A Story of Hope, Courage, Strength and Inspiration | Kathleen Crumlish-Giorgianni
During October, NorthDelaWHEREHappening.com provided an important opportunity to highlight one of the most critical health issues impacting women around the globe and North Delaware – Breast Cancer. A time to reflect on past accomplishments, to recognize current efforts underway, to raise much needed awareness and to acknowledge the many challenges that still lie ahead. We were fortunate in our LOCAL journey to meet so many incredible women that have fought this disease with their heart, body and soul. We close Breast Cancer Awareness month and graciously open November with our Thanks Giving to the introduction of a special acquaintance who has quickly become a very dear friend to NDH – Kathleen Crumlish-Giorgianni.
We met Kathleen during an evening out at First Night Art on the Town in Wilmington in October. Her photography was exhibited at Film Brothers Movie Co-Op Studios located at 205 North Market Street in Wilmington. Kathleen was raised and is living in New Castle County and at the age of 43, is a four year survivor of stage IIIA breast cancer. Kathleen is married, has a beautiful six year old daughter, Gia, and is the youngest of seven children. An avid photographer, Kathleen in kind and passion has inspired and motivated us to continue this fight until there is a cure! Her book of portraits and personal journey’s of young breast cancer survivors from the Delaware area, “She Lives”, is due out in Spring of 2013. Truly a Story of Hope, Courage, Strength and Inspiration. This is Kathleen’s Story…
By Kathleen Crumlish-Giorgianni
My personal journey with breast cancer began when I was 9 years old. That’s when my mother, Doris Crumlish, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
My mom had a lump in her breast for many years before she had it checked out. I learned she had breast cancer, and a radical mastectomy upon returning home from a 5th grade class trip to Philadelphia. She recovered from the mastectomy, and things went back to normal for a couple of years. Her health began to change again during my 8th grade year of school. She was suffering from bone pain. She visited our family doctor frequently and he reassured her that her pain was arthritis. The pain got progressively worse. It began interfering with the things she loved doing most like gardening. A physical examination resulted in a clean bill of health.
Our family urged her to get a second opinion, she finally agreed. Shortly after receiving her “clean bill of health” the second opinion confirmed that she had stage IV cancer in her bones and brain. These were metastasis from the breast cancer. I felt betrayed. This was January of my freshman year of high school. My mom died the following December 5th, of my sophomore year, 1984, I was 15. Barely enough time to process and accept the fact that she was dying, let alone deal with the challenges that present themselves during our teen years.
The day she died was the first snow fall of the season as it continued to be for many years. It almost always snows on December 5th, I always feel like it’s a sign from my mom.
Over the years, my anger got the best of me. I began to think that if she loved me more she would have gone to the doctor sooner and she would still be alive. It wasn’t until I became a mother that I realized there was no truth in this belief. The love I felt for my daughter freed me from a life time of wrong thinking and I realized how much my mom loved me. I felt an overwhelming sense of compassion for her and understood how difficult it must have been for her knowing she was leaving a 15 year old behind.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer 24 years later in September 2008. My daughter was 2 years old.
I was terrified to start chemo. I didn’t want to get as sick as my mom. I did get sick, and chemo was in fact miserable, but you get through it. It’s one of those doors that no one else can walk through for you, so you accept it and push through. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to fight to be here for my daughter. I fought for my daughter, myself, and my mom. The thought that I might lose my battle, and leave my daughter behind was overwhelming. It pushed me to do everything I could to win my fight.
Life is better for me, in spite of the fact that I had a serious case of cancer. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed that I realized how much I loved my life. I live my life differently now. I don’t wait for things to come to me. I do my best to create my own opportunities. I also realize that the love I have for my mother never died. My love and understanding of her continues to grow as I do. That means our love and relationship is very much alive. I believe love never dies. Sometimes the most difficult trials of our current days can reveal truths that will heal past hurts. I am grateful that my heart was open to receive the gifts this illness had to offer.
NorthDelaWHEREHappening.com Interview with Kathleen
NDH: You mentioned your mom gave you the camera and the encouragement to shoot for the stars!
Kathleen: Yes, my mom gave me a 35 mm Nikon camera for my 15th birthday. We had a large family and such gifts were not common, but she wanted me to have it. I have enjoyed photography for many years, and it has been very therapeutic for me.
NDH: What do you remember most that would resonate with our viewers to take CHARGE and do MORE for themselves and others?
Kathleen: What I remember most is what is still with me every day. Love your life and don’t wait to do the things you dream about. Pick up the things you want to achieve and run with them. Be true to who you are. Cherish your good health – it is a gift. Make sure you take all preventative measures to stay healthy. I found out through a second opinion that my cancer was ER+. I was initially diagnosed as ER-. I went 6 months without the protection of Tamoxifen. I thought I would have the chance to try and have more children, but you can’t while taking Tamoxifen. Get your second and third opinions – they could save your life. Don’t ever let fear prevent you from getting a mammogram.
