Introducing Norrell; a musical theatre actress and advocate for early detection

Wonderful Norrell (@norelimoo)

Today’s guest blogger is the wonderful Norrell who is a 34 year-old professional musical theatre actress currently living in Chicago, Illinois in the United States with her fiance Joe and their cat, Chairman Meow. [Is this not the best cat name ever?!]

Norrell says that her biggest passions are singing, meditation, dancing, and snacking on hearts of palm.

Norrell was diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma in 2016 at the age of 30 and she is now a passionate advocate for early detection -as she says, #dontwaitinvestigate.

You can find Norrell on Instagram @norelimoo.

Here’s Norrell’s story:

“Whoa. It’s four years this November since my diagnosis… isn’t it funny how much we hang on to numbers? These milestone markers. A pause and a breath in remembrance. I was 30 when I learned I had invasive ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer. Stage 1. For me, this was both frightening and yet, powerful news. Let me explain.

I have a cousin who had Stage 3 breast cancer and she was diagnosed at the young age of 28. It scared the SHIT out of me, honestly; me being 23 years old at the time. She came out on the other side! I admired her power and motivated spirit to fight what too many women must fight in this world. My main take away? CHECK. YOUR. SELF. Fast-forward seven years later to 2016 and something just… isn’t right. There’s no pain, but there’s definitely a lump. Hmmmmmm.

I am a fairly optimistic and balanced person, or at least I like to believe I am; to constantly keep going with whatever the flow may throw. I am a Pisces, after all. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of this if there wasn’t any need, so I just “kept an eye on it” for two months before I even mentioned it to my fiance, Joe.

Sooo this lump, huh? Still here? Cool cool cool. Mind you, I was an uninsured actor/musical theatre performer (like so many in my field) and had many gigs that year. I was also working two restaurant jobs, performing in a musical, and singing in a couple of bands. I’ve always had the tendency to run myself until empty. I also had my very first car accident that year… something was UP and I could FEEL it.

That August, we lost our dear neighbor to gallbladder cancer. 42 years old.  He left behind his two little girls and loving wife. It made me ponder my own situation. I had no healthcare and the costs were already starting to pile up in my head if, in fact, the unknown was to be confirmed. The not knowing was eating me alive. “Knowledge is POWER”, I thought. With more knowledge, I get to keep the control and do what is absolutely necessary for me to stay alive.

Little by little I went through the routine tests (breast exam, mammogram, and biopsy) to learn of my diagnosis in November of 2016. *Deep inhale, deep exhale.* What a year! But, let me tell you about my ride-or-die partner, Joe. He made phone calls for four days to get me insured by January 2017. He set appointment dates for me when I just didn’t have the energy to makes those calls myself. He took point. Something he has always done, but this level of love was something I never could dream I would find in a partner. He’s a spectacular human and loves me to no end. Talk about lucky.

I was overwhelmed by the amount of support, both emotional and monetary, that poured out from family and friends in my home state of Pennsylvania as well as my theatre fam in Denver, CO. A GoFundMe was started by my now sister-in-law and The Denver Actors Fund had raised over $4,000 to help with medical bills. Having so many people in my corner made my fight less scary.

Once 2017 hit, it was ON and I was in attack mode. The ninth of January, I went in for my first ever MRI. When the test results came back they had determined that another lump had been growing. I now have two tumors growing inside of me. I was shocked, but not shaken. We still had work to do and I had a laser focus on the situation.

Genetic testing followed and we learned even more… my cancer was not hereditary. A “gene of insignificant variance” my doctors called it. The doctors recommended a good-old-fashioned lumpectomy: remove the tumors, salvage the nipple, deal with a deformed “breasticle”. I was not convinced… I needed to do more research and I needed to talk to more women.

That was the key. I talked to mothers, daughters, friends, breast cancer survivors and I asked “What would you do in my position? What do you wish you had done differently?”.

I remember speaking with an Aunt about my grandmother’s breast cancer journey. She got her diagnosis towards the end of her life and opted for the lumpectomy, but the cancer returned. I didn’t want to hear the word cancer again. I wanted to be FINISHED with this life-altering event. I started to pivot my decision towards a bilateral mastectomy. My man put it very simply. “Your breasts are trying to kill you.” He was absolutely right.

