The word “cancer” can bring about sudden and intense emotions. You may have feelings like fear, anger, frustration, depression and even helplessness. These emotions are normal. No one can tell you how to feel, how not to feel or to change the way you feel. Allowing yourself to express your emotions can help you begin to cope. Today’s guest is Cara Sapida. She found that writing about her experience was therapeutic and helped her to work through the shock and reality of her diagnosis.
Cara Sapida is a mother of two children and a triple-negative breast cancer fighter. Through her breast cancer journey, she also discovered she is BRCA1+. There are no known cases of breast cancer in her family before now.
Cara has been a television reporter since 2004. She works for WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh, PA– her hometown. She’s also worked for NBC affiliates in Hagerstown, MD and Fort Myers, FL.
Cara received an Edward R. Murrow award for Best Feature Story, as well as an AP award for tornado coverage.
Cara graduated from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism, with minors in French and political science.
She was a finalist in the 2010 Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest.
She is currently working on her first book titled, “Fight Like a Mother.”
The word cancer can bring about sudden and intense emotions. You may have feelings like fear, anger, frustration, depression, and even helplessness. These emotions are normal. No one can tell you how to feel, how not to feel or to change the way you feel, allowing yourself to express your emotions can help you begin to cope. Today’s guest is Cara Sapida. She found that writing about her experience was therapeutic and helped her to work through the shock and reality of her diagnosis. We are in for a special treat today because she will also be sharing a poem that she wrote with us. Cara, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me what a beautiful introduction.
I’m so excited to talk to you. I’m excited for our listeners to get to share your energy. So let’s start just tell us a little bit about yourself and about your breast cancer.
So I am 39 years old. I just turned 39 and early in this summer, I was diagnosed with stage two, triple-negative breast cancer. I was diagnosed at a time when, so I’m a local news reporter for the NBC affiliate here in Pittsburgh. And I was reporting on the beginning of the pandemic. It was a very stressful time period. You know, everything was changing every day. You know, businesses were closing. People were learning how to social distance masks were coming about. There were no masks on the market, you know, back then people couldn’t get their hands on masks. And so we’ve come very far. But back then, it was a very stressful time period to be a reporter. And I had interviewed a woman who owned a boxing studio, and I thought, you know what? I want to box. I want to let out some stress.
So I started boxing and I loved it so much. So I pulled every muscle in my body. I was just sitting on my bed one morning, stretching, loving the feel of, you know, new muscles forming. And I, I reached my arm over my head to stretch. And for a reason I’ll never understand. I just rested my other hand here. Like it was just waiting for its turn. And I felt the lump, you know, as a reporter, the one thing people said to me over the years, more than any other phrase, any other sentences, you know, I never thought it could happen to me. And it’s true. You know, I never thought it could happen to me. And I was healthy. I don’t have a family history of it. I’m not 40 yet to get a mammogram. And then my true first thought was I have a two year old and a four year old, I can’t have breast cancer. And so I’ve come so far now I’ve learned that there are women diagnosed every single day in this country, in their thirties, you know, around the world really. And their first thought is, but I have children.
Yeah, that’s right. And, and it’s, it’s a lot to balance. I mean, I’m told right now you’re balancing chemotherapy. You’ve got an upcoming surgery. You’re a mother, like you mentioned, to young children during a pandemic. And it’s the holidays. Tell me about that.
No, I have a little bit on my plate. I think the pandemic has been the one variable that it’s made things exponentially harder. You know, women who came before had a support system of friends and family to physically be there to lift them up in person, you know, cancer during COVID is lonely. You know, I mean, I keep on saying, I want some hugs and you just can’t have that when you’re severely immunocompromised. You know, when my counts were low throughout the whole entire process, every week, they were as low as they could go without having to skip chemo. And I did have to skip one time because they were too low. And you know, if there are women listening right now, going through that, they know, you know, that feeling of like, Oh my God, my counts were too low. I can’t get chemo and you want chemo, you know, you want it, you want it to kill your cancer cells.
