Two months….wow, I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post :( Where do I even begin after such a long hiatus…
First and foremost, I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time because it’s such a great organization and I am incredibly honored to have been chosen, but somehow the weeks (and in this case months) have slipped away from me.
Rewind waaaay back to January this year. I received an email from my mom informing me of a contest she saw posted on the facebook page for Ford Warriors in Pink. Ford Motor Company has been active in the fight against breast cancer since 1993. In its 18th year of raising awareness of breast cancer, Ford Warriors in Pink created the Models of Courage campaign to celebrate breast cancer survivors who have demonstrated strength and courage in their battle. Ford uses broad outreach to help keep the topic of breast cancer a part of everyday conversation. The goal is to encourage women and men to engage in self-exams and self-care, which could lead to earlier diagnoses and in turn could save lives.
The contest: tell your breast cancer story in 500 words or less. After reviewing all entries, Ford was going to select winners to be part of their Models of Courage program. The “models” were chosen to model the 2012 Warriors in Pink line of apparel and gear….which donates 100% of net proceeds from sales to support the organization of your choosing…Susan G. Komen™, Dr. Susan G. Love, The Pink Fund, or Young Survival Coalition.
I initially just disregarded my mom’s email because I didn’t think there was a chance in hell they’d pick me. Then on the 23rd, the final day for entries to be submitted, I typed up the little “diddy” below for submission and sent it off before heading home from work.
“Hi! My name is Nicole Bills. I am 33 years old and I’m coming up my one year mark of officially becoming a survivor! I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 18th, 2010. Being that I was only 32 at the time and had no family history of the disease, to say the news came as a shock was probably the understatement of the year!
I was fortunate enough to catch my cancer early and was diagnosed at Stage 1. I had a lumpectomy on July 16th, 2010. My tumor was slightly larger than my doctors had anticipated, so I didn’t receive clean margins and had to have a follow-up surgery on August 17th to ensure 100% of the tumor was removed.
Thankfully, my lymph nodes tested clean during surgery meaning there was no evidence my cancer had spread out of my breast. I did, however, receive a medium-high Oncotype RX score so that coupled with my young age resulted in a recommendation for chemo. My oncologist took the approach that we needed to take advantage of every treatment option that was available to ensure all cancer cells were killed. I wasn’t exactly happy about knowing I was going to lose my hair, but being bald for a short period of time is a much better option than having my cancer return!!
I had my first round of chemo on September 9th, 2010 and finished my last round on November 11th, 2010. Aside from a very scary allergic reaction to my chemo drugs during the first round, the rest was pretty uneventful! I was given a little bit of time off from cancer over the holidays, and kicked off 2011 with 33 treatments of radiation. Happy new years to me :) Friday, February 25th marked my last day of radiation, and in my book, my first day cancer free!!
Cancer for me was truly a blessing in disguise. I found my “voice” through cancer, and have learned so much about myself throughout the course of the last year and a half. I learned that I’m a lot tougher then I originally perceived myself to be, that I have SO many people that love and support me unconditionally, and that my natural hair color is a lot darker than I thought
One of the hardest aspects of the whole cancer process was losing my hair. I had long, (and in my opinion :) ) gorgeous hair for a good 10 years prior to my cancer diagnosis that became a security blanket to me of sorts, so the initial shock of knowing I was going to lose it all was pretty severe. I started a blog (www.chiagal.com) as soon as I noticed my hair was starting to come back to track my progress. The blog became a great way for me to talk about the things that were on my mind that I was having a hard time expressing…and probably a better way for you to see who I actually am.”
Maybe it was my charm. Maybe it was my witty personality shining through. Or maybe, given my late submission, I happened to be the last entry they received and was top of mind when selecting finalist. Whatever the reason, I was somehow lucky enough to be picked as one of their 11 Models of Courage for 2012!!
So what exactly does that mean? Simply put, myself and the other Models of Courage will appear nationally as spokesmen for the program and “models” for the 2012 line of Warriors in Pink wear and gear. And more importantly to me, as a result I was introduced to 10 other awesome and incredibly inspirational survivors.
