Those first few weeks after diagnosis can feel like a blur. There is a deluge of information coming at you, most of it unrelatable to any other experience you’ve had, and all of it nerve-racking. In those early days, as I counted down to the first of what became two lumpectomies over 10 days, I read – voraciously.
After I’d exhausted the information on credible websites (psst! Please bookmark BreastCancer.org; please also be sure that you give any and all breast cancer related chat rooms a wide berth), I skimmed the abstracts of most every relevant peer-reviewed research paper I could find.
I still had time to burn, especially between those two lumpectomies; it’s agonizing to wait for pathology results before you know what the heck the next few weeks and months of your life might entail. So I read some more, specifically searching for local services and resources tailored to those facing cancer.
Of what I found and tried (or have since learned about), below are the best of the best, in alphabetical order.
Founded by three survivors, two of whom are 22+ year survivors! My friend Jehan serves as chairwoman of the board; BRA is based out of Nashville and is growing nationwide.
I’m part of a group that meets via Zoom for what they refer to as BRA Banter. There is always an on-point theme (the most recent one focused on favorite products to use during active treatment), and the conversation is facilitated by Lyn and Jehan, who are real, relatable and laugh-out-loud funny. They will be the best friends you never knew were missing from your life.
For those in and around Nashville, there is a 16-week wellness program too, and it’s thorough. There are 2-3 group training sessions a week with a pink ribbon certified trainer (virtual classes also available), nutritional counseling with a registered dietician, lymphedema education, and a 9-week curriculum based group (Jehan says its like a book club meets support group, focused on (what I think is the best part), “moving on in hope as we turn the page to a post-cancer life.”
Check out what they are up to on Facebook (link above) and Instagram.
I learned about this one just a few months ago, and really dug into it this week, when I had the chance to meet with the Editor-In-Chief at her Dallas home.
Brighter Magazine is the only glossy, full color lifestyle magazine targeted for women in any stage of their cancer journey.
It is a deeply personal passion project for its founder, Helen Bowles. Her best friend Jean, a voracious reader herself, had shared with Helen back in 2017 that the fashion and lifestyle magazines she’d once loved now made her sad. At the time, Jean was in the throes of treatment for ovarian cancer, and the magazines had become unrelatable – a painful reminder that post-diagnosis, everything changes. The content within their pages no longer felt relevant, and it was Jean’s wish that a lifestyle magazine focused on women affected by cancer should come to fruition.
After Jean’s passing in January 2020, Helen made Jean’s wish her mission.
From her dining room table/office, and with the help of a small cadre of volunteer staff, Helen and team have published four issues so far, and boy have they found their audience. The title is already in 18 states and 3 countries, as well as a growing number of medical offices throughout the U.S. Follow them on Instagram!
Casting for Recovery.
I’d seen posters for Reel Recovery in the lab waiting room at my oncologist’s office, but they were for men only. A quick Google search revealed Casting for Recovery (CfR), and after spending like 10 minutes on the site, I was hooked (pun very much intended).
CfR’s mission is to enhance the lives of women with breast cancer by connecting them to each other and nature through the therapeutic sport of fly fishing (source: https://castingforrecovery.org).
Headquartered in Bozeman, Montana, CfR hosts 40 fly-fishing retreats all around the country each fall. The retreats are free to attend, and are capped at 14 participants each, which makes the camaraderie all the more meaningful. The retreat is spectacularly well done, forging strong bonds amongst the group. We had way too much fun, even nicknaming ourselves, “Netfish and Chill with My Chesties.”
To date, more than 10,000 women have been blessed through this program. Selection is via lottery following submitted applications – I was fortunate enough to be selected for the North Texas retreat the first year I applied, though I think that’s uncommon. I am so glad that several of my fellow retreat participants kept applying until they got in, because these are now some of my closest friends. We’ve all signed up to serve as volunteers at the North Texas retreat this fall and the weekend after, will be together whiling away three gorgeous October days full of fly fishing and fellowship in Oklahoma!
Once my second lumpectomy came back, again without clean margins, I was facing a mastectomy and reconstruction. The breast surgeon ordered an Oncotype genomic test on my breast tissue. All of a sudden chemo – initially off the table because my tumor was found so early – seemed likely.
That’s when I found Chemo Angels. The group pairs up volunteer Angels with patients who are undergoing intravenous chemotherapy or intensive immunotherapy treatment. I still keep in touch with my Angel Renee, who sent me all the positive vibes, cards, encouraging texts, fridge magnets, an incredibly soft knit cap that she made just for me, and many other kindnesses as I ploughed through 16 rounds of chemo. Renee rocks. The world needs more Renees.
Absolutely plug into this group if you would like a little extra TLC during treatment – and get ready for a LOT of birthday cards. They just kept coming, from Angels all over the U.S. I seriously think I got about fifty. They also have opportunities to serve as a Volunteer Angel.
Cleaning for a Reason.
I always thought housekeepers were an extravagance. I also thought “My goodness. I’m able-bodied and there is no reason I can’t clean my own house.” Then I got sick. I distinctly remember the point at which my treatments started to get the best of me. The effects of each chemo infusion are cumulative – the more you have in your system, the worse you feel. On this particular day, I had a plumber at the house and I was curled up on the sofa in tears because everything hurt and what the hell was even happening to me? I ended up falling asleep out of sheer exhaustion until he woke me up to tell me the leaky sink had been repaired and he was leaving. At that exact moment, I set aside all personal pride.
It wasn’t exactly in our budget at that time to pay for a housekeeper (cancer is an expensive illness – I’m still getting invoices from treatments received in January 2021 and the bills are not small). Luckily it was then that I found a group called Cleaning for a Reason.
The group provides two free two-hour house cleanings for cancer patients. They were phenomenally polite and thorough. The house gleamed. And I got introduced to one of the housekeeper’s go-to products, because my bathroom smelled amazing and I couldn’t stop raving – Angry Orange!
If you are a caregiver, consider gifting this to someone who is fighting. My Sunday School class blessed our family with two months of housekeepers, which was so valuable during those bleak months when I could barely walk from the bedroom to the kitchen. As I got better, I saw the light re: understood how helpful it is to have people keep your home tidy.
I am a firm believer in that God always provides. What once seemed like an extravagance became something we could afford and now do, and I am so grateful.
Shortly after I began losing hair in earnest, a package arrived in the mail. It was a beautiful headscarf and a letter from another woman fighting cancer – a woman I’d never met. Facing disease more advanced than mine, she shared meaningful words that I took deeply to heart. One particular phrase aptly sums up my entire attitude post-diagnosis, even when, especially when, I find myself worrying about recurrence. Her beautiful words are these: “Keep making plans.”
The mission of Louisville, Kentucky-based Hope Scarves is to support people facing cancer through scarves, stories, and research (source: https://hopescarves.org). It’s more affectionately known as “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Scarves.”
The one I received (another thoughtful happy from my friend Jehan) quickly became my favorite out of a not so small collection. Vibrant colors that went with almost every spring outfit I could think of, and easily the softest and most comfortable. I’ve since sent one to a fellow fighter, and will continue to as would be of comfort to those fighting.
At the CfR retreat, one of the women who is now a dear friend, walked up to a woman sitting next to me and said “Hey! I recognize you!” As it turned out, both of these ladies had participated in Dallas United Pink – an offshoot of Dallas United Crew – and a dedicated dragonboat team for both male and female survivors. Curiosity led me to reach out and show up for the first practice of the season to see what this was all about.
Many months later, and with one dragonboat festival under my belt and two others on the calendar, I am so glad I did!
My teammates are interesting, accomplished individuals in their own right, and it just so happens that we share this bond of being breast cancer survivors too. I have come to care about these ladies so much, and they are a hoot and a half. We paddle, we brunch, we “just get it” and have no qualms talking about any aspect of treatment or what life is like after it. That is the only way I can explain why I said yes when a fellow teammate who was considering using my doctor asked me if she could, ahem, feel the new body part he’d made for me. It’s just its own sisterhood and you get comfortable discussing topics and being open about things that well, pre-cancer you just wouldn’t.
As if that’s not enough, our team captain is one of those people who just makes everything more fun. Because of her, I now know that the occasional Lemon Pudding Oreo Shot is necessary in life.
Pledge the Pink.
My friend Jenn introduced me to this event. This is a girl who – on her own – has raised more than $10,000 for breast cancer research. She’s a force of nature and I love her heart. Pledge the Pink happens each October in Fripp Island, South Carolina. It’s 3 days, 30 miles, and 3 islands – whether you walk, run, or crawl to the finish line. I hear there are shortcuts available, and I’ve got an in thanks to Jenn having done it before. I’ll be joining her and her team – the Street Walkers – this fall, and I cannot wait for all the fun, fabulous and purpose-driven reverie!
Salt and Light Laundry Services.
Know what you really don’t want to do when you’re sicker than sick? Laundry. Know what causes household stress when it’s piling up all around you and all your people are in a bind because nobody has clean anything? Yep.
Enter Salt and Light Laundry Services. They will pick up, wash, fold and deliver clean laundry back to your doorstep. I first learned about them at a breast cancer fundraiser I attended last fall in Prosper. I then immediately bought a month’s worth of their services for a friend who had just been diagnosed. If you want to offer something helpful and don’t want to be intrusive or aren’t sure what would be appropriate, see if there is a service like this in your area. It’s thoughtful and useful.
There are many more great resources out there, but this post is already far too long. Look for more in future blog posts! If you are aware of any that you’d like me to cover, please reach out.