Real Talk: I Need A Break 

[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.

This is Real Talk, a podcast conversation where we’re digging deep into breast cancer and the realities patients and survivors face every day. We’re talking openly and honestly about just how difficult breast cancer can be, from being diagnosed to selecting the right treatment plan, to living day to day with metastatic breast cancer and life after treatment ends.

In today’s episode, we’re encouraging everyone to take a break. A breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and life thereafter can be exhausting. All the appointments and procedures and follow ups and bills, on top of the emotional and physical challenges of cancer, is overwhelming. Sam Lazar Riviello, is a stage two breast cancer survivor who learned how to accept help and support from others during her diagnosis and treatment.

Through the outpouring of love from those around her, she could focus on overcoming cancer. Esther Tambe and her sister Alicia co founded Fight Through Flights, an organization that provides free wellness retreats and travel experiences for black women living with breast cancer. Their goal is to improve the wellness and mental health of black women who are impacted by this disease.

Ladies, thank you for being here today to remind us all that it’s important to take a break. Life can give us more than we’re ready for and able to take on, but taking a break is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, our health, and our well being. Sam, let’s start with you. I’d like for you to share your breast cancer story and how you learned to accept help from others.

And then, Sam, when you finish, Esther, we’d love to hear your story as well.

[00:01:52] Sam Riviello: Hi, thank you so much for having me. My breast cancer story, I turned 40 and I went for my first mammogram and it was there that I learned that I did have breast cancer. I decided to go to Memorial Sloan Kettering, MSKCC in New York.

I wanted to give myself the best opportunity that I was able to give myself. And there I was diagnosed with stage two B breast cancer and I had to have surgery. I had 16 weeks of chemo and 30 rounds of radiation. And after that I’m really happy to say that I have no evidence of disease, and I’ve gone on to have two successfully clear mammograms and ultrasounds, since then. I guess I’m two years out at this point now.

[00:02:53] Adam Walker: And Esther, what’s your story?

[00:02:56] Esther Tambe: Thank you for sharing your story, Sam. My story would be, I am not a breast cancer patient or survivor, however, me and my younger sister, we lost our older sister to breast cancer. She was stage three, triple negative breast cancer.

For us, we started this organization, Fight Through Flights, in honor of her to uphold her legacy. As we were, one of the things that we did together was travel, a lot of our joy and family memories are through travel, but within her last year of her fight, she was still able to travel. So we wanted to be able to give that type of joy and relief to others who are also struggling with their breast cancer journey, but also realizing that for some people, breast cancer happens, but their life is not.

Whether it’s, they’ve put it on hold or not, that they can still continue to do the things that they once loved. So that’s part of our goal of being able to rekindle that joy and relief for them.

[00:03:52] Sam Riviello: I just wanted to say, the briefing for this podcast was the first time that I was introduced to your organization, Esther, and when I was reading it, I, actually got really like emotional, just like really gripped, shook, I guess is the right word, that there was an organization out there that was doing what you were doing. Obviously we have a lot to talk about here, but I think one of the main things that have been on my mind since my diagnosis is just the inequity of it, for people of color, for women of color, and just the really sad and staggering rates that show higher mortality rates, it’s, actually quite overwhelming. It’s something that I think about on a regular basis, especially because I just started off by saying that I was able to select the best cancer center that I was able to access and, I just know that my privilege, my access, as a white woman, as someone who’s financially pretty stable and I do have this really lovely support group.

And that’s not something that a lot of women have. And then when the odds are already stacked against you as a woman of color, it’s just really something that’s constantly on my mind as a breast cancer survivor. So I really found it very emotional to read the services that you all are providing through your organization.

I just want to let you know that.

