Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A songwriter’s Struggle with Blindness, Breast Cancer & More

Donna Hill, blind songwriter/recording artist and avid knitter, presents pink afghan with “Buddy Check” in Braille to Lyndall Stout at WYOU’s studios in Wilkes-Barre.
Photo by Rich Hill

Hunter in Donna's lap. Photo by Rich Hill.

Read Donna's inspirational story, "Butterflies & Me, the healing touch: a breast cancer survival story"


Donna Hill, Head of Media Relations,
Performing Arts Division, National Federation of the Blind,
(570) 833-2708
Photos/Interviews/Info upon request

Overcoming Adversity, a Matter of Perseverance

A songwriter’s Struggle with Blindness, Breast Cancer & More

Donna Hill (58, Auburn Township, PA) has been through it all and come out smiling. Legally blind from birth and a two-time breast cancer survivor, Donna, who has three albums of original music, writes, sings and speaks about success, perseverance, the importance of monthly breast self exams and the realities of being blind in America. Her volunteer efforts are now helping young blind performers.

When she talks to young people about overcoming adversity, Hill tells them about those who said she would never graduate from college, live independently or marry. She then asks them if they think that she knew all along that those people were wrong. Invariably they say, “Yes.”

“Actually,” she says, “I was afraid they were probably right; the difference was that I did not want them to be right.”

“Unfortunately,” Donna continues,”Many of us are programmed to believe that the people who overcome obstacles are those who never doubt that they will and are never afraid. Most of us, however, stumble, fall and pick ourselves up again and again on our journey through life’s road-blocks.”

“Teachers would either assume I was faking my vision problem, or they wouldn’t let me try anything,” says Donna, who was mainstreamed in public school in the fifties, where she received little help and was subjected to bullying. After graduating from college, she taught herself Braille and received her first of four guide dogs from the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind (Smithtown, NY).

After working as a welfare caseworker in Philadelphia, Donna began pursuing her childhood dreams of supporting herself as a musician. Hill, who taught herself to play guitar, had been writing songs since she was fourteen. . A regular street performer and her own agent, Donna became a popular Philadelphia area motivational speaker/singer. Her albums include: “Rainbow Colors” (1983) and “Harvest (1988) as Donna Weiss and “The Last Straw” (1992) as Donna Hill (

As for breast cancer– both times, she found it herself, despite negative mammograms. The first diagnosis came while recording her third album. The second came after finishing it, as she planned to move to Nashville.

“The second cancer was less complicated,” she says, “But, my dreams were blowing up in my face. I didn’t know how to go on without them.”

Though the financial and energy drain delayed her, Donna is back stronger than ever. After moving to rural Susquehanna County – something she and husband Rich planned to do anyway, she mastered the use of a computer with a screen reader.

In 2007, President Dennis Holston of the nonprofit Performing Arts Division of the National Federation of the Blind (PAD,NFB) asked Hill to donate her song “The Edge of the Line” with its hard-hitting, social commentary to the “Sound in Sight” CD ( “Sound in Sight” is an interracial, multi-genre compilation of original songs and covers by promising blind recording artists from across the nation. Proceeds fund the Mary Ann Parks Performing Arts Scholarship.

Like many of the artists on “Sound in Sight” Donna has gone on to take a leadership role in PAD. She was recently appointed Head of Media Relations, a volunteer post.

Hill is motivated by the continued struggles of blind Americans to gain acceptance and opportunity -- problems that persist despite legislative change, advances in technology and the extraordinary achievements of some blind individuals. Two thirds of working age, blind Americans are “un”employed. Many live in poverty. Only ten percent of blind kids are taught Braille, despite strong Braille literacy/success links.

“There hasn’t been a new, blind American superstar in decades, says Hill, “And, Helen Keller, who died over fifty years ago, is still the only blind woman most people can name. I’m hoping our work at PAD will elevate a new generation of blind performers to the national stage.”

