Women Supporting Women has been in existence since 1993, and we have been sending a newsletter since 1994. At that time, it was just a few typewritten Xeroxed pages. Truly grassroots—the old cut and paste job! We kept everyone in the know about current breast health issues, local events, recipes, support group meetings, complementary medicine, etc. Over time, we grew and the newsletter grew with us. Better technology and the web led the newsletter into the 21st century. We still kept everyone aware of the same information, but we added more. In June of 2004, we printed our first tributes to Linda Sharp and Cindy Dutton. Our first survivor story was printed in October of 2004 featuring Tom and Anna Morris. Each story that appears here and those that will be added are as they were written for us. We hope that they will be an inspiration to you.
Please click on a name to the left to view that individual's story.
We invite you to share your special story with others. Please contact us for additional information.
I have found that Women Supporting Women is a wonderful community outreach for cancer survivors...More Info
I have found that Women Supporting Women is a wonderful community outreach for cancer survivors, cancer patients and their families. I was first introduced to this agency in October 2002. I left the surgeon’s office with one of their bags loaded with all types of material that I would need to understand, fight, and win the battle of breast cancer. My name is Pastor Sharon Sampson and I am a 4-year breast cancer survivor.
In 1997 I had my yearly mammogram and it came back showing a small shadow in my right breast. An ultrasound test was done in the doctor’s office, and he said that he didn’t think it was anything to be of concern. However, he would keep a watch on it and each year after that I continued to go for a yearly mammogram and physical.
By September 2002, I decided to change doctors. After having my yearly mammogram, the doctor was concerned with the results and she sent me to have a biopsy. At age 48, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. There was no history of breast cancer in my family and I had been a healthy, active, health conscience female. It was a total shock.
Because of the size of the tumor, I needed to have a complete mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction. On November 19, 2002, I went in the hospital for the 6-hour procedure. A test of my lymph nodes showed a trace of cancer, which caused me to undergo chemotherapy. I received 4 months of chemo treatments. I lost all my hair and my appetite. I endured achy bones, mild mouth ulcers, and other discomforts, but I never lost my joy. I had faith in the Word of God (The Bible) and, if He allowed it, He would surely bring me through it.
June 10, 2003, I went back into surgery for a 2-hour cosmetic procedure for my reconstruction. I returned to work on July 11, 2003 – eight months after my initial surgery. For a period of 5-years, I will be taking a chemo drug (Tamoxfin). I have Lymphedema in my right arm; however, it’s under control and I continue to live life to the fullest.
I started a new ministry, Rapture Ready Ministries, in January 2005. Had it not been for the pain of cancer, this ministry would have never been birthed. In this ministry, I continue to teach others of the necessity of having a healthy body, soul and spirit, and with faith all things are possible.
I praise God for a great success story. It is my hope that this testimony will encourage others to see that there is life after cancer, and that there is also a wonderful community of help and hope whenever you need it at Women Supporting Women.
Written By Sharon Sampson
For Our September 2006 Newsletter
I wanted it out. I was diagnosed with lobular breast cancer in August, 2002. Mammogram and ultrasound...More Info
I wanted it out. I was diagnosed with lobular breast cancer in August, 2002. Mammogram and ultrasound didn’t find it. My husband did. A lumpy area in my breast had changed, gotten harder. My surgeon estimates it had been there about five years. We have two daughters, Stephanie and Rachel. They were five and eight years old at the time. We were honest with the girls, explaining breast cancer, the surgery, chemo and radiation therapies. We asked the school counselor to talk with them, too. They helped with my dressing changes after my mastectomy. My mom stayed and helped for two weeks. When my hair started falling out during chemotherapy, the girls helped cut it shorter. They got answers to all their questions. My husband was right by my side. Radiation therapy was easy. My husband is a Radiation Therapist, so I knew most of the staff. Reconstruction came about a year later. Family and friends supported us with prayer, food, and concern. I’m able to appreciate the goodness and kindness of people because of their support. I was so amazed and proud of the poem Stephanie wrote for me, she agreed to share it:
My mom is sick with cancer
She gets weaker every day
Her hair falls out in clumps
Will she live?
Will She Survive?
Will I see Her again?
I’m scared even more
I go to the barn where I’m
not in the way.
There I sit on the hay, listening.
The animals comfort me.
I think about my mom.
Yes, she’s going to live.
She’s in good hands.
Her family’s hands.
I go back
5 years later, I’m with her.
She made it, I made it
We made it.
There was always hope.
Written by Stephanie Cirata
October 1990, I went for my mammogram and a few days later my gynecologist called me at work and...More Info
October 1990, I went for my mammogram and a few days later my gynecologist called me at work and advised me there were suspicious lumps in both breasts. After several biopsies, I was told I had cancer in both breasts.
When I was told of the cancer, my first thought was how am I going to tell my only child, my son, that I have a life threatening illness. He had recently lost his father after a long illness. My next thought was that I will fight this without burdening my family and friends. Being a recent widow I had become very independent and had always been a person that wanted to support and help others; not others helping me. I was determined to do it alone.
Having lumpectomies of both breasts, the results were seven out of ten lymph nodes in the right breast were affected. My oncologist suggested I go to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for experimental treatment in lieu of chemotherapy and radiation. I opted for chemotherapy and radiation treatment locally in order that I would not burden my family with having to make the trips to Baltimore.
Before leaving the hospital, a couple of ladies from Women Supporting Women visited me and left literature and their telephone numbers. I did not want their help or sympathy. I did not want to be reminded that I had cancer. I wanted to mentally block it out. After returning home, again a cancer survivor from Women Supporting Women visited me. I still did not reach out for help or encouragement. I was going to be a survivor on my own. I went into the treatment like an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand. I did not ask questions as to my treatment. I just followed the doctor’s orders. I did not read the literature that was given to me.
After three Chemo treatments, while in the shower one morning, all my hair fell out. I cried all alone. At this point, I had not told anyone that I had cancer. I had not bought a wig. Several treatments later the nausea, diarrhea, mouth ulcers and fatigue began to take its toll on my body. It was very difficult to explain my medical situation to my family and friends at this time, but I no longer had a choice. However, I still refused to talk about it and refused help. I fought this battle my way and won. Would I advise others that are taking this journey to do it my way? Absolutely not!
In 2004, I learned I had kidney cancer and had to have the kidney removed. My first thoughts at this time were I need more information on this cancer and what are my options for treatment. I need a hug; I need someone to cry with me; I need words of encouragement. I reached out to my family and friends. I found they wanted to help me travel this journey. They did not want me to shut them out like I had while fighting breast cancer.
To those that are beginning on the journey for survival, I cannot stress enough to reach out to those that care and want to give you support. Both you and your supporters will be blessed.
