Get [talking] with us. (Part 2)
This is the second of a two-part blog written by Living Beyond Breast Cancer supporter, Mark Plamondon. Mark’s story is one of many LBBC will be sharing with you in 2016 as we recognize 25 years of service to those impacted by breast cancer. Mark told the first part of his story earlier this week.
Lee’s breast cancer was back. It had metastasized to her bones, liver and brain. We were faced with both the knowledge of how she would in all probability die and the statistics to determine how long we had left together. The luxury we had when first married and starting our family of measuring time in months and years had been replaced by increments of weeks and days. No matter how hard I tried, it was impossible to stop the voice in my head that kept asking “when.” Treatments began and ended. We had good days. We had bad days. We laughed and we cried. We felt connected. We sometimes felt alone.
Remember, this was during the mid-90s. People whose lives were being changed by life-threatening illnesses didn’t have access to the many resources we have today. People had to create them or as in our case, find them through circumstance and luck. We learned about Living Beyond Breast Cancer from Lee’s radiation oncologist, Marisa Weiss. Marisa had started LBBC just a few years before for women to connect with each other to find information and to get support.
It’s strange. So much of that time is committed to memory for me, as clear as snapshots in an album. Yet, I can’t recall any one particular moment or conversation Lee and I had that cemented our commitment to Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
It’s strange. So much of that time is committed to memory for me, as clear as snapshots in an album. Yet, I can’t recall any one particular moment or conversation Lee and I had that cemented our commitment to Living Beyond Breast Cancer. If I had to guess, I’d say it just happened over a period of time. We came to depend on LBBC, for the support we received and equally important for the support we were able to give. As I mentioned earlier, Lee was a great communicator. There are lots of good communicators out there, people who make answers to questions about complex issues and concepts easier to understand. But there are far fewer who actually take the time to listen to the question first. That was Lee. So it’s easy to understand why she found herself drawn to an LBBC resource that continues to this day.
In 1997 the Survivors’ Helpline launched nationally, but back then it was a local phone line. It was staffed, a few hours a week, by volunteer women diagnosed with breast cancer for women diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a place where callers could find someone else similar in age or stage of diagnosis. It gave women the chance to learn they weren’t alone and that what they were feeling was valid and real and important. That it was OK to talk about it. To communicate. As a volunteer, Lee found a purpose in helping others. It gave her the chance to use cancer instead of it using her. It helped her assign meaning to it. I supported her and the passion she had for the service because it was contagious. She advocated for it, pushed it, helped grow it. She remained passionately committed to it until the day she passed away.
Less than a year after she was gone, I got a call from LBBC’s executive director Jean Sachs. A young man, who’d just lost his own wife to breast cancer, had called the Survivors’ Helpline. He was distraught, mourning a loss he was unable to accept or understand. I was asked to call him. I agreed.
When I did, we began our conversation learning more about each other. He was younger than me. Not a huge difference but enough that we were at different places in our lives. He was without children and I had two young boys. Grief was an emotion we both were dealing with, but in very different ways. Yet we immediately felt a camaraderie. Regardless of our differences, we were connected by something that was both horrible and profound and it made me appreciate even more Lee’s passion to communicate with someone who shared an experience that had changed their lives in an unimaginable way. I’d been asked to make a call to help a stranger in need. But somehow, it was helping me. It felt RIGHT.
My relationship with LBBC has only grown stronger since then. I served on the Board for 10 years. I’ve worked on numerous projects where my marketing experience was put to use, including expanding the Survivors' Helpline and establishing it as a core LBBC program. It’s been amazing watching LBBC grow from a local organization helping those in the greater Philadelphia metro to a major player in the nonprofit arena, that helped over 500,000 people in need last year alone. The Survivors’ Helpline is now called the Breast Cancer Helpline. This toll-free service receives thousands of calls every year from people across the country and even offers the option to chat online if it's preferred. People attend LBBC conferences from every state and even other countries. Yet the more things change, the more they remain the same. LBBC constantly exceeds expectations. Each and every member of the staff is an embodiment of the LBBC mission and their desire to connect those in need to trusted information and a community of support is a passion that spills over into everything they do. They are committed, they want to help and they are great at it.
Before I sign off, I’d like to leave you with this. What I’ve shared with you just happens to be the way Lee and I attempted to cope with the hand we were dealt. It’s just one story, one to include with millions and millions of others. But it was our story and now it's my story and for that reason I hold it close.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer is tough. Caring for someone with breast cancer is tough. There isn’t a right way to deal with it or a wrong way. How a person copes can differ in ways really big and really small. It’s important that I recognize that you must find a way through it that works best for you and you do the same for me. I would never suggest there’s one way that's better than another.
But, I will say this. Talking about what’s happening in your life with someone is better than not talking. The Breast Cancer Helpline is staffed by people who can provide advice, and insight and hope. Callers aren’t only women with breast cancer. Diagnosed men have used the service, too. So have caregivers, friends, lovers and spouses. People just like you, who given the chance can share whatever is on their mind with someone who completely gets it.
You don’t have to go through this alone. There are people who can help if you take the first step. Call the Breast Cancer Helpline. They helped Lee. They helped me. I’m confident they can help you, too. They may even be able to make things a little more RIGHT in your life.
The Breast Cancer Helpline is a service provided by LBBC. Helpline calls are answered live Monday - Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET. At all other times, just leave a message; calls are returned within 24 hours and often much sooner. Online chat is also available. Both are free and confidential. If you have an LBBC story you would like to share as part of our 25th Anniversary Blog Series, contact Kevin Gianotto by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.