Issues affecting blind Americans rarely make mainstream news. Hill, who enjoys long walks, knitting and camping, knows that strong media presence helps other minorities. She believes helping blind entertainers gain the national spotlight will improve public acceptance and opportunity for all blind Americans.


About the National Federation of the Blind: With more than 50,000 members, the National Federation of the Blind is the largest and most influential membership organization of blind people in the United States. The NFB improves blind people’s lives through advocacy, education, research, technology, and programs encouraging independence and self-confidence.

It is the leading force in the blindness field today and the voice of the nation's blind. In January 2004 the NFB opened the National Federation of the

Blind Jernigan Institute, the first research and training center in the United States for the blind led by the blind.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Guest blog post: Christina Koenig shares information about the Breast Cancer Network of Strength

Breast Cancer Network of Strength

“You have breast cancer” may be among the most frightening words a patient can hear a doctor utter. Yet in the United States more than 194,000 men and women hear them each year. A diagnosis may leave someone feeling alone, afraid and hopeless. But having information and knowing where to turn for support can help patients regain a sense of hope and control.

“Am I going to die?”
“My wife was just diagnosed with breast cancer. What do we do?”
“How can I make decisions about my treatment when I’m so upset?”

These are common questions among the 47,000 calls and e-mails that Breast Cancer Network of Strength’s 24/7 YourShoes™ Breast Cancer Support Center receives each year.

When breast cancer is the diagnosis, patients, families and friends want to know everything possible about the disease and how it will affect their lives. They need emotional support and crave information about treatment options and details about the disease, but they also need deeper knowledge.

For the newly diagnosed, support is crucial and it helps to talk to someone who has been through the same experience, a “peer.” Peer support is the cornerstone of Breast Cancer Network of Strength® (formerly known as Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization®).

Callers feel immediate emotional relief when they talk to someone who has walked in their shoes--one of our peer counselors--because, as breast cancer survivors, they truly understand what someone may be going through. Since this is such a meaningful concept, we named our peer support services YourShoes™.

“Even though my family is a great support system, I needed to talk to someone who had been in my shoes.”

YourShoes includes the 24/7 breast cancer support center staffed by peer counselors who are breast cancer survivors. Calls are handled in more than 150 languages through real-time interpreters.

It also includes e-mail-based support, match programs, and survivor-facilitated support groups. All questions are answered by peer counselors who are rigorously screened, trained and certified to help callers by giving emotional support and information about breast cancer procedures and treatment options.

Here are actual comments from callers:

“I didn’t know who to call, I needed to talk, I was frightened and I needed information. Thank you for being there for me.”

“I was feeling very vulnerable, sad and in shock. It was late at night and I found support through your service.”

“Your counselor was most helpful—compassionate, soft spoke and got me through a difficult night.”

“You are wonderful. You have been there from the first day I was diagnosed ‘til now.”

Peer counselors coach callers on how to communicate effectively with their doctors, and encourage them to be the key players on their health care teams. In addition, callers can be paired with match peer counselors who share similar diagnoses, ages or experiences.

Breast Cancer Network of Strength does not endorse specific treatment options or protocols and peer counselors do not give medical advice. They do, however, replace fear with facts and help patients understand how to weigh their options to make more personalized treatment decisions.

Since breast cancer affects not just the patient but the whole family and circle of friends, anyone touched by breast cancer or who is concerned about breast health can use the Network of Strength’s confidential and free services.

For breast cancer support or information including publications and newsletters, visit Breast Cancer Network of Strength or call 1-800-221-2141 (English, with interpreters available in 150 languages).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Breast Cancer Myths, Scares and Survivals

Breast Cancer Myths, Scares and Survivals

One woman’s story that inspires the survival, not the scare, of breast cancer

This past October, 2009, during breast cancer awareness month

(Pinellas Park, Fla.) – There is something even scarier than Halloween this past October and it affects nearly 200,000 women per year in the U.S. Every year, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the U.S. other than skin cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer, according to research done by the American Cancer Society. But beyond the doom and gloom there is hope and survival aside from the scare. One woman shares her survival story from her first thoughts when diagnosed (the myths and truths about cancer prevention), to breaking the news to her children, to now having a clean bill of health and offering inspiration to her fellow breast cancer fighters.

