YOLO (You only live ONCE!): my motto, my anthem, my mantra
First with the name of the blog, super clever, right? Has so many meanings to me personally. Lion King is my favorite childhood movie, is now my kids favorite movies, and Hakuna Matata is the best phrase of ALL TIME. Not to mention, the song is just so catchy and a staple in my house.
While most would make their journey less public, I have decided that my story is meant to be shared and even if it impacts one person, I made a difference. I truly believe that things are only thrown at you if you can handle, and I know I got the strength to conquer this. If somehow this becomes viral and decides to be made into a movie or perhaps a book, please have Christina Applegate play the part of Gabby; she is my spirit animal (funny, an extrovert, the life of the party, and has the BRCA gene too). Angelina Jolie, my other BRCA idol, can direct. Hey, a girl can dream….
This is meant to inspire, and push all females out there to do breast exams, to not cancel your doctor appointments, to do mammos/MRI’s/sonos, and if you are at a remote risk of having BRCA, go get the damn test done and start preventative care ASAP. You are the driver in this game of life and should own it.
WHO AM I AND WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
My name is Gabrielle Elyse Stoller, and I am 34 years old, live in Long Island (insert Jewish raspy voice accent), am happily married (9 years in November!), have two amazing children, and was just diagnosed with breast cancer on 7/18. Oh yeah, and I am a determined bad ass biatch who lets nothing get in her way.
Before I share my story and the beginning of my journey with breast cancer, I want to thank a few key people within my support system:
-My amazing parents, Stu and Leslie Stoller; I am seriously the luckiest to be your daughter and to have been raised by you. Mom, you are my idol, my inspiration, and the reason why I know I will beat this; you did it twice, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about your strength and courage. You both are so diligent about healthcare and are the I caught this SO early and have been at Sloan Kettering since 20 years old.
-My sister, Mallory; you are the best gift besides therapy Mom and Dad ever gave me. We have been through everything together, and I truly do not have the words to express how I would get through this without you. You were with me at that appointment, and we just knew; BRCA is a nasty gene and I am sorry you have it too, but I hope my story is one that inspires you to take action quick. Thanks for always organizing our annual Cycle for Survival team; mark my words, 2019 is our YEAR. I will be standing on that podium and sharing my story (on the vision board!).
-My husband, Marc; MARKEEEEEEE, I struck gold with you. My mom has good taste (insert Jewish matchmaking humor here). You are my rock, my main confidant, my best friend, my lover, my personal comedian, and an amazing dad to our two nuggets. I want to thank you in advance for your support, your love, for making me always feel like the most beautiful girl in the world, and for kicking this things ass with me. LETS DO THIS WASS.
-My babies, Riley and Pierce. I am fighting this and will beat this damn thing for you two. I thought I knew what love was before having you; you have made me selfless, the best version of myself, and make me laugh like Larry David. I love you more than anything and am so proud of you and cannot wait to see what life has in store for you two. YOU ARE MY EVERYTHING and I promise this is just a phase!
-AH-DUM: the most amazing brother in law in the world. Best addition to the fam, and it is SO NICE to have someone to finally talk media/business with (in a family of all accountants). You are the best uncle, have me significantly cooler/trendier, and I love our conversations (that last one on my front steps was so special to me).
-My extended family: My cousins, my aunts, my moms friends who are like family, my coworkers (old and new), my mentor Jason Brenner (12 years dude!).
-PaulPaul: I know we talk about this but that moment I interviewed you, I knew you were meant to be a part of my life. You are forever a part of our life, and I am so thankful to have you. My kids are who they are because of the love you gave them while I was at work, and I am so happy you live with us and will be here for me during this. I need you!
-My in-laws, Ronnie and Cliff. Thank you for having Marc, raising him to the kindest, sweetest, most loving husband and father. I am forever indebted to you for giving me my rock and best friend. Thank you for the support throughout all of this and for being there for our family.
-My girl squad (longevity order)- T-Rap, Jamie W (sorry you know that’s forever your name), Craze (Heather), Stacey, Sam (Balls, Samala), Elana (Beiner), Hayley, Jen, Hillery, and my Merrick girls Jen, Debbie, Dana, Ali, and Nicole. The countless hours of calls, texts already and the amount of love/support/offers are enough to make a girl feel full; THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!!!!
It is so funny 3 weeks ago on the LIRR I turned to my dear friend Ali and said my life is at a 10. I went on about how I was in such a groove at work and all my hard work was paying off, how my kids were kicking butt at camp, how Pierce was crushing speech and speaking so beautifully, how much fun my summer was, how I hit my one year at Merrick, and how strong my marriage is to Marc. Sorry God, I will never say I am a 10 again because I see what happens.
