Meet a Breast Cancer Helpline Volunteer: Ilene

Meet a Breast Cancer Helpline Volunteer: Ilene
  1. Why did you decide to be a SHARE Breast Cancer Helpline volunteer?

This is my second experience as a helpline volunteer. In 2016 I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer for the second time, and I was totally devastated. It happened that I was attending the SHARE Second Helping of Life that night, and my SHARE sisters calmed me down and got me thinking clearly again. So I decided it was time to come back to the helpline, especially since I would now be able to help women in my new situation.

  1. What do you like most about being a Helpline volunteer?

Helping women to understand that it is ok to be upset, and then helping them to find their inner strength and resources to cope.

  1. When were you diagnosed and what was your diagnosis?

Stage 2 in 2000, DCIS in 2003, contralateral stage 2 in 2016 and DCIS again in the original breast in 2017. Lumpectomies every time, chemo once, radiation twice.

  1. Where are you now, as far as your breast cancer “journey?”

I am taking an aromatase inhibitor, the third one I have tried, and prolia. I have a lot of arthritis and joint pain so I am hoping to end the AI after my five years are up. Still dreading the annual mammograms and talking myself into being brave!

  1. In addition to volunteering for SHARE, what else do you do? What do you (or did you) do for work?

I worked for SHARE from 2003 to 2012, hired as the Hotline Assistant and retiring as the Breast Cancer Program Director. Before that I was a technician at the phone company for 28 years, one of the first women hired into the job. 

Now I am secretary of my union retiree chapter, and right now we are working as hard we can to mobilize our retirees to vote Trump out of the White House. I also participate in a CUNY senior education program called Quest.

  1. What do you do for fun?

Before the coronavirus my partner and I went out a lot with friends to listen to music, ate out, went to museums, saw our families and traveled, especially with Road Scholar.  Now we are carefully socializing with a few close friends but mostly I am doing Zooms, cooking, reading, knitting, and walking on the beach when it isn’t crowded. We have spent the last few months at my house at the Jersey Shore, plan to split our time between here and Manhattan in the fall.

  1. What did you learn about yourself while going through your breast cancer experience?

I learned to be more open and get help from other women, and then give help to others, thanks to SHARE. I think I became a more compassionate person and a better listener.

  1. What priorities did you have before and after?

I was always an activist and politically involved, and I still am. Having breast cancer and being on the helpline gave me a much more personal understanding of the challenges we as women may need to overcome in our lives and how we can support each other. So I think I approach activism differently.

  1. Any other insights that you want to share?

Remembering all the women I knew who didn’t survive four diagnoses, and so impressed by SHARE’s dedication to supporting women with metastatic disease.