I was leaving for a business trip to California when I first discovered a lump. No time for you cancer, I need to do this trip. I thought I was dealing with it quite nicely, but I guess I wasn’t because one morning, I was showering while in California, and found my hair in my hand. I guess that was more than a little stress.
When I got back, I went to see my doctor and had a sonogram, a mammogram, and ultimately a biopsy, and all were conclusive. I had a lot of cancer in my family and, yet, I initially was in total denial. Not me. I am on a rocket ship to the top of my career ladder!
That was in 2002. I went through surgery, chemo, and radiation. Then I thought life was all great again, so I got back on track. Then lo and behold, a year and a half later, here it comes again.
There was no such thing as Hope Connections when I was diagnosed and treated. I had family members who’d gone through cancer. Too many to want to mention. My focus was on my little niece. I wanted her to understand that I was going to be okay and that the cancer deaths in our family were going to end with the older generation, not with me.
Everything in my life from that time forward was to make sure that that little girl, at the time, she was eight years old, knew that I wasn’t going anywhere. And guess what, it doesn’t mean that you’re gonna get it either. That focus gave me strength because I had to be strong in front of, not only my niece, but all of my family members. Because I have one sister, one sibling, so I know in the back of her mind, she’s thinking the same thing. She’s probably thinking my mom died, my grandmother died, my sister’s going to die. I had to make sure for her too, “Nah, that’s not gonna happen. It ends with those generations. It’s not going to happen with me.”
My survival was for those people and it later became for everyone else. It was a calling for me to work for Hope Connections. When people say, “what are you doing, well, I’m not doing anything special, I’m not special. I’ve just been given a little more grace here on earth to try and move the dial, to help eradicate this disease.”
I really wish Hope Connections existed when I was diagnosed because Hope Connections is such a jewel. It’s such a great village of care. You have everything in one location. I had to find a support group over here, and I was probably exercising over there. My sister could have used help as well and she had to go through EAP with her job. But, had there been a Hope Connections when I was diagnosed, it would have been just truly awesome and I could have drawn a lot of strength from the organization, but it didn’t exist. During my time battling cancer, I found myself trying to piecemeal things and people where I could actually draw the strength from, because when I was diagnosed, I needed someone to talk to. Because as loving and supportive as your family and friends are, if they have never been diagnosed with cancer, they don’t know what you’re going through or have gone through. I just needed to be amongst people that can honestly say, “I understand.” I wish I had that support of people at the time where I could go, and if I wanted to just fall apart and be vulnerable, it would be okay because they would understand.
So for me, working at Hope is sort of an out-of-body experience because I get to see all of the, if you will, the “Mes,” walking through the door, but there’s a place where they can get help. That wasn’t available to me at the time, or at least I didn’t know, and I get to be the person that tries to help them. I get to be the person that tries to reach others and say, “Guess what? There’s this place for you right in your backyard, that can help you as you walk through your journey.”
I love it. I tell people, “It’s not really work for me.” It’s really natural and it’s rewarding too, because at the end of my day, every day, I ask myself all the time, “Okay, did you help someone?” Every time somebody walks through the door, I’ll be like “Yeah, I think I did just a little.” That gives me a lot of strength because, again, I’m still here 18 years later. I know I can tell those very same people, “Guess what? You can have 18 years or longer.” I get to draw off of them, and they get to draw off of me.
Here’s the thing. It doesn’t always have a happy ending. It’s about making the most of the time you have left. Smiling. Being in the moment and aware. Hope Connections does just that for our participants.