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Calendar girls fight breast cancer



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Metamora photographer Henry Hopkins and calendar models (from left) Jeanne Ziraldo, Laura Farwell, Pat Nolf, Victoria Connolly and Trinette Mansfield. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
October 09, 2013 - Four women from different walks of life, but they all have two things in common – they've each battled breast cancer and they're each featured in the 2014 Pink Ribbon Trailblazers calendar.

Jeanne Ziraldo, Laura Farwell, Trinette Mansfield and Victoria Connolly, all of whom either live or work in Oxford, can be found in the pages of this calendar.

Pink Ribbon Trailblazers, a Lake Orion-based nonprofit group that raises funds so uninsured and under-insured women in Oakland County can receive mammograms, is selling this calendar featuring professional photos of 12 breast cancer survivors.

The calendars sell for $20 each and every penny goes towards providing mammograms for women who need them, but cannot afford them.

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Every five calendars sold equals one free mammogram for an uninsured or under-insured woman.

The 2014 edition is the third calendar.

It's a fund-raising device and a way to show women that there is life after breast cancer; it doesn't have to be a death sentence, so don't give up.

Once again, Henry Hopkins, a Metamora photographer, snapped all the photos and absorbed all the expenses, which is why 100 percent of sales go directly to funding mammograms.

Calendars are available at the following downtown Oxford businesses – Downtown Salon, Villa de Goochi, Ella Fashion, Pink & Charlie and Simple Organics.

It can also be purchased on-line at www.pinkribbontrailblazers.com

Let's meet the Oxford ladies in this year's calendar:

Jeanne Ziraldo (Miss May)

Ziraldo's photo, a striking mix of light and shadow, shows her praying while seated in the pews of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lake Orion.

The only light in this image is that which shines through the stained glass windows. The only color in this black-and-white photo is contained in the windows themselves.

Ziraldo, an Oxford resident, appears lost in thought as she prays in silence.

"I think it portrays that peace I'm able to have in my heart (because) of this experience, being ill and everything that I've learned from it," she said. "I definitely would not change anything at all."

This photo is perfect for a woman who attends daily mass at St. Joseph and every Sunday, provides spiritual care to patients at Crittenton Hospital in Rochester Hills.

Ziraldo was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2011 at the age of 48. Although there have been cases of breast cancer in her family, she was not genetically linked to the affected relatives.

Cancer was found in both of Ziraldo's breasts, which were removed via a bilateral mastectomy.

She described her cancer as "very strong" and "very aggressive."

"I was really lucky," Ziraldo said. "My mammogram literally saved my life. It was not a tumor yet, but it was already very invasive in my breast tissue. My mammogram definitely saved my life; there's no doubt about it."

Two years later, she's finished with her treatments, but still taking medications. She's back to working full-time again as a special education teacher at Crissman Elementary School, which is located in Shelby Township and part of the Utica school district. She's been teaching for 25 years.

Ziraldo lives every day with the knowledge that there's definitely a chance her cancer could return.

"I'll never say I'm cancer-free," she said. "I would never say that."

But she doesn't dwell on it. Instead, she focuses on using every minute of her life in a "purposeful" way such as helping hospital patients in need of spiritual support.

"I'm pretty picky about my time," Ziraldo said.

She believes having cancer made her a "better person."

"No doubt about it," Ziraldo said. "I think I'm more caring and considerate. I think it's changed me for the better. I wouldn't take the experience of having cancer away if I had a choice."

She agreed to appear in the Pink Ribbon Trailblazers calendar after meeting with the group's founder, Lake Orion resident and fellow cancer survivor Pat Nolf, and sharing their stories and experiences.

"I just knew in my heart that this was really something I was supposed to do at this point," Ziraldo said.

Ziraldo wants her photo to motivate women to get checked for breast cancer and not put it off until later.

"My hope is that no one will be scared to go get their mammogram, ever," she said. "My hope is they will remind their families and friends that getting a mammogram really is important and it really could make a difference. It made a huge difference in my life."

Her advice to women facing cancer is to deal with the big decisions "one day at a time" and "reach out for support" from family and friends, "even though it's hard."

In her case, Ziraldo said, "That made a world of difference."

Ziraldo tries to share her story as much as possible because "it might save someone else's life."

"That's been my family's philosophy since I got diagnosed – yeah, we're going to talk about it," she said.

Laura Farwell (Miss June)

The most striking thing about Farwell's photos is the confidence they portray.

That confidence is demonstrated by her bald head.

No wig, scarf or hat was used to cover up the effects of Farwell's eight rounds of chemotherapy, which she recently completed.

"I think I was the only bald one in the calendar," Farwell said.

Even though a wig was something covered by her health insurance, she chose not to get one.

"I don't have a problem being bald," she said. "I don't think it looks that bad."

In all three photos, she appears proud and strong. There's not the slightest hint of shame or embarrassment as she mugs for the camera with not a single hair on her head.

"I thought posing bald in the calendar would be a nice opportunity for people to see the reality of the illness, the recovery (and) maybe be inspirational for other people who are going through it," Farwell said.

She hopes women who view her photos will gain "strength" from them.