Why was this so important to me? Well from the very beginning of my cancer journey, I didn’t really have anyone to talk candidly with or relate to. I personally didn’t know anyone who I felt comfortable enough to open up to, so I navigated the cancer road essentially blind. Thanks to Warriors in Pink, I’ve now been introduced to 10 other women AND MEN (because yes, men can get breast cancer as well), who know exactly what I’ve been through.
After being selected as a Model of Courage, they flew all of us out to Los Angeles in March for the 2012 apparel photo shoot and interviews. We arrived late afternoon on Thursday, and by the time dinner was finished, we were all great friends. It’s amazing how something so terrible can bring a complete group of strangers together so quickly. I personally enjoyed hearing about everyone else’s journey…and finding out what they’ve been doing now that they’re in remission.
My fellow “models” are doing some pretty amazing things. From Tina, who started her own full service wig boutique (www.imwiggedout.com) centered on providing an individualized fun and informative wig shopping experience. To Bret, a 26 year old who started his own foundation, The Bret Miller 1T Foundation (www.checkthem.org), in the hopes of raising awareness that men can get breast cancer too. And Carol, who’s fought the disease not once, but is a two time survivor. The list of amazing things these 2, plus the other 8, have done go on and on. I’m humbled to have been selected to be part of such a strong and influential group of people….people who go out of their way every day to help bring awareness to this awful disease. And realize that I need to do more…I’m not quite sure what “more” means right now, but will be looking for ways and opportunities to do my part.
Getting back to the LA weekend, Friday was a day of pampering and interviews. The folks at WIP were kind enough to set all of us up with a few spa appointments throughout the course of the day. We also had in depth interviews with the team from Flow Non-Fiction (http://flownonfiction.com/index.php), the creative agency / turnkey production company that was tasked with taking an incredibly large amount of video footage (including a good hour of interviews from yours truly) from the weekend and turning it into amazing 2 – 3 minute clips. These guys are absolutely amazing at what they do!!!
Group Video is here
My own personal interview video is here
A thank you message for when you purchase apparel is here
Saturday was the actual photo shoot day. They had professional hair, make-up, and wardrobe stylists on site to make us all look like we were real models. We each had one or two key pieces from the 2012 apparel line that we were photographed in. I was in the sister-hoodie (found here) and the Outrageously Courageous Unisex Thermal (found here). And then did a group photo at the end:
We ended with a final group dinner on Saturday night, and then headed back to our respective homes on Sunday. This was my first time on a photo shoot set of this magnitude…and I have to say, I’d be more than happy to have someone do my hair and make-up and take pictures of me any day! Such a fun time!!
Flash forward a few months….Ford brought us all together again the middle June for a Public Relations event for the National Launch. We were flown out to NYC for a short, jam packed 2 day trip. Again, another great event put on by the Warriors in Pink and Flow Non-Fiction teams. The PR event was an all day event that provided an opportunity for publications across the country (i.e. people, fitness, women’s day, etc) to come and get a firsthand look at the new apparel….and get some free swag as well. We (the “models”) were wearing all of the key pieces to showcase how the items actually look on.
Once the PR event was over, we all sadly headed back home again. The PR event was the last time they’d bring all 11 of us together as a group…so the ending was a little bittersweet. We are unfortunately spread out across the US, so a reunion will be a little difficult, BUT not entirely out of the question. With as determined of a group of people as the 11 of us were, I’m confident we’ll make it happen!!
Here are a few additional photos from the NYC PR event. The first is the total group, minus Darrell unfortunately, in the press room:
This is my larger than life sized photo highlighting my booty in the press room. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my ass in such great detail!
This is one of the banners they had hanging at the event. They had all of our faces included in the word Courage…
I was the letter E….
And finally, one of me and my love. Andrew was fortunate enough to have a few business meetings in NYC the same days I was there for WIP, so he was able to stop by the press event for a little while :)
This is turned into a much longer post then I originally intended, so I’m going to wait for my next post to give more updates on what’s happened in the last two months. Nothing too eventful, but I have hit a few noteworthy milestones to talk about
Photos from 76 weeks post chemo are below…
And finally photos from 80 weeks post chemo…