This past summer, we hosted an essay contest for our Club Amoena members – breast cancer survivors who are fans of Amoena products. We chose 2 winners — this is the submission from our 2nd place winner, Clare Cooper, of New York.
Looking back on my breast cancer experience, from the first days of finding the lump in my breast to getting up the courage to get a mammogram, to reeling from the shock of my diagnosis; informing my family, friends, employers; and the months during which my life revolved around trips to the hospital, I would have to say that the wonderful people in my life were what helped me most. I have always been blessed with good friends and a supportive family, but never realized how much they really cared and how willing they were to be there for me. I’m a very independent person who rarely asks for help, and prides myself on being strong and self-sufficient. However, I learned that there are times when you simply have to let other people in.
It seemed like everyone wanted to take part in my healing. Friends and relatives were curious; they wanted to see my scar, my drain, and, when I started chemo, what I looked like with no hair. They offered to grocery shop for me, and, since I lived alone, called often to see how I was feeling. Fortunately I got through my treatment without much difficulty, but it was an amazing feeling to know that people cared so much and were there if I needed them.
I work in the bar/restaurant industry, which offers no benefits and little job security, and I was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to work. I was deeply relieved when co-workers offered to cover for me if I wasn’t feeling well, and my employers immediately let me know that my job was secure. The owner of the restaurant where I worked was a breast cancer survivor herself. She invited me to her home, where we talked for a long time and she shared her experiences.
The manager, I feared, would be a different story. He was an unhappy person who was known for being mean and hurtful to his employees, and I’d had several run-ins with him. However, his sister had also recently undergone breast cancer treatment, and when he learned of my diagnosis his entire attitude changed. He became a different person! He told me that I was welcome to call in sick on short notice any time I wasn’t feeling well (prior to that, he’d always made it extremely difficult to take a day off), and he often stopped to talk with me, ask how I was doing and “compare notes” with his sister’s progress. This transformed our relationship completely; from then on, we remained friends. He passed away recently, and I am grateful to have those fond memories of him.
I also made some new friends, the volunteers I met at the hospital. It made a huge difference to talk with someone who had “been there.” Realizing that I could make a contribution by providing this kind of emotional support to others, I began volunteering with them. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to share my experiences with people who are just starting out on this bewildering, often frightening journey. I’m also training to become a music therapist, and plan to work with breast cancer patients.
While I would never say that I’m glad I got breast cancer, it has opened up a new world to me. I look forward to spending the rest of my life providing the kind of emotional support to others that I was fortunate enough to have in my time of need.