"Although it's a difficult struggle, it doesn't have to be a horrific ride," Farwell said. "Life will continue to be what you make of it."

Farwell, who's in her third year as the dean of students at Oxford Middle School, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2013. "I'm a newbie," she said.

A routine mammogram led to the detection of cancer in one of her breasts. Farwell elected to have a bilateral mastectomy as a preventative measure.

"Luckily I did because when they went in, they had missed a small invasive tumor and it had actually gone to my lymph nodes," she said. "It was in seven of 19 lymph nodes."

"Had I not done the mastectomy, they probably would have missed the small part, sewed me back up and it wouldn't have been good," Farwell continued. "I don't know if it was fate or intuition or whatever that I chose to have the bilateral mastectomy, but I'm glad that I did."

Right now, Farwell, 41, is classified as NED, which stands "no evidence of disease."

"Unless there is a sign or a symptom that it has spread, they'll consider me that until I hit remission," she said. "My prognosis is great at this point."

A patient is considered in remission when signs or symptoms of the disease have either reduced or disappeared.

Farwell noted there's no history of breast cancer in her family.

She agreed to do the calendar because she couldn't imagine being diagnosed with cancer and not having health insurance.

"What if I (hadn't had) the insurance to get the breast screening? I would have never even known (I had cancer)," she said.

Farwell viewed doing the calendar as a way "to give back."

"The community of Oxford, the school district, my friends, my family have all been so kind that I felt I could really pay it forward by helping others who need mammograms, (but) do not have the insurance or the money to pay for it," she said.

Her advice to women battling cancer – "Attitude goes a long way."

"There's going to be up-days and down-days, but if you can find it within yourself to be positive, you can get through it," Farwell said.

Trinette Mansfield (Miss October)

Standing next to a 1948 Cadillac outside the historic White Horse Inn in downtown Metamora, Mansfield's photo is the essence of the playful pinup girl featured in calendars from the 1930s through 1950s.

And that's exactly what she wanted.

"I love it," said Mansfield, 39, of Lake Orion. "I think it's very empowering and just fun."

For Mansfield, who works as a nail technician at Oxford's Downtown Salon, agreeing to be part of the calendar was an easy decision.

"If you can make people smile and be an inspiration to somebody and help get women free mammograms, why not?" she said.

Mansfield's cancer came as an unwelcome birthday present. She celebrated her 31st birthday on Nov. 13, 2004 and was diagnosed six days later.

Even though the cancer was found in one breast, Mansfield chose to have a bilateral mastectomy as a preventative measure because her cancer was Stage 3 and "very aggressive."

"I didn't want to have to worry about anything again," she said.

Eight years later, she's cancer-free and feeling great. She noted there was no history of breast cancer in her family.

Mansfield hopes that when women see her calendar photo, they'll remember to "smile every day" and "live life to the fullest."

"You can't control all things in life, but you can laugh about it," she said.

Her advice to women battling cancer – "Believe that it's a phase, that you'll get through it and you're going to be fine."

"Believe it and it will happen."

Victoria Connolly (Miss December)

Anyone who knows Connolly knows her passion is her downtown Oxford restaurant, Victoria's Delights.

It seems like she never leaves. She's always there cooking, chatting with customers or doing paperwork.

So, it should come as no surprise that her calendar photo features Connolly, 47, standing behind her restaurant's bar with a big smile, ready to serve the next customer.

"I wanted my picture taken at work because the restaurant is such a big part of me," she said. "The support from my staff and my customers is what got me through it."

Connolly found a lump in her breast in July 2012. She was diagnosed that same month with breast cancer that was between Stages 1 and 2. She had a lump that was about 1 inch in size.

Connolly had never had a mammogram prior to her diagnosis and didn't think she needed one until she turned 50.

She opted to have a lumpectomy, which is the surgical removal of the tumor. She then underwent 12 weeks of chemotherapy and 17 double-dose radiation treatments.

As of today, no cancer's been detected.

"So far, everything's looking good," Connolly said.

Connolly agreed to do the calendar because "it's an excellent cause" and Nolf is "just a fantastic woman" that "you can't say 'no' to."

Connolly hopes her participation will help raise awareness about breast cancer. She believes seeing "everyday people," like herself, who have been affected by the disease helps show others that cancer can strike anyone

"It could be your best friend, your sister or your neighbor or you," she said. "Before I was diagnosed, it wasn't even on my radar. It was something that didn't cross my mind.

"It was something that happened to other people, older people, people with family history. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would happen to me."

Connolly hopes her photo will be "inspirational" to women who are battling or beginning their battle with cancer.

"It's a very scary time in your life, but I think if you can see people who have come out on the other side of it successful, healthy and back to their regular lives, it shows that it's not the end of the road," she said. "The bottom does fall out of your world, but you get through it."

Her best advice to women battling cancer – "Keep a positive outlook."

"Don't focus on the disease, focus on the cure," Connolly said. "Visualize yourself on the other side of it, healthy and alive. I think you have to focus on living your life."

"The main reason I did the calendar is I wanted people to know you can get through it – you look good, your hair starts to grow back, life does go on," she added.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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