A metastatic breast cancer survivor explains why it’s so important to find other cancer survivors to walk alongside.
On August 4, 2014, at age 36, I was diagnosed with metastatic inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer that isn’t detectable until stage 3 or 4 and comes with a poor prognosis. Inflammatory breast cancer proved its aggressiveness over the years, and consistent treatment brought about challenging side effects that continually threatened my quality of life. I needed to learn more than just how to fight. I needed to learn to thrive.
Integrative oncology taught me how to thrive and support my mind, body and spirit while facing incurable cancer. It also taught me the importance of paying witness and gratitude to the community that supports you. Cancer doesn’t just change your life, but it also significantly impacts your nearest and dearest.
I wouldn’t be able to walk this journey alone and am forever grateful for those who walk with me, from my excellent medical professionals and integrative practitioners to, most of all, my family and dearest friends. They are my beacons of light, hope and ultimate community support. They are my metastatic breast cancer heroes.
In 2019, thriving five years post-diagnosis (a milestone not granted to many with metastatic inflammatory breast cancer), I felt a strong calling to give back to the metastatic breast cancer community. I wished more patients with metastatic breast cancer had easy and affordable access to integrative support to increase their quality of life.
Patients with metastatic breast cancer endure so much for a long time. Having resources to improve those days is a game-changer. I started sharing the idea of supporting the metastatic breast cancer community with some of my closest friends and they all responded immediately with ideas on how they could help.
These beacons — Claire Holland, Anne Marques, Liz Moore, Erin Wanke, Heidi Pfetcher, Meghan DeRoma and Beth Szostek — are outstanding women who, without hesitation, volunteered to be on the inaugural 2020 board of what is now the Roots & Wings Charitable Foundation. They not only are my heroes but also now are true heroes to the metastatic breast cancer community. They give their time and talents generously when their busy schedules are filled with careers, families, community involvement, personal projects and so much more.
Together, with incredible team members, we created the mission for Roots & Wings: to offer support to integrative and wellness programs that increase emotional, physical and spiritual well-being during the continuous oncology treatment for metastatic breast cancer.
In our first year, we have provided affordable and accessible integrative support at some leading metastatic breast cancer institutions in the United States, including Dana-Farber Cancer’s Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies, Duke Cancer Institute’s Supportive Care and Survivorship Center, and Rush University Cancer Center. We are supporting more metastatic breast cancer fighters than I could have ever hoped or dreamed. Their commitment, along with a dedicated volunteer team, are the reason Roots & Wings is flourishing. Without these beacons of light, hope and support, without these metastatic breast cancer heroes, Roots & Wings and its mission would still be a whisper of a wish.
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