Gwen Novak is a single mother of two. She was recently sitting in a waiting room at a cancer center while watching as a fellow breast cancer patient sits terrified awaiting the news or more information on her situation. A year ago, Novak felt the same petrified, devastated feeling that she says left her sick to her stomach, “I have two little kids. What’s going to happen?”

Novak had to make some quick choices. What was she going to tell the children? How would she get through yet another life obstacle thrown in her path? How is it even possible that she could be given such a horrific diagnosis since she had been raised on nothing but healthy, organic foods? “I thought, maybe I should have eaten more vegetables! I never drank pop; I ate my mother’s fresh, ground peanut butter. My kids don’t even know what SpaghettiO’s® are! Although, if I hadn’t been so healthy, I could have been dead,” she said. Novak is a strong believer that your environment, along with your lifestyle choices and genetic disposition, is a huge player when it comes to a diagnosis.

Some common myths on breast cancer diagnosis involve drinking caffeine, eating dairy and, yes, eating your vegetables or not. According to a study published this year from Annals of Epidemiology, there is in fact no link between caffeine consumption and breast cancer.

Regarding dairy causing breast cancer: several studies (including a Norwegian study published in The International Journal of Cancer) show that women who drank more than three glasses of milk every day had a lower incidence of breast cancer.

As for those vegetables, research at the Strang Cancer Prevention Center in New York discovered that a daily diet including cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower significantly reduce estrogenic compounds believed to cause breast cancer. The chemicals in these vegetables, called indoles, induce the body to burn-off the form of estrogen that promotes breast cancer. Raw or cooked at least two to three times a day is recommended for these vegetables.

Breast Cancer myth statistics and studies were provided by Hallie Levine, Redbook,

Novak said the beginning was tough and she really didn’t know what she was up against. Novak received two lumpectomies. She received her radiation treatment from WellSpring Oncology. “You have to take each thing one step at a time – that is how they [the physicians] give you the information,” she said. Novak said the medical professionals on her case would give her a little bit of information each time so she could handle the process one step at a time rather than to, “blow through it all.” She said, “They piece it out to you so you can handle it and get through it one stage at a time.”

Speaking of her children, 10-year-old daughter, Chloe and 9-year-old son, Winston, she said she pulled them out of their private school and began a home-school program. “I was too sick to get them ready and drive back and forth two hours to the school, and it was the best thing I could have ever done for them,” said Novak, “having them close to me through this made it less difficult for them.”

Novak said she was honest and upfront with her children from the start. “A single-parent relationship is a little different,” she said. Chloe stood-up to the plate, “She ran the show around the house, taking care of her brother,” said Novak, “I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, though.”

To lighten the stress of it all, Novak recently attended a prostate cancer awareness fundraiser for WellSpring Oncology’s WellSpring Giving Tree (Catch for a Cure). She plans to get involved with walks and events like the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides - in the future once she has built-up her physical strength and former athletic-build again. “I am dying to get back out and get in shape,” she said.

Her advice to women out there going through the same “scare and survival” is to, “Keep a positive attitude. Dig deep for your inner strength to face the fear, other people cannot do it for you. Have fun along the way.” Novak had fun along the way by attending each treatment appointment as a different character – once as Malibu Barbie, adorning a flamboyant wig and all.