Breast Cancer Survivor... what does survive mean? According to Webster’s Dictionary the
definition of “survive” is: to continue to live or exist,...More Info
Breast Cancer Survivor... what does survive mean? According to Webster’s Dictionary the
definition of “survive” is: to continue to live or exist, to live longer than, to outlive. Am I a survivor?
YES!! So at this season of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for each new day that is given to me. That is what all individuals, not just breast cancer survivors, need to be thankful for….each new day.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. I had a husband, a nine year old daughter and a full
time professional career. Did I have time to have breast cancer? NO. So, with that being said, here is how it happened.
I had what I thought was a routine removal of a lump, was told that everything was fine, went home to recover for a day and then back to work and on with my life. A week later I went for my “final” checkup and was told at that time that everything was NOT OK after all. I left the surgeon’s office that day in a stupor, went to my husband’s office and told him and then went back to work, as if nothing was wrong. I told the employees that I had breast cancer and I continued to work until my breast cancer surgery/reconstruction five weeks later. I received a second opinion and chose to trust two competent and capable doctors in Salisbury. Having that trust in them, I was able to continue my everyday life in a reasonably normal fashion, not that life is ever really “normal” again. After the surgery and recovery period, I started to workout and concentrate on health and wellness for my physical and mental health.
Since I am an employee of Women Supporting Women this is my personal chance to stress the
importance of exercise to everyone reading this newsletter. Breast cancer had changed my physical appearance but I was motivated to workout so I could be independent and have a good quality of life. I started to lift light weights to tone my muscles to improve my overall strength and ability to perform daily activities. And then a strange thing happened……over time my chest and shoulders were stronger, I felt confident in my appearance and how I “looked” in sweaters and my clothes, my mood improved, I slept better, and I felt attractive for my spouse again.
Most important of all, my attitude for life had changed. I do not take anything for granted. God has
given such love and abundance to me and breast cancer has given me “survivor” strength to pursue opportunities and accomplish things that would have otherwise remained only dreams.
As a member of the Women Supporting Women team, I encourage you to stop by our office to chat, receive a hug, share a story . . . . that is what living and loving life is all about.
I’ll never forget that day, April 13th, 2004—the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I had just celebrated my...More Info
I’ll never forget that day, April 13th, 2004—the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I had just celebrated my 35th birthday. I never thought in a million years I would get that kind of news at age 35. Not only did I have breast cancer, I was also four months pregnant. The doctor called me on the phone and said that I had breast cancer and would have to abort. I was devastated! I knew I wouldn’t abort, that was not an option.
So many thoughts run through your head at once. Your first thought is—am I going to die? Especially having a two year old son and being pregnant. My diagnosis was stage III and being pregnant also meant that this was a very aggressive cancer. I was diagnosed and within one week, I was being operated on. Three weeks later I had to start four rounds of chemotherapy. The scariest part was not knowing if the baby was going to be affected. I had to pray continually and put it in God’s hands because I had no control over any of it. Three weeks after my fourth round of chemo I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Although he came five weeks early, he was perfectly healthy. Truly a miracle from God. Three weeks later I started my next four rounds of chemo followed by 35 radiation treatments. This was extremely difficult with an infant and a two year old to take care of. Thank God for the help of family and friends!
I have been cancer free for two years now. I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t know what it is at the time. Ironically, having cancer has changed my life in so many ways for the better. I see life and it’s many blessings so differently. I realize how much more God, family and friends mean to me. I know that through prayer and my faith in God that I’ve been healed.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Women Supporting Women for all their support.
My name is Kelly White. I’m 42 years old, married and the mother of two beautiful daughters, Caila, 13 and Ashley 4. And I’m also a cancer survivor...More Info
My name is Kelly White. I’m 42 years old, married and the mother of two beautiful daughters, Caila, 13 and Ashley 4. And I’m also a cancer survivor.
Last year about this same time I was going through what I thought would be my first routine mammogram. I didn’t feel a lump; I just felt some tenderness in my left breast. After an additional mammogram and a biopsy, I was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma on January 31, 2006. I was feeling very scared, confused and emotional after my diagnosis. It was a real shock but I never felt hopeless. It was my faith in God and belief that it was in His hands that got me through each day.
I found out about Women Supporting Women from my surgeon’s office. I first came to WSW a few days after my diagnosis. I had already decided that I would have a mastectomy, but there was so much out there to learn and just receiving and reading the first bag of information from WSW put my mind at ease.
I had my surgery a week after my diagnosis. The plan for my treatment was to have chemotherapy even if cancer was not found in the lymph nodes, due to my age. Cancer cells were found in two lymph nodes so I wanted to get chemotherapy started and finished as quickly as possible.
I made several visits to WSW before my treatment started and although I did research chemotherapy on my own, the material in the bag for survivors who have chemotherapy
answered so many more of my questions and the questions my family had. I had 8 chemo treatments from March to June. I started to lose my hair after the second treatment so I had it all shaved off. I was somewhat shocked to see myself bald, but I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to deal with watching my hair fall out little by little. I had a treatment every two weeks and two to three days after a treatment I would feel nauseous, tired and achy. I don’t know how I would
have gotten through it without my family, friends and church.
Now I’m feeling great and I’m excited to be a part of a new group at WSW, the Young
Survivors group. When I was first diagnosed I shared as much about my cancer as I thought each of my children could handle for their ages. Now WSW has age-appropriate backpacks for children of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
I am so thankful for the support of everyone at WSW and the new friends I have made. I truly believe that God can use something as scary and devastating a breast cancer to bring new hope and beauty to life.
Blessings to you, Kelly.
I When I was asked to share my story, I reluctantly agreed. I was reluctant for two reasons: first of all, I don’t think my fight with cancer is unique...More Info
When I was asked to share my story, I reluctantly agreed. I was reluctant for two reasons: first of all, I don’t think my fight with cancer is unique; I’m certain the details of my struggles are similar to those of so many other fortunate survivors. Secondly, because my story is not unique, I wondered how others could possibly benefit from my story. Could I offer any new insights or perspectives that would help someone else?
After much thought, I decided to share something that I have learned during my fight with cancer in hopes that it might help people who are just starting their battle or are in the early stages of the fight. I know that I would have benefited greatly if someone had been somehow able to help me understand this when I started my cancer treatment.
As background, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2002. I found a lump, had a mammogram, then a sonogram and a needle biopsy. I was 48 years old. I knew it was cancer even before the doctor told me, but that in no way prepared me for the news. I had a lumpectomy six days later. I can’t remember how I got through the next six months, with chemo and radiation, but somehow I did. Eighteen months after my breast cancer diagnosis, just when I thought I might be able to get my life back on track, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and uterine cancer and had a complete hysterectomy. More chemo and radiation, more tests, more doctor visits, an additional doctor at Johns Hopkins and several genetic tests. The first cancer diagnosis was of course devastating, but, with the second and third, I was simply shell-shocked. It seemed that with the breast cancer, I couldn’t stop crying; with the ovarian and uterine cancer I was just too stunned to cry.