We continued our discussions with my doctors and one month later from the date of my MRI, I went in for my surgery to remove everything; nipple and all with reconstruction surgery on the horizon. Pathology reports came back and we learned that a THIRD mass was beginning to grow. Boy, did I feel good about my decision to cut it all out. Something we were not ready to hear from my oncologist was radiation and chemotherapy. I was pissed.

I didn’t understand how I could only be Stage 1, had the mastectomy, and still have to go through nearly 14 rounds of chemo treatment. After more tests were completed on my tumors and finding the most amazing oncology team at  Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, we were told I would only have to do 4 rounds of chemo and no radiation. What a relief!

My body handled chemotherapy well with little side effects. Queasy at times, hot flashes, and the loss of my upper singing register for a spell. I had been previously cast in another musical and went into rehearsal three weeks after my initial surgery. I needed theatre to get me through this real-life drama I was living and I was so grateful for that opportunity.

And of course, the hair loss. Honestly, I felt like a badass for the majority of the time. I learned how to wrap luxurious headscarves around my perfectly round dome or just rock the bald. There were stares and it got me down at times, but I kept smiling and shining my light! Once chemo was complete, I got a new pair of boobs! Chemotherapy had been the only thing on my brain that I had almost forgotten about my implant surgery. I had been at this for 6 months and I was exhausted by July. That recovery was definitely the hardest thing of all. Life after cancer now consists of a ten-year regimen of Tamoxifen, routine check-ups, and checking for lumps STILL.

I did something just for me a couple years post-op, too, that is my most spiritual life event to date. Back when I decided to remove my nipple the thought of a tattoo came to mind. I didn’t want a nipple tattoo, though. I wanted something fun; just plain badass. Scars are beautiful and I was ok with mine.. I just needed a different way to honor what I had gone through. I searched the web for mastectomy tattoos. I wanted to do something either simple and elegant or humorous. The idea I was able to brew up with my close friend and tattoo artist, George Munoz, was both.

The idea that made me smile and laugh the most was when I recalled the first Austin Powers movie. I always enjoyed the scene where the fembots came out to the tune of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’”.. all blonde. All in silver lame. No one could resist their charm! And then all of sudden, a gun barrel shoots out from the bra and starts firing at their target. BAD. ASS. My tat is a combo of the gun barrels (smoke still rising from one), peonies, and a mandala formed by intricate dot work.

The reason this day was so spectacular is that I was able to get this 11 hour tattoo in front of thousands at a tattoo convention. Not only was it special for me, but it was also the very first mastectomy tattoo that my good friend, George, was creating. Both of our significant others were there to support and witness. It was magical. I was able to talk with complete strangers and a lot of women about my journey. In turn, they were sharing their story with me. Tattoos mean so much to individuals because more times than not, there’s a meaningful story behind it. By sharing my experience in public, I was able to give other breast cancer survivors the confidence and nudge to get their own “badge of honor”.

It’s amazing what news like cancer can do to really shift your perspective. Our time on this Earth is never promised. This quite daunting news was in reality a life course in how important slowing down and taking pause to listen to your body can be. It made me reevaluate the ways in which I show up for others, and more importantly, myself, every day. It really was an experience of reacting and tuning inward like never before.

I had some rad chemo conversations with myself! I found clarity in my meditation practice. I danced by myself A LOT like I did when I was a kid; making up dances in the dining room. Cancer cracked me open in ways that I can’t explain. To anyone who may take a similar journey, my hope for you is that you take this shitty news and turn it into the biggest torch; the brightest light that has always lied within you.”

Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Norrell. We feel so honored to share your story.

Meet Lindsey who wrote her memoir while undergoing treatment

Wonderful Lindsey (@lindseykennedylives)

We have been enormously fortunate to feature some fabulous writers here on Valiant Lingerie’s blog and today is no different!

Today’s guest blog was written by wonderful Lindsey who wrote her first book, “The Little Things: a breast cancer memoir”, last year while undergoing treatment for stage two breast cancer.

