Ralph Bristout – Writer
My mother, Marie Bristout, is my rock.
Within my 29 years of life, I’ve watched this woman share her warmth and compassion with the world. But no moment sticks out to me more than in September 2016. At the time, my wife, Abena-Star Hateal Antwine Bristout, was in a hospice dealing with the terminal effects of Ewing sarcoma. A quick aside, Ewing sarcoma is a rare cancer that forms in the bone. By far, this was the most difficult chapter in my life, especially seeing as how we have two kids. I typically pride myself on seeing the silver lining in everything life throws my way, but this one was hard. My mother, though, made sure I didn’t sink in despair.
As I watched over my wife, my mom became my shoulder to cry on. She was the ear I relied on. Her voice was what always got through. In addition to my faith, as well as the strength I saw in Abena, my mother's presence invoked me with a great deal of courage. Sadly, on Sept. 30, 2016, my wife passed away to the rare cancer. As painful as it was, having my mother come over to the hospice before that fateful occurrence, lessened the emotional toll. It was her constant message of “God will see you through this” that helped me to push forward. In retrospect, I can’t explain how I was able to overcome that moment, but as the saying goes, “Mothers know best.” I would once again learn the gravity of that statement nearly two years later.
On Oct. 6, 2018, as I prepared to celebrate my 29th birthday, my mother called me with heart-wrenching news. I can still feel the thick silence during our phone conversation that day, hours after she received the news from her doctor that there was a lump in her right breast. Because of my own harrowing experience, I refused to allow my mother to sink in a pool of despair — just as she did for me. In her sharing that life-altering news with me, I knew my job from that point on was to be her raft within that emotional storm. What I quickly learned, however, was that she would be the one steering the ship.
Instead of allowing her every day life to be dictated by this condition, my mother decided to push it to the back-burner and continue her daily routine as usual — never mind the fact that she decided to shave her head down even before learning her chemotherapy schedule. And even with her chemo sessions, which were two days every three weeks, she went to work from Monday through Friday, never missing a day. To add a layer to this clear picture, she had a mastectomy that month, and in less than a month, she decided to go back to work, saying, “I can’t just sit home and do nothing.”
Despite her routine sessions, my mother kept up with her own normal routine, which included two weekly food shopping runs. She cooked regular home meals and rarely missed hosting family dinner on Sundays. The question on everyone’s mind would always be, “How is she doing this?” My mother, in her own unique way, would reply “Why not?”
It’s funny, for all my life, I’ve known my mother to be the strongest person I know. In that chapter, I reached a new level of understanding, as that sentiment was recognized threefold. She walks her own walk and refuses to allow anything to prevent that. My wife was similar in that regard, finding her own peace through the madness.
Earlier this summer, my mother completed her chemotherapy sessions and has since been recovering. According to the doctors, her breasts are clear — God is good. Even with the news, that hasn’t stopped my mother’s day-to-day, one bit. As of this writing, she has taken a summer working shift to keep her busy and acknowledges her journey as a spiritual one that allowed her to recognize the beauty behind the madness. After all, as she would say it, “Why not?”
Emily Abrams – Manager, Global Mobility & Immigration
I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer at age 39 last October. I had a routine mammogram — the results initially came back clear. My doctor thought the images were too unclear, though, and ordered a sonogram. A tumor was detected and it was positive for breast cancer. My grandmother had passed away from breast cancer before I was born, so I had my baseline done early at 37 due to family history. I am so lucky it was caught early and I didn’t blow off the appointment because everything seemed fine. These nine months have been rough, physically and emotionally. I try to stay positive, but some days it’s hard. I try to find silver linings: I’m blessed it was discovered early and I have a very proactive treatment plan. I share my story to encourage others to be vigilant about their health and get screened. It could save your life.
Thanks to WWE for your support with your partnership with the Susan G Komen foundation.
Stefanie Fiondella – VP, Special Events
This is about my mother Anna, my rock and my inspiration. She's a strong Italian woman, whose life is devoted to two simple things: loving and protecting her family. When I was younger, my mom spent most her time cooking homemade Italian dishes for us daily. She believed that keeping our stomachs full of delicious meals kept our hearts filled with love, and more importantly, kept us out of trouble. This was completely true growing up in our home. The entire family would be invited over every week for Sunday dinner. Everyone. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends that were practically family — we’d all gather around the dinner table every Sunday and there would be nothing but laughter, a lot of talking and a lot of eating. This was my mom’s purpose. She brought people together.
In May 2015, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just like most families with a loved one who is battling cancer, this was not easy for our family. This cancer was like an asteroid, a global killer that could destroy life as we knew it. Although, through many prayers, love and perseverance, this coming May will mark five years that she is a breast cancer survivor.
This is my mom’s story…
My mom grew up in a very small town in southern Italy with her 12 siblings. When she was just 12 years old, she lost her mother to breast cancer at age 46. My mother was forced to grow up quickly and raise her brothers and sisters.
She moved to the United States at age 17 with her older sister and met my father, Mario, shortly after arriving.
