This is Sandra.
Sandra grew up in a place where you did not have dandelions growing in your garden. Dandelions are weeds and have no place amongst the well-tended beauty of flowers and greenery. The care she gives a garden extends to people, as well, for Sandra is a nurse by profession. Just hearing her voice can put you instantly at ease.
As 2009 came to a close, Sandra was preparing for her 40th birthday. Unlike most, she was excited for it! This was going to be her year. As a nurse, she knew that this also meant she should start getting mammograms. Having heard that they can be uncomfortable, she did some research and found a doctor that she felt comfortable with and trusted. She wasn’t going to let some little test get in the way of her new, fabulous year! It was mostly a formality, really. No one in her family had ever had cancer; in fact, she had never known anyone with cancer. She was not going to be the first.
On January 6, 2010 Sandra was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer in her left breast.
The news was devastating. Many of the people closest to her went into denial or seemed angry. Her daughter was scheduled to graduate high school soon and was spending a lot of time with friends, preparing to leave the nest. Who was there to turn to? Sandra felt lost and alone.
Her initial decision was to forgo treatment. “I didn’t want to lose all my hair and then die,” she confessed.
The time she put into finding a care professional she trusted turned out to be a wise investment in her future. It was her doctor that convinced her to consider survivorship.
If I’m going to do this, she thought, I’m going to need support.
So Sandra started to research and came across Friend for Life. She was matched with two separate Friends over the course of her treatment and found some comfort knowing that someone else had survived a diagnosis similar to hers. She also sought support through Gilda’s Club, where she met another friend who offered to take her to her treatment sessions.
While the year was certainly not going as she had planned, Sandra did take the time to focus on herself. She picked up some new wigs for herself and attended Look Good, Feel Better. “I felt like a complete woman again. It really helped my attitude and ego.”
While in the hospital after surgery, one of Sandra’s Friends surprised her by bringing her a set of African American Softies, light fabric-covered breast prostheses. “I felt so touched and got quite a giggle.” She also realized that she would love to help others, the way others had helped her. In listening to the stories of the young mothers at Gilda’s Club, she also began to consider how many others like her there might be and how many could benefit if she shared her story.
After beating her own cancer, Sandra volunteered to become a Friend for Life herself. One of her favorite experiences as a volunteer has been to participate in Clinical Conversations, talking to medical and nursing students at local universities about her own experience.
If she could share one piece of advice to anyone out there reading this, it would be to know your own body. It is important to know your body and how you’re feeling about your body and express that to your doctor. Talk with others, listen to others (this can help you figure out how to express what you’re feeling/going through) and have discussions with your doctor.
Sandra still meets up with her Friends for lunch every now and then. And any more, she looks out at her garden and thinks, those dandelions aren’t really hurting anybody. They’re almost kind of pretty.