Lindsey Kennedy lives on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia with her husband John and two children Layla (13) and Lennox (10). She is a public speaker, civil celebrant, teacher and describes herself as a cancer kicker! Lindsey is the founder of #CheckYourselfTuesday, a catchphrase that many of her social media followers use to check their breasts shape and size looking for changes. She believes that our hands can be one of the best tools for early detection and wants to get both men and women to know their breast/pectoral area as well as their armpits and necks.

You can find Lindsey on Facebook: Lindsey Kennedy, on Instagram @lindseykennedylives or email her on thelittlethingslk@gmail.com

Her book is available on Amazon as a paperback and Kindle version and also from www.bookdepository.com

Here’s Lindsey’s story:

“In 2004, my younger brother, Sean, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at nineteen years of age. While it devastated our family, he fought the battle of his life and won. Ten years later saw the breast cancer diagnosis of my only sister, Roisin Pelan, who was pregnant at the time with her first child. It came back as incurable Stage 3C early 2018. She called me urging me too, to get checked… it saved my life.

There is something to be said about lived experiences. I am a daughter, sister, mother and wife who, in 2018, had to muster all my positive thinking and strong mindset to battle a breast cancer battle. My debut book “The Little Things: a breast cancer memoir” was written during my recovery from a stage two diagnosis that took a little over two years to win. With the support of my family and friends, I found silver linings, pushed away negative thoughts and took control, when at times, control seemed lost. This book was not written to be self-indulgent, nor to seek attention, but to offer insight and awareness in and around the subject of breast cancer. After my own diagnosis and not finding the book I wanted, I felt compelled to write one.

I wrote this book to encourage and promote healthy, vital conversation in and around the topic of breast cancer. We are so lucky these days even younger women are open to this form of conversation. Years ago, many would consider this narrative as taboo or indeed, dirty. I’m here to get women to become more breast aware and check themselves regularly. In the end, my book, vitally, signifies hope rather than despondency.

I believe that having a good doctor is vital. Many people admit to me that they don’t change doctors, even if they don’t necessarily like them, or get the outcome they want, or if they disagree with what they suggest because “He has been my family doctor for years”, or “They’ll do, I don’t go to the doctors often anyway”. Loyalty is admirable, but not at the expense of your future health. It is really important to feel respected and understood by your G.P. You also need to be able to say the embarrassing (to some) words such as breasts, nipples and vagina, even if it means squirming in your seat. If this is not the case, my advice would be – you NEED to change doctors.

My doctor actioned diagnostic testing which revealed, unfortunately, that I was positive for cancer. The four centimetre mass was estrogen and progesterone positive, which meant that the estrogen and progesterone in my body were feeding the growth of the tumour. Damn, I got it just for being a woman! The invasive, ductal, stage two, grade one carcinoma had been hibernating in my right breast. Cancer just invited itself in, set up camp and wreaked havoc… that is, until it was caught.

Life’s rose-coloured glasses had splintered. Hearing the diagnosis was the start of my thinking that life just might not be the bed of roses I thought it was. Cancer was about to change the course of my life but I whispered to it; “Cancer, you picked the wrong lady!”

I endured, like many, a lumpectomy and had three sentinel nodes removed (only cancer in one), chemotherapy, radiation therapy, a breast reduction, and a double mastectomy with D.I.E.P (using tissue form my stomach). Like that was not enough, a nasty, rare bacteria – only found in five countries in the world, decided to make me its host and started to “rot” away my chest and stomach leaving me looking rather like a patchwork quilt under my shirt and double figures when talking surgeries. Further to that, I had to have a skin graft and then start the journey of re-re-construction. I’m all healed now but am left with scars and stories to match.

I now realise that nothing could have stopped me from getting cancer, no matter how many vegetables I ate, no matter how much sugar I cut out, no matter how many squats or lunges I managed, no matter what I did. It did not respect me as a person. I also came to the stark realisation that without intervention, my own body would have killed me. What the hell was my flesh and blood doing working against me? In the end, I’ve learned that maybe everything I went through was trying to build me, not break me.”

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today, Lindsey. We’re looking forward to reading your memoir!