We Keep Going: The Value of Accepting Support During Your Breast Cancer Journey
Rene Carter joined her first National Breast Cancer Foundation virtual support group while she was sitting in the chemo chair receiving treatment. From that first moment, she was willing to share her vulnerability, her highs and lows, and her story…
Before receiving her diagnosis, Rene worked out five days a week, running and lifting weights. She had just celebrated her husband’s 50th birthday and their 25th anniversary with a family trip to Las Vegas when her OB-GYN noticed a lump in her left breast during her annual exam.
Rene’s doctor sent her for a biopsy and follow-up mammogram: “People say you never forget where you were” when you hear the news. Rene was standing in her kitchen on August 7, 2020, when her doctor called.
“After we talked, I sat on the floor thinking, ‘I cannot believe this.’ I went to the basement and got my quiet cry in, because both of my children were home,” she said. “I gave myself my 15 minutes. I sent a text to my girlfriends right away. I sent a text to my mom and then it was like, ‘Okay, we’re going to get through this. What do we have to do?’”
By August 12, Rene was in the oncology center making a treatment plan. An attorney, Rene knew she had to put that hat aside and take a fresh perspective: “I was very prayerful, but I looked at things more surface than I normally would because I knew that if I dug too deep, I would get mired in mess and fear. I plan to live until I’m 104 years old and 48 days. Anybody who knows me for more than three minutes will tell you that.”
She started chemotherapy, and her hair quickly fell out, so she held a “wig party” and “shaved the rest of my hair off, and I got all my little fancy wigs—Sheila and Tanya—and put them on display.” After five months of chemo and a three-week break, Rene had a lumpectomy with two lymph nodes removed, followed by 33 sessions of radiation and preventative chemo to come.
While Rene’s previous position was eliminated during the pandemic, she started a new role just days after receiving her breast cancer diagnosis. Her first conversation with her new manager involved sharing the news, and he was incredibly supportive.
“The days that I would have chemotherapy, I would be sitting in that chemo chair on work calls with video off. If it was my turn to speak, I turned it on. My boss would know when to lay off on giving me a lot because chemo just zaps you,” she added.
“I join the support group every time I can because I want different avenues of support. In the support group, I know we’re all in the same boat. We may have different diagnoses, we’re in different places in our journey, but everybody understands nausea and impossible weight gain when you’re barely eating, and the endless ‘what do I do about this?’ scenarios. It’s a no-judgment zone,” she said. “There’s a different level of connectivity when talking to people from the National Breast Cancer Foundation support group. It’s just a wonderful resource.”
Rene’s biggest takeaway is “in spite of what all of us are going through, we keep going, we press through. I find it very encouraging to hear the stories of the ladies on the call and the things that they’re doing. You can just feel the envelopment of support and love and encouragement. That’s what stands out to me.”
Rene’s family and her “ride-or-die” crew also came through. She told her two college-aged daughters “‘I would be alright,’ and they believed me. One daughter was here for my wig party. One was here for my surgery. I think they got the right balance and measure of engagement for what I was going through, but I’m still ‘mommy.’ Now, they want to mommy me,” she said. “My husband deserves the medal of honor. He cooks for me. He took me to my chemotherapy sessions for as long as protocols would allow. He has been an amazing partner.”
Her mom and “ride-or-die” crew also helped with everything from grocery shopping – Rene swears by ginger products for reducing nausea – to walking and biking, praying, and just talking. Neighbors who became extended family and her pastor also supported Rene and her family throughout this process. She believes in having multiple avenues of support. As Rene puts it, “You don’t want to feel like you’re putting so much on an individual, so I have to spread the wealth.”
“Between that support system, my oncology team, and my nurse navigator, Jennifer, I’m set,” Rene said. “I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through this process. But my goodness, if you did, this is the team, this is what you want.”
With a self-avowed “Type A” nurturing personality, Rene has learned to accept help: “This process has humbled me a lot and showed me that, ‘No, you’re not superwoman and you do need help.’”
She encourages anyone facing breast cancer to find a support group. “You feel like different people at different times throughout treatment and survivorship. You’re not always at a high, so you need to reach out to people who can meet you where you are at the moment,” she added. “To me, honestly, it’s easier to talk to the NBCF support group sometimes than talking to my family, because these are people who are going through the same thing. Being able to find a group who relates to you is invaluable.”
“This is wonderful, wonderful work that NBCF is doing and gives so much hope to people. People need to know that they’re not in this alone and that they will be okay, and that people have done it before them. It’s like a lift as you climb, people have gone before you, you can do it. You can do it.”
National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for you and your loved ones. Whether you need support, education, or help during treatment, we have a team dedicated to get you the help you deserve.