So what did I learn after these battles, what do I wish I had been aware of when I started fighting cancer? Simply this: be prepared for people close to you to react very differently to your cancer. Some people will drop what they are doing and fly across the country just to sit with you for an hour after surgery. Others, sometimes those closest to you, will have great difficulty facing your cancer because it scares them so. They may only visit occasionally and call infrequently and your conversations with them may be about mundane, everyday life when you expect them to ask all about how you feel and your treatments. It can seem that these people are less caring, but they are not. They simply cannot face the details and trials that you are undergoing because it makes it too real for them.
Why is this important? Because, I believe, cancer patients cannot help but have very specific expectations of how others will and should react to their devastating diagnosis. When some people do not react as expected, we cancer patients can be very, very disappointed and hurt. Remember, a cancer diagnosis is terrifying to you, but those who love you will feel both terrified and helpless as they watch you struggle. As strange as it may sound, I believe they may need you as much as you need them.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you.
My battle with breast cancer began in November 2005 when I discovered a lump in my right breast. Surgery, chemotherapy and...More Info
My battle with breast cancer began in November 2005 when I discovered a lump in my right breast. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation followed. The intial diagnosis was shocking at first, but was followed by the revelation or “wake-up” call about several things in my life. I know that each person’s journey is uniquely their own. However, I do believe we all share the fact that this disease changes us spiritually, emotionally and physically. For me, breast cancer drew me into a closer, intimate relationship with Jesus. It also identified who my real friends are and it gave me a sense that people in this world are genuinely goodhearted. Additionally, it convinced me that I needed to change the way that I lived and treated my body.
Health and nutrition has always been something that I understood, but decided to ignore. I have struggled with being over weight and unhealthy for a long time until this disease pushed me in to the realization that I could and needed to make some serious life-long changes. Eating low glycemic foods along with taking various nutritional supplements has given me a new outlook on life. I have more energy than I thought I ever would and the pounds are coming off. This is not a diet...I have been on every diet known to mankind and I have FAILED. Eating low glycemic is a lifestyle. It is easy and feels great. I finally feel like I am in control of my life for the first time in 25 years. Having breast cancer was never a death sentence for me...it was the beginning of starting over, taking control and living life to the fullest!
Naomi Lewis Tarr
Cancer, one of the most dreadful words,
That man has ever heard.
When it was told to me, I said...More Info
Naomi Lewis Tarr
THE GIFT OF LIFE
Cancer, one of the most dreadful words,
That man has ever heard.
When it was told to me, I said “this cannot be”.
It’s always someone else, someone you do not know.
But not today, today it’s me, it’s what the picture shows.
I could have run amuck,
But this was not just bad luck.
My God wanted me to see
What He would do for me.
From the needles and reclining chairs,
My God was everywhere.
In the doctors and nurses hands.
The medicine dripping into my veins,
I knew my life would never be the same.
In the weeks and months that lay before me,
He gave me insight and eyes to see
The many souls that He could touch through me.
He said “put your trust and faith in me”.
I did! And I have been set free.
In the five years He has given me,
I would have given willingly.
For He makes no mistakes,
My life was His, for Him to take.
Through my suffering and sorrow,
I have hope for tomorrow.
Knowing we are all in His hands,
But He will give us strength to stand.
With each day He’s given me,
He’s given me new eyes to see.
In the beauty of this land,
He has perfected with his hands.
I give Him thanks each and every day,
For allowing me to be here and walk in His way.
And if somewhere along the way I can touch just one,
May I hear Him say, my child, well done.
But if my time is running out,
Don’t cry for me, just hear me shout.
Thank you God, for the extra time you’ve given me,
Now take me home, I’ve been set free.
Right around the time this newsletter is published, I will be joyfully celebrating 2 years free of breast cancer. I feel...More Info
Right around the time this newsletter is published, I will be joyfully celebrating 2 years free of breast cancer. I feel truly blessed by God’s grace, and the love and support of my husband Gary, my family and friends, and the fantastic people at Women Supporting Women.
In August of 2005, breast cancer was the furthest thing from my mind. There was absolutely no history of it in my family, and in my ignorance I believed that meant I had no need to worry.
Now I know that the majority of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer also have no family history, and that it is crucial for ALL women to take care of their own health with breast self-exams and routine mammograms and doctor visits.
Over the last two years, the information and education that Women Supporting Women provided to me have allowed me to participate as fully as possible in my treatment, without being overwhelmed by fear of the unknown. From the day I was given the “newly diagnosed” tote bag in my surgeon’s office, throughout my treatment and into the future, I feel like I have been empowered by understanding of my disease. That feeling has been as important to my recovery as the medical care and the support of loved ones.
I am so grateful for Women Supporting Women. I want to make sure all women on the Eastern Shore who are diagnosed with breast cancer have access to the wonderful support and resources that WSW provides. So, once I finished my treatment I was looking for a way to help WSW continue its mission. I took over WSW’s cell phone recycling program a little over a year ago, and am happy to say the program is continuing to grow. By recycling phones, we are raising money that is used to provide support and educational materials. We are also increasing awareness of our organization through the collection bins, which are rotated among a number of area businesses. To find out more about the program, check out the story below.
Give Those Old Cell Phones A New Purpose!
You can support Women Supporting Women by recycling your old cell phones, and protect the environment too. Now is a great time to round up all the cell phones you have laying around and This article first appeared in our September 2007 Newsletter. Maggie still donates a great deal of time and energy into this project. She is genuine ambassador for Women Supporting Women. Thank you, Maggie for all you do.
My story was like so many others (mammogram, biopsy, cancer diagnosis, surgery, chemo and radiation) until ...More Info
My story was like so many others (mammogram, biopsy, cancer diagnosis, surgery, chemo and radiation) until after my 6th chemo treatment when I developed pneumonia and ended up in the hospital for over two weeks. Five days of that stay were in ICU, and at one point I was not expected to live. My family, church family, coworkers, and friends surrounded me with love and care. I know had it not been for all the prayers that were lifted on my behalf, I would not be here today. I am a blessed three-year survivor.
I was able to still teach during the first four chemo treatments since it was near the end of the school year. After the hospital ordeal in late summer I knew I would not be able to start the school year. Teaching is my calling, and I did not want to take the time, but knew I had to. When I gained enough strength, I would go in the classroom at various times to say hello and chat with my students so that they could see me and know I would be back. It took awhile, but I was able to go from a wig and floppy hat to a baseball cap which the students really liked. My administrators and coworkers were wonderful during this time.
Women Supporting Women was and is a source of strength for me, and I have a sincere appreciation of all they do for women and men diagnosed with breast cancer. I have been able to be an encourager for other women who have been diagnosed. Our school holds a casual day for WSW each year, which is one way to support and give back to an organization that truly cares.
