We can all agree that breasts are a universal favorite. Yes, they’re sexy, but they also nurture and comfort and more than that our relationship with them has the power to keep us alive. Today, all women, of all ages, are faced with the new reality that cancer can affect their lives and breasts in a heartbeat. As we step into Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Los Angeles-based organization Boarding for Breast Cancer—or B4BC as it is more commonly known—is well versed in this reality, now celebrating 2 decades as the original youth focused breast cancer awareness and prevention organization.
It began in 1996 when 26-year old snowboarder Monica Steward was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her friends Lisa Hudson, Kathleen Gasperini, Dawn Kish, and pro-snowboarders Tina Basich and Shannon Dunn, felt compelled to honor her and her legacy by creating an event that centered around their passions of snowboarding and music while communicating the urgent importance of awareness and education. Sadly, Monica passed away before the first B4BC festival took place, but it continued for 6 years, drawing internationally-acclaimed acts including the Beastie Boys, Blink 182, Foo Fighters, Linkin Park, Moby, Less than Jake, Luscious Jackson, Ozomatli, Supersuckers, Primus, Spearhead, and more.
Fast forward to 2016 and B4BC has expanded its engagement with young people from snowboarding, skateboarding, surfboarding and more, now able to reach 1,320,000 young people a year, providing more than 100,000 individuals with peer-to-peer education (how to reduce breast cancer risk, how to perform a breast self-exam, even an opportunity to experience what a cancerous lump feels like through the use of life-like jelly breast molds).
So, today, right before their 20 year celebration, “Amplify,” an art and photo exhibition and silent auction benefitting breast cancer research and initiatives, Live FAST sat down with B4BC’s ambassador and breast cancer survivor, Megan Pischke to talk more about her experience as a breast cancer survivor and working with the ever growing B4BC:
LF: How did you first get involved with Boarding for Breast Cancer?
MP: I followed and looked up to a couple of the co-founders (Tina Basich, Shannon Dunn, Lisa Hudson), and was an up and coming pro snowboarder. Monica Stewards’ story deeply touched me, and I felt I needed to act on that, not to mention my own grandmother going through breast/lung cancer. Plus it really felt right to align with such a cause, advocating for my health and encouraging others to do the same through my snowboard career seemed like a win win.
LF: When and how did you find out you had breast cancer and did you know any other young people, who were also diagnosed with breast cancer at that time?
MP: I had just had my second child, and was noticing a lot of pain in my left breast, and when I lost some baby weight, I noticed the lump in my left breast had grown considerably. I had a small lump in my breast for 10 years, that had formed after a snowboard accident, trauma to my left rib cage. It was something that I had checked out regularly especially with pregnancies. I went to my GP immediately, and was put on a waiting list for nearly 2 brutal long months. After the ultrasound tests started snowballing––and it was confirmed. So much effing shock. I didn’t know anyone in my “circle”, like close friends or family who had breast cancer, but I had 6+ years of history with the retreats I helped B4BC coordinate for young breast cancer survivors. Many incredibly, empowering stories, and the beautiful women that went along with them––I had a base foundation to work with, and was encouraged on so many levels. It’s really hard to describe the emotions of irony that ensued. Like, so intense, I often would laugh and sing Alanis Morrisette’s song “Ironic”, and insert my own story. In some ways, all the women I had met over the years were a part of my puzzle to work through things I had put aside for others over the years, and heal myself once and for all.
LF: What was it like being involved with B4BC while in the midst of your own journey fighting breast cancer?
MP: I wasn’t really “involved” actually, I had taken many steps back from everything I was doing in my life, with the exception of being a mother––although it seemed like with the film I was on this big mission to help others, we actually edited after all my treatments were done (1+ years), and my filmer/producer was a close friend. I really kept to myself, no social media, no updates on FB, it was just my way of protecting myself I guess, I felt really vulnerable and fragile. And I needed that time with my family and close friends to keep my shit together––and lose it too, with the support of my tribe. We started a lot of the filming months after diagnosis with the intention of sharing my integrated health options. It took me months of praying, calculating, learning, discovering, and personal research on all levels to decide the path I finally took. And whether they worked or not, I wanted people to know that chemo and radiation aren’t the only choices in healing/getting rid of cancer.
LF: I recently watched the trailer for your Chasing Sunshine documentary, where we followed you through a day-in-the-life of your chemo treatments. How did that opportunity come about and what was your experience working on that project?
