Stories of Hope
Find inspiration, wisdom, and strength in these stories and videos from breast cancer survivors. Hear how they coped with their diagnosis, what got them through, and how Bay Area Cancer Connections’ programs helped them along the way.
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Laurel, 36, stood at the front of her fourth grade classroom and told her students that she had breast cancer. “I don’t usually lose it in front of my kids, but I started crying,” Laurel remembers. “They have heard the word cancer and it’s very alarming for kids. One little boy, who is particularly helpful, brought me a box of tissues. The kids protested, ‘
But you’re too young to have cancer!‘ It was tough because they become very attached to you,” Laurel said.
She had a mastectomy during Spring Break and took the rest of the school year off to recover. “My students wrote sweet messages and cards. I think it was traumatic for them; they’re trying to make sense of the world,” Laurel said.
She found support at BCC’s Young Women’s Networking Group and met women who were also 36 and single. Young women with breast cancer face distinctive challenges. Some are forced to think about their future and whether or not they want to have children. “It’s hard not to be angry about losing a breast. Or angry about preserving eggs,” Laurel said. She started collecting stories and experiences from women in the group. “It’s helpful to hear other ways of coping. Collectively, we talked about anxieties, trouble with insomnia, and dating.”
Laurel received support from BCC’s Wig Buddy, and the Information Services Team which provided articles on chemotherapy side effects. Laurel also spoke with a BCC therapist about her infertility. Even though Laurel feels like she has an extended family at her school, she chose to preserve her eggs, a tough personal choice but one that was right for her.
“It’s so important to have a community that supports you during breast cancer. BCC is a great resource,” Laurel said.
Everyone who meets Susan, 57, describes her as strong. Tall and confident, she is boisterous and loves to tell stories, always with wit, humor, and a charming Tennessee accent. When her breast cancer diagnosis came in May 2012, she was stoic. She faced her cancer alone, with no significant other, close friends, or family to lean on. “It all happened so fast,” recalled Susan. “I’ve lived on my own since I was 15 and have always been in control of my life. I was scared but had no one to talk to.”
Susan learned about BCC at her doctor’s office and was immediately drawn to our new Tai Chi program. “Tai Chi gave me something to focus on that I had control over. It was a healthy distraction. It has made me more aware of what’s going on inside my body and made me stronger.”
What’s most impressive about Susan’s strength is how it inspires others. After participating in Tai Chi for over a year, she’s become the star pupil in the Tai Chi course, helping other students and lifting their spirits with her humorous stories and encouragement.
Like many cancer patients, survivorship for Susan meant starting over in some ways. “Everything has changed. It’s like a whole new life. Like a baby. After chemo, I had baby fresh hair growing out of my 56-year-old head,” she laughed. But for Susan, surviving cancer means a whole lot more. In a 9-month period, she was not only diagnosed with breast cancer but treated for melanoma as well, and a rare adrenal cancer diagnosis has given her a prognosis of five years. As Susan struggles to define her “new” life, she’s finding strength and comfort from BCC’s therapists and support groups. “I’m finally learning how to ask for help,” Susan said through tears.
When asked what survivorship means to her, Susan replied, “I’m happy to be here, but I hope to improve myself as I go on surviving.” Always incredibly giving and selfless, she added, “I’d really like to be able to help others. That’s what truly makes me happy.” When asked why people should support BCC, Susan didn’t hesitate: “Somebody you know needs this place. I was lucky to find it. BCC saved my life.”