My feeling is that something can be learned from all cancer and survivor stories. All treatment plans, lifestyles,...More Info
My feeling is that something can be learned from all cancer and survivor stories. All treatment plans, lifestyles, support systems, family and community events can and will affect the way that a cancer patient receives and survives their treatment.
Yes, I mean survive. I learned from past cancer patients that you must be a self-advocate. All cancers, all treatments, all patients, all doctors, meds and family circumstances can and do impact your journey through treatment. Having a positive support systems affects your daily outlook and of mind, which in turn, affects the outcome of your treatment.
A great example of positive support is when my hair started falling out after my second chemotherapy treatment. A wonderful friend buzzed my hair and my 9-year-old daughter was there to give me support. That night I tried to sleep, but my scalp was very uncomfortable from the fine hairs that were still attached. So, my husband and I stood in front of our bathroom mirror and he took the shaving cream and razor and shaved my head bald. All we could do was laugh, it was better than crying. I remember saying to my husband “Did you ever imagine, when you married me 13-years ago that you would be shaving my head?”
I have so many great memories of how people affected me and helped me survive my surgery and chemotherapy treatments. One of my fondest memories is coming home from Assateague with my husband and daughter and finding that my wonderful family and friends had planned a surprise cook out for me.
During the cookout, stations were set up and the kids made me best wish/get well cards, handmade hats, jewelry and a t-shirt. They had also made a tote, named “Crystal’s Angels”. This tote had pictures of all the children that are such a huge part of my life. This tote went everywhere with me. It carried all my meds, along with my chemotherapy binder. The nurses and doctors loved looking at the angels that inspire me so much.
They had also hand-painted flower pots and placed annuals in them so that I could put them on my desk at home. How great was that on days that weren’t so bright to look out my window and see a beautiful array of planters with bright flowers to cheer me up?
Throughout my treatment, I received so much love and support. Not only from family, but from many wonderful and generous people. The cards, letters, flowers, messages, gifts, meals, etc. They are true angels. I view all the people that touched me throughout my adventure as a flock of geese that flies south in the winter. When the lead goose becomes tired and needs to rest the strong take the lead and help the weak. I am so blessed!
I will be honest it was not a piece of cake to walk the “adventure” of breast cancer treatment, but it sure has made me a more humble, positive, passionate and confident person. My advise to all cancer patients is to ask questions, receive second opinions, be brave don’t dwell. Never give up or give in! There will be many times that you feel out of control, tired of being stuck and down right angry. Just remember we are the brave ones that inspire other cancer patients to look past their disease and see the bright future that is waiting for all of us. We just have to reach for it!
Best wishes to all patients and survivors! Love… Crystal
My name is Phyllis Mosmiller and 5 years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After treatment I took an early...More Info
My name is Phyllis Mosmiller and 5 years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After treatment I took an early retirement, sold my home and my husband and I moved to Ocean City for a new beginning. When we had our new house built, as part of the landscaping design, I requested an area that was in the shape of a butterfly to fill with flowers to represent my new beginning. This year, since it is my fifth anniversary of being a breast cancer survivor, I planted mostly pink flowers within the butterfly and in my yard to celebrate and to remind me of my good fortune to be a survivor. It gives me great pleasure working in my garden--especially on the butterfly. Since this butterfly garden design has given me such pleasure, I wanted to share this idea with other breast cancer survivors who might enjoy the idea of creating their own pink butterfly to represent how blessed we are. Wouldn't it be a neat site to be riding along and see a pink butterfly garden and immediately know that a breast cancer survivor lives there and is blessed to be able to produce such a great site for all to enjoy.
I am a cancer survivor. In April 1993, at the age of 66, I observed a major change in my...More Info
I am a cancer survivor. In April 1993, at the age of 66, I observed a major change in my right breast and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. No lump could be felt, but a mammogram confirmed my findings. I had a mastectomy plus removal of 30 lymph nodes. I then faced chemotherapy and 43 radiation treatments, plus five years of tamoxifen.
Women Supporting Women had just had their first or perhaps second meeting when I heard about them. I thought the organization might be of help to me, so I attended the meeting at the hospital. Approximately 10-12 women were there. There were no hand-outs, no bags of information to peruse, no tapes or books with information—only the encouragement of Sue Revelle, Carol Prager, and Harriet Fine. We continued meeting there and later at the Asbury Methodist Church. Occasionally, there were speakers on massage or aroma therapy, acupuncture, etc. Slowly, written materials appeared. Later we moved to Holloways and currently are on West Circle Avenue. Sharing information non our progress and concerns as we went through chemo and radiation was both helpful and comforting—we were not alone.
In these 15 1/2 years, how far this organization has come. The abundance of information via books, tapes, speakers, and tote bags of educational material for patients, spouses and children is astonishing. The gift of wigs, prosthesis, bras, etc. is wonderful. Most of all, Women Supporting Women has provided a place where breast cancer patients and survivors can come for information, comfort, and support. Through Sue’s leadership, we have grown to be a very large group, always with free services, and well supported by the local public. I no longer attend meetings, but support the organization by writing the thank you notes for contributions of money and material things, plus providing the stamps for these notes. In the several years I’ve been doing this, well over 1,000 notes have gone out. I find my volunteer work to be a small thank-you to Women Supporting Women; and my other volunteer work at the hospital and the Joseph House a thank-you for living in this community.
My thanks to Sue and the staff for their encouragement and friendship.
This article first appeared in our October 2008 Newsletter. Odette is one of our most valued and faithful volunteers. Thank you, Odette, for being such an inspiration to all and for your years of continued and dedicated service.
I went to follow up on a breast biopsy performed just 2 weeks earlier and the doctor was examining the site...More Info
I went to follow up on a breast biopsy performed just 2 weeks earlier and the doctor was examining the site, commenting how well it was healing. I then said,” Good…and the results are an area to watch and you’ll see me in six months, right?”. “No” he said, “I’m sorry, but you have breast cancer. Did you bring anyone with you?” “No” I said, “I didn’t think I had to.” It’s true what they say when you are told you have cancer….you don’t hear much else after that. He suggested I re-schedule and bring my husband with me, then the nurse walked in and handed me a pink canvas tote bag filled with a handbook and all kinds of information on breast cancer. I walked out stunned and I threw the pink bag in my truck and went back to work.
My initial reaction was disbelief, but then, my next reaction was to have this gone as soon as possible, what ever way possible. I made it through the work day and went home, talked to my husband and showed him the pink bag. There was a package in there, just for him. We read for a little while and then we cried together, and hugged and my husband said to me “I’m with you on this, what ever it takes to make sure that you are still here is the most important thing to me.” Our daughter was getting married in 4 days, so we set everything aside, nothing was going to stand in the way of her big day. Besides, even though my heart felt this was an emergency, the literature said it was not. We have time to research, make decisions and plan. My survival rate was very good according to my doctor.