[00:05:33] Esther Tambe: Thank you. Yeah. It wasn’t, honestly, it was something that we didn’t realize ourself until we started with the organization

and started to do more research and realize that all these disparities are out there, but like what you said, especially being also familiar with Memorial Sloan Kettering, not everyone has access to that, right? Some of this care and the barriers to care is based on the zip code, based on the treatment team that one can have. And for some women, it’s that moment of, “Do I pay this bill or do, there’s this treatment or do I have the time to take a staycation or do I need to worry about the bill?”

So we’re also within our programs, it’s just being able to give them that opportunity that this is for you solely for you free. You don’t now need to worry about. Your mental health, self care versus that treatment, we want you to be able to take care of yourself during this process.

But also, for those who are going through survivorship, there might have been so much that they neglected at that time. So being able to still recognize the women that they are and what they have to offer and just have that moment for their self as part of what comes with the programming.

So it’s something that we don’t realize until it impacts us.

[00:06:48] Sam Riviello: Exactly. Yeah. It’s so beautiful. Really. I’m shaking a little bit.

[00:06:54] Adam Walker: Talk a little bit about what it’s like asking for help, why that’s taboo and what you think are the best ways to shift away from that being a taboo thing.

[00:07:07] Sam Riviello: I’m happy to start here just because asking for help is something that I found myself really uncomfortable doing. Before my diagnosis, for various reasons, so I was brought up, et cetera, et cetera, I am like hyper independent, to a detriment. I would say there, and now I’m a 42 year old woman.

And sometimes I just look back and I reflect and I say, why would you do that to yourself? Why would you try to go alone for so many different things in your life? And I am happily married. I have been with my husband. we’re about to celebrate, 20 years of dating. So we’ve been together for a really long time.

And, obviously we’re married, but, I have two children. I have a great job. I have great friends. I have a great community, but really it wasn’t until I was faced with this diagnosis that I told myself, if you’re not going to let people in now, you’re just, I don’t know what you’re doing.

It’s like self sabotage almost, and yeah, now I view my cancer diagnosis as like a transformative opportunity for me for the remainder of my life. I’m calling it the second half of my life. I hope it’s long and abundant, but, just to allow people to step in and shoulder the burden a little bit, I think is something that I’m really fortunate that I’ve been able to do.

And again, like I say, I’m always hyper aware of the fact that people do this by themselves. People do this without a job that isn’t as understanding as mine. People do this without the support of a co parent or something like that. And, I struggled through my own treatment, my course of treatment.

And that is with such a robust support group and just, it can be quite staggering to think about what it is like for other people who are going through a diagnosis without as much as I had, and I definitely faltered. A lot. I definitely had days that I wasn’t feeling so hot and that I would call my mom and just, maybe think about not being here anymore.

Like it did get that heavy for me for certain times during my treatment. And that was with the best case scenario. I had estrogen positive breast cancer, which I told was told that it was probably one of the most treatable kind. I have a beautiful life and I still found so many hardships in it that when I think about women who are doing this alone or women who are coming from underserved communities or just for the variety of reasons why things wouldn’t be as, dare I say, charmed as what I have, I can’t imagine doing it. I really can’t.

[00:10:12] Esther Tambe: Yeah, and I think it’s, even where asking for help, what does that mean for someone? So for sometimes, asking for help could be a sign of weakness, feeling inferior.

And that in itself can be a personal thing that one may deal with, but even as working with Black women in general, there’s that strong Black woman trope where sometimes we feel that we must do everything, like we’re supposed to be strong, we can’t have that weakness.

And sometimes, because it’s been ingrained in us for so long, like we continue with that. But at the same time, it’s we can only take so much on our shoulders. Like that burden becomes stress, impacts the way one’s health is, that diagnosis can take a toll on you in itself, but now you’re adding additional stress.

Personally for us, our sister, she was the oldest, she was a mom. She stands as the oldest sister, the oldest cousin, the oldest granddaughter, the oldest niece. So sometimes we think maybe that was just a responsibility that, for her to now ask

for help or show weakness may not have been because for so long we’ve been used to her being that person that does it all but knows the most.

