My friend Cathy Backus, founder of the 501.3(c) non-profit Send Me On Vacation (SMOV), asked me recently if, Resort Trades would be interested in writing an article about a very unique vacation her group recently sponsored. The vacation was for a group of mothers who were experiencing cancer during pregnancy. SMOV typically sponsors one breast cancer survivor at a time, but this group had 25 women, each of whom had relied on one another in a mutual support group. Somehow Cathy had mustered the funds to send them all on a vacation to Las Vegas!
Boy, would I ever! I lost my own mom to breast cancer when I was six months old. I surmise she must have had to make a tough decision to forego treatment in order to have a healthy baby. What a brave and noble mother!
So, in honor of October Breast Cancer Month, I’m tickled to be able to allow several of these kick-ass moms the opportunity to tell their own story.
Jessica Ramos’ Story:
We are the Kick Ass Cancer Mamas! We are part of a grass-roots Facebook support group for mamas pregnant with cancer. In late April, we lost two integral members of our group days apart from each other – Lauren Smoke and Jessica Fortney-Martellaro. We were devastated. This is what motivated us to plan a meetup. I personally wanted to hug and see these women who supported me in a very rough time of my life. Even if it was just once! Everyone who went on the trip had breast cancer. We went to Las Vegas July 20-23. Kat started a GoFundMe page and I reached out to Cathy. Thanks to everyone’s generosity we had some extra spending money to go towards our trip! This was a girl’s only trip! I’m fortunate that I have a supportive husband who didn’t mind being a single dad for the weekend. Jin found a house online that would fit all 25 of us under one roof! It also had an amazing pool and water slide!
We had a blast! Thursday we settled in, hung out by the pool, and went on a trip to Costco to by our food for the weekend. Kat graciously made us scones for breakfast every day! Friday we went for a night on the town! We went to a club at the Cosmopolitan. Karina’s father generously gave us some money and we used it towards a cabana and bottle service. Saturday we went to Qua spa at Caesar’s palace. Then we went to dinner at Spago. Sunday was hard! Everyone was in tears because our trip came to a close and it was time to leave and go back home.
I was diagnosed stage 2 breast cancer when I was 14 weeks pregnant. My son and I underwent 6 rounds of chemo while he was still in the womb. He was induced at 36 weeks. I had a lumpectomy 2 days after he was delivered. I had an additional 12 rounds of chemo and 36 rounds of daily radiation. I finished my last treatment in July 2016. I celebrated my 2 year cancerversary on June 26. I still remain no evidence of disease. My chemo baby, Blake, will be two on November 21! He is a thriving toddler! He loves puzzles, books, being outside, and singing “Wheels on the Bus.” I couldn’t have done this without my incredible medical staff, supportive family & friends… and my fellow kick ass cancer mamas!
I left my corporate job in May. I was there for 11 years! I left to work at the National Breast Cancer Foundation to be their Finance Manager. One project that I’m working on is “Breast Cancer in the Workplace.” I’m sharing my story to help employers meet the needs of their employees who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Yes! We are planning another get together! This trip brought us so much closer! We don’t know where we are going yet, but it will probably be next summer. We still talk to each other every day on FB or text messaging.
Caitlin Sticka Story:
RESORT TRADES: How did you get through the delivery of your baby; who supported you such as medical professionals, family and friends, not to mention your Kick Ass group?
CAITLIN: I found out within the same week that I had breast cancer and that I was pregnant with my 2nd daughter. We immediately were surrounded by a ton of support. Family, friends, church community, complete strangers! My medical team was amazing, especially my OB/GYN and breast surgeon. I found support through hope for two (organization for women pregnant with cancer) but found the most support through the Kick Ass Cancer Mamas Facebook group.
RESORT TRADES: What do you think you got out of the trip; what thoughts, memories, ah-hah moments would you say meant the most to you?
CAITLIN: We all can agree that this trip was amazing because it was a time when we felt the most ourselves. These women who have gone through what I went through, there is nothing better than someone who can relate to you on such a deep level. There were tears, mostly laughter and a sense of deep love for each other.
RESORT TRADES: If you formed any special connections because of this trip that is likely to continue and grow, can you talk about that?
CAITLIN: We have continued to keep in touch through a Facebook group dedicated to those who were on the trip. This is a place where at least one of us posts daily. We are already missing each other and cannot wait to plan another trip soon to meet up again!