NDH: We want to hit home and bring broader awareness and action to North Delaware and beyond. What are your thoughts?
Kathleen: I believe connecting people locally via their stories is a powerful start. I believe most people are eager to share their story, not just with illnesses.
WHAT TO SAY? We asked Kathleen’s Advice on what’s appropriate to say to someone who has recently been diagnosed with Breast Cancer or going thru treatment or who recently suffered a big setback in remission?
“Stay strong and I’ll fight this with you” is comforting according to Kathleen.
NDH: Regarding your Photography – How did you come up with the name Figabella?
Kathleen: I have two dogs, a dachshund named Figaro, and a German Shephard named Bella. I call them my Figabella’s. I love the name and thought it would be a great name for the company.
NDH: What is your next project?
Kathleen: To complete my book of young survivors, “She Lives”. I’m very close to submitting my final version to LuLu, self-publishing lulu.com, Amazon, Ingram Catalog. The release date is still TBD but close. I started my own business, Figabella Photography & Photo Restoration, in June 2012. I will continue to grow the business. I may do a follow up book on the survivors 5 years down the road for any parties that are interested. My website is targeted to launch by mid to end December. The site is Sheliveson.com.
NDH: How do you meet your photography subjects?
Kathleen: Initially I sent an email to the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition announcing that I was starting a project on young breast cancer survivors. I personally needed to “see” LOCAL women my age that were a couple of years out of treatment. At that time, I had completed a years’ worth of treatment and was in a new stage of my recovery – The stage where you’re no longer seeing a doctor every week; the chemo, radiation, and Herceptin were all done. I hadn’t anticipated feeling so vulnerable at the end of that treatment. I was scared that there wasn’t someone telling me every week or so that I was o.k. I needed to seek out other women in my situation.
Kathleen photographs women who have undergone or are currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer, all age groups, with a concentration on young survivors. Her portfolio is built with the goal and hope of producing a coffee table book for breast cancer survivors. Kathleen’s mission is to capture the spirit of the survivor and share stories of hope and survival with other women. Her response thus far has been overwhelming. Sheliveson.com
Meet some of Kathleen’s Selected Portraits & Survivors from her Book “She Lives”
Holly Merker is from Maryland and currently resides in Downingtown, PA. Holly was diagnosed 10 years ago with stage II triple negative DCIS and invasive ductal. She had 8 cycles of adriomycin, cytoxin and taxol. She discovered she had Breast Cancer when she broke her back – crushed two vertebras – while sledding with her two children. Holly endured all of this while her husband was deployed in Saudi Arabia.
Holly is an incredibly sweet, kind and inspiring woman. Her love of family helped push her through her crisis and encouraged her to create an environment that was as normal as possible for her two children. Holly is an avid bird watcher, photographer and hiker who is an environmental educator, and gives back to her community through nature. She feels very connected to nature so much so she even left her hair, as she was losing it through chemo, for the birds to take and make a nest.
Fa Lane Field
Fa Lane Field, a resident of Wilmington, is a 4 year Breast Cancer survivor. Fa is an accomplished singer and pianist who has performed at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. She was diagnosed at 47 with stage III lobular breast cancer. The diagnosis came from standard pathology after a breast reduction surgery. She managed raising two teenagers while dealing with her illness. Her positive attitude, faith, and music have carried her through her journey. I photographed Fa in September of 2010 and again in September of 2011. Fa is a unique individual. I truly appreciate the trust she has put in me with this project. She has been very giving of herself. I have always left my meetings with her in great spirits.
Thank you Kathleen, from the bottom our hearts for sharing your personal journey and portraits with NorthDelaWHEREHappening.com. We can’t wait to enjoy your book!
Raising awareness about Breast Cancer requires dedication, commitment, and passion. We all have journeys that need to be shared, accomplishments – big and small – that must be celebrated, hopes that desire to be followed, birthdays to be celebrated, and the courage to keep fighting this disease. We can help and support one another by drawing attention to the causes and by sharing information about resources that are available and personal stories of survival. By highlighting the importance of early screenings, self-breast examinations, support services and the ever improving medical services, we can help save lives by detecting cancer in its early stages and educating one another about how to protect their health. Be a breast cancer ambassador! However you choose to take action in the months and years ahead, please know that your efforts will be making a difference in the lives of not one but many.
TOGETHER, we can make a difference.
Learn more about NorthDelaWHEREHappening.com’s
Journey to fight Breast Cancer