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Too Young For This: Launching a Breast Cancer Foundation

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The day I write this blog marks the four-week anniversary of my double mastectomy. Instead of recounting the trials I have encountered while healing over these last four weeks, I am reflecting on the fourth day leading up to my surgery. That day was the most alive and present I can remember feeling ever in my life. That day was the day I debuted the My Vision Foundation.

There are people who thought I was crazy for launching a foundation for breast cancer patients while dealing with my own cancer. Those same people thought I was even crazier for hosting a debut cocktail reception so close to my surgery; especially knowing I had to facilitate an 8-hour meeting via webcam that began at 6:00 am PST. But, there were over 150 people from all over the country who disagreed with my naysayers. 100 showed up as paid guests at Shade Hotel in Manhattan Beach, California. Another 50 donated to the foundation; some were complete strangers to me who were moved by my story; others were family and friends who lived too far to make the trip, but believed in me and this vision I have. That night was exactly two months to the day that I discovered my lump and the most magical night of my life.

As guests walked into the stunning courtyard, their eyes spotted dramatic nude photos suspended from the hotel room balconies. Some of the photos were black and white, others faceless and still others of reconstructed breasts, just weeks after a double mastectomy. We were there that evening to highlight the first service our foundation provides: nude photography sessions, a progressive offering that helps young breast cancer patients feel beautiful and sexy when they are facing a very un-sexy disease.

Coincidentally, two of my friends were diagnosed with breast cancer around the same time as me. It was our images that had been enlarged and suspended in the air. The impact was dramatic and haunting. My friend Lisa and I both had our pictures done prior to our surgeries. Our otherwise modest selves were unfettered by the public display of the breasts we were about to lose. My other friend, Patty, had her photo shoot five weeks after her double mastectomy. Nipple-less with her incision sites still healing on her newly reconstructed breasts, her pictures were beautiful, though a disturbing reminder of my own fate just around the corner. Our pictures billowing in the wind told our chillingly poetic story.

I opened the program by reading my first blog on the Huffington Post. I almost made it to the second line without choking up. There I was standing in front of 100 people who loved and believed in me; I was present to the rawness of my emotions as I stood inside reality, not inside the illusion of controlled longevity I had lived in for so long. It was perhaps my most vulnerable moment. I watched my sister moved to tears, visibly pained by my suffering and my father looking more proud of his daughter than he has ever looked before. I saw my younger brother, his face filled with love and that protective look he used to get when one of his friends hit on me in a bar. I saw my mom, awed by this daughter she had raised, connected to her now irrevocably by cancer. It was emotional and inspiring, celebrating life while acknowledging death.

My singer/songwriter friend Chantal entertained our guests with uplifting songs about life. She wrote the theme song to our foundation, called Pink Ribbons. As she sang the story of my life, I stood in solidarity with my family, tears in our eyes, and hope in our hearts. Chantal and I spoke of the national speaking tour we wanted to do together where we combined my story-telling with her inspiring music to empower young women in colleges around the world to take care of their bodies, perform self breast exams and live their passion in life.

We gave away our first Visionary Award to my fertility specialist and now Advisory Board member, Dr. Wendy Chang of the Southern California Reproductive Center for her work in fertility preservation of cancer patients. She has inspired hope in so many of us for our future as a mom. Both Lisa and I received her care as we now have embryos on ice!

We laughed and we cried that night. After Chantal sang us out, I received hug after hug, as old friends and new friends shared how they felt about me and this foundation. I felt so loved, so touched that they were willing to send me off to surgery in style, contribute to my cause and lift me up so that I may fulfill on my destiny. I ended the night on this:

"Whatever dream you are holding onto that you haven't started yet, whatever idea is still just an idea, whatever vision of your future you are on pause for, take action tomorrow. Just one. Get it started now. You have no idea when something is going to push the pause button on your life. There is nothing to wait for. Just do it now. You are a visionary. And the world needs whatever it is that you want to contribute to it."

And today, I say the same to you.

Be a visionary. Act on it.

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