Not that she didn’t have support, but I think sometimes we felt and it wasn’t until maybe after her passing realizing like, there was more things that she may have been struggling with and just didn’t want to come to us to let us know that was the case. Because at the same time, making sure that we’re okay and everyone is okay.

And this is the first time we’re all dealing with this. That itself is what happens when we’re just trying to take the burden of it all. But, do it all. And just even with the work I do outside of the nonprofit, it’s just knowing that it is okay to ask for help. It may feel awkward to ask for help.

But sometimes we just have to know. That we can’t do this by ourself, how to ask for help. So even if you’re on the other end, whether you’d be a loved one, sometimes you just have to act like, what can we do for you? Because they may not come to you and ask for help, but it could be the little things of just that extra phone call or just showing up with things that may, whatever it may be.

So I think, asking for help is a hard thing for many, but showing that it doesn’t mean that you’re weak and you’re now not able to do something. Like you still are a person, with additional help. So I think it’s just even just having more of these conversations and decreasing that stigma, that comes with mental health and asking for help and all the things that can change the trajectory of one’s diagnosis.

[00:12:44] Sam Riviello: Yeah, and when you’re talking about your sister, she sounds amazing. I’m sorry for your loss. There is that reminder, like checking on your friends, we’re going to talk about it in the mental health lens is like a lot of things that I’ve learned about myself through my own diagnosis and like working with my therapist, Grace, if you’re out there, thank you.

Sometimes like the most stressed out people are the ones that are just the most like polished and poised and pulled together. And especially when it’s people are counting on you or you feel as if people are counting on you, your sister, what probably felt so much love and passion and honor and being like caretaker and a leader for you all, sometimes we’re the ones that fall the hardest.

You just pretend and you shove it down. And when you do that with your emotions and your stress, you’re really, you’re doing future you a disservice because it comes out in so many other ways. And that’s something that I’ve

experienced, where, like I said, I reflect back on my time when I was going through treatment.

[00:14:04] Sam Riviello: How did I do that? How did I show up at work? How did I go so hard? For so many different things, just because that’s who I was, it was and ingrained and I’m grateful now that I give myself a lot more permission to just say no and put up those boundaries around me that are just self preservation, pretty much, But it’s still an ongoing journey.

Sometimes I catch myself like, what are you doing? Say, no, why are you doing this? But, yeah, I think you’ve got to check in on your tough, stoic friends a lot, especially when it comes to illness, because if they’re like that in health, they’re definitely gonna be like that in sickness.

[00:14:51] Esther Tambe: No, a hundred percent. Even like I said, keeping the boundaries.

But at the same time, there’s parts of us that we’re so used to helping others that we sometimes don’t even want to feel like we are a burden. Because I think that’s another thing that comes on. It’s well, “I don’t want to be the burden. I don’t want you to now worry about me.” There are all these other things, but it’s well, if your cup is not full, who’s going to fill it for you?

So it’s just warming, knowing, just knowing what you have around you. Like you don’t want it to be that it comes to the length of a death where one talks about “Oh, what I should have done and what I could have done where it’s there are people here.” Some of us just may not know what to do.

Because we’re also experiencing it for the first time. Whether it’s a caregiver or a loved one, there’s a person that’s impacted directly with the breast cancer diagnosis and then you have your loved ones around you who are also impacted, but don’t necessarily actually know what you’re going through.

I could never say that. I understand the day to day of what it means, or what my sister went through, or what you’ve gone through, right? I can never say that, I can be compassionate, I can have that empathy and try to be there, but I can’t sit here and be like, “yes, today’s gonna be your best day and you’re gonna be the strongest.”

Sometimes that positive, toxic positivity doesn’t also help someone either, but if we allow for someone just to be like, listen, that’s not what I need right now, but I do need this. Can we start having these type of conversations just to help along the way with it, too?

[00:16:16] Sam Riviello: Yeah, something that you said about, the cup being full.

