As promised, we’re continuing our journey with our Smarty Warrior, Jen Pagani. When I first talked with Jen, she spoke of this sisterhood of women immediately and I wanted to learn more. Here they are. The Flying Biscuit Girls. Four women brought together fighting the same disease, but together they rise above. God speed, Flying Biscuit Girls:-)
It started at a “Look Good, Feel Better” at CMC. It’s a class offered for women to help minimize the startling effects on your appearance from losing your hair, eyelashes, skin changes, etc. due to chemo, I was newly diagnosed, still in shock and crying all the time. I was still reeling from the fact that I was young, had a baby and a two-year-old, and was otherwise very healthy and vital. All of the other women in my class were at least 20 to 30 years older than me and looked unwell, except one. She sat serenely, looking put together, beautiful and about my age. I was desperate for a connection, someone to relate to, so I asked her for her name and number and if I could call her sometime to talk about breast cancer. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Her name was Heidi and we didn’t know it yet, but our Flying Biscuit Dinner group had just been born.
Heidi and I met two other girls in treatment, Stacy and Casey, both young and vibrant like we were. Friendships were forged in the infusion room amidst IV tubes and chemo, reinforced with long, phone calls when we’d bear our souls to each other. We came to confide in and rely on one another for support and hope. We understand each others’ fears in a way that only a sister in arms could. We could and can open up to each other in ways that we can’t to anyone else.
We began meeting at the Flying Biscuit to connect in person. We meet when when can, sometimes months pass between dinners. We are all trying to juggle combinations of survivorship, treatment, motherhood and careers. There is always laughter at our gatherings and sometimes tears. And, over the years there have been a few times, times when I was fighting depression that comes with the news of my cancer’s progression, that I just could not make our dinners. Times when it was hard enough just to get outta bed and try to be a decent mom and wife. Our group, my dear precious friends, always reach out and provide me with hope, comfort and peace, especially when I need it most. And over time the size of our our group ebbs and flows as we bond with, support and are supported by other women in treatment. We are always looking for other survivors with whom we have a connection, or who just look like they need a friend in the journey. I am thankful for all the women I have met as a result of our FB dinners and I am eternally grateful for my Heidi, Stacy and Casey, my first four sisters in the fight.
The Flying Biscuit Girls…Jen, Stacy, Casey and I started meeting at the Flying Biscuit Ballantyne in late 2007 early 2008. Several other survivors are in the ‘group’, and we were even graced one night with a young woman that has MS. Jen and I had met in Aug 2007 at a breast health nutrition class three days after I finished treatment, and right after she was diagnosed. A cancer diagnosis can be a devastating trauma. You understand it when you have to actually go through it. I met Stacy and Casey at the FB. Because of the situations we were facing, had gone through or were about to go through, we were all immediately connected.
I carry these women in my heart. We have shown each other our scars (I actually showed Stacy my scar in the FB bathroom and Stacy then showed me her scars post her surgery in the SouthPark Earth Fare a few months later. If Charlotte only knew what went on in their public bathrooms!!), compared notes about our multiples of doctors, covered treatment regimens, and side-effects, discussed impacts to our husbands, children, families, and tried to be sure that we were all getting all the latest medical information so that we somehow might increase our chance of survival. Having to face your mortality straight in the face gives you a perspective that thankfully most do not have. We rely on each other as young women that were forced to go a path that alters almost all of your plans. There is good. I met these three wonderful women and many more. The four of us are still miraculously here. There are relationships in our lives that are stronger because of it. I know these girls are there for me any time and that I can share with them without being judged and that they will forgive me for my mistakes. Our families have gotten together for parties and dinners, allowing our husbands some time with others that have a glimpse into their own lives as well.
A few weeks back the four of us met at the Flying Biscuit for dinner in between chemo sessions for Jen. Three of the six little boys, ages 4, 6, 7 that belong to Jen, Casey and Stacy were in tow, playing outside in the garden area, climbing walls, pulling pennies out of the fountain (for which they were reprimanded 🙂 and just being boys in general. As us girls were saying our good-byes, the boys settled down very sweetly on the front bench in front of the store and I said something like ‘look at those sweet little angels!’, to which one responded ‘yeah, and she’s nekked!’. They were referring to the FB logo brand, for which I had never noticed the little cherub didn’t have any clothes on! lol. And Life carries on…
I am so so thankful for these girls, and for the friendships that we have.
People always speak about the fact there is a ‘sisterhood’ between women facing breast cancer. This became very clear to me four years ago. Jen was the first of our foursome that I met. I was receiving chemo and she asked if the seat beside me was taken. I can’t say I blame her for wanting to sit beside me….after all, I was bald, had dark circles under my eyes and had my hands in a ice bath to help prevent a fungal infection from starting. Nothing says, “Want to be my friend”, more than that! Clearly our friendship was planned by someone up above. I met Heidi and Casey shortly after that and their friendship just came naturally. Each woman is more amazing than the next. We find humor in our differences and strength in our similarities.
There is an intimacy I can share with these amazing women, that I sometimes can’t share with others. They know, all too well, how the affects of chemo, surgery, radiation, etc. play in our lives. There is a closeness in truly understanding what it’s like to have been though what we all have experienced. They can empathize in a way that some of our best friends, family and even our husbands can’t. Our ‘dinners’ together just reinforce the bond that we share in friendship and sisterhood. Cancer destroys so much in our lives but it has formed a bond between us that is so much more powerful than anything it can destroy. I love all these amazing, powerful, courageous women dearly and can’t imagine life without them.
The most amazing Jen Pagani was the first breast cancer survivor to whom I spoke; the first person I felt TRULY understood the place I was in after my diagnosis. We had multiple similarities: young women with two very young boys, diagnosed soon after giving birth to our youngest son at stage III, type HER2. I admire Jen in every way possible – her strength, her courage, her humor and wit, her determination… She is a fabulous mom and wonderful wife! And she’s a perfect inspiration to anyone going through anything!
Heidi Witthoeft was the first breast cancer survivor I met whom I felt most comfortable with in asking any and all questions. She related to me and that was important in allowing me to open up. It was at my very first Flying Biscuit dinner that I met Heidi. It was only she and I. And she was so gracious to sit and listen to my story and answer each and every question I threw at her. I remember feeling from that moment that she was just like a sister!
Stacy Forest was no different! She also shares very similar circumstances to Jen and myself: a young woman with two young boys, diagnosed soon after the birth of her youngest son, type HER2. I had heard so much about her – what a fabulous person she was, and eventually we got to meet.
All three of these women are caring and supportive friends. They are my light at the end of the tunnel, my something good that came away from this difficult journey. I am blessed because of them!
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