As a breast cancer navigator, I find myself in a unique position. I am privileged to journey alongside those who are fighting breast cancer. I am with them from diagnosis onward; my role is support and education. I help coordinate appointments, explain treatment options, and hold their hands as they grapple with a life-changing reality, one that wasn’t planned or expected. And I understand, more than they know, because 11 years ago, I was one of them.
The diagnosis came quickly in 2005. I had an initial biopsy in my surgeon’s office after I learned that the lump in my breast was “highly suspicious.” With three additional biopsies scheduled for another day, I opted to have the results of all the biopsies revealed to me at once.
Waiting for the results was the hardest part. Possibilities and “what ifs” ran through my mind. Finally, I got the call. I had two types of breast cancer in different parts of my breast. It was then that I learned the terminology that would become part of my everyday vocabulary: I had infiltrating ductal cancer and ductal carcinoma in situ. It wasn’t easy to process, but I’m strong and I knew I had to fight it. We formulated a plan, and I pushed onward.
The journey through breast cancer is much like a ride on a roller coaster with highs and lows. There are moments of joy and laughter, and moments of sadness and tears. My husband, sister, and best friend, Cindy, were incredibly supportive. My co-workers provided comfort I sorely needed. And my surgeon, primary care physician, oncologist, and all of their staff helped me learn and understand. I firmly believe God put the right people in my life then, and He continues to do so now.
I will mark 11 years of survivorship in September. After a mastectomy with eventual reconstruction and chemotherapy, I beat this disease that could have very well killed me.
Now I have the amazing experience of being part of the supportive clinical care team for others fighting cancer. I have been a certified breast care nurse since 2009 and a breast health navigator for ten years. I wanted to help others the way I was helped, to encourage them to fight, and to provide the resources they need to overcome their greatest challenge.
Sadly, I am often reminded that many fight their hardest, but they cannot always overcome. Recently a friend lost her battle with breast cancer. Kathi Marie Grimm had a zest for life. She embraced her diagnosis, learned about it, and became her best advocate. Last year, she amazed everyone when she arrived at the 2015 Bra-ha-ha® Awards Show & Auction shortly after being released from the hospital. She never let her treatment impact her life. Her spirit, tenacity, and joy taught us all a lesson about living life to the fullest.
Kathi was very fond of the annual Bra-ha-ha. She was a dedicated volunteer and loved helping put on the Awards Show & Auction, where the bras are displayed, awards are announced, and others are able to read the stories associated with the bras. This bra-decorating competition allows those affected by breast cancer, either with a diagnosis or the diagnosis of a loved one, to create something beautiful.
The creations come from all over the region with humorous titles or stories of resilience. Funds raised provide free breast health services to uninsured and under-insured members of our community. They also help purchase life-changing technology for Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, allowing us to assist in early detection and help those diagnosed with breast cancer.
As a breast health navigator, I urge women to talk with their health care providers about annual screening mammograms. Early detection greatly increases the chances of survival. As a breast cancer survivor, I also encourage you to join the fight. Help our sisters and brothers, who suffer from a disease that still wreaks havoc on loved ones across the nation.
I hope to never see you in my office, but I do hope to see you at the Bra-ha-ha. I’d love to hear your story.
The 2016 Bra-ha-ha® Awards Show and Auction, presented by Chesapeake Regional Health Foundation, will be held on October 2 from 7-9 pm at the MacArthur Center. Bra design registration is open until Friday, September 9. Also, Dillard’s Department Store will host a bra design party on August 20 for anyone interested in attending. More information, bra registration and contest rules are available at www.brahaha.org.
Marguerite “Meg” Shrader, RN, BSN, CBCN, is Chesapeake Regional Healthcare’s breast care navigator. She has previously served as president of the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation‘s Board of Directors and continues to lobby for breast cancer-related issues on both the state and national level.