Novak’s Survival Kit:

1. Get your facts

2. Don’t regret

3. Take one step at a time

4. When you’re tired, lay down

Novak plans to live her life and move forward, not worrying if the cancer will come back. “I am a tough cookie, but I am going to eat more vegetables.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New York Cleaning Company Donated A YEAR of Cleaning To Two Women During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Teresa, at left, presenting Grace with a certificate after she won a year's worth of cleaning services from Teresa's Family Cleaning

October, 2009

New York Cleaning Company Donated A YEAR of Cleaning To Two Women During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Teresa’s Family Cleaning, a Long Island, New York, company, gave away a YEAR of cleaning to two women who needed it the most, by holding a contest where the randomly picked winners were nominated online or at hosting sites, by their family, friends, or co-workers.

Teresa Ward, owner of TFC and who also is the New York Founding Chapter of Cleaning For A Reason, a national 501 3c charity that helps women being treated for all cancers with free cleaning services, wanted to specifically donate more during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Teresa knows first hand the difficulties women face during the treatments for cancer. Having lost her sister, Virginia, to lung cancer, and knowing so many women who are battling breast cancer, including her office assistant Margaret, who is a two year fighter, she felt that it was important even on a small level to be able to help two local women in her own community with free cleaning services. But to personally pick who would receive these services was a choice she could not make on her own, simply because there are so many women on Long Island currently being treated for breast cancer.

So she decided to do the contest and have it pick the winners instead. The contest was a huge success and ended on October 23rd, and the randomly chosen entries were Grace B. of Brentwood, New York, and Mary A. of Riverhead, New York, who both won a year of cleaning services. Teresa Ward presented the winners their prizes on October 29th, 2009 at the Wyland Galleries in Sayville NY.

Teresa was very grateful to have been able to help these women. Simply put, It's difficult enough having to endure the treatments for this disease, but to have to worry about cleaning your home while you're trying to recuperate, well, it's just one less thing they have to worry about.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sales of Invicibelle Spirit raises funds for fight against breast cancer

Spring Meadow Nursery has partnered with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation to raise $1 million for breast cancer research. To reach our goal, we developed the first ever pink anabelle hydrangea called Invincibelle® Spirit, which donates $1 to the BCRF for every plant sold. This hardy and heat tolerant hydrangea blooms reliably each year, and is named in honor of the brave women fighting breast cancer. Like these women, it is strong and will survive and thrive for years to come.

For more information on our campaign, please visit

Invincibelle® Spirit is included on the pink products page of the BCRF web site pink products & programs page.


Kathy Garfield
Marketing Specialist
Spring Meadow Nursery, Inc.
12601 120th Ave.
Grand Haven, MI 49417
(616) 846-4729, ext 1204

Monday, November 02, 2009

Organization spotlight: Living Beyond Breast Cancer

NOTE: I did not write this article. The author of this article is not known. It was sent to me by E-mail.

(NAPS)—Thanks to medical advances, more women are surviving a breast cancer diagnosis than ever before. That’s one reason it’s important to support the emotional healing process by addressing a spectrum of “survivorship” concerns.

Every woman deals with a diagnosis of breast cancer in her own way. You may have concerns about your long-term health or your emotional well-being. You may fear breast cancer could return. You are finding a “new normal”—integrating a history with breast cancer into your life experience. For those who are making the transition into that “new normal” and starting to return to a regular routine, here are some tips from Living Beyond Breast Cancer, a national nonprofit organization for coping with the medical, emotional and practical concerns when treatment ends and the rest of life begins.

