Get [empowered] with us. (Part 1)

In 1991, Living Beyond Breast Cancer was formed when Marisa C. Weiss, MD, a radiation oncologist, held a conference with the help of some of her patients. Their goal was to provide a safe space where women could gain accurate and easy-to-understand breast cancer information from medical experts, while finding and connecting with each other.

Margaux Jacks (nee Garbowski) is the daughter of one of those patients.  This is the first of her two-part story for the Living Beyond Breast Cancer 25th Anniversary Blog Series.


mom-dad-meIt was 1980, and I was four when my parents sat me down at our kitchen table in our ranch home in the suburbs of Philadelphia to have a talk. While I can’t recall everything that was said, one detail that would impact my life in ways I could never imagine at such a young age was when my parents brought up the “c word.” In that moment, my life changed in a profound way. Ahead of me would be a mix of highs and lows, so many sweet moments, and yet so many other terrifying ones. Whether we liked it or not, we were in for the roller coaster ride that is a cancer diagnosis.

At the age of four, I didn’t ask about my Mom, Nancy S. Garbowski, living or dying. And I was unaware that Mom could die. I knew she was going to the hospital, and hospitals made people better, right? She would be ok, the doctors would fix her, that’s what doctors do. I drew her a card to take to the hospital, on construction paper, with pretty flowers and signed it with love.

I can’t imagine what was going through my Mom’s mind. She always seemed so calm about it with me. She must have been so scared, as her Mom had died of metastatic breast cancer when she was four; her Mom was just the young age of 31. Was history going to repeat itself?

mom and meWhen she came home, I saw her scar from the amputation. In my little voice, I called it the train tracks. It was one long red line about one-half to one-inch thick in sections that went from the center of her chest all the way into her armpit. It had equally thick cross lines, same red that gave it the train track look. She smiled at my observation. I’m guessing she enjoyed my innocence.

Mom healed and life went on. She didn’t talk about cancer with me. When the next one came, I was a few years older, and understood more. When Mom was not feeling well, we would hunker down as a family — helping each other with all the routine chores of life, while making sure Mom was as comfortable as possible. While Mom, Dad and I bonded in such a profound way, there were also consequences, as it was stressful to be the main support for someone. Plus, I could not relate to how she was feeling. I could not provide any support in the huge decisions she faced with her treatment. My Dad shouldered a lot when it came to being there for my Mom.

We handled it together as a family. Her cancer allowed us an opportunity to share many intimate experiences, many girls would not share with their Mom at that age. During chemo I would help her walk outside and together we would blow clumps of her hair into the wind. As the locks of her hair would carry through the air, we would make a wish. I can recall the twinkle in her eyes. She was so proud to have given me life, even as hers was ending.

I held the family secret for years. I never told anyone, not a friend, not a neighbor. Finally, one day sitting with one of my best friends playing cards in our cabin at sleep away camp, I said it: “My Mom has cancer.” It felt so weird to utter the words — to see her reaction, her understanding of the seriousness of something like this. And that was it. I didn’t speak of it again for quite some time. It felt awkward to reveal something that was deeply private.

My Mom kept it mostly private too. I’m not sure how she processed all that she was enduring. But then she met someone who would help her in ways none of us imagined.

25th Anniversary Mark

Nancy didn’t know it, but she and a small group of fellow patients were about to help in the creation of something that would forever change the way women diagnosed with breast cancer could access trustable information and connect with a community they could depend on. Margaux’s story concludes with the second part of her blog which will be published later this week.

The Whole You: Meditation, Yoga and Breast Cancer

In this post for our Wellness Weekend series, The Whole You, Ayanna Kalasunas writes about how meditation and yoga helped her after she learned she had metastatic breast cancer. Understand how cancer impacts you physically, emotionally and spiritually during Wellness Weekend, taking place September 18-20 in Denver, CO.

Let’s face it – hearing “you have cancer” is one of the scariest moments of anyone’s life.  A metastatic breast cancer diagnosis two and a half years ago on the day I was set to start chemo was downright earth-shattering.  I, like many others, asked myself “how the hell am I supposed to handle this?” Having battled depression and anxiety in the past, I was truly concerned about the coping mechanisms I would need. I felt lost, angry, afraid and hopeless.