My husband and I became educated on the subject of breast cancer. We didn’t know much about it, never really needed to, until my diagnosis. We read all of the information provided, went to websites to read, digest and help us make decisions that I know will impact our lives permanently. After digesting all of the information we could, I said “Well I was told that I have breast cancer, not that I have 3 months to live.” My husband said, “It’s just a bump in the road of life.” He wrote down a quote for me, which I read every day; “Life isn’t about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain.” Don’t get me wrong, cancer is a serious issue, but I have faced this with a positive attitude and humor. That has really helped in my journey. I believe you need to roll with the punches when it comes to life. As a matter of fact, the outlook was pretty good. Key to me was getting together a medical team that I was comfortable with and that I like. I communicated to each doctor to make sure the others got all of my results. I asked for all of my results as well and keep a notebook. I ask questions each time I see a doctor and they all are very willing to give me answers. Also, to tell me if they don’t know an answer to a specific question or that there is no answer yet. I want to be as educated as possible, so my husband and I can make the most informed decisions possible. Most important in this journey is to continue to live your life, relax and do not obsess over things that you cannot control. My husband became an active participant in this, but always said, “It is your decision.”
Fast forward, I am 5 months into my journey and I have been through 2 lumpectomies, sentinel lymph node biopsy, and full axially dissection, a mastectomy, and a multitude of scans, tests, and the like. I have been to every room in the Nuclear Medicine department at my local hospital; as a matter of fact, we are all on a first name basis! I am now coming up for my 4th and final round of chemotherapy. My prognosis is still good although not 98%, as my doctor originally thought. It is now more like 80%, but you know what? Still very good odds. I still have more surgery in my future, but I am going back to work shortly and I feel pretty good. I know what I need to do and I am doing it. I have received so much support from family, friends, co-workers and Women Supporting Women. I go to the support group meetings to listen, learn and share. I have made new friends and have gained a bigger appreciation of what is really important in life. A lot of this, because of Women Supporting Women and that pink canvas bag. Thank You!
Tom & Anna Morris
Our Story ... A Shared Experience Tom: When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1952, I was only 27 years old. Married with a small child, I was told...More Info
Tom & Anna Morris
Our Story ... A Shared Experience
Tom: When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1952, I was only 27 years old. Married with a small child, I was told I had only six months to live. I could not believe that my life would soon be over. I was blessed to find a great doctor. He performed a mastectomy, removing my breast and some lymph nodes. He made the incision under my arm and went in from the side, so I have little visible scaring. I was offered cobalt treatment, but after reading up on it, I declined. If I only had a short time to live, I didn't want to feel bad from the side effects for whatever time I had. So, I went on with my life with some normalcy and also living it to the fullest. The doctor must have gotten all the cancer, because here I am 52 years later, still living to the fullest.
Anna: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 1995. I had surgery, a total mastectomy of the right breast, and I was doing well, I thought, when in January 2002, I had a recurrence in the left breast. I thought, "Why me" I was devasted. The cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I had surgery followed by chemotherapy, which made me very sick. But here we are, it's 2004, and I am doing well. I feel I am truly a survivor. I focus on each day and live it to the fullest.
Penny Bradford is a business woman, a mother, a grandmother. She is also a survivor. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago,...More Info
Penny Bradford is a business woman, a mother, a grandmother. She is also a survivor. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, Penny joined Women Supporting Women; she is currently their President.
Sue Revelle, Executive Director, of WSW, refers to Penny as "my right arm." Penny gives her time to speak at various organizations, writes material or the patient packets that WSW distributes, contributes ideas for events and policy, is a shoulder and ear for patients and survivors, shares from her experience with the disease, and also share business advice. She contributes balloons and flowers from her business, Kitty's Flowers, and for several years has provided fresh roses at each Salisbury meeting for every member attending. She is constantly working behind the scenes to make thing happen and get things done. Members describe Penny as, "upbeat, caring giving, thoughtful, dependable, a most generous person." She's always there, a rock that they can count on.
In addition to running Kitty's now in Ocean Pines as well as Salisbury, and all her work for Women Supporting Women, Penny is also active in her church and in Soroptomist. Her busy and loving family includes son Wayne, his wife Donna, their sons Ross and Ryan, Penny's daughter Robin, her husband Albert Gravenor, and their daughter Julie. The family works together in the business founded by Penny's mother, Kitty Dennis. Penny loves spending time with her grandchildren and often helps care for Julie.
Penny’s story first appeared in our November 2004 newsletter. She continues to be an ambassador for our organization and serves on our Board of Directors. Thank you, Penny, for all you do, and for your years of continued support and dedication to Women Supporting Women. You’ve been an inspiration to our staff and a source of comfort and joy to many Individuals who have battled cancer.
In February 2004, I moved into my dream house. It was designed with my help and custom built for me. Pretty good for a single mom,...More Info
In February 2004, I moved into my dream house. It was designed with my help and custom built for me. Pretty good for a single mom, I thought. A friend said "this is your time." During this time I had prayed from something to help bring me closer to God. I thought perhaps I'd attend a revival or concert. In March 2004, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Dr David Sechler gave me the news. We never really know what we'll do until we are confronted. He gave me the option of lumpectomy and radiation or mastectomy. I asked him if he loved his wife and he answered that he did. Next, I asked him what he'd want for her. He said lumpectomy and radiation. I said OK, let's do it. No tears. Just all business. We all handle things differently. That day I went to his office, I figured we'd just be talking about my lumpy, yet benign breasts. I'd never had a normal mammo. Giving my teenage daughter the news was hard. Then the tears came.
Good Friday 2004, I had a lumpectomy. A few weeks later, I began radiation. Now, I had been divorced for several years and always thought "what do I need a man for?" Nothing. Well, when you are lying on that table all alone getting treatments, you think. When you have cancer you re-order and re-prioritize your life. I thought "Oh Lord, how many people before me have been on this table who are no longer with us?" I began to think "well maybe it would be nice to have someone to come home to..." I joined a computer dating service while still getting radiation treatments. This spring I was married.
I did grow closer to God. It really was my time, after all. Truly, the strong survive and the adaptable thrive. I have always had hope. I have been among other things raped, beaten, homeless, and jobless... but I have never and will never give up hope. Never, ever give up.
I hope this helps to strengthen and inspire others, in much the same way that my life has benefited my daughter. I have taught many things with my mouth but that learned through example is learned well.
God Bless you and Bless Women Supporting Women. Thanks for all you've done.
