Cure Discussion - General Discussions

Giving Back to Help & Heal

By Debbie Woodbury - 6:50 AM, Fri April 10, 2015
General Discussions - Cure Discussion
6 replies
I had my mastectomy on a Wednesday. I think it was Friday morning, when the anesthesia finally wore off, that I had my breakdown.  

Not being in my right mind, I could be wrong.

What I know for sure is that cancer had been eating away at my emotions for the past six and a half months, and I was completely devastated. It didn’t take much for all those tubes and bandages, and a missing breast, to push me over the edge.

I was no longer able to cope. Worse, I was terrified I would be discharged into the void and left to face my mental, emotional and physical recuperation completely depleted and alone.

Suddenly a nurse walked into the room and introduced herself as my patient navigator. She sat beside my bed and told me about cancer support services available to me even after I left the hospital. (It was the first time in six and a half months that anyone discussed support services with me.)

As we talked, I went from hopelessness and isolation to connection. After I left the hospital, I started showing up for every support service I could. I signed up for support groups and rehabilitative exercise classes. I met regularly with my patient navigator and committed to seeing a therapist once a week for a year. 

My cancer center became my home away from home. I was filled with gratitude and found myself saying “thank you” a million times a day. But, as time went on, I was filled with an overwhelming desire to give back and needed to do more.  

Which didn’t come easily.

At first, I just didn’t have the energy to give back. I was frustrated, but my therapist assured me I had to focus on my own healing and then, when I was ready, opportunities to give back would appear.

Of course, she was right and eventually, opportunities fell into my lap – encouraging other survivors, volunteering with the Cancer Hope Network, working as a patient educator with the Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project and creating WhereWeGoNow, to name just a few.

Recently, I signed on to work with CureClick and serve on its Advisory Board. As a CureClick Trial Ambassador, I use social media to reach out to cancer patients to let them know about clinical trials. So far as a result of my efforts, two people have qualified for a clinical trial for people with HR+, HER2- Breast Cancer, which you can read more about here.

As I reach out and give back, I think about what it meant to me to find support. Giving back in gratitude for all the support I received is healing, or as Maya Angelou said, “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”  

Is giving back been a part of your healing from cancer? Tell me about it in the comments, I answer every one.
By meme
6:50 AM, Fri April 10, 2015
Hi Debbie, Being almost two years now since my diagnosis and mastectomy/lymph removal I began to consider what I wish I had had when I started this journey. One day while at my support group a woman brought in a pattern, shaped like a heart, from the Heart Pillow Project. It is a pillow, shaped like a heart, that mastectomy/lumpectomy patients can put under their arm to ease the pain from the surgery. The indentation in the heart slides up under your arm for a very comfortable fit. How I wished I had had one of these during my surgeries. So I took the pattern home, found some pretty fabric, and gave it a whirl. Having sewn as a child I was a bit rusty but the pillows turned out beautiful. I attached a hand written note of encouragement with each pillow. I have started donating them to my local cancer society for breast cancer patients. It brings me comfort to make them and give them to others who are going through/or have been through my journey. And as a bonus it has helped me to start healing emotionally as well.
By Tonia
6:50 AM, Fri April 10, 2015
Meme - I received a heart pillow after my lumpectomy/lymph removal and it was such a help. God bless you for giving back to the other BC patients in your area! Hi Debbie, as of last Friday, 4/10/15, it's been a year since my last radiation treatment. I had a similar experience of wanting to give back as soon as I was finished. I may have been physically ready, but not mentally. Unfortunately, I was not made aware of any "post-treatment" support available to me so I suffered on my own. It wasn't until I found you and others with the same stories, that I realized I wasn't alone in how I was feeling. I am now working with my cancer center to establish better communication for those ending their treatment; letting them know what they can expect and where they can turn for help. It's been a slow process, but I know that now I am in a much better state - mentally and emotionally - to help others. Tonia
By Debbie Woodbury
6:50 AM, Fri April 10, 2015
meme: What a beautiful story of giving back! I love that you make hearts from the heart to help other breast cancer patients. Giving back really does benefit both the recipient and the giver. Keep up the great work!
By Debbie Woodbury
6:50 AM, Fri April 10, 2015
Tonia: I love how both you and meme are connected! Giving back really is a slow process, but so worthwhile and healing. Your decision to help establish better communication at your cancer center will benefit so many others. Good for you for getting out there to bring much needed services to other survivors!
By Terri
6:50 AM, Fri April 10, 2015
Having support services in your cancer center is so important. After 4 years I am just getting to know about whats available. I think your right in wanting to give back in some way . It helps to give you peace to help someone with something that gave you a hard time. You gave me the idea that maybe my two puppies might be made into therrpy dogs with the purpose to guide new cancer patients thru the center. Excuse my chemo brain I had a shot on wed.
By Debbie Woodbury
6:50 AM, Fri April 10, 2015
I think you put it beautifully, Terri. It does give me peace to give back and I hope you, and your puppies, find that peace too! Thanks so much for joining the conversation.
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