Then I thought about my mother. She too had been diagnosed metastatic after a stage II battle seven years earlier. She maintained a zest for life and continued to be the life of the party despite various bouts of chemo, radiation and multiple surgeries. She had cancer and I was aware of that but she was so much more than her disease.  My now husband once commented about her saying “I honestly forget that she is sick. Not in a bad way…she is just so fun and happy all the time.” Thinking about this reminded me that I could do it, too.

I was also very lucky to have a few close friends that used meditation and yoga as part of their regular routines. Part of their support as caregivers was offering information and resources regarding meditation, mindfulness, acupuncture and other complimentary therapies to my medical treatments, which I continue to pick up along this journey. Each one has grounded me and brought me to a life that is filled with hope, positive thinking and empowerment.


I did not morph into this person overnight. I read a few articles here and there, followed some inspiring people on social media, went to a yoga class with a friend here and there and spent a few Sundays super-souling on my sofa with a cup of coffee. I tried some mediation challenges and apps and slowly have found a sense of power in each of these moments.  I learned that I am in fact in complete control. Cancer is in my body so yes, it is real, but I am not my circumstances. Continue reading

Join Our Annual Fall Conference From the Comfort Of Your Home

If you can’t come to our annual fall conference, Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences, you can still join us for the live webstream of our morning and closing plenary sessions. Read below to learn more about our webstreams.

eblastSquare400x400 copylivewebstreams copyYou may be in the middle of breast cancer treatment. You may be a single parent and can’t attend a conference far away. Other reasons make it difficult for you to travel long-distance.

At Living Beyond Breast Cancer, we understand that you may experience obstacles that prevent you from attending a national conference that isn’t within an easy driving distance or close to public transportation. That’s why we’re bringing parts of the conference to you through free, live webstreams!

Join us on Saturday, September 27, from the comfort of your own home. Watch our morning and closing plenary sessions and ask our experts your questions! Through our webstreaming, you will be able to watch:

Morning Sessions 9:30 – 10:45 a.m. (ET)

  • Triple-Negative Breast Cancer: What We Know, What We Are Learning, How You Can Help with Rita Nanda, MD (presented in partnership with Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation)
  • Hormone Receptor-Positive or HER2+ Breast Cancer: What’s New in Targeted Therapies with Virginia Borges, MD, MMSc
  • Metastatic Breast Cancer: Treatment Strategies with Clifford A. Hudis, MD

Closing Sessions 4 – 5 p.m. (ET)

  • Thriving! A Discussion on Living Well—Body, Mind and Soul with Virginia Borges, MD, MMSc Lisa McLaughlin, MSW, LSW, OSW-C, and Marisa C. Weiss, MD

Continue reading

It’s About You: Lynn Folkman’s Story

emailHeader760x1604_BlogResizeAt this year’s annual fall conference, Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences, we’re not just providing you with the unique information you seek; we’re offering you the chance to connect with others and learn that you’re not alone.  While being treated for breast cancer, Lynn Folkman went to her first-ever LBBC fall conference in 2009. She blogs about that day and the importance of creating the conference experience you want. Lucky for us, Lynn joined the team at Living Beyond Breast Cancer in 2012 as our Community Engagement Manager.

Lynn Folkman LBBC Fall ConferenceIt was fall 2009 – I had just completed chemotherapy, radiation therapy and was a few months into my year of taking trastuzumab (Herceptin) and I was exhausted. I found out about the LBBC Annual Fall Conference through one of my support groups and the thought of attending alone was too overwhelming for me, so I agreed to attend with a friend I met during treatment.

The conference that year was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. I was a bit nervous about attending, as I had previously worked at the Convention Center and still knew quite a few people there, and they did not know that I had breast cancer. As well, the tables were turned; I was a meeting planner and instead of producing the event, I was experiencing the conference as an attendee.

I was in an emotionally raw and vulnerable state. I was at the point in my treatment where I often wondered if or when I would ever feel like myself again. I was tired of hearing the comment, “You look really great!” I longed for a day where I could be invisible and no one would know that I had breast cancer. However, I was still mostly bald and there was no masking what I was currently experiencing. I was apprehensive about having to endure glances from people who knew me, which would be mixed with a combination of sympathy and trepidation.  They were used to the vivacious energetic Lynn, not the exhausted Lynn.  How could I possibly fake it when I did not even have the energy to do so?