So we’ve just had to quarantine in the house. You know, I’m just quarantined with my kids who I had to take out of daycare, daycare, germs. Aren’t great for somebody immunocompromised either. It’s been hard and it’s been lonely. But from the beginning I started using this hashtag fight like a mother. And when you are fighting for your children, you, you just, you just do it, you know, you just push through it. Yeah. Nobody knows that like a mother, like the, yes, it was hard having my kids see me stuck in bed and see me sick. But the second I was available to jump out of bed, I did it, you know? Yeah. That’s the, you know, the definition of fighting like a mother, you just do it.
And that’s an amazing hashtag I’m going to be checking that out later for sure. So let’s talk a little bit about your professional career. You live a pretty public life as a television reporter. How did that affect your emotions surrounding the diagnosis? And have you been able to work at all during this time?
So I knew early on that I was not going to be able to work. I wouldn’t be able to be out there doing interviews during a pandemic and be immunocompromised. So I felt like I had two choices. I could either just disappear from the TV and from social media for a few months, or I could be very honest with our viewers and tell them about my diagnosis. And I figured if I could tell them about my diagnosis and it could have just a few people schedule mammograms, a few women who were putting it off because we’re in a pandemic. Yup. Then it would have been worth it. I told myself that. And then what happened is the messages started flooding in literally that day, hundreds of, I just scheduled my mammogram, I scheduled my mammogram. And then a few days later I need to have a biopsy. And then a few days later I found cancer. Wow. Yeah. And that was, and those messages, they were coming into me during what I call the dark days a time before treatment starts. But after your diagnosis where you don’t know what the future holds, you know, you can barely get out of the fetal position. And I found that by sharing my story, it was cathartic by helping others. It was giving me purpose. And so that’s how it all began. Wow. Thank
You for doing that. It’s clear that writing is an outlet for you or so I’m told that writing is an outlet for you. Can you share with the audience why it’s so important to find ways to help deal with their emotions with their stress?
You know, breast cancer is so much harder than you would ever imagine because you don’t hear about the ugly side of it. You know, it is not pink ribbons. I repeatedly say it is ugly. It is not pink ribbons. And so I felt if I could tell my journey in the raw this way, you know, no flowery posts just honesty. And it would resonate with women who maybe couldn’t find the way to describe it to their friends and family. Why it’s so hard. It became cathartic for me. And so, you know, writing about hair loss was, is a big one. I get messages a lot about my posts about hair loss, because it’s traumatic for a woman. I can remember when the hair was just falling off of my head and flying through my fingers and swirling down the drain. I was devastated, but I thought to myself, you know what?
I don’t want to do this every day. I don’t want to wake up and see how much more hair comes out in the shower. I want to shave my head. So instead of being afraid of it, I owned it and I wanted it. And that’s been a big for me. People can call you a fighter and people can call you a warrior, but to feel it, when I shaved my head, I didn’t cry. I felt like a warrior because I knew that was a step in the process of being cancer-free and I just wanted it done. Wow. And after I posted it, these women messaged me saying, you know, I’m almost at the end of my cancer journey and I’ve never shared a photo of my, of my head. And after your post, I found the strength in it and it felt good. So it’s, it’s stories like that, that keep me going and posting each week. And it’s just this outlet, you know, for me to write about my journey again, so that I can have some purpose because I keep asking God, why given his reporter breast cancer, if I’m not meant to share it and help others, you know, use the little platform, I have to try to make a difference. Yeah. So that’s what I’m doing.
I love that. I love that. You’re, you’re inspiring people. You’re lifting them up and you’re taking them along with you on your journey. So in a moment, I know you’re going to share a poem that you wrote with us. But first I just want to know, like what, tell us about your motivation, why you wrote it and what you want our listeners to take away from it.
So my inspiration for the poem came right after I started chemo, I I’ve always found that the bedtime routine as a mom was special to me, you know, I love reading books to the kids. I love cuddling sharing the same pillow. My son always would open up about his day at that time. And it was it’s special. So after my diagnosis, I found that it wasn’t especially more. It was hard because I would get choked up every night. You, because when you’re in the dark days, it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And you have these dark thoughts and you think, you know, I want, I want a lifetime of these special moments with my children. And if you don’t have, you know, a good grasp of your situation, if you’re not confident in your chemo yet, you’ll get there.
