Lorie Lavinson is one of five vibrant and strong women selected to represent Living Beyond Breast Cancer during Fashion Bug’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month Campaign. Throughout October the women’s clothing store, with nearly 700 stores across the United States, will support LBBC by donating 100% of proceeds from the sale of a one-of-a-kind inspirational tee and by asking their shoppers to make a contribution by rounding up their purchase to the next whole dollar.
For women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, October is often a month filled with emotion. While every woman expresses their approach to the month differently, Lorie reminds us of what enticed her sense of smell. To Lorie, certain smells created a sense of discomfort as they led her to dwell on her diagnosis, but ultimately, she embraced the sweet aroma of hope.
I was honored to be selected as one of five women to share my story through a Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign sponsored by Fashion Bug. The idea of the five senses became an alluring theme. Each of us have a breast cancer story, of course. But from person to person, our story is a reflection of one ideal sense that created the most appealing significance in our individual journeys. For me, it was my ability to smell.
I’ve always heard that out of the five senses, our sense of smell has the strongest connection to our memory, especially memories from early childhood. I have found this to be true in my own life … the fragrant scent of lilacs brings to mind the yard I played in as a young child, the smell of a tobacco pipe reminds me of my grandfather who died when I was seven-years-old, and no matter how many times I smell pumpkin, I think about how I used to help my mom make her cinnamon-dusted pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving.
When I was diagnosed with Stage II Triple Negative breast cancer in 2008, the harsh news assaulted all of my senses. As I heard the breast surgeon tell me that I had cancer, my body felt numb, my mouth went dry, and I suddenly lost focus in the blur of hot tears streaming down my face. It was my sense of smell; however, that really began to haunt me.
That night, after my husband gave my sons their baths, I sat in their bedroom and pulled them close to read them a book. From the time they were babies, I always loved breathing in the smell of their freshly shampooed hair. When I inhaled deeply at the top of my five-year-old’s head, I began to wonder how many more times I would get to do that. I hated that cancer was stealing this moment from me and making me think these morbid thoughts… this was not like me. I had always been a “glass-half-full” type of girl, but it’s hard to remain a true optimist when the doctor plugs your diagnosis, tumor characteristics and other stats into a formula and then tells you that according to this formula, with the recommended treatment, you have a 65 maybe 70 percent chance of being alive and cancer-free after five years. This was supposed to be good news, I know, but I kept thinking that if this were a school grade, it would be a high D or a low C … barely passing. I wanted to be an A, or a B at the very least.
I was diagnosed mid- December so the holiday season was in full swing, and cozy, familiar scents jumped out around every corner. I would catch a whiff of a Douglass Fir and wonder “could this be my last Christmas?” The smell of fresh baked goods made me wonder if I would get to make sugar cookies again with my kids. The smell of each new text book I opened that semester caused me to question whether or not I would get to finish grad school and realize my dream of becoming a teacher.
As I began my treatment, my sense of smell turned against me even more. I could no longer tolerate strong perfume. A well-meaning friend gave me some body lotion but the smell of it actually made me gag. Coffee, my old friend and savior of many tired mornings, no longer held my interest. There were other unwelcome food smells lurking out there too. I made the mistake of eating a delicious slice of tomato pie right after my first round of chemo. It seemed like a good idea at the time … the pizza place was right across from the hospital and I was feeling great. But, I nearly had to walk on the other side of the street every chemo visit after that, just to avoid the smell of those pies and the connection to how sick I felt later that first day.
The turning point for me came when I began to really focus on all the things that were going well in my life despite cancer. Even though I didn’t feel lucky at the moment, I knew I was very lucky … I had a loving, supportive husband, two sweet boys who needed a mom, and an army of friends and family who made sure I had food in my fridge, shoulders to cry on and plenty of comic relief. Plus I was about to embark on a lucrative career as a teacher, well, rewarding career anyway! Each day became an opportunity to be thankful, and create new memories rather than dwell on the possibility that I might not be around that time the following year.
When summer ended and I finished chemo and radiation, I made sure to take the time to stop and smell the roses, or the coffee or… the entire candle aisle of Target with my three-year-old! And, on my family’s many trips to the Jersey shore, I took in the smell of the ocean and salt air (one of my favorite smells in the whole world) and hoped that this would be a scent that would always remind my kids of the wonderful times we had spent there together building sandcastles, boogie boarding or collecting shells. I felt confident then as I do now, that with each new day, I was smelling the sweet, strong, lingering scent of hope. It is a smell I wake up to each morning now, along with my coffee.
Throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Fashion Bug stores will donate 100 percent of proceeds from the sale of an Inspirational Screen Tee to support our educational resource Guide for the Newly Diagnosed and LBBC’s Survivors’ Helpline, a personalized matching service that connects women in similar circumstances in a confidential setting.