Get to know Danielle B., one of the volunteers on our Breast Cancer Helpline. Read more about her below.
Why did you decide to be a SHARE Breast Cancer Helpline volunteer?
In 1992, when I was 36 years old, I got breast cancer and joined a SHARE Support Group to help me understand what was happening and to talk with other women who were going through something similar to me. Talking with other women who understood and could even laugh about some of our experiences really helped me get a grip on what I was facing. I joined a group again in 2006 when the cancer came back. I have always felt grateful to the women of SHARE who helped me through those years. Volunteering on the Helpline was a way to “give back.”
What do you like most about being a Helpline volunteer?
There are many positive things that have transpired since agreeing to serve as a Helpline Volunteer. First of all, I was a little bit scared about whether I could even do the job. The ladies that I work with and for, Mary Vetting and Diane D’Angelo, were very persuasive and insisted that I would do just fine. I love coming into the office and working alongside all the supportive and helpful women. Then of course, every day women call up in various stages of fear, confusion, and anger. It is very rewarding talking with all sorts of different women from all over the country about the situations they are going through. Often simple conversations and sharing is all they need to start feeling better. Many times they may not know another person who has gone through a cancer journey and it can be a relief to understand that thousands of other women are dealing with the same things. I feel that by giving comfort, I have also received back comfort for myself.
When were you diagnosed and what was your diagnosis?
In late 1992, I was diagnosed with a cancerous lump in my breast and I had a lumpectomy, which was followed a few weeks later by a mastectomy and reconstruction. Happily for me, I was only stage 1 and had no lymph node involvement. Because I was relatively young (36), I decided to have chemotherapy. I thought my adventures with cancer were over. However, in 2006, after suffering with a persistent back ache and a small dry cough at night, we discovered through a CAT scan that I was metastatic. The breast cancer had come back in my lungs. I am HER2+ and I was immediately put on Herceptin combined with Faslodex by my oncologist.
In the 12 years that I have had metastatic breast cancer, it’s been in my bones (gone now), in my lungs, and in my brain. My surgeon at NYU has performed two gamma knife procedures and a cyst removal surgery on my brain. I’ve had wonderful doctors on my team at NYU and at Sloan Kettering. Right now, the cancer in my lungs and brain are quiet and stable. I am like most other “mets” women in the desire for an NED status, meaning “No Evidence of Disease”.
Where are you now, as far as your breast cancer “journey?”
My cancer is stable and I’m feeling good. I take Letrozole daily and go into the clinic every third week for an infusion of Herceptin and Perjeta. We hope that this cocktail will work for some time to come. When it stops working, we will change the cocktail again.
In addition to volunteering for SHARE, what else do you do? What do you (or did you) do for work?
I am involved with a non-profit art group in Jersey City called DrawingRooms.org. I am a Board Trustee and Vice President of this group, and I handle some of its fundraising and sponsor development. I’ve also been active in the DMCNY, (Direct Marketing Club of New York), but am scaling back on that in order to help out at SHARE.
Also, small business clients work with me and I normally get involved in their marketing.
What do you do for fun?
New York City has some of the best museums in the world, and I love visiting them with my husband, Ken. Our favorites include the Cooper Hewitt Design, the Downtown Whitney, the MOMA, the Frick, and the Morgan Library. On a busy weekend, you can always get into the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then find rooms with no one in them. Part of the fun of looking at museum art is browsing their gift shops. I also “live life to the fullest” by traveling and visiting my family in Switzerland, as well as visiting many other European cities.
What did you learn about yourself while going through your breast cancer experience?
The most important lesson for me was to learn that I am a strong person. Prior to getting cancer at age 36, I was ambivalent about the struggles of life. I thought that there could be times when life was not worth living. But the cancer made me angry and defiant. I fumed that no one or nothing else had the right to take my life besides me. I was pissed and defensive and I realized that I really wanted to live, more than anything else. And it was a good thing for me to learn. I also learned that being open about my cancer was more beneficial than keeping it a secret. Being candid led me to make new friends and gain relevant information.
What priorities did you have before and after?
My priorities changed a little. I worked for various large corporations as a salesperson which was a source of much stress and anxiety. I am now freelance, and I try to live life to the fullest.
Any other insights that you want to share?
My husband, Ken, has been my biggest supporter and also my breast cancer researcher. Unlike many of the male spouses who cannot handle their wife’s breast cancer or who pretend it’s not real, he’s “embraced the fight.” Although his profession is actually Architectural Interior Design, he reads as much of the research literature as possible and questions our doctors religiously. Ken has been told by two separate doctors that I had around one to three years left to live. I thank God and thank Ken that he did not share those conversations with me until many years later, so they had no effect on my psyche. Anyway, the doctors' prognoses were completely wrong, and I believe that statistics and dooming predictions are mostly not relevant to the individual person.