Speak with your doctor to create a long-term followup plan. Whether you’re one year or 10 years out from your diagnosis, as a breast cancer survivor, it’s important to speak with your doctor to determine your
schedule for ongoing medical checkups to monitor your health. It may also be beneficial to ask your doctor about how to manage lingering side effects, such as fatigue, bone loss, hot flashes, weight gain or lymphedema.
Keep your medical records and appointments organized. Request a printed copy and organize your medical reports so they will be easier to reference during your follow-up care. And keep a calendar updated with your upcoming checkups and any tests you may have. While you are in follow-up care, it’s very important to follow through with the medical visits your doctor has recommended for you.
Understand that you may need to create a new “normal.” Breast cancer can be a defining experience. You may want your life to return to the way it was before your diagnosis. While that may be the case for some women, for many others, breast cancer changes their outlook and perspective. Take the time to sort out your emotions and priorities. Don’t feel pressured to “bounce back” immediately after treatment ends.
Take care of your emotional health. Breast cancer survivors may experience various feelings and stages of anxiety, depression, anger or loneliness. For some women, the shock of diagnosis doesn’t take full affect until after treatment ends. First and foremost, you need to know that these emotions are normal. One way to ease your emotions is by staying connected to those who make you feel most comfortable sharing your feelings. You can reach out to breast cancer organizations, such as Living Beyond Breast Cancer, that offer telephone-matching services and can connect you to another woman in similar circumstances. Also, remember that trained therapists can help you along your journey. Regular exercise can be very helpful in improving your mood and outlook on life.
Live beyond your breast cancer. Don’t let breast cancer define you or hinder future possibilities. Remember to live each day with hope and take time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. You may be physically and emotionally drained but remember, you have done everything you can to fight the cancer. Feel proud of your hard work and now take time to recapture and enjoy your life. At every stage of your breast cancer journey, Living Beyond Breast Cancer can help. For more information, visit to download or order free education resources that provide emotional comfort and support. Founded in 1991, Living Beyond Breast Cancer is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering all women affected by breast cancer to live as long as possible with the best quality of life. For more information, visit or call the organization’s toll-free Survivors’ Helpline at (888) 753-LBBC (5222).

Living Beyond Breast Cancer
Healthy Ideas
Living Beyond Breast Cancer, a national nonprofit organization, has resources for coping with the medical, emotional and practical concerns of breast cancer at every stage of your journey. For more information, visit or call (888) 753-5222.

You can put cancer into context and learn how to move forward and live beyond your diagnosis. Thanks to medical advances, more women are surviving a breast cancer diagnosis than ever before. /// Living Beyond Breast Cancer

Personal note from Dawn: LBBC has started a blog here: LBBC's Blog

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Breast Reconstruction Procedure Reaches New Heights

Victory Public Relations
Andrea Samacicia
July 23, 2009

Breast Reconstruction Procedures Reach New Heights

New York City Plastic Surgeon Dr. Thomas Sterry demystifies breast reconstruction

According to the American Cancer Society a staggering 70 percent of women eligible for breast reconstruction forgo it simply because they are unaware of their options. This glaring oversight leaves the roughly 250,000 American women who each year battle breast cancer uninformed about what’s often considered the finishing touch of a treatment plan.

New York City board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Thomas Sterry says that even though women feel scared after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis and overwhelmed by the treatment that lies ahead, neglecting to discuss reconstruction options serves only to limit her.

“Nearly all the breast cancer patients I work with for reconstruction tell me they were concerned early on about how their treatment would impact their physical appearance, but that those concerns weren’t addressed,” says Dr. Sterry. “The trauma of her battle with breast cancer will be with her always and so will some of the scars, but there is great technology today that makes it possible for pretty much every patient to expect a pleasing aesthetic result after breast reconstruction and it’s important that every patient be educated about it.”

Breast Advice

There are many options for breast reconstruction. Because multiple factors - including the method of treatment, the style of mastectomy, and certain characteristics of each individual patient -determine which option is best, the most successful outcome results when a plastic surgeon is included on the treatment team from the beginning.

“Most breast cancer patients tell me they feel deformed by their treatment, sometimes even comparing themselves to Humpty Dumpty,” says Dr. Sterry, “They feel that after this traumatic ordeal they’re left in pieces and are relieved to learn how they can restore their body to a shape they associate with femininity and health.”