MP: How the whole film came about was my friend Paul and I wanted to film a small edit on the cold caps I wanted to do, to see if I could keep my hair. He was getting some new camera equipment, and wanted to test it out, and asked to follow me on my meditation hikes, runs, paddle boarding in the morning before chemo, ect. Not to mention he understood there was a parallel universe happening here between hospital treatments, and mother nature treatments. We sent our small edit on the cold caps over to our (then) director of B4BC Erika Steward. And she asked if we wanted to film more and maybe even create a documentary type piece. And it all started to make sense and come together for me––as I had been asking for years how I could do more for others, and this felt like it was it. But it was a balance to focus on me, and that’s why it was probably so raw, as I was just me, going through the shittiest time of my life, yet so grateful every single day for that one extra day. I think the project gave me a vision and a goal (beyond just getting through this), and also taught me the importance of being who I am without so much insecurity. I have to thank a lot of people especially Paul Watt my friend/filmer/editor/co-producer, as he allowed my family and I to go through what we needed to, and what we were destined to, without much intrusion at all.
LF: When you look back on your treatment and healing, did you feel that there were holes in the support you received, that you would have made the process easier on you or even those around you?
MP: No holes what so ever. In fact my cup, my children’s cups, my husbands cups were overflowing with love, support, kindness, and prayers. So much of a flood, it took me awhile to learn to receive it. HUGE lesson for me, and what I see in many other women who go through this- learning to receive. It’s easy to be a giver, but the heart space needs reciprocation, a balance of giving and taking, without judgements on yourself or others.
LF: Have you been able to offer any insights to B4BC as they continue to develop their programming?
MP: Well, the cool thing is I am now more involved with B4BC, and helping to direct and create some of their future projects and programs as the Health and Wellness Manager. And yes, so much insight, as I now have such a different perspective on what is needed, most especially in the realm of “after care”. I feel it’s such a gift after years of volunteer work, to have this passion become my job. It’s amazing.
LF: What healthy living tips or early detection tools you would suggest for young women?
MP: Healthy living is definitely important. Knowing your body, understanding what your needs are particularly, what diet suits you, what helps you manage stress, what type of exercise is the best for you. Having a doctor you trust and knows your body and you as a person. Maybe a Naturopathic doctor, or osteopath or homeopath would suit you better, it’s up to you to discover. And having a certain consciousness for the world we live in today––about emf’s, gmo’s, and chemicals that are in our water and foods. And protecting and advocating for our planet, our health and the health of our planet goes hand in hand. And unfortunately with all of these stressors and chemicals in our world today, it’s proven that even extremely healthy women (and men) can get breast cancer, but that good health, exercised intuition, and knowing when something is “off” in your body, can be your best bet to prevention, or catching it early and/or beating it when it knocks on your door.
LF: Were there any creative outlets you also found particularly helpful in your healing?
MP: Writing, music (playing guitar), funny movies, and my childrens play.
LF: You’re a pro-snowboarder and, in its 20 years, B4BC has worked with countless others in the pro-boarding community – such as, Olympic Gold Medalist and B4BC Team Member, Jamie Anderson. What do you think has been the “glue” between these two seemingly different worlds? And do you think that “glue” could connect people to this cause beyond the boarding community (snow, surf, skate, etc)?
MP: Not sure what you mean about seemingly different worlds? Our roots are most definitely in the action sports/ snowboard communities, and they have carried us and supported our cause for 20 years now, and there is just no amount of gratitude we, as an organization, can express for that. But I believe our message is much bigger than snowboarding, bigger than the action sports world, but we can of course continue to use our roots and our heritage, as a platform to deliver this message. And being active, being an athlete, and a conscious young person is so easily translated by so many of our action sports athletes these days, it all makes sense when the message is delivered by them. And so yes, that is most definitely “glue” that I hope would inspire all people! Jamie being involved was on her own doing, and she is one of the most down to earth, tree hugging, earth loving people I know. Her advocation for us is a natural, and makes total sense. Not to mention, her board sponsor Gnu, has donated the last 10 years of the BPro snowboard to our cause, so it all belongs.
But yes, we are growing beyond that, and this is the intention for sure, to keep our roots and our heritage intact, but share this message with as many people who want to listen.. Even if a young person isn’t interested in sports, I would hope they would be interested in their own body, and understand the importance of what we are educating. Breast cancer is just too prevalent nowadays to not know it exists. It affects so many of all ages, even if it is their aunt, their best friends mom, or their college roommate. I hope we can touch many people over the years to come.
LF: What are you most looking forward to at Boarding for Breast Cancer’s “Amplify” Art and Photo Exhibit + Fundraiser this Thursday?
MP: Being present with like minded people, and sharing them all that amazing art/ photos and positive vibes.
LF: What do you wish all women knew about their breasts?
MP: That they are important beyond how they look or feel to your lovers. That they belong, regardless of their size. And underneath those breasts are our hearts. And the synergy of your breasts and your heart can be truly amazing. Get to know them!
LF: How FAST do you live?
MP: Pretty fast, but I have to remind myself to slow down from time to time, so easy to caught up in sending it! Being in the moment is most definitely important, and like my kids remind me “only right now matters”.