After many years of having abnormal mammograms because of fibrocystic breast diease the feared cancer diagnosis finally...More Info
After many years of having abnormal mammograms because of fibrocystic breast diease the feared cancer diagnosis finally came. My journey began on February 14, 2005 (Valentine's Day) with a stereotactic breast biopsy after my usual abnormal mammogram. The biopsy revealed DCIS with a micro invasion. Receiving this diagnosis from Dr. Kerrigan, my surgeon was quite shocking and extremely alarming. I remember feeling both panicked and numb. Dr. Kerrigan outlined for me what my surgical and non-surgical options and probable treatment plan would be - lumpectomy with Sentinel Lymph Node (SLN) biopsy followed by 6 to 7 weeks of radiation and 5 years of Aromatase Inhibitors. So the surgery was scheduled.
Immediately I began the "crash course" on breast cancer. The information seems different when you're learning it for personal reasons instead of how I had learned it in nursing school. All that I read confirmed that Dr. Kerrigan had set out on an appropriate course of treatment for me. I proceeded with the scheduled lumpectomy and SLN surgery. At my post-surgical visit with Dr. Kerrigan he told me that the lumpectomy had removed all of the cancer, I had clear margins on all sides and my lymph nodes were negative (big sigh of relief). He also told me about a relatively new treatment that was being done on early breast cancers such as mine. The new procedure, Mammosite RTS (radiation therapy system) places a treatment catheter inside the breast to deliver the radiation internally as opposed to the traditional external whole breast radiation. According to the American Society of Breast surgeons, in order to be a candidate for Mammosite RTS the following criteria must be met:
• Age > 50 years old
• Invasive ductal carcinoma or ductal carcinoma in situ
• Total tumor size (invasive and DCIS) less than or equal to 2 cm in size
• Negative microscopic surgical margins of at least 2 mm in all directions
• Axillary lymph node/sentinel lymph node negative
I met each of the criteria, it seemed this treatment was tailor made for me. Dr. Kerrigan had conferred with Dr. Edwards the radiation oncologist I had chosen and they both agreed that I met the criteria and would be a good candidate.
I had never heard of Mammosite RTS, so again I began the "crash course" to learn more. The more I found out, the more excited I became about this as a treatment option. According to current data, Mammosite RTS compared to external whole breast radiation yields the same results as far as recurrence rates. However, Mammosite RTS is less irritating to the surrounding tissue, concentrates the radiation in the most probable site for a cancer recurrence and of course is more convenient. This is definitely a factor for people who live a distance from the treatment center and have families or careers to consider. For me, I liked the idea of fewer side effects and preservation of healthy tissue.
To have Mammosite RTS I would have to have a similar surgery to what I had just had in order to insert the Mammosite catheter into the lumpectomy cavity, so the surgery was done and the catheter placed. The catheter was inflated with fluid and remained in place for the treatment period. The catheter was positioned so that it exited my breast on the outer side almost under my arm, making it very easy to secure and keep out of the way by tucking it into the side of my bra.
The day after surgery I went for the planning session with Dr. Edwards and his team in Radiation Oncology. During this session I had a CT scan to measure the size and position of the catheter balloon in my breast. From this they determined how far to insert the radioactive seed and how long to leave it in.
Each treatment began by getting a new CT scan to confirm the balloon was unchanged. Then the catheter was hooked to a loading machine which inserted the wire containing the radioactive seed through the catheter and into the balloon. The wire with the seed stayed in place for about 9 minutes and then was removed by the machine. After the wire was removed, Dr. Edwards and his team would check everything and cap the catheter and I was sent on my way. The second treatment for the day was done 6 hours later. Between treatments I was fine to resume normal life. I walked for exercise, drove, cooked (not much) shopped (a lot) and did just about anything but heavy lifting and repetitive motion with my arms. I experienced no side effects during the five days (ten treatments) of therapy. There is the potential for some skin changes and irritation, but I have not experience any of these symptoms.
Now, the treatments are behind and life is returning to normal. As I reflect I realize how thankful I am to God for my wonderful doctors, David Kerrigan and Scott Edwards for being aware of this cutting edge treatment in breast cancer. I am also very thankful to the Cancer Center at Peninsuala Regional Medical Center for being able to do the treatment locally. It has meant a great deal to me to be able to stay close to home, to my family and my support system during this stressful time. What a great team we have right here on the shore!
In November 2004, I had my yearly mammogram. There was a slight shadow like the last two years. I was sent back for a second test,...More Info
In November 2004, I had my yearly mammogram. There was a slight shadow like the last two years. I was sent back for a second test, which they did three times with the same results. The radiologist wanted to do an ultrasound to make sure. After the ultrasound he said I should see a surgeon and referred me to Dr. Dang for a needle biopsy.
I made an appointment for January 3rd. My husband went with me for support. Dr. Dang felt that it would be conclusive to do a partial biopsy. He scheduled the surgery for January 10th. After the surgery I was supposed to get the results back on Tuesday, but it was delayed until Thursday. Needless to say, I was on pins and needles waiting for the results. The report came back that I had a T-1 breast cancer. Dr. Dang explained all my options and gave me the Women Supporting Women bag. After reading it, I decided to have a modified radical mastectomy, which would get rid of the cancer and might not require radiation.
There were anxious moments and many tears. Before my surgery, I contacted Women Supporting Women and made an appointment with Ginny Reister. She came over and talked with my husband and me. Ginny took as much time as we wanted and laid everything out for us. She told us what to expect before, during and after surgery. What a comfort she was. Surgery was scheduled for February 16th. I opted for reconstruction at the same time.
After the surgery I was in the hospital for two nights. I came home and really didn't feel too bad. My husband helped me change the dressing and empty the drain tubes without batting an eye. When he did that, I knew we would be OK. The support I received, even before my surgery, from family, friends, and co-workers was tremendous. There probably wasn't more than a day or two to pass without a card, e-mail, or phone call checking on me. Women Supporting Women was there for me all the way. I went to Phoenix with my husband on March 8th. This was a business trip for him and a little relaxation for me before my chemo started. The trip helped me with my confidence to be comfortable in public.
I started chemo on March 29th. It would take a couple of hours every other Wednesday for 16 weeks. After the first treatment, and before I started to lose my hair, my husband had me shave HIS head. He thought that I was "pulling his leg" at first, but my hair was gone after my second chemo. So we were both bald.
Normal sessions were on Wednesday and by Thursday afternoons I would start to feel the effects of the chemo. It would carry through Friday and Saturday. I was pretty well drained. I would rebound well until the next session. It was difficult at first to accept how tired I was. Once I accepted that, and started taking afternoon naps, I felt 100% better.
Throughout the whole ordeal, the support was unbelievable. Cards, phone calls, e-mails, and a lot of help with our meals. I didn't realize how well our friends and neighbors could cook. Then too I made friends with other patients undergoing chemo at the same time; we still meet regularly at WSW activities and we are all doing well.
The day I had circled on my calendar, July 7th, finally came. It was my last chemo session. I was wondering what was next and what the doctor would say. My oncologist, Dr. Taylor told me that my blood count was good and everything was great. He surprised me when he told me that I was Cancer-Free! There will be many follow-ups, but this time there were a lot of happy tears!