Jessica Filloon Story:
Hi Sharon! My name is Jessica Filloon and our KACM trip was absolutely life-changing. Thank you for sharing our stories. You have no idea how beautiful it is to be heard.💜
I was diagnosed later on in my pregnancy, at 32 weeks- although I had found my lump(s) a few weeks earlier. So I was actually induced at 35 weeks so I could start chemo right after. We only had a few weeks to fully wrap our heads around what was to come before jumping right in. That being said, I am very lucky to have an amazingly strong and loving support group — #TeamFilloon
As soon as the news traveled to my family and friends, I knew that I would never be alone through any of it. My husband has been my rock and my nurse, so understanding and supportive and definitely taking the ‘through the good times and bad” part of our vows super seriously. My 2 year old has also been the perfect distraction and radiating light during it all.
On the actual delivery day, things did not go as planned and I ended up in an emergency C-Section. But my medical team prepared me for everything since diagnosis, even though this was all completely new to them too. We were all gaining knowledge along the way and I never had any doubt that they were doing what was best for me. They were/are always in constant contact so to give me the greatest care.
My KACM [Kick Ass Cancer Mamas] squad is irreplaceable, I had been in the group for a couple of weeks (added by a mama whom I actually got to meet in Vegas), but didn’t really formally introduce myself until the delivery of Wyatt Jackson Filloon on September 14, 2016. The outpouring of love I received that day made me absolutely confident that all would be alright, my baby would be perfect, and that I was not alone.
It’s funny, spending an entire weekend with Internet strangers and talking lots of cancer talk, I’ve never felt less ‘cancery’. For the first time in almost a year, I felt normal. Like, I had found my people. Things could have gone terribly awful and yet, it was one of the greatest trips of my life.
I feel like my heart grew ten sizes after that weekend. I was able to physically squeeze some of the ladies who literally saved me mentally – ladies who I now consider some of my closest friends, my soul sisters. Leaving them was so hard and we shed many tears. I feel like I left a piece of myself with each mama and now part of me is spread all over the US and I love that.
I had planned on a fun weekend getaway, a spa day, great food, pool time- but it was so much more. I have been blessed with lifelong friendships and support from some of the only people who actually get it. This amazing adventure was flawless- thanks to dedicated and crazy organized ladies, committed mamas, supportive spouses, super generous donors, trust and love. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully express how thankful I am for this opportunity.
Forever and always, these are my mamas.
We all still connect almost daily via text and the internet. Checking in on each other; sharing funny stories along with sad ones. Sharing GIF’s has got to be one of my favorite parts of the Internet. They make so much more sense now that I know each person’s individual personality and humor. I have no doubt in my mind that we will forever maintain these friendships and we are already trying to plan our next meet up.
Kick ass cancer mamas- We share love, maternity clothes, baby clothes, wigs, boobs, stories, jokes, tips and tricks, and so much more.
And lastly, a word from Jin:
My name is Jin. I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 36 weeks pregnant with my daughter. My daughter was induced soon after my diagnosis so that I could start cancer treatment. We had no idea at the time what stage I was and what my prognosis was. One month after my daughter was born, I had a mastectomy and two months after surgery, I underwent four rounds of chemotherapy. I had an incredible medical team! My OB/GYN was so compassionate and hands-on. My breast surgeon was equally amazing, coming by to check on me as I was being induced. My oncologist knew how fearful I was of chemotherapy and spent hours going over research with me and answering all of my questions. My family–my parents, two sisters, brother-in-law, and my husband–was my rock. My Kick Ass Cancer Mamas were an incredible source of support and inspiration.
It was an incredible experience being able to meet so many of my cancer mamas in person! To be surrounded by 22 other mamas who “get it” was so powerful and to be able to put faces, bodies, and voices to the people who had provided so much support virtually was incredibly special. Never have I been with that many women before without an iota of drama! It was magical! I loved every mama I met on that trip but there were definitely some with whom I developed very strong connections. We have remained in touch via Facebook and text/telephone and have already made plans to visit each other in the near future!
We cannot end this article without a lump in the throat. We wish all the Kick Ass Cancer Mamas the very best and Resort Trades joins them all in thanking Cathy Backus and all the sponsors of SMOV.
Sharon Scott is publisher/managing editor of Resort Trades and CEO of PR/marketing firm SharonINK. Scott is an American Resort Development Association (ARDA) registered resort professional (RRP), the senior representative for The Trades as ARDA’s Resort Operations Council’s Sole Media Partner and is an ARDA Chairman’s League member.