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!
1. Why did you decide to be a SHARE Breast Cancer Helpline volunteer?
I want to give hope to those newly diagnosed, particularly to those who are young and have been diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer and/or advanced stage breast cancer. I was in those shoes as a cancer patient, and while in treatment, I never met or heard of anyone who had a similar diagnosis who was still alive a few years later. I assumed I, too, would not be alive in 3 years. It would have made a world of difference for me to talk to someone who had been in my shoes, so I want to BE that someone for someone else.
- What do you like most about being a Helpline volunteer?
It is so rewarding to hear what a difference I made in someone’s life, and how grateful they are that they found this Helpline number. After talking with me, they now have HOPE! They tell me I answered, in ways they could understand, more of their questions than any of their medical team. They tell me they feel now that they know what the treatment will really be like, and are less afraid, more ready to just get moving on the next step, and can see themselves now as being able to do this. The tears change to smiles I can hear over the phone.
- When were you diagnosed and what was your diagnosis?
June 2009, Stage 3C Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I had two 3.8cm tumors in my left breast, so much cancer in my axilla (underarm) that there was a walnut size tumor there, and two lymph nodes of cancer deep in my chest, under my pectoral muscle, too deep to remove with surgery. And I am fine (no recurrence!). 11 years later.
- Where are you now, as far as your breast cancer “journey?”
11 years later, living and thriving! Not only "back to normal"…but living a way better life than I had before cancer (and I thought then I had a great life!)
- In addition to volunteering for SHARE, what else do you do? What do you (or did you) do for work?
I worked full-time through treatment (chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation, reconstruction) as a software development manager. I have since taken an early retirement from that to move closer to and babysit my then-newly-born grandchildren. In addition to volunteering for SHARE and as a peer breast cancer mentor for our local hospital, I spend my "workweek" being "Nana" to my 3 year-old and 6 year-old grandchildren, and volunteering on the hospitality/special events team at church.
- What do you do for fun?
Running, clogging, boating, Bible study, and playing the accordion. After cancer I started jogging (as a lifestyle choice to help reduce my risk of recurrence) and enjoyed years of half-marathons (and even a marathon!) I also took up dance (something I always wanted to do!) and now clog once day a week (kind of like tap dancing). And my husband and I took up boating so now I’m the captain of our 38’ cabin cruiser, and we enjoy adventures (and planning for them!) up and down the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. I’m also very active in women’s ministry at our church, enjoy weekly inductive Bible studies, and am trying to teach myself the accordion.
- What did you learn about yourself while going through your breast cancer experience?
Well, I learned I was stronger than I thought I was (I drove myself to all my own chemo treatments, didn’t miss a day of work while in treatment, and, after crying for 24 hours straight when my hair started falling out – learned pretty much after a week, it never bothered me anymore since. With today’s wigs, most people I ran into didn’t even know I was in treatment and had lost my hair). But more importantly, I learned I had been putting my priorities on the wrong things. I now try to really live each day of my "extra days" and not "put off for tomorrow," creating memories with friends and family, or doing things I’ve always wanted to do.
- What priorities did you have before and after?
Cancer fundamentally changed my priorities. Before cancer, my life could best be characterized as being too busy for God, and others. I worked 70+ hours a week at my job, and while I loved it, I had little time for friends, family, God, hobbies, and a healthy lifestyle. Too strong of a work ethic carried seeds of self-destruction. Then on June 19, 2009, I learned I had cancer. God picked me up and showed me how I could have a deeper relationship with Him. This heart knowledge changed my life. Instead of being too busy for God, and for other people, I now have the peace of knowing God is tangibly present in my day-to-day life, acutely aware of all that happens to me, and in charge. When undergoing treatment, daily, sometimes minute by minute, I learned to hand it over to God. When circumstances were crashing down on me, God was unchanging in His love for me. In the emotional roller coaster of cancer, I learned to fix my eyes on Jesus. And each day since, I’ve learned more and more to LET GO, and LET GOD. It’s very freeing to a woman who felt she had to prove herself at everything.
I now also prioritize making time to spend with friends and family first, instead of spending all my best energies on chores and daily to-do lists, and I make time for myself --to exercise and eat healthy. And I take time, daily, to "smell the roses," often, literally! You might see me out for a walk someday, and that’ll be me, stopping to smell the roses.
- Any other insights that you want to share?
The greatest benefit of my cancer journey is I know for sure I’ll go to heaven when I die. Cancer has a way of reminding people that our days on earth are numbered and may be fewer than we’d planned. Because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, I know where my life’s journey will ultimately end, from cancer or otherwise, in eternity with Jesus. I wish that same assurance for anyone living with cancer.