My parents have been married for more than 45 years and have created a large, loving family together. They have four children: my older sister Rose, my older brother Mario, my younger brother Anthony and myself. Our family continues to grow year after year. Today, my parents have seven grandchildren, each of which call my mom Nonna and my dad Nonno.
When my mom was going through her chemo treatments, my son Cole was 3 years old and my daughter Brooklyn was 2. We all continued to celebrate life and enjoy each other. Cole was always a little afraid of Nonna during this time. It broke my heart to see him pull away from her because her loving face was a little unfamiliar to him during the chemo treatments. She was ailing. She had no eyebrows or eyelashes. She usually wore a hat or a wig, and he could tell something was not right. Brooklyn on the other hand was never afraid and always reached out to receive Nonna’s biggest hugs and kisses!
Oct. 28, 2015, was my mom’s last chemo treatment. She was so happy that we were there with her and even more excited when she got to ring the bell at Norwalk Hospital to announce her last chemo treatment!
Fast forward to today, my mom is a very different person ever since she was diagnosed (mentally, physically and emotionally). Her hair has never been the same. She cries about her hair often. When you look back at my mom’s hair when she was 17 years old, you can understand why this is always very hard for her.
It isn’t just her hair that is not the same. The impact that breast cancer has had on her goes well beyond chemo treatments and surgeries. It continues to control her daily life today. It affects her in so many different ways that are apparent to us all. She continues to take hormones and will until she is five years free of cancer. They have so many negative side effects, for example, losing the sense of taste. My mom still loves to cook and invites us all over for her Sunday dinners. We all still gather around the dinner table and always smile and compliment her on how amazing the food tastes — but we’ll never tell her that it is too salty because we know she can’t taste it any longer …
We are so thankful that we still have our mom, our children have their Nonna and my dad has his wife.
One in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. I am so proud and honored to be able to share my mom’s story as part of WWE’s amazing efforts around this important cause so one day, we can change that statistic.
Holly VonHoltz – Travel Coordinator
Jan. 17, 2017: Diagnosis breast cancer, blah, blah, blah. I only heard those two words, and as the doctor tried to explain my cancer, I glanced at my husband, who was pale white and holding his chest. I yelled, “Oh no, you are not doing this to me now!” It was quite the whirlwind, appointments being made, and my husband being taken to the emergency room by ambulance as I’m trying to digest what I just heard.
After the dust settled, now I had to tell my daughter and family. How do I tell them? What do I say? How are they going to react? As my daughter hysterically cried, I had to put on a brave face and stay strong and calm. Everything will be OK, I thought. I will get through this. The rest of my family was in shock, and I just assured them that I would be OK.
Let the games begin: numerous calls to the insurance company to find out what’s covered, many doctors’ appointments, blood work, a lot of tests and more blood work.
My first instinct was to have surgery and get the cancer out — a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery with implants. “I’m not doing this again,” I thought. What kind of implants, what size, do I want to go bigger? This is my opportunity if I want to go bigger. All these thoughts ran through my head, but at the end of the day, I just wanted to feel like a woman again.
Feb. 22: The surgery went well; implants were in and it was time to rest and heal. Going through the healing process was no easy task, and I couldn’t thank everyone enough helping in one way or another. But I truly just wanted to be left alone to deal with this my way and to digest the next course of action. It was about me.
March 30: I started my first round of chemo. I brought snacks and plenty to do. First came blood work, then a wait. Next were the vitals, then a wait. Third was a visit to my oncologist, followed by a wait. Finally came the chemo. I was there for five hours and thinking, “OMG! This is taking forever, and I have to do this three more times.” Twenty-four hours after chemo, you get a Neulasta shot to promote the growth of new white blood cells, which help protect against the risk of infection. A common side effect is bone pain, and I never in my life felt bone pain like this before. I traveled through my body. I could hardly walk, and it even hurt to lie in bed to sleep. Two weeks after my first round of chemo, my hair fell out like clockwork. That was the most traumatic part of this process for me. Baseball hats became my new fashion attire.
June 1: I made it to my last round of chemo, and I was supposed to ring the bell to signal that I was done. But first, I saw my oncologist, who told me that after my last round of chemo, I needed to make an appointment with the radiologist. With great confusion, I asked why? The cancer should be gone. I had a double mastectomy and chemo. I didn’t understand. So after my final round of chemo, I made an appointment with the radiologist for June 15 — my birthday. I cried as I left the office, and I didn’t get to ring the bell because someone previously, accidentally ripped it off the wall while ringing it. The nurses played music from “Rocky” for me to make up for it.
June 15: Happy birthday to me, and off to the radiologist I went with all my information as to why I didn’t need radiation. The radiologist went through everything from my diagnosis and treatment, then gave me the news: I did not need radiation. Wow! I couldn’t believe it, that was the best news ever. I’m done with chemo. I don’t have to have radiation. And now I lose my eyelashes and eyebrows, Really! So I invested in eyeliner and an eyebrow pencil. Wearing glasses and a baseball hat no one could really notice, but I could.
