“May 5th, 2016 my whole world changed. I was on track to start an economics Ph.D. program. Felt like things were starting to come together and I was going to finish my twenties and really start my life. Then I got the news. Breast cancer. At first, I didn’t know how to react. I felt like I was drowning and just could not breathe. I was terrified. I had always been Miss Independent, but I felt like I no longer had control over anything. It was all happening so fast. Before I knew it, I had a chemo port. Chemo in Denver they said. Crap, I only have a bike.
I started over-researching everything. Cancer, chemo, radiation, statistics. Looked brutal and expensive. My oncologist made me quit waiting tables but I was still able to keep my research job. Everyone in my family is an addict so I have never had a family support system. I have been on my own since 16. I have great friends but we are all just starting to figure out life. I was trying to figure out how I could stretch my savings and schedule work around treatment. Then my phone rang.
It was Heidi from TETWP. She said she wished she could hug me over the phone and said she wanted to meet me. A few days later we met at a coffee shop. She told me not to worry and that TETWP was there for me. She gave me some gift cards and told me she would help with bills and other expenses. I was still terrified but also felt so much relief after that meeting. She was genuinely as pissed as I was. No one should have to deal with cancer, especially in their twenties she said. She was the first person who actually made me feel a little at ease after being diagnosed. Less alone.
When she found out I didn’t have a car, TETWP helped me pay for one. I would not have been able to bike everywhere during chemo. I was able to be more independent with a car and that made all the difference to me. My friends were happy to drive me around but I hated the idea of being a burden. I wasn’t able to drive myself to Denver because the doctors didn’t want me driving for a few days after chemo. I was usually able to find rides but one trip I couldn’t. I was fine with taking the bus but when TETWP found out they wouldn’t have it. They got me a car service and likely saved me from getting sick on the bus.
Heidi kept in touch throughout my treatment and made sure I was doing well. I have never been a charity case and it was really hard for me to accept that I needed help. Heidi didn’t back down. She made sure I had what I needed and that I wasn’t buried in bills.
She invited me to events and dinners to help me meet other fighters and survivors. It was great to meet people to relate to. It really helped motivate me, also giving me reasons to dress up which I had given up on. When I felt bald, mutilated and ugly, TETWP events helped give me a reason to feel pretty again. Remember that I was still a woman when I felt like a poisoned monster. I know it sounds vain, but it really made all the difference.
A week before my double mastectomy, I was a nervous mess. I totaled my car. When Heidi found out she sent me a very nice gift and told me not to worry. A few weeks later she had found a car for me. It was completely donated. I will be forever grateful. Not only did TETWP help me with financial costs, but they were really there for me. The backbone of my support system.
The program has also greatly benefited me indirectly. Providing an amazing surgeon, Dr. Timothy, who was also with me from the beginning. TETWP helped fund the ultrasound machine that found the lump and prompted the initial biopsy. They brought another surgeon in, Dr. Butterfield from Glenwood Springs. That made a huge difference. I was able to have my mastectomy and reconstruction in Gunnison. I would not have to spend hours in the car after surgery. TETWP has also helped fund a nurse navigator to help patients deal with the chaos cancer brings.
Cancer was one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. But honestly, I could not have been in a better place than Gunnison. I could not have asked for a better support network. For better doctors. For a better program than TETWP. I am currently finishing up treatment but the worst is over. This has changed me, my perspective. But for the better. I appreciate everything so much more than I had ever imagined precancer. I know I survived this horrible thing and have so much to live for. And I know a lot of that is thanks to TETWP. They changed this whole process for me. Made it doable. TETWP was in my corner for the fight of my life. Making sure I was taken care of and not giving up. They made me realize it was ok to pause some of my life to fight. To win. That I wasn’t being lazy or a charity case. But that I was getting the help that I needed to beat this. And I did win. I will be able to start my 30s cancer free with a fresh outlook. And I cannot express enough gratitude for all the help TETWP has given me through it all. Everyone involved with the program should know it really saves lives. It really makes a difference. Tough Enough to Wear Pink, thank you for making sure the fighters in the Gunnison valley are victorious.”