Meet a Breast Cancer Helpline Volunteer: Bette

Meet a Breast Cancer Helpline Volunteer: Bette
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 Facilitator?
I found it incredibly helpful to join a support group when going through my own treatment for breast cancer. As a psychologist, I’ve also seen how helpful it is for people to share their experience in groups like this, so I’ve had experiences both from the inside and outside that have shown me how much people can gain from support groups. There were very few options for people in the Bronx, and it felt very important to me to find ways to support people coping with a cancer diagnosis, treatment and its aftermath in a community with fewer resources and sources or support.

2. What do you like most about being a Facilitator?
I like helping people connect with others who have a shared experience. I like helping women and men find hope during a time of hopelessness, and seeing group members offering support to one another.

3. Do you remember moments of connection in the group? Any stand out for you?
Yes. Two from two different groups. One where a woman who was terrified of surgery kept canceling appointments and finding ways to delay the surgery that had been recommended by several doctors. She had also gone from support group to support group, finding it difficult to cope with the pressure she was feeling from other groups to schedule her surgery. Our group members were able to address her fears about the surgery while also gently encouraging her to keep talking to her doctors and engaging other sources of support at the hospital. Not only did she keep coming to the group, but she completed her surgery and other treatments, and became a strong advocate for herself and for others in the group. Similarly, in another group, a woman who initially refused all treatment, found support from others in the group and not only pursued her treatments, but also became a very strong supporter for newcomers in the group, sharing her story of moving from a place of hopelessness to one of hope.

4. When were you diagnosed and what was your diagnosis? Where are you now, as far as your breast cancer “journey?”
I was diagnosed in 2006, just two months after turning 50, with ductal carcinoma, Estrogen and Progesterone +. Stage 3B—with 13 positive nodes. I had a lumpectomy, followed by 4 months of chemotherapy (ACT), a mastectomy, then 6 weeks of radiation, and 5 years of an aromatase inhibitor. I feel very lucky; my mother died of breast cancer at 34, only 6 months after diagnosis. While I continue to be vigilant, knowing that I have a high risk cancer, I feel I am leading a life that is not defined by cancer.

5. In addition to volunteering for SHARE, what else do you do? What do you (or did you) do for work?
I am a psychologist and have a part-time practice in Manhattan. While my speciality is children with learning challenges, I work with people of all ages. I have usually combined my part-time practice with work in a clinic setting, hospital, or children’s agency. After my treatment, I worked the American Cancer Society for 8 years as a Patient Navigator Coordinator in the Bronx, where I trained volunteers and worked with newly diagnosed patients, connecting them to support such as SHARE.

6. What do you do for fun?
I am an avid runner and am on the Board of the Van Cortlandt Track Club. I ran my first marathon just after turning 50 (just before my diagnosis), and 14 years later, I have run 34 marathons, including 12 NYC Marathons and 9 Boston Marathons—I’m currently training for my 10th in Boston this April.

7. What did you learn about yourself while going through your breast cancer experience?
That I was a lot stronger than I thought, that I did need to sometimes depend on others, that I was so fortunate to have so much support and resources, and that I didn’t need to sweat the small stuff.

8. What priorities did you have before and after?
Many of the priorities I had in the past I’ve even forgotten because they have been replaced by one central one—to love each moment as fully as possible. Carpe Diem.

9. Any other insights that you want to share?
Just how important it is to accept support when you need it—and not to be afraid to speak up for what you need—or don’t need—while you are going through your own cancer journey. Someone told me that it is okay to be selfish during your treatment, to make your health and well being the priority. That is not always easy for women to do, especially mothers. But it was helpful advice to me—to give yourself permission to do what’s best for you at this critical time of getting well.

Photography courtesy of Jeff Allen