I had my follow up reconstruction done on August 10th. It wasn't too bad, one night in the hospital and a couple of days of soreness. My blood count is good, my taste buds are coming back and my hair is starting to show. I started back to work on August 29th. Just half days to start. On my first day back there was a big "Welcome Back Jan" sign over my desk. Also, over 30 women were wearing pink!
It has been a whirlwind 9 to 10 months. Let me tell you, it has not been easy. I do realize how fortunate I am. Without the support from everyone (even people I did not know!) I know it would have been even more difficult. I plan to do as much as possible to help others just the way that people have helped me.
SUPPORT & PRAYERS DO WORK!
Note: Jan & Ross have gone through this totally together. They have attended WSW events and have helped others going through the same process during Jan's chemo and therapy treatments. They have generously supported our WSW activities financially and all with a positive attitude.
Flying through the air with tears trickling down my face as I parasailed in Mexico. That day was May 15, 1999... I wondered...More Info
Flying through the air with tears trickling down my face as I parasailed in Mexico. That day was May 15, 1999... I wondered what I would be doing next year on my birthday. I was looking forward to getting a bit wiser and more assured of myself in the next year. The beauty of the earth amazed me and life was really good for the first time in a long time. I can still feel my long hair flying in the Caribbean air. That next year on May 15, 2009, I lost my hair from my first round of chemo. As I blew out my 27 candles I thought about the next year as I always do... but this time I did not know what I was welcoming. Life or death. You see, on Feburay 1, 2000 I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma of the left breast. The breast closest to my precious heart. I had a lumpectomy, 4 rounds of AC and 33 rounds of radiation at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. I do not want to go into the details of the treatment because in my heart, the cancer started after the diagnosis, the surgery, the treatments.
It is very easy having cancer because you do not know you have cancer at that time until it starts to catch up with you. Since my treatments last year I have been renegotiating with my body everyday. Cancer is not an intruder, it is a trader. Your own body trades you in and this is what I deal with everyday. I do not think of myself as a cancer patient everyday and think of dying everyday, but just enough to bring me down once in a while.
I want to talk about the cancer inside my head... the mental disease I feel I have now. It gets me at my most vulnerable moments, like watching a mother walk with her child. Maybe one day I will have a child and die having it if my breast cancer comes back during the pregnancy. Maybe after, when she/he is older. Then I will not be able to attend my child's graduation. These thought creep up on me at the most silent times in the day. It is very healthy to think these thoughts but no one ever wants to hear it. No one wants to hear that this is my Vietnam. That any day now a bomb will drop again, and I will have to go to war again with my own body. These are the thoughts masked behind my smiles and laughs.
I am the first to tell people that I had breast cancer at 26 and that I am a survivor. I survived and conquered. I have achieved the greatest achievement... life. I am not happy that this happened to me at this moment but I truly have to admit that I see things in a different way and treat myself with more respect. I am doing the things I love best and what I really want to do. Some people might think that I am being selfish but to me it is living for the first time. I do not know what God has in store for me, and if I will be here this time tomorrow. I do not want to deprive myself of the things I enjoy and want to experience in a given day.
I wake up everyday and thank God that I am still here. To see the stars, feel the air in my newly grown hair, to feel the rush in my heart, the gentle drops of the rain on my face, and the sound of a good friend calling me baby. Life is all good and getting better day by day even with the cancer in my mind. I feel like I am living on a borrowed dream sometimes, but I know what I have and who I am now.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask
In April 2005, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I started reading everything I could get my hands on to learn more...More Info
Don't Be Afraid to Ask
In April 2005, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I started reading everything I could get my hands on to learn more about this diesease, options and treatments. I made the decision to have my breast removed. It was discovered that 11 of 12 nodes were cancerous. This automatically meant I would have to face chemo and radiation. This news really hit me in the face and I cried for a couple of days. I made up my mind that I would not be a victim of this disease. I did more research and asked questions and then requested that CT scans and a bone scan be done before I started any treatments. I wanted to know more what was going on in my body and get as much of the "big picture" as possible. I felt having more information about my body would enable me to take an active role in determining my treatment plan. After all, it's my body and my life. My doctor ordered the CT scans for chest, abdomen and pelvis, as well as a full bone scan.
While waiting for the tests to be done and the results to come back I did what most women do best - I went shopping! I bought a wig, baseball caps in every color I could find, matching bandanas and scarves, floppy hats, new make-up and "funky" earrings. I was determined to go through this with as much humor, style and grace as God would allow. Also during this time, I had my port put in and had my hair cut to the shortest "pixie" cut you could get. (Shopping DOES make you feel more in control - Believe me!!!) It doesn't change anything, but as all women know, shopping gives you a wonderful feeling of power and control!!!
The test results came back. Good news - no cancer found in my organs. Not so good news - it metastasized to my bones. Because my estrogen and progesterone receptors are strongly positive, and the fact that I had requested these tests be done, it changed my treatment plan. At this point in time, instead of chemo and radiation, I am taking Arimidex daily and once a month I get Zometa IV. Bone cancer is not curable but if the treatment I am on can control the growth, then it was well worth my asking for these tests to be performed before any time of treatment was administered.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS THIS: Keep a positive attitude, use lots of humor, look at your situation as a challenge and accept the challenge with determination, refuse to be a victim of this disease, look toward the future and do whatever makes you feel good, strong, in control and empowered. DON'T Be afraid to ask questions or to ask for tests to be done. It is, after all, YOUR body and YOUR life. It may not change anything, but you'll never know unless you ASK!! AND ABOVE ALL, turn to GOD and trust in Him. Man can only give you options, but GOD can give you miracles!! As long as you are on this side of the dirt, there's HOPE!!! Never give up and SMILE, SMILE, SMILE!!!
GOD BLESS YOU ALL
Salisbury Chapter WSW
In 1998 my dad was informed that he carried the breast cancer gene, the BRACII gene. He had history ...More Info
In 1998 my dad was informed that he carried the breast cancer gene, the BRACII gene. He had history of breast cancer in the 70s after being in the Vietnam War. A research study through the Air Force tested him for the breast cancer gene panel. When my husband, a Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist, researched about the BRACII we decided I needed to be tested for it. Having the BRACII gene greatly increased a woman's (and man's) chance of getting breast cancer. I was distraught when I found that I carried the BRACII gene. I called my OB/GYN and got my first mammogram in 1999. It was normal. My doctor told me to examine my breasts monthly and come back next year for a mammogram.
