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Honoring breast cancer warriors
honoring breast cancer survivors 1
Pitman High cheerleaders Madison Moreno, Mariah Sanders, Kevin Romo and Paris Costa show their support for breast cancer survivor Kimberly Stewart (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

When October arrives every year most of us get as “pink” as possible to support breast cancer awareness.  For me, it hits home personally as my maternal grandmother was a breast cancer survivor, but later succumbed to lung cancer.  Every year I try to support the awareness as much as possible, but this year I felt the urge to do something extra special.  I asked myself how could I utilize my talents to honor and support breast cancer awareness?  Well I’m a photographer right?  I thought maybe I can use my photography to make others feel special and supported. I photograph our local athletes and NFL players during the same season so why not do something similar with survivors.  I went on a mission to find a few local breast cancer survivors to do a special photo shoot — with a touch of football — in celebration of their victories over cancer.  

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Turlock High cheerleaders Brooke Souza, Eric Carbajal and Olivia Guyer celebrate breast cancer survivor Sandy Bettencourt (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

I’m known for doing photo shoots of athletes and creating artistic edits with the photos making them look as if they have traveled back in time with vintage trading cards and autographs or magazine covers.  I thought I could do the same with these special individuals because I feel they deserve the honor and celebration.

Kimberly Stewart is quite an amazing woman.  I watched her brave journey and battle with cancer via Facebook posts and pictures that she shared.  Kimberly’s daughter Paris attends Pitman High so I invited them in to share her story.  Kimberly was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 43. 

“I was pretty terrified given I had just lost my best friend of 30 years to cancer two years prior to that, so I kind of expected a death sentence,” said Stewart.  “After sitting down for a few days, I had a whole new outlook and thought ‘I’m going to be positive and get through this as quickly as possible.’” 

Kimberly decided not to let the diagnosis be a death sentence.  She would not allow her mind to go there and says she always knew it would be okay no matter how bad it got or how much chemotherapy she had to go through.  She shared her journey as much as she could on social media.  I watched as this beautiful woman with gorgeous hair share photos of her shaved head. This took a very brave person to share such private moments with the world.  Most women’s hair is their comfort and security.  Her courage still inspires me.  Her journey was not an easy one.  She was misdiagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer because of a lung issue, but kept fighting for her children.  When asked what advice she would give others she said: “Stay positive. Stay positive and set goals and reach them.  Always be aware and always do self checks.  If you find something small and you think it’s irrelevant, it may not be.  Just go get it checked.”

To represent Turlock High, I reached out to Sandy Bettencourt.  Sandy is a 27-year breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed at the age of 39 during her first mammogram.  With three young children, she was worried for her children and scared to tell her mom. 

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. They were so supportive,” said Bettencourt when she described the moment she told her children. 

Sandy felt her daughter, Kristin Bettencourt who is a big supporter of Relay for Life, became the most withdrawn out of the three because she was scared.  Sandy did not have to go through chemotherapy, but did have a full mastectomy.  She was on the cancer awareness committee at Emanuel Medical Center for 20 years and participates in Relay for Life regularly.  Although she has been asked for advice she says she often feels a little bit of guilt and not qualified since she did not have to go through chemo radiation and it took her a long time to come to terms with that, but recognizes she and other survivors share the same victory even if different paths were taken to get there. 

“There is definitely life after cancer.  Persevere and be strong,” is the advice she would like all those who are battling breast cancer to know.

Remember it only takes a few minutes to self check or an hour to go have a mammogram.  Let’s all beat breast cancer!

The edited photos from the photo shoot will be posted on the Journal’s social media platforms early next week.