This is part of our "Meet a Volunteer" series, highlighting the incredible ovarian and breast cancer survivors and thrivers who volunteer with SHARE to support other women facing these diseases. If you're interested in becoming a volunteer yourself, click here!
- Why did you decide to be a SHARE Breast Cancer Facilitator?
It is an interesting story because I never actually thought I would facilitate another group! I was a clinical social worker who facilitated many groups in the hospital and in my private practice. However, when I was diagnosed in 1999 with Metastatic Breast Cancer I gave up my private practice and began weekly chemotherapy treatments.
My prognosis was frightening and uncertain, and my oncology nurse at NYU recommended that I attend SHARE’S in-person metastatic group, facilitated by Roberta Hufnagel, LCSW, at the time. I participated in the group for many years and was doing well. I was asked to be a metastatic peer, and I worked on the SHARE Helpline for a number of years.
SHARE’S Executive Director at that time, Alice Yager, wanted all of SHARE’S groups to be facilitated by a peer. The Metastatic Group was facilitated by a breast cancer survivor, who was also a social worker. Twenty years ago women/men with metastatic breast cancer didn’t live long enough or feel strong enough to facilitate a support group. I agreed to do a monthly group for 6 months, and the rest is history.
- What do you like most about being a Facilitator?
Being a facilitator has given me an opportunity to give back to SHARE and to the metastatic community. I remember how frightened and uncertain I felt after receiving the metastatic diagnosis, and SHARE and Roberta were my
saviors and lifeline. The most important and valuable part of being a facilitator is seeing the support the members give to one another.
The women are the heart and soul of the group. Despite the fact that they are under immense physical and emotional stress, they reach out to one another with kindness, support and a wealth of knowledge. They heal and help one another, which is the greatest part of being a facilitator.
- When were you diagnosed and what was your diagnosis?
Initially, in 1997, I was diagnosed with Stage 1, ER+ invasive breast cancer and received chemotherapy, radiation and tamoxifen. In 1999, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer to my liver and peritoneum. The cancer mutated and it was HER2+. In 1999, this diagnosis was considered extremely serious as Herceptin was just FDA-approved and the outcomes were unknown. My treatment was weekly Taxol and Herceptin.
- Where are you now, as far as your breast cancer “journey?”
I am so fortunate because I was an extraordinary responder to Herceptin. After several doses, my scans revealed that my liver mets had shrunk, and eventually, I had no evidence of disease. I continued to take Taxol for 5 years and Herceptin for 7 years. When my oncologist recommended that I discontinue the Herceptin, I was terrified and refused for some months. I finally agreed to stop treatment and saw my oncologist every three months for a number of years. I have now graduated to seeing my oncologist every 6 months. It has been 20 years since the metastatic diagnosis.
- In addition to volunteering for SHARE, what else do you do?
I retired as a social worker in 1999 after my diagnosis. I have done student supervision for the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health.
- What do you do for fun?
I have been studying Italian for many years to keep my brain active. I love to travel to Italy and cook Italian food. I’m a decent skier and ski with family and friends in Massachusetts, Vermont, and out West every winter.
- What did you learn about yourself while going through your breast cancer experience?
I learned to be more forgiving to myself and try to appreciate what I have and what I’ve accomplished. I try to take care of myself first when possible, and to set boundaries with family and friends who are not understanding. And finally, I try to be kinder and appreciate everyday.
- What priorities did you have before and after?
My priorities before were working too much and putting others’ needs before my own.
- Any other insights that you want to share
SHARE and the people who work at SHARE have made me a kinder and nicer person, and I thank SHARE for helping me and so many others.