By Kimberly Hadfield
I had a lot of helping hands to get me through my battle with breast cancer. Some were old friends, some were new friends, and some were people I barely knew. But they all made a difference in my treatment and have become a community as important to me as my family and my church.
My story begins 10 years ago when I was 32 and felt a lump during a self-breast exam. It turned out not to be cancer. But between that scare and having a grandmother who survived breast cancer, I decided to start getting annual mammograms. One year later, my younger sister, Hope, was diagnosed with cancer by BMH general surgeon Dr. Joseph Rosen and medical oncologist Dr. James Nickerson. I remember driving her to Boston for a second opinion at the renowned Dana Farber Cancer Institute. They confirmed the diagnosis and, to our surprise, endorsed Dr. Rosen and Dr. Nickerson as being on the cutting edge of breast cancer treatment. It was a relief to both of us that Hope could get great care while staying so close to home.
Fast-forward to January of 2011 when my primary care doctor detected another lump. This time it was cancerous. After having a biopsy at a hospital near my home in Massachusetts, the doctors said my tumor had not spread beyond the breast. Rather than drive to Boston for my second opinion, I didn’t hesitate to go see Dr. Rosen. He performed a sentinel node biopsy, which tested the lymph nodes as well as the breast for signs of cancer. It turned out the cancer had spread. I would need chemotherapy and radiation treatments following surgery.
When I was introduced to Kelly McCue, BMH’s breast care program navigator, at the beginning of the process, she immediately provided comfort by telling me that even though Dr. Rosen’s hands were gigantic, “he’s like a ballerina in the operating room.” Kelly has helped me in so many ways but her smile and her love were the best things. She often would stop by Oncology Services and visit with me during chemotherapy, and if her door was open I would always stop by for a chat and a hug. Kelly was like the glue between everybody and she helped me with everything from getting gas cards to fitting bras and wigs. She got me involved with the Look Good, Feel Better organization that helps women with cancer improve their confidence and self-esteem.
Meanwhile, my friends began coordinating a network of support, asking people in our church or their co-workers if they would prepare meals for my family when I was having chemotherapy, or drive me to radiation treatments when my husband or my father were not available. Some of these people were no more than acquaintances. But you really get to know somebody in that kind of situation. I discovered they all had someone close to them who had breast cancer or maybe even survived it themselves.
Since my own diagnosis, I have lost a friend to breast cancer. Two more of my friends are currently getting treatment, while another’s was detected early enough that she didn’t have to go through chemotherapy, God bless her. I am now doing things and trying to be a caretaker for them, sharing my own experiences with treatment in hopes it gives them strength and comfort.
I also participate in a ride share program for people needing radiation treatment. I remember how wearing it was on me. Sometimes I’m giving rides to people I’ve never met, and I am happy to help or not talk about it—whatever makes them comfortable. I also like to throw together “goody bags” with different things that were of comfort to me: emu oil (because that’s what I used in radiation), Ensure nutrition shakes and chocolate for chemotherapy, and puzzle books — just fun stuff.
Next Friday is National Mammography Day. Both the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend women get a mammogram once a year starting at age 40. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get routine mammograms. They helped save the life of my grandmother, my sister and many of my friends. But also remember how many ways you can make a difference in a patient’s treatment just by being there with a hug or a helping hand.
Kimberly Hadfield is a breast cancer survivor living in Greenfield, Massachusetts. For questions about mammograms, finding a doctor or financial assistance, please contact BMH Breast Care Program Administrator Kelly McCue at 802-251-8437.