Fast forward two years and the doctor’s appointments have lessened. The scars are healing. I have hair thicker than before, but my eyelashes and eyebrows are less than what I had before. Looking in the mirror is hard because my red hair is no longer red, and now I have “chemo curls.” I no longer looked like myself and I hid my feelings. I would have what I called “mini meltdowns.” I would cry hysterically when I was alone in my car or at home to get these feelings out. I still have joint pain, neuropathy and other longterm side effects from chemo. I have good days and I have bad days, and now more good days than bad. More importantly, I am alive. I am a survivor!
I want to tell my story to anyone who wanted to know, and hopefully help them in some way. I never thought I was going to die. It just needed to get out of my body and stay out. After writing this I’ve come to realize that telling my story is easy, but putting it out there is hard. It makes it feel so much realer for me — even though I lived it.
My advice is to surround yourself with positive people you love, and always remember, you are BRAVER than you think, STRONGER than you seem, and LOVED MORE than you know.
Lauren DeFilippo – Sr. Director, HR Systems
I want to tell the story of a good friend of mine who died last year from male breast cancer. People often focus on women, which is understandable because it’s mostly a women’s disease, but men can and do get breast cancer. When my friend’s husband was diagnosed, he was already at stage 4 because men typically do not do self-exams and they don’t get mammograms. He suffered for over five years and unfortunately passed last year. He dedicated the last years of his life to educating men and was able to get a men’s breast cancer awareness day established in Massachusetts.
Tori Gardner – Sr. Coordinator, Partnership Marketing
I’m happy to share my story about how my mother became a breast cancer survivor!
Let me start by introducing my mother, Diana Gardner. Diana is the closest thing earth has to a living saint. She is the kindest and strongest woman I have ever met, with a heart filled of infinite and indiscriminate love. She is entirely selfless. She would NEVER be caught asking for help, but she will ALWAYS be the first one coming to someone’s aid. She’s my real-life superhero, my rock, and my very best friend.
In early June 2018, my mother had undergone a procedure in which doctors removed three tumors from her chest for a biopsy. The results were positive; she had cancer and it was invasive. For the first-time ever, my mother was faced with a challenge that she wouldn’t be able to overcome on her own. She needed help: help from the doctors to make her better; help from her family to keep her comfortable; and help from the survivor community to give her hope. For the first-time EVER, my mother had to be vulnerable. Being the powerful and independent woman she is, that scared her more than the diagnosis.
July 24, Diana was admitted to the hospital for a double mastectomy. The doctors performed an eight-hour surgery in which they removed all the tissue and then reconstructed both of my mother’s breasts. It was a scary day for my family, but seeing my mom go into the operating room like a fearless soldier definitely helped to lift our spirits. Even during a time that was supposed to be all about her, she was still helping us stay positive and assuring us that everything would be OK. It was exactly at that moment that I realized how unfair it was that incredible people had to go through this battle. I needed to do something.
Although, I had no experience and was not physically prepared, I decided to join Team Connor’s Cure and run the TCS New York City Marathon. I raised $3,500 in donations for cancer research and completed the 26.2 miles. Each time I wanted to stop running or give up on my training, I remembered that I was doing this for something so much bigger than myself. Even though my legs hurt and I felt tired, I remembered that my exhaustion was nothing compared to the physical and mental impact of my mother’s cancer. If my mom was able to be strong during her battle, I had no excuse to give up — no matter how vulnerable I felt. WWE offered me this amazing opportunity to give back and help in the fight against cancer. Not only was I able to support a cause that would benefit billions of people, but I was also finally able to feel like I was helping my mom!
It’s officially more than one full year later and I am proud to say that my mom is doing wonderful! I know that there is still a lot of work left to do in this fight, and I am entirely grateful that I get to work for a company that continues to help make an impact.
Sarah Schreiber – Announcer
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer last year when I started my career here at WWE. My mother is my best friend and No. 1 supporter. She defeated it with absolute strength, poise and humor. It was so challenging to start a new job while stressing about being there for my mother when she needed me the most. Thank goodness for the incredible team at Hackensack University Medical Center for being phenomenal at keeping her spirit up during the hardest time in her life. I am thankful for all of the staff making her feel like a person. My mother is living cancer free with so much life and exuberance! I am so grateful for my mother and nothing is better than seeing her at ringside, cheering me and the rest of the awesome talent here at WWE!
Steven Urena – Copywriter
My mother is the toughest woman I’ve ever met. To go through cancer twice is no easy feat. The first time she was diagnosed, I was in the fifth grade and couldn’t really understand the gravity of the situation, but I remember my mom toughing it out and always trying to put on a brave face, even if she didn’t feel that way. She was still her fun self and tried to make the best of what was going on by having a truly positive attitude. It’s not easy to keep that attitude during chemotherapy, but my mom managed it. When she got breast cancer the second time, I was 17 and it hit a lot harder. My family wasn’t sure how the future would unfold, but again, my mom persevered, kept a great attitude and whooped cancer’s a** for a second time. She’s doing great and continues to live the good life by maintaining the same positive attitude in the face of any problem that comes her way.