In This Issue
~Health & Wellness
~Community Events Update
~Pink Ribbon Mentors
~9th Annual Walk
Happy Summer to all!
It has been a long winter season and it looks as though we can finally put it behind us. June is one of my favorite times of year as it marks the end of another successful school year and the beginning of the summer season which is filled with many outdoor activities.
At Join the Journey we are now finishing the Winter Workout sessions. The workouts were held every Wednesday night at the International Dance Studio. Although ‘workout’ sounds intimidating it was an hour of fun, unique, and invigorating activity. Thanks to Terri Allred, the Executive Director of Join the Journey, and owner of the International Dance Studio every Wednesday offered a wide variety of activities such as belly dance, tai chi, shimmy fit, yoga, swing dance, and line dance to list a few. A special thank you to all of the many instructors who volunteered their time and expertise for the Winter Workout sessions.
June begins dragon boat season at Silver Lake. Making Waves is a floating support group that paddles in our boat, Waves of Hope, on Wednesday nights. We welcome all comers - breast cancer survivors and supporters - to join us behind the fire station at Silver Lake at 5:40pm for warm ups and paddling from 6-7. No experience is necessary and all equipment is provided. Look for a Join the Journey presence in the Rochesterfest parade (June 28) and at Western Days (August 10) in Chatfield.
June means gearing up for our major fundraising event, the Join the Journey Walk. Sunday, September 15, is the date of this year’s walk at Mayo High School. Please put the date on your calendar and register beginning June 15 to walk with friends and family.
Be sure to check the events calendar on the Join the Journey website, www.jointhejourney.us
, for other ongoing activities. We welcome you to come join us and look forward to meeting you. Thank you for your support. I wish all of you an enjoyable and safe summer.
With warm regards,
Join the Journey President
By Sue Whitcomb
Have you ever felt like you had the world by the tail . . . where things were going so well that it was unbelievable? That's where I was in 1995. Our daughters were 2 and 4, I was in private practice as a psychologist, and my husband was self-employed making music instruments. We were living in a city of a quarter of a million people in Michigan, so there was no end to fun and interesting things to do and fun people to do things with.
We decided to move to Chatfield where my husband’s large extended family resides, and in preparation, I had my annual physical. I was devastated by my doctor's words: "you have breast cancer", the disease that killed my mother 18 years prior. I still remember my doctor asking “Do you have a surgeon that you like to use?” Did he really think that I kept a surgeon on retainer so that when I had a slow week I could call and say “I’m free from Wednesday on. What body part should I have removed or modified?” Lucky for me, the tumor was small and a lumpectomy was recommended. Because of a substantial family history of cancer, I also had radiation and chemo, which I finished after we moved here. I was elated to keep my hair. Life went on and my diagnosis became a memory as we settled into life in rural Minnesota and my growing children became involved in all things related to music, theatre and running.
2005. The world had me by the tail. Starting on New Year's Day, my 89 year old father's health started to fail. He lived alone 650 miles away. In six months, I drove to Michigan 10 times to be there when Dad had various crises and transitions and needed me. During this time, I continued to work full time and I attended all performances, concerts and meets that involved my children. In April, just a few days after I’d returned from a trip to Michigan, I received a call that Dad was bleeding out and if I wanted to see him alive, I needed to get there ASAP. I got the call at 7:30 pm and was on the road by 8 pm, driving straight through for 15 hours and arriving at the hospital at 11 am. Thankfully, I was able to say goodbye before he died.
After that there were more trips back to help my brother settle the estate, to clean out the only home we had ever known and get it ready to go on the market, and to decide what parts of our childhood we wanted to cling to (fiercely!) and what things would go into the estate sale. In July, driving back home from my 10th trip, I realized how totally exhausted and spent I felt. I had been running at full tilt boogie for six months with no down time. I had gotten creative about saving time anywhere I could. Even showering had become a 45 second process that included washing and conditioning my very long hair but no time for shaving or grooming. I decided on that trip that I wasn't going to go back to Michigan again that year. Anything left to be done, my brother would have to do solo.
It felt so good to make that decision and feel the tension leave. It felt so good that I made another decision: I decided that instead of driving 15 hours and arriving home in the middle of the night, I was going to stay in a hotel. I couldn't wait to have a real ‘stay in the shower until the water runs cold’ shower.
I took the next exit and checked into a Red Roof Inn. I threw my stuff on the bed, tore off my clothes and headed to the shower. When I got into the bathroom, I froze. There in the mirror I saw a big lump rising out of my right breast. I have never felt so terrified, so hopeless, so desperately alone as I did at that moment. My mind went to bizarre corners and I found myself wondering if I could get a refund on a recent magazine subscription because I knew I would expire before the subscription did.
Back home, I was able to see my primary care doctor the next day and she confirmed via biopsy and exam that it was breast cancer. Unfortunately, answers to questions like what lay ahead for me would require more tests. Since it was 4 p.m. on a Friday, those tests had to wait until the following week, giving new meaning to the phrase "long weekend".
That week was a blur. In the end, I learned that my tumor was 14 centimeters (i.e. just shy of 6") and had, amazingly, stayed put. I would later learn that only one lymph node contained cancer cells and that this cancer was not related to my first breast cancer. I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy. This wasn't difficult for me to accept – my breasts were trying to kill me! But my hair was another story. It had never done anything to me and I dreaded going bald.
The night before surgery, I donated two feet of hair to Locks of Love. I worked on accepting my new appearance post-surgery and lost all of my hair by the second round of chemo. I found bright colored scarves and learned how to tie them on my strange looking head. More importantly, I found a new world of friends and activities in the survivor community. It is so uplifting and empowering to be in a group of people that have been there and done that. My priorities have changed, too, and I am happier now. I am a Pink Ribbon Mentor, co-facilitator of the Breast Cancer Support Group, a member of Making Waves, a volunteer for the Join the Journey 10 Mile Walk and on the planning committee for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. It is hard for me to believe how far my life has come in the last eight years and what an incredible journey life continues to be.