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 Breast 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.
When Jennifer was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32 her first thought was I need support. “I chose BCC over other organizations because BCC is specific to breast cancer,” Jennifer said. She found support at the Young Women’s Networking Group where she connected with other women facing similar issues including family planning, helping kids cope, and the workplace. There, she met Shirley and the two women developed a friendship.
Jennifer was going through treatments when Shirley had mostly completed them. “Shirley is always the most collected out of all of us, regardless of what she is going through. It’s really helpful to hear her stories,” Jennifer said. Shirley was diagnosed with breast cancer at 44 and began attending the Young Women’s Group after completing her chemotherapy. “I was always looking forward to coming to group, and I would always leave in a better mood, even if I was having a particularly stressful week. We’re there to provide strength for each other. It’s definitely a place of empowerment,” Shirley said.
Today, Jennifer and Shirley are both done with treatment and continue to attend the Young Women’s Group every now and then. “It’s wonderful to get through the tunnel and be an example for other patients,” Shirley said. Jennifer added, “Now that I’m post-treatment, this group is my therapy. Outside of group, I don’t talk about cancer unless it’s with another survivor. It’s great to have that connection with people, but also to give back as someone who has been through the process.”
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.”