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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Making Beauty From The Ashes

By Beth Wilmes

A Survivor's Call For Supporting The Emotional Component Of Cancer


Besides rounding up at a register or two, I never thought about breast cancer- that was until I was diagnosed myself. Why would I? I was thirty-five with a six, four, and one year old. No one I knew had breast cancer and there was no family history. Funny how something can go from being the last thing on your mind to something that rarely leaves your mind. The most surprising thing to me about being diagnosed with cancer was to find that cancer was just as much an emotional battle as it was a physical battle.


I like most women found a lump. I knew immediately it was cancer. I called my OBGYN and the next day went for my first ever mammogram. I told the mammography tech how anxious I was that I have cancer and felt relief flood my body when she commented that based on what she was seeing, there was no reason for concern. I said a quick prayer of thanks before she told me they’d do an ultrasound just to be sure. It was during the ultrasound I knew something was wrong. There were to many people in the room, they kept going over the same area, the techs shared looks when they thought I wasn’t looking. Then they told me I’d need to come back later that week for a biopsy. There were four masses. Four!! The relief I felt only moments before was quickly turning to dread.


My previous job in a hospital radiology department gave me the fortitude to ask if the radiologist was onsite right now. They told me he was but that he was getting ready to leave for the day. I told them to please ask him to do the biopsy now, waiting days to come back in for the procedure seemed like torture. To his credit he agreed and I laid there exposed and fearful as he extracted a few samples. It was only a day later as I was sweeping my floor that I saw a call from my OB pop up on my cell. I quickly answered and could tell from the tone of her voice the news wasn’t good. She asked me what I was doing and I responded that I was sweeping my kitchen floor. It was then that she told me the biopsy had come back positive.


Does this mean I have cancer, I asked? Yes, she replied.


I then remember her clearly saying she wouldn’t want to have treatment if it were her. At this point the room had gone a bit hazy but I remember saying, “You mean it’s so advanced that you’d decline treatment if it were you?” “Oh I don’t know about that," she replied, "I just meant I know what you’re going to have to go through and it’s going to be really difficult.” She told me my next step was to find a breast surgeon and they’d be able to tell me more.


That was the beginning of my breast cancer journey which ultimately included a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, drug therapy, and two unexpected surgeries from a complication from reconstruction and the development of lymphedema. A bright spot in my journey was being introduced to another young survivor who offered to mentor me through the process. She was in another city and a busy lawyer so our communications were primarily through text messaging. When I felt scared or uncertain about what would come next, I could reach out and she would reassure me.


After I was done with treatment, I began to informally mentor other newly diagnosed patients to pay it forward. My oncologist, upon hearing what I was doing, suggested I start a program and she’d refer to it. Initially I blew her off. The last thing I wanted to do was entrench myself in the worst thing that had ever happen to me and yet… I couldn’t stop thinking about what it was that allowed me to not just survive the experience but thrive despite it. I realized it was the emotional support I was fortunate to have and I began to wonder why the emotional component of cancer often takes a back seat in the cancer care process. I also wondered why cancer care stopped when primary or active treatment did. In my own, as well as in other survivors experience, it was survivorship that was the most difficult to navigate and yet there was very little support in that way.


This was the catalyst for my nonprofit, Faith Through Fire. Our mission is to reduce the fear and anxiety that breast cancer patients feel and replace it with hope and a path toward thriving. We do this through multiple programs- a peer mentorship program where we pair a newly diagnosed patient with a thriving survivor to encourage them during treatment, a partnership with Build-A-Bear where we provide cuddly bears to children impacted by breast cancer, and a podcast called Besties with Breasties hosted by myself and another young survivor to reduce isolation and provide access to information. And finally, after conducting market research and finding only 19% of women felt equipped to transition into survivorship, we created the Survivorship Support Network. The Survivorship Support Network is a free private online community for motivated survivors who want to live their best life after a breast cancer diagnosis.



Now I spend my time helping other women receive the emotional support they deserve both during active treatment and in survivorship. Faith Through Fire members love that we are there from the day of diagnosis all the way to and through survivorship. We are here for as long as you need us and have found helping others navigate their journeys has the added benefit of bringing meaning to our own.



Thank you for sharing your story, Beth. SBC loves you.



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