The next summer our family had gone out in our boat for the afternoon. It was July 2000 and I was 39 years old. Our daughters were four and two years old. That morning I had my second mammogram done. I had felt a small lump in my right breast and made an appointment to get a mammogram a few weeks earlier. When we got back home my OB/GYN had been leaving me messages to call him all day long. I knew something was terribly wrong. I ran and got my husband put him on the phone with my doctor. The doctors suspected I had a very aggressive form of breast cancer. We made an appointment at Tulane Medical Center and were in the Cancer Center two days later. The Tulane doctors found the lump in my right breast and also found a lump in my axilla. The doctors biopsied the tumor and confirmed it was stage 2B breast cancer. My husband and I both cried endless tears. My husband was devasted. He had already lost his first wife to a brain tumor. He needed me. The children needed me.
I agreed to be on a study protocol to help find a cure for breast cancer. I went on chemotherapy, tamoxifen daily, then had my surgery. I had immediate reconstruction after a bilateral mastecomy. After recovering from my surgery I had radiation.
I helped spread the word for women to get their mammograms by participating in the New Orleans Fox News 29 2001 "Fighting Back- A Breast Cancer Awareness Crusdae." I was filmed for a video news release for Tulane to talk about the BRACII gene, genetic testing, and the benefits of a multidisciplinary team approach to cancer treatment.
I have been free of breast cancer for two years now. I am a Neonatal ICU nurse part-time.
I was pleased and excited to hear that WSW has begun a "Young Women's Support Group" to address the special and unique needs ot the "under 45"...More Info
I was pleased and excited to hear that WSW has begun a "Young Women's Support Group" to address the special and unique needs ot the "under 45" breast cancer survivors. Although we share with all our 'sisters' the struggles of survivorship, we do have some uniqueness.
I clearly remember feeling supported by other women fighting breast cancer at the time I was diagnosed, but being just 33, I wanted to connect with survivors my own age. I had a 16 month old daughter and was five months pregnant with my second child when I was diagnosed and began treatment. The issues I faced that year were so immense, and many were due to my age and stage of life. My cancer was extremely aggressive I was told my prognosis was six months to live without treatment, and that I could hope for two years with treatment. The diagnosis of Inflammatory breast cancer was rare and there were few survivors nationwide that had lived to five years. So there I was, a young mom, facing this horrible news. The tears still well up in my eyes today, 11 years later when I recall the intensity of that year. I remember attending playground with my daughters and listening to the young moms talking about issues with breastfeeding, nap times, pre-school issues, getting weight back to pre-pregnancy, and all kinds of normal issues. But I felt so abnormal. My left breast was gone, I had no hair, I couldn't nurse my baby, my sex drive and hormones were gone, it hurt to walk, and just trying to have the energy to care for my children was an incredible challenge. The bone marrow transplant, the high dose chemo and radiation schedule created a huge challenge in arranging care for my children and support for my husband.
Decisions and concerns that year included: Do I abort the pregnancy? What treatment plan should I follow? Could I harvest eggs for a possible future pregnancy? Will I be sterile? Will I be in menopause following treatment? How do I write my will and advance directives? Who will care for my children while my husband continues to work? Will my sex drive ever return? Will I be sexually attractive to my husband? Should I have reconstruction? Will the side effects ever get better? Do the hot flashes ever stop? Will I ever be able to read or concentrate again? What funeral arrangements should I plan? Should I give up practicing as a social worker? Is my career over? How can we survive financially without my income? Can I get life insurance and health insurance after this diagnosis and losing employment? Will I live long enough for my daughters to have a memory of me?
So many questions are raised when young women are diagnosed. The emotional roller coaster bring many highs and lows. The good news is that we can all get through it together! We can support one another! All your questions can be answered. You can connect in many ways with other survivors, either by support groups or via the internet. Connecting with other survivors can bring you strength and encouragement and research indicated that support groups contribute to longevity.
My story is one of long time love and support. One of life and all it has to give. I have been blessed with many things. Perhaps...More Info
My story is one of long time love and support. One of life and all it has to give. I have been blessed with many things. Perhaps you will think so too.
In 1992 my best friend and husband, Ernie, and I moved to the Eastern Shore.
After 30 years of family camping at Sandy Hill in Quantico, we bought 30 acres of prime land off of Wetipquin Road. This was going to be the place where our lives would slow down, where our son "Raine" and his family could come to hunt and fish and "hang out with us." Ernie and I had practically grown up together in Anne Arundel County, MD, in a place called Pasadena. He was best friends with my older brother and I was the little pestie sister that didn't know a thing. Ah, but I knew about Ernie, I knew that someday I was going to need him for all he had in him. After all, that's why I married him.
Life on the Eastern Shore was good and we began to make new friends. We got new jobs but still kept in touch with old friends that had also moved away from our home in Pasadena. I worked with some wonderful people as I traveled from county school to county school working as a food serve manager for 14 years. The children I fed meant a lot to me. For some kids I was the one that provided the hot meal of the day but I loved it and I love all the ladies I worked with. Ernie thought he would retire here on the Eastern Shore but being the kind of guy he is, he just couldn't find enough to do, so he took a job at the Eastern Shore Correctional Center and continued to see that he still made a difference in others' lives. He started training inmates in vocational jobs with the hope that they would become citizens that could contribute to their communities once released. There is something about caring for people, it seems to come full circle.
In 1994 I had my first scare with breast cancer. Fortunately we found a benign cyst, but we really did not get concerned because I had fibrocystic breasts and after all, "it was benign." Life went on as usual. We had a beautiful granddaughter, Ashley. She filled Ernie's heart again, but I knew I was always his "sweet pea." We would see our son and his wife Pam frequently driving back to Pasadena to baby sit, or they would come down for Mom's home cooking or a family picnic. All seemed well.
In 1999 at my regular breast screening, my fibrocystic breasts showed a "shadow" and the world of breast cancer became our world. Thank Goodness I chose Ernie. I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and the cells were multiplying rapidly. Although my nodes were negative, I didn't know which end was up. After a modified radical mastectomy, I felt broken when my life long friend took me home. His love and the support of my family carried me through this difficult time. My daughter-in-law, a nurse at Mercy hospital, coached Ernie, but he knew what needed to be done. Ernie changed my dressing, helped me shower, washed my hair, cleaned the house and loved me through it all. He cared for me like no other could.
By this time we had two granddaughters - our Ashley was two years old and little Mackenzie was a newborn, I knew that those growing girls needed their Mom Mom to get better. They came to visit and this was the best medicine of all.
So now, eight years later, I am a true survivor, with a little help from my best friend and my family. I am now able to give back to others that need help. When I was diagnosed I had Ernie and my family for support; now the community has Women Supporting Women. I am part of this group, providing support and help to survivors everyday with friendship, support, educational tote bags for the newly diagnosed (I volunteer and put the bags together), survivor groups and a mentor program that provides breast cancer survivors support from those of us who have been through the journey of breast cancer and survived.
Sweet Pea has come full circle. I love you, Ernie.
This article first appeared in the October/November issue of Maggie magazine.
Mary is treasured volunteer, devoting thousands of hours at the Salisbury office. She and Ernie help our organization in any way possible.