According to Dr. Sterry there are some basic terms associated with breast reconstruction that all patients should be aware of including expanders and autologous reconstruction. Dr. Sterry advises all women to also learn about up-and-coming procedures, including those that use tissue matrices and alternatives to mastectomies also known as oncoplastic surgery, which he believes will eventually dominate the field.

Not your mother’s breast reconstruction: One of the most common complaints about reconstructed breasts is that they more closely resemble “mounds” rather than natural breasts. It has long been accepted that reconstructed breasts are meant to allow women to better wear clothing, including bathing suits, after mastectomy but exciting advances have made it possible for plastic surgeons to more closely replicate a true breast.

* Tissue Matrices like AlloDerm and Strattice have proven vital in enabling surgeons to recreate the most natural looking breasts during reconstruction, says Dr. Sterry. “Essentially what they’ve done is provide patients with an additional layer of tissue, helping us overcome many challenges typically associated with breast reconstruction,” he explains, going on to say the use of tissue matrices grants the surgeon more control over the placement and shape of the breast. “With the assistance of a tissue matrix, which functions essentially as an ‘inner bra,’ the surgeon can better control and predict the long term position of the implant and the shape of the breast.”
* Alternatives to mastectomy comprise a burgeoning field known as oncoplastic surgery, which in some cases can preserve much of the original breast while also removing cancerous tissue. One example of oncoplastic surgery is the growing number of women Dr. Sterry has seen opting for a breast lift procedure instead of a mastectomy. “In the past it wasn’t uncommon for a woman to opt for a mastectomy out of fear, but thankfully we’ve benefited from some advances that allow us to successfully remove the cancer without necessarily eliminating the entire breast. Because of that, breast conservation surgery like lumpectomies and breast lift in place of a mastectomy are increasingly being used and seem to be just as effective,” Dr. Sterry explains. The trick, he says, is to discuss at length with your breast surgeon and plastic surgeon the pros and cons of traditional mastectomy versus oncoplastic surgery.

Oldies but goodies - breast reconstruction for the ages: The standards for breast reconstruction are autologous reconstruction (using tissue from another part of the patient’s body such as in TRAM flap or latissimus dorsi reconstruction), and tissue expansion, where a device resembling a water balloon is inserted under the skin and muscle in the area of the breast and inflated slowly over a few months. Eventually, the expander is removed and a permanent implant is put in its place.

Associated with each of these procedures are complications such as decreased function of the donor site when tissue from another part of the body is used and unnaturally shaped breasts due to the lack of tissue when an expander and implant are used. If the implant is fully shielded by muscle, high-riding, poorly defined breasts often result but when there’s only partial coverage, the risk for “bottoming out,” exposure of the implant, a “uni-boob” and visibility of the implant increases.

In the past women and their medical teams accepted these risks because there wasn’t much else to choose from. Today, Dr. Sterry believes these procedures can be dramatically improved upon by incorporating new technology such as tissue matrices and oncoplastic surgery.

While the number of people diagnosed with breast cancer steadily rises, the rate of death due to breast cancer is on the decline thanks to early detection and improved treatment options, making it more important than ever to consider “after cancer” plans before surgical treatment.

About Dr. Thomas P. Sterry, M.D.

Thomas P. Sterry, M.D. is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Dr. Sterry’s extensive training includes a medical degree with distinction in research from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as three-year residencies in both plastic surgery and general surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. He holds a masters of Science degree in exercise physiology from Queens College of the City University of New York and a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts from Stony Brook University. Dr. Sterry is a clinical assistant professor of plastic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, and has presented his research to the American Society of Plastic Surgery, the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery and the New York Academy of Medicine. His research has also been published in the Journal of Reconstructive Microsurgery and the Annals of Plastic Surgery. A member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American College of Surgeons, Dr. Sterry has been in practice in New York City since 2001 is currently in solo practice at his posh Park Avenue office. Please visit to learn more.

For more information please contact:

Andrea Samacicia


(o) 646-351-6703 / (m) 631-759-1512