Let’s start at the very beginning. This is my family tree:
Maternal Grandmother- Breast Cancer
Maternal Grandfather- No Cancer but BRCA Carrier
Paternal Grandmother- Breast Cancer
Paternal Grandfather- No Cancer (lucky duck)
Mom (my hero, my everything): Ovarian Cancer, 2x, BRCA Carrier
Mom Sister, Anita: Ovarian Cancer, 2x, BRCA Carrier; her daughter does not have the gene
Mom Sister, Eileen- No Cancer, No BRCA Gene
Mom First Cousin, Beth: Breast Cancer, No Gene
So, now that you have a full understanding of my genetic composition, you can imagine the history and how much my family and I have been talking about cancer. I will never forget when I was 20 and my mom sat me down to tell me I am going to Sloan and starting my care under a surveillance program. At this point, I was 20 (did not take the gene test), focused on graduating college and let’s keep it real partying my ass off, worrying about what halter or mini skirt I was wearing, boys, and if I was drinking tequila, 99 bananas, or having a jello shot that night. I remember giving my mom a hard time and telling her I will deal when I want to deal, and she said, not your choice you are going and you will thank me one day. Well Mom, THANK YOU for introducing me to Sloan and for making me so proactive.
By 21, I was at Sloan at least 2x a year seeing my breast doctor (Dr. Mangino, AKA, my angel) and my gyno (Dr Goldfrank; my heart). The waiting room was always torture; always surrounded by those who received bad news, were under chemo, and I could still not understand WHY I WAS THERE. I was 21, did not have cancer, did not know if I had the gene yet, and thought it was a waste of time. I did mammos, MRI’s, bi-annual visits and could have paid rent for how much time I spent at Sloan. The only breaks I had were when I was pregnant with my nuggets and had to see an OBGYN who could deliver; Sloan focuses on saving lives (not bringing them into the world!). So grateful for that!
In 2012, I had my baby girl Riley, also known as Riley Face. She was the CHUBBIEST, most delicious, gorgeous, RED HEAD (WTF! When you are casting her in this book/movie, we need a good character or just her, she’s a natural). During my maternity leave one day, I turned to my mom who was visiting and said let’s go get my gene tested at Sloan. It hit me that I needed to know if I had it and it was a possibility that I could possibly give to my nuggetface who taught me how much I could love. A few weeks later, I got the news….I was BRCA1 positive, and my chances of breast/ovarian were higher than the average female. Action mode hit, and it was time to make a plan; have a second kid and start my surgeries in a timely fashion (before 40 for ovaries, before 50 for breasts). On it—telling me to have more sex, I am in…
We waited a year or so after the news to feel ready for a second one, and in 2015, I had my baby boy, Pierce Marley (yes, after Bob Marley). I so wanted a girl, yes that is awful to say, but it is true. My sister is my best friend and I wanted Riley to have the same. I thank my lucky stars every day that I had a boy, because my heart was never fuller than when Pierce was born. He is just the most cuddly, sweet, obsessed with me (mama’s boy), fighter/warrior/hero. You see, Pierce was born with Microtia Artesia, a very rare condition where one ear does not develop in the womb and conductive hearing loss occurs. I thought my world ended; I was not prepared for this and nothing at any point indicated this would be the case.
I would not change a thing about Pierce and the experience with Pierce; you see, it taught me that I am a fighter, up for any challenge, and everything thrown my way was another opportunity to just be empowered and grow. Pierce is doing amazing, is so proud of his hearing device, and is speaking so articulately. He would not be like that if we hid, did not publicly speak about his diagnosis, and did not instill confidence at such a young age. He is my spirit animal, and anytime I need motivation, I just need to look at him and see how much he has accomplished at such a young age.
In 2017, Marc and I moved to Merrick, Long Island. We were new to the burbs, had a lot of transitions to make with the kids, of course I had to start a new job at the same time (I thrive on chaos), and knew ZERO people here. I felt super fulfilled with my friendships and figured if I met people and expanded the nuclear circle, it would be cool, if not, it would be okay. Sure enough, we made friends through our kids, and it is safe to say we have a second family in Merrick. Wild that it has only been a year but we built an entire world out here and I cannot imagine my life without my girls, their kids, and their husbands.
After setting up life in LI and Pierce up for success (speech, schooling, private speech, etc.), the real conversations with Sloan started about removing parts to avoid the words “you have cancer”. The conversation always started with ovaries since that is what my mom had and my aunt passed away from, and there was new research that fallopian tube removal would reduce risk drastically until I was ready for a full hysterectomy. In December 2017, I underwent the surgery and felt very good about the decision; the recovery was tough but I felt strong and protected. Needless to say, could not have done this without the support of friends and family.
Fast forward to July 11th; my check up with Dr Mangino who leads the breast surveillance program at Sloan. In between catching up, showing pics of P & R, and how life on LI is, she finds a lump; she truly felt it was nothing and told me it was likely fibric but being the history, we should be paranoid and pursue (thank god!). She marked it with an X and left me branded for the next step. I already had a pre-scheduled mammogram for July 13th (as I do these pretty routinely) and they put me in for a sono right after; I really thought it was nothing so insisted no one with me. My mom and sister refused, and my sister took work off early and sat with me (she must have known). Needless to say, the mammo is done and the sono appears, and I see them measuring something; the pathologist walks in for a second opinion and tells me she could normally make a call but this was too “suspicious”. We demand a biopsy right away, and before I know it, this “suspicious tumor” is being extracted and sent off; for 5 days, I am in a panic but I knew…. I was one or two classes shy of being a stat minor at BU, but the numbers were against me. I kept busy all weekend but I was consumed.