Another one, shout out to my girl, Grace, but she tells me a lot that excellence takes energy and showing up excellently is something that’s really important to me professionally and in my relationships with my friends, my family, my community. But, exactly how are you filling up that cup?

And that’s something that’s just an ongoing, for me is just trying to find those different ways for me to recharge. But, thinking about you as a caregiver, it also applies. And I think about how my husband, who was my main care giver during the time of my treatment, how he was not looking to fill his cup, and there is that duality of

something that sucks just so bad, like going through breast cancer and worrying about your future and your family. And then also just taking a minute to be present in the moment and find that joy where you are able to find it. I think it’s really beautiful that your organization does it through travel opportunities because, you think of somebody who’s sick with cancer and you think of them as someone who’s like sort of bed bound or house bound or hospital bound.

But the fact of the matter is I was quite I went to work, I popped a little hat on and I kept it moving. I was out with my kids. I was out in my community. And, I think twofold. Number one, you’re finding those opportunities for them to have joyful moments with their loved ones,

that’s huge, but also normalizing people who are going through treatment, just being out in the world. Because people would just look at me like 80, what are you doing here? Why are you homesick? And I’m busy. I got things to do, and that’s something that I was really surprised about after going through my own treatment is how really like day to day things really didn’t change that much, aside from like the days I was feeling really poorly. But I like to tell that to people who are, unfortunately, there are a lot of people coming my way right now with their own stories of diagnosis and it’s something that I tell them, like you can be out there, you can still be doing it, and that’s something that you don’t really think about.

And so I love that you are taking it to one of the farthest extremes of like joyful presence in the world. I love that. Yeah.

[00:19:09] Esther Tambe: Yeah. And I think that’s one of the things we also try to hone in on, that beast cancer diagnosis does not necessarily define you. That doesn’t necessarily put the limit to you.

So with our sister, when she was first diagnosed, she was a nurse, so she worked her night shift, she did her 7 to 7, would go to the gym, and then go to chemo, would still travel, so one of the last the few trips that we did together, like we went to Napa, we did Cartagena, we went to Columbia.

Like she had no fear in the world that like she was still going to still do the things that brought joy. So even when we do these trips, like whether it was the retreat or just allowing for the different staycations, it’s well, “what is it that you enjoy?” Like, why can’t you still do this? As long as there’s the medical clearance that it’s okay for you to travel, and it’s okay for you to experience this, why would we limit it? It might just be that thing that’s needed to even bring back that self preservation that we were talking about. Like they might just need to even feel the sun on them, being out in nature, being by the beach, being whatever it may be. So whether that’s a full blown retreat or just having that one moment to spend in a hotel night, like a hotel room by yourself for the night, those are levels of joy that you’re still worthy of and that you can still achieve while going through your treatment with breast cancer. Or if you’re through survivorship and once thought that you lost all of your likelihood of whatever it was prior to your diagnosis, but just still trying to rekindle all these moments that you may have felt like you lost.

[00:20:36] Sam Riviello: Yeah, it’s definitely not something that I’ve experienced. Survivorship support is not as robust as diagnosis and treatment support. I likened it to being dropped off the conveyor belt of cancer, there’s really not much support. And when you think about it, how staggering it is to me, I thankfully I’m clear at this time to, you’re given a gift and you don’t want to squander it.

So I’ve been finding myself, being a lot more present and a lot more content with what I have but when I was going through treatment I didn’t have the opportunity to travel but I did go right after my diagnosis and my biopsy. I didn’t have the results yet for my biopsy, but my best friend and I, we went on a trip to Iceland and I remember telling the nurses and the doctors who were doing my biopsy that I was going to Iceland and I just wanted them to hold the results until I got back just so that I could just go out there and experience it. It was really like recharging and healing and exciting and a reminder of how great and big the world is and how beautiful it is. so I didn’t get a chance to travel during treatment, but I did spend some time in like a big nursery, like a plant nursery in my area, just wandering through all the shrubs and the flowers.