A few things occurred that day which continue to deeply comfort my mind and spirit and reinforce the special place in my heart for the LBBC Fall Conference. Since it was my first time attending, I had no idea what to expect. The day began with the opening session, the speaker welcomed the group and then asked people how far out they were from the time of their diagnosis. When your year was called, you were instructed to raise your hand. One year and under, my hand went up. I don’t remember the exact breakdown, but it went something like this: 1-5 years, 5-10 years, 10-15 years, more than 15 years and so on.  What I do remember is being overwhelmed as I heard cheers and looked around the room and saw so many raised hands and proudly smiling faces.   Continue reading

Getting On Track – LBBC’s Reimagined Fall Conference

emailHeader760x160Our annual fall conference features three tracks because breast cancer is not just one disease. Clifford A. Hudis, MD, chief of the breast medicine service and attending physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, wrote this blog post about the reasons for these tracks and how breast cancer treatment became more individualized. A member of LBBC’s medical advisory board, Dr. Hudis will lead our morning plenary session on metastatic breast cancer. 

Hudis_lbbcblogpostGiven LBBC’s recognition that not all breast cancer is the same and not all patients need the same information, it is natural to see that the annual fall conference, Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences, is organized in tracks that enable participants to most efficiently focus on what they find to be most relevant. 

Not Just One Disease

Starting with oncology pioneer George Beatson’s 1896 report that some, but not all, women with advanced breast cancer responded to treatment that reduces estrogen in the body, it was clear that we confront more than one, uniform disease. The subsequent description of the estrogen receptor by cancer researcher Elwood Vernon Jensen in 1958 simply allowed us to test for what we already knew – that some cancers are more or less likely to respond to hormone therapies.

The more recent description of the human epidermal growth factor receptor–2 (HER2) and the development of effective treatments that target it added another dimension to “binning” breast cancers. With effective hormone and anti-HER2 therapies we can no longer pretend that cancer is cancer is cancer. One size does not fit all, and one disease is not the same as another.  Continue reading

LBBC’s Annual Fall Conference is for You!



LBBC’s Annual Fall Conference, Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences, has a new look and feel. Catherine Ormerod, VP of Programs and Partnerships shares her highlights for the conference, taking place on Saturday, September 27, 2014 Philadelphia, PA.

Catherine-Ormerod 1Breast cancer research and treatments are constantly changing. It can be difficult to stay current with and understand the impact of these changes on you and your life. That’s why we have adapted this conference to connect you to trusted specific information. Consulting with some of the nation’s leading health specialists, this year’s conference will offer tracks to help you access the specific information that you’re seeking.

At the Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences conference you will get the unique medical information you seek for your specific type of breast cancer, while connecting you to others in a supportive environment. Our tracks are:

  • Triple-negative: presented in partnership with Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation
  • Hormone receptor-positive or HER2-positive
  • Metastatic

You can choose to follow a track or attend individual sessions based on your diagnosis or concerns. Our sessions will include information about the latest in breast cancer news, treatments and care and wellness. They will be presented by renowned breast cancer experts such as Virginia Borges, MD, MMSc; Clifford A. Hudis, MD; Rita Nanda, MD and Marisa C. Weiss. Topics will range from targeted therapies, metastatic breast cancer clinical trials, managing the side effects of chemotherapy and more, plus an engaging closing plenary, Thriving! A Discussion on Living Well – Body, Mind and Soul.

Attending a conference is a great way to not only get the latest information, but to connect with others and build a community of support. We often hear how long lasting friendships were created at LBBC conferences. I encourage you to take advantage of the many ways to share your experience – there will be breaks throughout the day, a special luncheon, closing reception and meetup groups organized by shared interests.

Registration for the conference is $50 per person but if you register before September 5th you will receive our early-bird discounted rate of $40 per person. We offer a limited number of travel grants and fee waivers on a first come, first served basis. Special thanks to Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation’s for its support of travel grants to women diagnosed with triple-negative disease.

Visit to register for the conference, apply for a fee waiver or travel grant and to learn more about our speakers and conference sessions.

I hope you can join us in Philadelphia this September!

Catherine Ormerod
VP, Programs and Partnerships, Living Beyond Breast Cancer
P.S. – Follow #LBBCconf on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for conference updates, staff picks on where to eat in our hometown of Philadelphia, what to see and much more!