The 16th Annual Breast Cancer Conference, hosted by the Vermont Cancer Center, takes place today. Follow the conversation online on Twitter at the hashtag #vtbcc. Get screened today for breast cancer. You can now request an appointment online.
I still remember the day that cancer became a very real part of my life. It is a moment frozen in time. I remember where I was, what the room looked like, what I was doing, with whom I was talking, and what the conversation was about. Everything. I even remember the sensation of the smile freezing on my face as I realized something was wrong. You see, I have been blessed to have someone in my life who is not simply a cousin, but my cheerleader, my confidant, and my best friend. Her name is Janey.
I was in the living room when I received the phone call from Janey. It was the afternoon of July 2, 2008. Janey asked me how I was and let me tell her about my day before she took a deep breath and asked me if I was sitting down. It was those words that made me go from light heartedness to panic in an instant. It was so unlike her that I immediately sank into the chair behind me. It was then that she uttered those three words that I’m sure everyone who has ever been diagnosed dreads saying to their loved ones: “I have cancer.”
As we cried and tried to come up with a plan together, I felt fear and helplessness, anger and denial. How could Janey have cancer? She was so young and vibrant, only 25, and newly married with so much life ahead of her. It didn’t make sense.
As Janey began her treatment, my family organized to do the only thing we could: walk. That was the first year of the “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” event in Chittenden County. Our team, “Janey’s Hope,” was born. Walking together gave us focus and a forum in which to pour our energy. It gave us hope that she would make it through treatment; that we would someday see her standing among the group of proud survivors.
Since then, we have been on an insightful and educational journey together, learning of both the strength of the human spirit and its will to fight and the deviant ways of a dreadful disease process called breast cancer. Janey was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. It is aggressive; it is harder to treat, more likely to reoccur, and has a higher fatality rate. I watched from the sidelines as Janey went through 18 months of experimental chemotherapy, 44 radiation sessions, and other drug trials in the hopes that something would help.
As a caregiver, family member or friend, watching someone you love go through cancer, or any disease process for that matter, is heart breaking. Most of us, at some point or another, wish that we could take on the burden of what our loved one is going through, but the reality is we can’t. I’ve taken this experience and channeled it into raising awareness of breast cancer, specifically triple negative breast cancer, among young women. I was blessed to earn the title of Mrs. Vermont International 2013 and joined Forces with the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation to help them spread awareness and support them in their effort to be a catalyst for developing survivor and patient advocacy groups and a caring community for researchers, patient and their families. I was able to spend a week in Chicago where I was proud to represent Vermont and tell Janey’s story. I will be driven to do this work for the rest of my life. I invite you to join me: consider joining the American Cancer Society’s local chapter of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, or join me at Cocktails Curing Cancer, a fabulous annual event that takes place on October 3, 2013, and raises money for research.
Today, I am happy to report that Janey was just declared 5 years cancer free! Although she still struggles with the lasting effects of her treatment, like neuropathy of her hands and feet, stomach sensitivities and infertility, she is moving on with her life. Today she gets to focus on a beautiful little girl that she will be officially adopting into her family out of the foster care system this week! Janey will also be at the annual Making Strides event on October 20, 2013 as a survivor. We will be walking side-by-side, as we do through everything else on this journey.
Betsey Wesson is Mrs. Vermont International 2013. She is an LPN and consults as a Holistic Health Coach. She is also a breast cancer awareness advocate. She lives in Williston, Vermont with her family, including daughter Rachel, her most precious gift.