I got there, but I wasn’t there yet. And so every night I was crying, you know, I was like, Oh, I don’t want these kids to see me crying. And I’m wiping my cheeks. So one night we’re reading, Oh, the places you’ll go by Dr. Seuss. And it’s a great book. You know, it really teaches kids that life has ups and downs. But when you’re in the middle of a down in life, it choked me up. And so the words and I wrote them down the row, the words that got me worked, you’ll be on your way. You’ll be seeing great sights. You’ll join the high flyers who soar to high Heights. You won’t lag behind because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang. And you’ll student take the lead wherever you fly. You’ll be best of the best. Wherever you go. You will top all the rest.
And that’s great. Love it. Right. But then the book takes this turn and Dr. Seuss writes, except when you don’t, because sometimes you won’t and boom. I started crying and then I put the kids to bed and I laid in bed and I kept on saying, except when you don’t, because sometimes you won’t. And then I woke at three in the morning and I’m like, I think I understand why this is affecting me. Everybody wants me to be a fighter. And everybody wants me to be a warrior. And you know, they say things like, you got this, you own that cancer. You know, you’re going to annihilate it, but sometimes you’re not gonna feel like a fighter and you’re not gonna feel like a warrior and you are going to get knocked down and that’s okay. You know, it is okay to just say to yourself today, it’s not my day.
And I’m going to try again and I’ll be better tomorrow. I will be a warrior tomorrow. And I was giving myself permission to feel that way. And so that’s when I started writing a poem based on, except when you don’t, because sometimes you won’t.
I would love to hear it. Please share it with our listeners.
Cara (11:05): Okay. So I’ve never really read this out loud before I always read it in my head. So, okay, here we go.
Dear breast cancer fighter, you’re brave.
And you’re strong.
You’re fierce, and determined, in a race that is long.
With grace goes the hair that falls to your feet.
A warrior now, prepare to defeat.
You’re never alone a tribe by your side, millions who never signed up for this ride.
A glance in the mirror, familiar at best, with scars on your heart, your body, your chest.
Inhale and exhale, kick down those doors.
The cancer is weak.
The warrior roars.
Except when you don’t, because sometimes you won’t.
Sometimes you’ll cry and ask yourself why.
I’m sorry to say, but sadly, it’s true,
that bad days and bad weeks will happen to you.
And when you’re alone, there will come a day.
The sorrow and sadness just won’t go away.
Both daydreams and nightmares,
a frightening con, may scare you so much
you won’t want to go on.
But on, you will go, though the weather is foul.
On you will go while your cancer may prowl.
Onto the chair and the poisonous drips.
On with both courage and prayers on your lips.
On with the strength, only you can discover,
through the eyes of your child as you fight like a mother.
Through the scans and the scares,
the sympathy, the stares, you are the storm.
Keep climbing the stairs.
Because the end is in sight.
Time to gather that might, throw off the label,
you are more than this fight.
And your day is coming like the women before.
Fling your head back, rise up off the floor.
With a face full of grace and a head held up high,
tears, full of joy, take their turn to cry.
Lift up that arm and reach for the bell.
The future is yours.
Say goodbye to your hell.
Wow. That was just unbelievable. Wow. Reading it. That was beautiful. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that with us.
I think I’m sad reading it because, you know, I only rang the bell two weeks ago, so it’s just very new to me, you know?
Yeah. Well, your, your courage, your enthusiasm, it, it’s very, very impactful. And I really appreciate it.
Thank you. I appreciate that. So thank you so much.
Do you have any, any final thoughts that you want to share with our listeners?
You know, the final thoughts I have if you’re listening, people keep asking me, you know, is there a book that I can buy for my best friend who was just diagnosed with breast cancer? And I have 47 books here. And so many of them have statistics in them. And I just think that statistics are outdated after the book is published and as breast cancer fighters, we don’t need statistics. We need hope. And for me looking to the women on the other side of this journey, who are now living their lives with their pixie cuts and their new eyelashes and dropping their kids off at school and making dinner and being normal, that is what gives us hope. And so my hope for anybody listening to this is just to remember that you all are more than this fight. You know, you’re going to get back to your life. Yeah. Fight like a mother push on every day and soon you will be on the other side, inspiring the women who are newly diagnosed. That is my hope for anybody listening today.
Well, Cara, those are very, very wise words. Thank you so much for your time with us today.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
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