I want to start by saying I have so many people who helped me and my family through my cancer journeys. I have NEVER felt alone and had soooo much support. I am still amazed by all the selfless people in my community, and I know I will never be able to thank these people enough. I will forever be so grateful!
After the treatments were over, I had many hurdles to get over; physically, mentally, and emotionally.... the biggest being my mental health.
Depression snuck in, accompanied by Anxiety, and I became "stuck." I never realized how much depression and anxiety impacted my life and prevented me from moving forward in my recovery. I felt trapped in my own mind and body.
I struggled with depression and anxiety after my first battle with breast cancer (TNBC) 15 years earlier, however, this last battle was longer and more challenging than the first. This time, it not only affected me, but it affected other people in my life. My family also suffered from the effects of my cancer. My daughter went through her own struggles watching me go through the physical, mental and emotional challenges related to the diagnosis, surgeries, and treatments. She stuffed her own feelings for her entire 5th-grade year because she didn't want to "bother me" while I was sick. My partner had to take care of EVERYTHING around the house and with our kids. He helped me change my dressings, take showers, with my drains, and everything else I needed throughout and after my treatments. All the kids in our house at the time (4 kids between the two of us) had to be mindful of when I was resting, they had to hear me cry, they had to deal with my frustrations which came out in bouts of anger at times. Cancer affected my entire family which I felt great guilt for.
I delayed getting help for my mental health for too long. I thought I could "manage" my anxiety and depression with diet and exercise, but I would never actually take action. Depression and anxiety were debilitating. I felt shitty on the inside and shitty on the outside. I was ashamed. I did not like myself and what cancer had done to me.
I loathed my body. I gained weight during treatments and lost muscle mass, I was not happy with my "foobs" and I didn't have the energy to deal with life.
Although I fought so hard to beat cancer and live...the depression got so bad that I actually thought that my family would be happier without me. I felt worthless.
I had PTSD symptoms...I was irritable, irrational, and I would "snap!". I was on edge so often. Little noises would startle me. I couldn't sleep well, and when I did, I often woke up with my heart racing from nightmares and having full-blown panic attacks. I felt hopeless,...until HOPE found me.
You see, a friend of mine from high school, who was (and is still) involved with Project Pink'd, had encouraged me to get involved with Project Pink'd several years prior to my second bc diagnosis. She loved someone who had battled breast cancer and this person was thriving and was inspiring other breast cancer survivors to thrive and live their best lives. Jil knew Project Pink'd could help me. Unfortunately, back then, for some reason I thought I was doing "ok" without needing a "bc support group"... I was "too busy" being a single parent and had thrown myself into ALL of my daughter's activities, which left little time for myself. Luckily, Jil didn't give forget about me.
Years later, after learning about my second diagnosis, Jil immediately reached out to me and let me know how Project Pink'd was there to help me with some of the struggles I was facing. This time, I listened. I accepted the help from Project Pink'd.
Project Pink'd helped me with some of my household bills and medical expenses. When I was not working, I was not getting a paycheck. I was given a "Jar of Hope" and a Mastectomy kit! Jil connected me with "Kathy" a part of the Project Pink'd family who had also been through breast cancer twice. I did not know anyone who had battled bc twice. Kathy and I talked on the phone, texted, and became Facebook friends. As of today, I have never met Kathy in person. I hope to meet her someday because she helped answer so many of my questions and gave me the Hope, that only a fellow breast cancer survivor could give. I found that Project Pink'd was way more than a "bc support group." This time I knew that I NEEDED to be a part of Project Pink'd. I wanted to get better for myself, my family, and to be able to someday help others whose lives are affected by breast cancer, like Project Pink'd had helped me. And this was just the beginning.
Jil had mentioned the Dare To Thrive Program and encouraged me to apply to be a part of the program. I was done with my treatments in April of 2019, so when it was announced the Dare To Thrive Applications were available around the holidays in 2019, I didn't think twice and submitted my application. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if my application was the first one received. I jumped on the opportunity. I had been given a glimpse of Hope. I wanted to LIVE and THRIVE!!
I was overwhelmed with joy when I received the phone call from Cynthia letting me know I was selected to be a part of the Dare to Thrive Program. I committed to being a part of the Thriving Circles, the Dare to Thrive Retreat, and the Annual Project Pink'd Exposed Event in August 2020. None of us knew that our Dare to Thrive Program would be "extended."
I wanted to do something for myself and Jil told me how "life-changing" being part of this group would be. I wanted to be surrounded by women who truly could relate to my struggles as a breast cancer survivor. I knew I NEEDED these Women, I NEEDED Project Pink'd.
I drove to Omaha for our very first Dare To Thrive meeting. I drove up by myself, super early! When I get really nervous about going somewhere for the first time, I like to arrive way in advance just in case I get lost or something. I was in the parking lot an hour before it started. The excitement grew as I watched each woman (and a few men) walk into the building. I finally got the courage to get out of my car and walk into the doors. The energy in the room was indescribable. I saw women who were feeling the same excitement as I was, and the Project Pink'd team looked super excited as well. Smiles Everywhere! Everyone in that room was happy to be there and I felt their energy.
As each woman spoke, I empathized and felt their struggles, their courage, and their strength. I introduced myself and unsurprisingly shed a few tears of gratitude. I warned the ladies that I would be the "designated ugly crier" of the group. I went home that night so hopeful and committed to throwing myself into the program fully. I could not wait until we met again. I can honestly say I know, that nobody in that room would have ever imagined how our plans for our program and retreat would change.
Then, the unexpected happened...COVID-19. This was going to change everything. I was crushed to know we would not be able to get together for our retreat. But, the Project Pink'd team "Persevered" and made it happen. Our Dare to Thrive 2020 class has now become the Dare to Thrive Class of 2020-2021. Our Program has been "extended."
Our Thriving Circles have been meeting monthly "via zoom" for almost a year. My life has begun to change. Our experiences together have given me so much strength and Hope and I have the NEED to THRIVE. Since our program has begun, I have learned a lot about myself and I LOVE who I am becoming.
I learned there at many steps I needed to take care of myself. I sought help for my mental health and am now taking antidepressants. I have learned that I NEED to take time for myself, set boundaries, and to put myself first every once in a while. I have started eating better and exercising and have lost almost 50 lbs since June 2020. My body is getting stronger and I LOVE how it makes me feel. I am a better Mom, Daughter, Partner, Friend, and Coworker. GOD isn't done with me yet! I know the best is yet to come and I am developing lifelong friendships with the Dare to Thrive Program Class of 2020-2021 Participants and the Dare to Thrive Team who have went to great lengths to make this blessing happen. I am so glad that HOPE found me through my friend Jil, and that HOPE has grown within me through ALL of my experiences with Project Pink'd. I am blessed to be learning how to THRIVE and pray that I can bring HOPE to others. More to come...I still can't wait until I can meet the ladies in our program again..."in person."