Cancer: a time to realize who your friends really are

This whole month my blog has been devoted to raising awareness about the genetic mutation known as BRCA. Each weekday I had a guest post appear, written by someone who is also afflicted with this gene. I wanted to help people. I wanted to alert people to get tested and take necessary action to prevent cancer from having its chance. This series ends tomorrow and I hope that I helped someone.

Ten years ago I had breast cancer for the first time. It's hard to say "the first time" as I never dreamed there would be a second. During that time I have always felt I really found out who my friends were; and weren't. People I'd been close with suddenly disappeared from my life; my best friend since second grade never spoke to me again despite having talked nearly every day up until that time. It hurt. Hurt like hell. But there were these women.

Back then I owned a retail store in Grayslake, IL. Since girlfriends had never been in large quantities for me as an adult (almost every close friend had moved out of state) I decided to join the Junior Women's Club in that suburb. They were nice enough to shop in my store so why not? I could make new friends, help raise money for different things and enjoy myself.

It was only about six months after I joined that I was diagnosed. Since I didn't have many close girlfriends I never expected any help. There were of course a select few that offered and  I was filled with gratitude. My husband traveled at the time and when he was home, he was by no means a chef. My girls were 15 and 13 and couldn't drive.

I knew right off the bat I would be in chemotherapy for at least six months. I couldn't imagine how I was going to cope with working (I was also a sales rep as I still am) at two jobs, raising my girls and running a household. It seemed unfathomable. But there were these women.

It was as if God had reached down and blessed me. I started getting phone calls. "Is it okay if I drop off some meals for your family?" "When is your next treatment, I can drive you there". And so it went.

Every week a member of the club would drive to Vernon Hills to bring my family dinner/dinners. And these weren't just Stouffer's. These were meals with courses. I had never had fresh butternut squash soup before! And after awhile I thought my own cooking would never measure up, they were that good. And the women rotated and cooked and cooked and drove and rotated.

And there were the 16 treatments I needed to be driven to. As hubby was usually out of town, again they drove and rotated. And there were others. My dear friend that just happens to do my nails every two weeks would drive me. My dear friend from college. These people did not hesitate to help.

When the treatments were over I realized that they were an integral part of my survival. The pressure that they took off me; the selfless acts of kindness to what really amounted to a stranger (I didn't know any of them that well at that time) all were critical. I could never have gotten through that time without the help they offered.

Once I was done with treatment we were planning our annual "ball"/fundraiser. We chose the Cancer Wellness Center in Northbrook. It seemed only fitting. It was my time to give back to the women that had helped me through so much. Along with a partner, we procured items for silent and live auctions. I was determined to find "the best" items. I wanted to raise as much as possible. Our little group managed to raise $10,000.

When I was diagnosed this past summer, my thoughts immediately turned to that group of women. I was older and my kids are grown and gone. My husband doesn't travel anymore. Chemo treatments are so far advanced that I could drive myself. I could do this myself. But I knew one thing for sure. I was only here ten years later with their help. And I will forever be grateful.

Thanks ladies, you know who you are.

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