If you were to ask me what the best day of my life was, the answer would be easy. There are two: December 18, 2009 and February 4, 2012. These were the days that my children were born. I think that most parents would answer this question the same way. However, if years from now I happen to win 10 million dollars in the lottery, we may have to do some negotiating about what the “best day” means. If you were to ask what the worst day of my life was, that answer would be easy as well. The worst day was the day that we found out that our three-year-old son Miles had leukemia: August 17, 2015. As for the second worst day, it would have to be the day that I was diagnosed with stage 3c breast cancer on September 11, 2015.
In less than one month, our entire family’s lives went into a tailspin. It was devastating. I was frozen with fear. I was already trying to figure out how I was going to be a caretaker for Miles and keep my job, and now I had to figure out how I was going to fight my own battle with cancer, be a caretaker for our son, and keep my job. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t figure out why we both had cancer. Was it environmental… was it genetic? Was my daughter going to get cancer too? My husband? I couldn’t get past the fear… it was absolutely paralyzing. But there was our son that needed me, and our daughter who was also devastated, scared and confused about what was happening to our family. I found a way to be strong at home even though most days I was dying inside.
As tragic as it was that my son and I were both battling cancer at the same time, in hindsight (and trust me—it has taken a lot of hindsight to come to this conclusion) it was actually a blessing. If any of you have had a child (or known a child) that has battled cancer, you will know that their bodies are so much more resilient than us adults. There were several weeks when I was getting chemo on one side of the hall, as my husband or mom sat on the other side of the hall with Miles as he was getting his chemo. After treatment, my only thought was about taking a several-hour-long nap, but Miles was ready to play ball, take a walk, or ride bikes. Watching his strength, his resilience and fearlessness was inspiring. Also, if we had not gone through this together, I wouldn’t have truly understood how awful it feels to be on steroids, or how scary it is to have a chemo port implanted into your chest. Not only was his body stronger than mine, but also his will to continue to be a happy kid while fighting this awful disease was awe-inspiring. So as twisted as our cancer fates were — it was almost meant to be.
Soon after my diagnosis, my sister found a pamphlet for Wellness Within on a counter at one of my medical appointments. I think many of us have the same experience the first time we walk into Wellness Within. There is warmth the moment you walk in the door. A stillness that it is so comforting. Patti and her staff make you feel as if you are in your second home. What is so incredible about this second home is that you don’t have to act strong for anyone, you don’t have to smile and tell everyone that “chemo is not as bad as you expected”, and you don’t have to take care of anyone else. Wellness Within is about self-care. This was a term that I had never really considered before my diagnosis. What was self-care? I am a working mom with two small children. Maybe self-care is what I will do when they leave home for college. At Wellness Within you learn about the triggers for your disease and coping mechanisms to get through the really hard times. They provide courses that are so important to getting you through treatment and beyond, and they welcome your family and friends that are seeing you through your cancer journey. Beyond all of the amazing offerings at the center, is the fact that there is a place to come to where everyone is fighting, or has fought, a similar battle as you. It was a place that I could take off my itchy wig… where it felt okay to “look sick”… where it was okay to sit and cry (which I did a lot) and where a hug from other patients or the staff could mean the difference between a good day and a bad day.
I am happy to report that my son and I have been in remission since last May. One of my saddest visits to Wellness Within was shortly before I had to return back to work. The center had been my second home for over 9 months. I knew that going back to work would mean not coming to the center very much anymore. I said to Patti, “I honestly could not have gotten through this without you and the center”. Now, I know that Patti has probably heard this statement hundreds of times before and she smiled her warm smile and we hugged. But I worried —I still worry— because I don’t know if she REALLY knows the deep impact that she and her colleagues have on all of us that walk through that door. Finally, after months of paralyzing fear for my future, my family’s future and for my son’s future I felt at peace. That is what Wellness Within does for us…and it is truly an invaluable service.
For those of us that battle cancer we face the stark financial realities of what it costs to be sick. That is why it is incredible and so important that all services, all classes, every support that Wellness Within offers is free of charge. I know many of you have probably heard to beware “Pinktober” because little, if any of the money that is spent on breast cancer shirts and other gear, actually goes to breast cancer research. It is so reassuring that when you donate to Wellness Within, you can walk through the doors and see exactly where your donations go. They allow patients to participate in self-care through meditation, nutrition classes, yoga, i-rest classes and my personal favorite the Mind Body Skills Group. Supporting Wellness Within means supporting all of us that count on the center as our second home. For that, I thank you for being here tonight and for supporting all of us.