Cancer patients are often described as “hero” or “warrior.” Truth be told, you don’t feel much like one, but you see them everywhere you turn. For me, being diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer has brought forth the very best of human beings – kindness, generosity, heroic efforts and so much compassion. I had what I like to describe as a chain reaction of good humans – one connected to the other – some who didn’t know anything about me, but dropped everything to help me through this. Here are just a few of the stories of the heroes among us:
When I found a lump I called my primary doctor at Northwestern in Chicago, because at the time, I didn’t have an OB/GYN who I saw regularly. He first sent me to the ER to rule out an infection. Then he saw me himself and thought it was a fatty cyst, but wanted to rule out everything else. Northwestern’s Lynn Sage Cancer Center couldn’t get me in for several weeks, so he made some calls and landed on a radiologist who could see me the next day, a Thursday.
At his office, I had a diagnostic mammogram and an ultrasound. He spent time with my husband and me to go over his concerns. “This is troublesome,” he said, pointing to an area where no light could go through. “We need to investigate. Be here at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow.” That was a Friday. He had a full schedule, but 7:30 was before his regular appointments started, and I’d have his complete attention to perform biopsies of the areas in concern. His best friend is a pathologist, and he’d get answers for us as soon as possible, which turned out to be Saturday. Dr. F called early in the day, but I missed the call, having spent most of the day recovering from emotional exhaustion. I texted him around 9 p.m. that night, and he took my call. “Malignant,” he said. “You need a surgeon. I have one for you.” I think he saved my life.
Rush Medical Center
I chose Rush because Dr. F told me to call “his” surgeon, and I am so thankful I did. My team of specialists here is remarkable. At the time of my diagnosis, my insurance was not accepted at Rush. There is a specialist on staff to help navigate insurance. It was the end of the year, so I was in a position to pick something else, and they coached me through what I really needed to protect myself financially.
Now “my” surgeon is on speed dial. I text her a question; she texts me an answer. Before, during and after surgery, she’s been an advocate for my well being.
My oncology team allowed me to have the “super secret, early appointment,” so I wouldn’t end up in the waiting room all day to see them.
My oncology nurse moves around appointments, so that they can stack together in one day, meaning fewer trips to Rush and fewer days spent dealing with cancer.
My plastics team has bent over backwards to help me. When my chest was infected from radiation, they drained it. When that didn’t work, they met me at 7 a.m. before they started their day, and they made space in their surgery schedule – the same day – to remove my implant.
I have access to them all, directly and quickly. I know they too have saved my life.
I am a part of a group of eight girlfriends. We met when we each had one kid in kindergarten and have been friends ever since (nearly 10 years now). They’ve been my backbone through every peak and valley. When I first started chemo, my diarrhea was so intense I could barely stand. I’d never experienced anything like it. I sent a 911 to our group chat, and within 20 minutes, Miss Jeanne was at my house with bananas, applesauce and pita bread. Miss Blair, who lives two doors down, would stop in everyday during my surgery recovery to make sure I had what I needed around me. After every chemo treatment, and before the surgeries, each lady took a date and spoiled me with gifts to take the focus off treatment – massages, reflexology, healthy cooking classes, Fitbit to motivate me, inspirational books and more. They drove my kids around. They made an online meal delivery schedule, so I didn’t have to cook for a month. (www.mealtrain.com) They took me away for an overnight, fed me wine and cheese, and helped me forget for a night what I’m going through. They listen. They check in. They hold my hand. They keep me sane.
Laura and Mia
I have two confidants I bounce my questions off of. We have never met. Via friends of friends, I virtually met these two (unrelated) ladies over the phone/via text message, and I continue to lean on them as my situation changes. Both have endured similar treatments and diagnosis. Both were introduced to me as people I might find helpful. Both have offered themselves to me openly, candidly and compassionately to help me understand what was going to happen next. From the double mastectomy decision, to the loss of my nipples, to the reaction to radiation, to the need for new “flap” reconstruction, to their relationships with their husbands, kids and families, these two complete strangers have held me up out of the kindness of their hearts. We will meet one day, one day very soon. But until then, I know no matter what I face, these two will help me through it.
The Wellness House
This is really a superhero hangout. It is a sanctuary for people dealing with cancer, and their slogan is “You’ll feel better inside.” I have had reiki, massage, yoga, meditation, cooking classes, therapy and core training here. Courses are taught by volunteer professionals, donating their time and expertise to help anyone affected by cancer live their lives to its full potential. Currently, I’m learning the principles of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction to help cope with the emotional aspects of living through treatment. It’s an eight week course free of charge. I absolutely feel better about everything inside. (www.wellnesshouse.org)
The Lady at Mile 4
A random lady saw me at the concert, knew from my headwrap (which I lovingly called “helmet”) what I was going through, and she hugged me.
The Raffle Lady
Another random woman at the Thunderbolts game who saw my “helmet” and said, “breast cancer?” I said, “Yes.” She took her hair off and said, “Stage 4, terminal lung cancer. I’m a non-smoker. But I’m still here.”
The Pharmacist at Osco
She asks my husband about me, calls me directly when things are delayed and offers words of encouragement each time she sees me – and I see her a lot.
And there are so many more. Michelle, who’s never left my side. Liz, who has introduced me to so much and so many, having walked the walk before me. Susan, who was there that very first day to help me figure out what to do next. Kory, who gives me reiki healing. Sandra, who was with me when my mom was sick. My colleagues, who send food and flowers and notes and wine. My radiology team. The kids’ schools. The baseball team. The swim team. Aunts and uncles. Neighbors. Cousins. My brothers and their families. My sister. My dad. And survivors. Complete strangers. Heroes.
For me, talking about my breast cancer still brings tears to my eyes, but I do it so I can get through it. It’s going to be a long journey, but a beautiful one, because even in the scariest of times, people are so genuinely good.
Contributed by Jeni Moore
Married to Bill for 20 years.
Mother of 3: Madison, Lilja and Ray Ray.
Designer by day, potter by night.
Recently added: Breast cancer warrior.