And I can’t tell you how restorative that was for me.

[00:22:20] Esther Tambe: That’s great. And I think that’s part of it too, right? Being able to find those things that are restorative. So it may not be travel for

you, but it was the nursery, right? It might just be someone getting back into crafting, sewing, or just journaling or writing.

But it’s again, it’s like finding the things that bring you joy. What makes you so what makes you smile? What feeds your soul? And there are those moments in there. So it’s maybe even to be able to relive those moments, it’s when we do need to ask for help, because it might be the person, someone else that might be able to help you get to those moments.

It all comes together with that support, the type of support we’re looking for, but also having those open, honest conversations that we may need a little bit more, or we’re missing out on something that we once had, how can we bring it back. So it’s lots of conversations that I think sometimes may not be thought about to have until you’ve actually gone through and you know what, this is something I might want to just start talking with people about, what makes me happy, this is what I like to do.

Not that we’re planning or hoping that a cancer diagnosis may come in our life, but if something was to happen, how can someone help me get through it?

[00:23:32] Sam Riviello: Yeah, I have a colleague who unfortunately he’s okay, but he went through a sort of near death experience through an accident and we bonded on the gift of like a near death experience and how it revitalizes you to reprioritize those things that bring you joy, which is something that are the first thing that go.

When you’re like a full fledged adult with responsibilities. Like I said, I feel like it, my diagnosis was really crucial in me having a more enjoyable and fun rest of my life, but I’m working really hard to model that to my friends and my family. People that I work with and really insisting on people just taking time and taking breaks and recharging and even small things. Not to sound ridiculous, but like my team this week, we’re going to have a pizza party and just take a minute and say thank you to each other. But just acting in gratitude is something that didn’t come really naturally to me. And now it’s just something that I find so much joy and pleasure and just being grateful. I think that so many of us would benefit from that perspective.

It’s probably the easiest thing to disregard when you have life happening outside of it. But sometimes, having a diagnosis is really the thing that kicks you back to square one. And everything else falls by the wayside and you see what’s important, you see the people who are important in front of you and you just really have to take it while you have it.

[00:25:18] Esther Tambe: Yeah, I love it. Like you said, whether it’s a diagnosis or a near death experience, for some, that’s where that level of gratitude or to even just rethink about life where you may have not thought of it in a certain way at one point.

[00:25:32] Sam Riviello: Yeah. And for caretakers, again, I can’t stress to you enough how much I realized the impact on my husband and the same things are applicable for caretakers as they are people going through the treatment. You feel like garbage, but other than that, it’s just pretty much the same perspective, right? It’s the same fears. It’s the same burden. It’s the same everything. Yeah, I don’t think there’s enough done for caretakers.

I don’t think so. I participate in the Susan G. Komen walk, and I’m really happy with that organization and showcasing people who have gone through treatment, survivors and thrivers, but, I also participated in a relay for life. For American Cancer Association, and they have their own table for survivors and their own table for caretakers and they treat the caretaker in almost the same way they get to wear a sash and do a lap.

And I just remember seeing my husband doing the caretaker lap around the track and finally getting some recognition and honor for his services to me and his family. That’s really overlooked. It’s really overlooked. And I think that they should just be bundled up in the same package of people who are going through it and caretakers for sure.

[00:27:04] Esther Tambe: Yeah, so one of our initial programs when we first started, because we did start in the beginning of the pandemic with COVID, but with that road trip to recovery, it was actually for the one of the person impacted by breast cancer, but their caretaker and it was not acknowledging the fact that, we understand that this impacted someone else.

Whether it was a significant other or caretaker that could have been a daughter. We’ve had a mother daughter duo, like the mom originally was the caretaker and the daughter became the caretaker, we just wanted them to also be included. So they received the same, be able to go away, whatever the funds were for that trip.

