Fidelity P.O.W.E.R.

Fidelity P.O.W.E.R.

More Than A Month: Breast Cancer Survivor Gina Pausina Cherry Founds the Bionic Babes: Dancers of Hope

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What’s Your P.O.W.E.R. Move?

“When I am feeling stuck, sad, or uninspired, it helps to get a change of scene. Taking a walk, going for a bike ride, or visiting with people you love always clears my mind and lifts my spirits. I come back to my work with fresh eyes. Don’t be afraid to take breaks!”

What’s your P.O.W.E.R.ful Advice?

P.O.W.E.R.ful Advice: When I was a young girl, I had a poster on my closet door that had a beautiful picture of a dancer on it, with the words “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it, if you can dream it, you can become it,” which is a quote by William Arthur Ward. I thought about that poster as I was thinking about what I was going to say in this article. Clearly it made an impression on me! When I think about that quote, I think it offers important and POWERful advice: Don’t let life pass you by.  Live life to the fullest. Write your story and make your dreams come true, go after whatever you’re passionate about! Tomorrow is never promised, today is what you have, and I cherish every moment, especially the time with my sons, my stepdaughter and husband. 

 

In October of 1985, the American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Industries Pharmaceuticals (which later became part of AstraZeneca) joined forces to create National Breast Cancer Awareness Month[1].  Since then, Octobers have been filled with all kinds of programming, reminding people how important early detection is and raising money for breast cancer causes.

Gina Pausina Cherry, a breast cancer survivor knows first-hand that for those impacted by cancer, the journey is much longer than 31 days. Combining her passion for all things dance and exercise with herBionic-Babes-Gina-Cherry-4 understanding of how important the bond of shared experience is when it comes to trauma, Gina is starting a dance team— the Bionic Babes: Dancers of Hope— exclusively for women who know first-hand how cancer changes your life.

To fully appreciate the story behind the Bionic Babes, we have to go back in time to 2017. In 2017, Gina was Director of Sales and Marketing at A-1 Mobile Shredding, a business she still today co-owns with her brothers. Founded in 2003 by Gina’s father Stanley, A-1 maintains a fleet of trucks equipped with everything required for on-site document shredding. “The most secure way of shredding documents is on site,” Gina explains. On-site shredding ensures that the confidential information of every client (individuals and businesses alike) is thoroughly destroyed an a safe, secure environment.

Gina was BUSY. She tirelessly attended networking events, promoting A-1 Mobile Shredding and emphasizing their commitment to customer service and satisfaction. She also poured passion into her side job as a Group Fitness Instructor at Franco’s Athletic Club in Mandeville. As the devoted mother of three sons, Gina carefully managed her schedule so she never missed a school function or sporting event and got plenty of quality time with her sons. Family has always been Gina’s top priority. In 2017, Gina was also working on another special, family-centric project: planning a wedding. Originally scheduled for November, her wedding plans came to a screeching halt when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2017.

“I was definitely shocked by the diagnosis. I was shocked when, number one, I found the lump. And then number two, I was even more shocked when the doctor told me it’s cancer. I couldn’t believe it.”

Gina wondered if her jam-packed schedule caused her to miss the signs. The doctor was clear: she was lucky she caught it early.

“I asked the doctor ‘how long do you think it’s been there?’ He goes, ‘Not that long because if it was, it would have killed you by now’ because it was so aggressive.” Gina’s was diagnosed with Triple Negative Stage 2 Breast Cancer with the BRCA gene. Imperative to start treatment immediately.

Facing a situation with life-or-death stakes, it is emblematic of Gina’s character that, though her head was spinning, she found ways to take control and be proactive wherever she could. Gina immediately began assembling a care team she felt good about.

“I thought: I need an oncologist, a surgeon, and a plastic surgeon. So I acquired referrals and did some of my own research. Then I went to those doctors— more than one of each specialization— and listened to what they had to say. And of course, your head is spinning, because they’re giving you so much information and you’ve never heard all this terminology before. And then you slowly digest it, then you almost understand it all,” Gina recalls. Not everyone is in a position to be selective about care providers though; location and insurance are factors that impact options and access. But since Gina had choices, being intentional and selective put her in the driver’s seat of her cancer journey.

“Based on the homework I did, going to visit with those doctors, I then chose which doctors I wanted.”

Gina also faced the reality that the need for immediate treatment would derail her November wedding plans. Unwilling to take her vows when she didn’t look or feel her best, she opted to move the wedding up. With just a few short weeks to make it happen, she managed to reschedule the whole event as she’d originally envisioned.

“Everything that I planned for November was available, and everything went off exactly as I’d planned it for November, but it happened in August. I do have a strong faith and I do believe my Mom, who passed away from ovarian cancer in 2012, was watching over me and making this happen for me.” Though Gina endured two rounds of intravenous chemotherapy before her wedding day, she still looked and felt enough like her healthy self to be able to fully celebrate her marriage.

