in the most mysterious ways. 

Please remember to schedule annual exams and encourage your loved ones to do the same.  In case you didn't get to see the #PinkPower segment on the Today Show, you can view it at: http://www.today.com/video/today/56155141

 

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