But it was essentially for the importance of that. Again, this diagnosis impacts many people too, at the same time. And what you said, it’s oh, so now this is a whole new world of things that the caretaker might need to learn, but also, is this caretaker now stopping their life to try to figure out how they can preserve what they already have, save another person’s life, and that itself, that mental toll becomes a lot.

And with the same for asking help, the caretaker might not be like, “well, how do I ask for help if I’m the one that’s supposed to be helping the person that’s impacted?” So it does become that whole thing of asking for support, but our mental health is impacted. So even sometimes, even just being able to get that sash and acknowledgement of what you’ve done, you went through the journey too, you went through the diagnosis too. Can we acknowledge and also support those who are supporting the ones who are being impacted?

Because at the end of the day, whether it’s the family or not, everyone is impacted. It’s just a different level of it, of how that impact takes a toll on you.

[00:28:44] Adam Walker: So ladies, I’ve got a question. I wanted to ask is to wrap up this conversation. This has been amazing, by the way. Sam, I really appreciate you sharing your story and Esther, the work that you do, to honor and support the community is just amazing.

And so I’m curious, if someone’s listening, they’ve got breast cancer, or maybe they’re a caretaker of someone that does, what advice would you have for them if they’re feeling overwhelmed? Maybe they need to take a short break. What advice would you have for that?

[00:29:17] Esther Tambe: I’ll say from my end, just in general, ask for help, right?

If anything, it may be scary, man, but ask for help. See what the resources are out there. But if you are maybe a caretaker, a loved one, a friend, ask, what can you do to support in that moment? “Do you need rights to chemo? Do you need rights to your appointment? Do you need me to come to your appointment?”

Because maybe you may not be mentally okay in that moment. So let me write down all the questions and answer what’s being told. So when you go home, we process it together. “Do you need food? Is there a community support that we can get? a food line going and things like what can we do to help decrease any additional stress that already is coming from this?”

And sometimes it may be obvious, other times it may not, but just having those conversations and figuring out like what additional support can I provide to you? And then also, what support may you need trying to gather all this information? The internet, there’s so many stuff out there, but how can we also try to decrease the misinformation and going into that panic mode and going down a rabbit hole of all the things that are going to cure it in that moment?

Like, how can we best be there to just help alleviate any type of additional stress?

[00:30:33] Sam Riviello: I would just add for someone who’s facing a diagnosis and potentially their caretakers, I will say I never was a big person to meditate, but I found a lot of peace, energy through meditation this time around, I just said, this is all you got.

So you might as well give it like an earnest go. And, there are just some apps that have 10 minutes. That you just be still and you focus on your breathing. And I find a lot of peace through focusing on my breathing, especially when it comes to anxiety and racing thoughts and other sort of mental health things that you might encounter during difficult times.

And really reflecting on what you do have. I think a lot of us, we’ll focus on the hardship ahead of us but, just taking inventory, like I have said, and we’ve discussed, I do have a robust support team and how much people really do love me and depend on me and my children and their love and my friends and their love, my husband and love.

And, family just reflecting back at me. Really? I don’t know. I’ve said this before in interviews, but for some reason, I never allowed myself to take that love in before my diagnosis. And it just felt a last ditch effort for me. How can you finally let yourself be loved and it worked and I find so much peace within myself now?

And I know that again, I’m really grateful that right now I’m not going through any medical tribulations, but if I did in the future, I know I would have the same. And I’m not as scared as I used to be because really all we have is each other. And when you’re aware of that, you feel a little bit braver on a day to day basis.

[00:32:37] Adam Walker: That’s a pretty good place to end. All we have is each other and when you’re aware of that, you can feel braver. I love that. That’s beautiful. Well, Sam, thank you for your story. Esther, thank you for the work that you’re doing, and thank you so much for joining us on the show today.

[00:32:52] Sam Riviello: Thank you.

[00:32:53] Esther Tambe: Thank you.

[00:32:57] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit And for more

on breast cancer, visit Make sure to check out @SusanGKomen on social media. I’m your host, Adam. You can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog,