In June 2001, I will never forget the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I received the call, I was working. After hearing those words, “You have breast cancer”, I went outside, layed on the grass, stomped my feet and cried. The first question that came to my mind was “Why me?”. Dealing with my mother’s recent death from colon cancer, it made my diagnosis more difficult to accept. Luckily, I had a wonderful doctor, who was dealing with cancer herself, guide me at the beginning of my journey. Unfortunately, she passed away six months later. Thanks to her. I am here today, a survivor.
With my early diagnosis of DCIS (high level), a lumpectomy and radiation were needed. There is always that fear of the unknown. Will the doctor find more cancer? Will my breast look ugly? Will I get burned by the radiation? During my treatment, every question was answered. My fear faded. I accepted having breast cancer. Yes, it wasn’t easy at first. But, after meeting others dealing with the same issues, my journey became easier. My frame of mind improved. I had gotten stronger. My health had started to return to normal.
During a radiation appointment, I came across a pamphlet for an outdoor program, Adventure Weekend, sponsored by American Cancer Society. It was an adventure-based program for women dealing with breast cancer. I decided that I needed to take that “adventure”. Due to my new job, I had to delay going. But, every time I looked at my pamphlet, I knew it was for me. Finally, I got my chance. During the winter program, there was a spot available. I’m truly a winter woman. I love the cold, snow and the freshness of the air. My acceptance to Adventure Weekend arrived!!! I hiked, snowshoed, and connected with others.
During my weekend, I met other survivors of this dreaded disease. We were all at different stages and treatments. It made me see that I was not alone dealing with my emotions about having breast cancer. It was not only healing but made my acceptance to move forward stronger.
The next year, I was asked to become a facilitator with AWE (Adventure Weekend). The loudest “YES” came about! The program had changed my life completely. Now, it was my turn to help women on their journey. I had the chance to work with four amazing women, Cynthia, Clara, Rose, and Christine. They empower me! As time passed, the American Cancer Society dropped the weekend. But, something amazing was about to happen!
Cynthia, Clara, Rose, and Chris had formed a nonprofit, Betty J. Borry Breast Cancer Retreats (www.bjbbreastcancerretreats.org). It gives survivors a chance to continue their journey. I was asked to be part of the board. What a privilege!! A decision was made to bring AWE back to life!! I was SO excited and happy!! In such a hopeful and positive way, AWE had changed me. I couldn’t wait to work with the program again. Since its beginning, AWE has had over 200 women attend. I have made some wonderful friends. The connection between us will always be there!
This summer, I will become a 15-year breast cancer survivor.
Linda Carey is the co-creator of The Tutu Project and President of the Carey Foundation. She has been living with Metastatic Breast Cancer for fifteen years and is an advocate for the breast cancer community.