7/18 is the day that changed my life forever; I stalk all my doctors to see if the results are in and I finally get the call at 3pm before heading into my clients to present. “It is not the news we were hoping to see; it is 1.6cm, and you have breast cancer. You will have a bilateral mastectomy and to meet the surgeon, the plastic surgeon, and discuss treatment but likely only need the removal of your breasts (already a big pill to swallow). You are set up for an appointment on Friday, 7/20”. JUST LIKE THAT my whole world changed, and guess what, I had to cry for 15 minutes (call Marc, my sister, and my mom) and put on my big girl pants and go present like a champ to clients.
7/20 was the day I was waiting for. I met with Dr. Gemignani, and my full pathology report was revealed. I had breast cancer, Triple X was the type (not common but more common in BRCA patients), and GET THIS, I need 8 rounds of chemo (WTFFFFFFFF). As you can imagine, my head spun, I cried and cried and cried and cried. Not to be cocky, but my boobs and my hair are MY THING. After two kids, they were still great and small enough/perky enough, and my hair is magical (you will learn that I love that word). After crying my eyes out, I got it together and learned next steps; surgery would be soon and recovery is a few weeks and 4-6 weeks post I start chemo. Being the natural pushy sales person I am, I pushed my hair to a surgery within the week and secured 7/27 (they wanted 8/6 originally). I was NOT WAITING.
After the appointment, I took a Xanax (my new BFF), and it was time to start moving. We needed to share the news with friends/family/co-workers and of course in return manage their feelings/tears/and their generous offers.
For those of you who know me, a few words that would be used to describe me are as follows: positive, optimistic, fun, a do-er (can’t stand people who are not do-ers), an extrovert, and the life of the party. I decided from that moment until the surgery to just live it up; after all YOLO (you only live once- my coin phrase!).
Weekend of 7/20: Friday night, my parents took Pierce and Riley had her first big girl sleepover with Jordyn (her bestie; mom and dad are Jen/Seth, two friends from Merrick who are like family now). Marc and I had our bottle of sake and walked to our fave local sushi restaurant. So many laughs, in between the sad/supportive/most kind texts from friends/family and continued positive spirit.
Saturday was a day I will never FORGET. I did hot pilates (cried half the time) and in the class, I had a sudden urge to cut my hair and bite the bullet just in case chemo had that reaction. I read that short hair holds up better and figured YOLO, let’s do this. I called up De La Mer and made an appointment and figured at the very minimum it would grow back, who gives a shiat :). I called Mal to tell her and she suggested I donate to Locks of Love (DUHHHHHHH; how could I not think of that). We binge watched Safe (DO IT; so GOOD!), got massages, continued Safe, I got my haircut (looks so GOOD btw), enjoyed some “alone time” (gotta enjoy these bad boys while we can), and went to dinner in Roslyn at Kyma (SO YUM; great vodka/pineapple infused drinks- DO IT). Sunday, my kids came home, and we went to the beach; I spent one on one time with each of them, did long walks, picked up sea shells, and spoiled them with a million kisses on my fave spots (side of cheek by neck). I remember looking at Marc with the two of them by the ocean while I sat in a chair thinking I am so blessed and that I will fight this effin thing for them. They are EVERYTHING and need me; I am the matriarch, the glue, and we are a unit.
Week of 7/23: Last week of work and my final week of surgery. Monday is HR time, getting thigns in order and revealing the news to coworkers (Thanks Placed Sales team- love you!). Monday night, dinner with my girls Dana and Debbie; how I met these two a year ago is MINDBLOWING. I legit do not think how I functioned without them in my lives. Thank you for all the laughs, the conversation, and for keeping my mind off the BIG C. Tuesday my friend Ali asked if I wanted to see Britney Spears; YOLO. I did Soul Cycle before (just to cry in the dark) and joined her for the BEST SHOW EVER; I am a huge fan and just seeing the come back she made, made me feel stronger and empowered. Just added “Stronger” to my “positive vibes” playlist. Wednesday, I do my last meeting at Pepsi HQ and head back to LI; I took a new hot yoga class at Merrick Yoga (SO GOOD!) and went out on a date night with Marc. What a date night filled with lots of laughter, love, and of course chatting through the next few weeks. I can always count on Marc for building me up, making me feel sexy always, and for making me laugh. Thank you my love- I truly don’t know what I would do without you.
That brings up to today, 7/26, my pre-surg appointments. Got to meet my surgeon, Dr McCarthy, and LOVED HER; walked through my reconstruction options and feel good. She had the best bedside manner, and is super thorough, conservative, and just lovely. I know she will make me LOOK HOT!
7/27 at 7:30 is my surgery…. until then, signing off, and will be thinking positive thoughts and keeping the best mindset. Thank you to my family and friends for everything; I will not be shy about sharing my story and accepting all your offers. GIVE ME ALL YOUR POSITIVITY AND GOOD VIBES (and all show/movie/fun upbeat song recommendations). MORE TO COME! XOXO.