Everyone has a different experience with cancer treatment, and Gina is well aware not everyone would be able to enjoy their dream wedding after two rounds of chemo. She credits a combination of good luck, and her lifelong healthy, active lifestyle for giving her enough strength to feel and look good on her wedding day. Her active lifestyle has always been an important part of her identity. Throughout her life Gina has found a range of outlets for this passion, from coaching dance teams and being a member of dance teams herself, to her own fitness routine and her job as a fitness instructor.

Despite the challenges, it was not something she was willing to let cancer take away from her. “Throughout my treatment, I continued to work my A-1 job and taught all my fitness classes,” Gina notes with a smile. “Bald as could be, I wore a bandana-style baseball cap and I taught. I’m thankful to my class members because they kept me going too.”

Gina honored her commitment to her fitness class members by showing up for them; in doing so she was also showing up for herself. The positive impact of exercise, and the dynamic between her as an instructor and the members who came to her classes kept Gina focused on the positive. She found motivation in the possibility that, “by showing up despite my illness I could inspire other people to show up too.”

Moreover, this experience reinforced her belief in the P.O.W.E.R.. of exercise to improve all aspects of a person’s health. “Exercising does everybody good, it helps your body, your mind, and relieves tension and stress. I think that continuing to do it kept my morale higher and helped me stay more positive.”

Gina has always been a positive person. She likes to be in the driver’s seat of her life, even when she’s traveling an unfamiliar road. The best drivers know treacherous trips are much less scary when you fill your car with friends who have been on similar journeys and know what to pack. While chemotherapy can be a literal lifesaver, it is also a poison. Chemotherapy can shrink or kill a tumor, but can’t be contained to just one location in the body. It often causes sudden, dramatic, and extremely unpleasant physical changes in a patient’s body. Side effects include hair loss, weight gain, loss of fingernails, nausea, and the persistent taste of metal that never leaves your mouth.

Experiencing these changes and knowing there’s nothing you can do about it can be traumatic and confusing, especially for someone like Gina, who has always been proactive and in control about her body and her life. Despite her natural positivity, when the full impact of chemo’s side effects took over her body, Gina felt overwhelmed by the challenge of figuring out what to do next.

A well-timed text from a friend during a moment of particular vulnerability made all the difference: “The text said, ‘if you need anything, please let me know.’ I said, ‘Yes, I do need something. What am I supposed to do? My hair’s falling out, my eyebrows and my eyelashes are disappearing.’ And she said, ‘Come over for coffee.’  I went over, and she invited some other ladies that had cancer that she was friends with. She told me, ‘This is what you need to do,’ and showed me all the tricks of the trade. She was truly an angel on Earth, and sadly she has since passed away. She is deeply missed.”

Cancer is not the only hardship that Gina has faced. In 2018, the day after Christmas, her oldest son died in a car accident on I-12. As she lived every parent’s worst nightmare, she once again leaned on her community and became comfortable asking for help when she needed it. This past January, she lost her dad to COVID-19 despite doing everything she could to protect him, the rest of her family, and herself, from the virus.

Through it all, her desire to give back and make a positive impact within her community continued to blossom in her heart. She put a lot of thought and prayer into identifying the best way to put her unique abilities to use in service of women who have traveled the same perilous path that she’s been on since the first shocking moments of her diagnosis.

Ultimately, she decided to form a dance team, combining all the positive impacts of exercise with the camaraderie and support of women who can relate to the myriad of ways cancer can change your life. All the members of the team will be 30 years of age and over, and all having been, at some point in their lives, diagnosed with cancer. (Gina is careful to note dance team members who are currently in treatment of any kind will need to get clearance from their doctors to participate. The Bionic Babes are all about health, happiness, and emP.O.W.E.R.ment, which means Gina wants to make sure all her dancers can participate in a healthy way.)

Gina’s face lights up as she talks about her vision for The Bionic Babes: Dancers of Hope.

“I’ve always loved performance. I just can’t wait. I have this vision of us in Mardi Gras parades, besides participating in other community events. You’ll see, say, 50 women dancing down the street, and all these women have had cancer.  And for the people in the crowd, it’s like, ‘Wow, this disease is real, it is out there’. It’ll be more than a regular dance group. This, the Bionic Babes: Dancers of Hope is more impactful. We are real people, so keep doing the research, keep donating to those different causes that help all these dancers here who have cancer.”

Gina is looking forward to taking the Bionic Babes to the streets next Mardi Gras. “I guess that’ll be my, ‘Aha, wow!’ moment, when we take to the streets and people see us. It’ll be interesting to see the reaction.” So, next time you see a parade go by, be on the lookout for this team of survivors. More information will be rolling out soon regarding an initial meeting, workshops, tryouts and how to get involved.  If you are interested in becoming a dancer or supporter, contact, or know someone that fits the participation criteria, you can get more information on the Bionic Babes: Dancers of Hope by contacting Gina directly.

Gina Pausina Cherry is a proud member of Fidelity Bank’s P.O.W.E.R. program for women in business. Learn more about Fidelity Bank and the P.O.W.E.R. program or email Director of P.O.W.E.R. Liz Broekman for more information.

Learn more about the Bionic Babes: Dancers of Hope:

Gina Pausina Cherry

President/CEO

504.650.3910

bionicbabesllc@gmail.com

[1] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Breast-Cancer-Awareness-Month

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