Commentary

Never Give Up, Never Give In

D.Owyang/The Phillipian

My breast cancer journey started in 2005. As part of my yearly physical, I was to have a mammography, an x-ray of the breast designed to detect any masses or microcalcifications. Being 43, I was a younger patient to have this procedure done. Breast cancer wasn’t something that ran in my family either, so I felt very confident that all would be well.

A few days later, I received a call from my doctor. She told me that I had breast cancer. I fell to the ground, screamed, kicked the dirt, and cried — I didn’t know what to do. My mother had recently passed away from colon cancer. Was I next? Who was going to take care of me? I had tons of questions, none of which I could answer.

Luckily, I had a doctor who was dealing with cancer herself. She understood my plight and my fear of the unknown. She held my hands, reassured me, answered all of my questions, and calmed my fears. Shortly, after my diagnosis, she passed away. She was an amazing woman.

My treatment was done at a holistic hospital — they knew my needs, they knew my name, and they knew me. My surgery took a day. My recovery included a number of doctor visits and radiation. Sometimes, it was difficult to schedule my visits because I had gone back to work, full time, here at Andover.

Once my treatments were finished, when I would fall asleep, loneliness would overwhelm me.  I had had so many people surround me with their care, passion, and respect. I felt as though that care was gone. Never to return. To relieve my fear, I decided to join a breast cancer survivors support group. I connected with other women who understood, listened and held my hand when I needed it. It saved me.

As I continued connecting with these women, I heard of a program, Adventure Weekend, at Sargent Camp, in Peterborough, N.H., sponsored by the American Cancer Society. I love the outdoors. I thought, maybe, that this was my chance to release my fears. The Winter Weekend called my name, and I signed up, along with twelve other women. The cold nights, star lit skies, the clean fresh snow, tears and laughter, and joyous camaraderie made me whole again. It changed me.

As my breast cancer journey continued, I was asked to be a volunteer for Adventure Weekend. How could I say no? Climbing the ropes course, snowshoeing across a frozen lake, sitting by a warm fire, sharing your story, and just being brave — Adventure Weekend was the start of finding my true self. Unfortunately, two years after I became a volunteer, Adventure Weekend was ended by the American Cancer Society.

R.Haltmaier/The Phillipian

The next year, something amazing happened. I learned of a woman named Betty J. Borry, an adventurous breast cancer survivor, who wanted other survivors to “step out of their box.” Betty had helped to plan the Adventure Weekend programs. She wanted women to experience what being outdoors was all about. Betty asked three amazing women, each a breast cancer survivor, to keep Adventure Weekend alive. Betty was able to see her wish come true: she witnessed women climbing those ropes, snowshoeing across a frozen lake, sharing their stories, and “stepping out of their box.” Unfortunately, Betty, too, was affected by cancer. Before I volunteered for Adventure Weekend, Betty passed away. The loss of another amazing woman.

While volunteering for Adventure Weekend, I learned that the three women Betty had assigned, Cynthia, Clara, and Rose, had developed a non-profit for breast cancer survivors called “Betty J. Borry Breast Cancer Retreats.” The program offers adventure-based programming for women dealing with any stage of breast cancer.

I was very curious about what it entailed, so I checked out BJBBCR’s webpage. Three retreats were available to attend, held in the late winter, early summer, and fall. I chose the first one, being a winter gal. The retreat was held at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center-Crawford Notch in Hart’s Location, N.H. The White Mountains are one of my favorite places to visit, anytime of the year. Once again, I met some amazingly strong women, who shared their passion as survivors. We appreciated the opportunity to be ourselves. We could cry, laugh, tell our stories, and sometimes just be calm and quiet. Mother Nature encouraged us to get outside. We stood in the frosty air, rolled in the fluffy snow, shoed to find the trail that led us to a wonderful view of Mt. Washington or Elephant’s Head. It was worth every step.

After this retreat, I was asked to be part of the board of Betty J. Borry Breast Cancer Retreats. Immediately, I accepted. I enjoy the outdoors, and I want to share my enthusiasm, love, and support for the program with other women. Over the last 10 years, I have been able to connect with women from all over New England.

Today, I am the president of Betty J. Borry Breast Cancer Retreats. I am privileged to have the opportunity to encourage women to challenge themselves. “Step Out of Their Box.” Push their boundaries. Empower themselves. Find their strengths. And discover their own place of sanctuary in the outdoors.

Wendy Cogswell is a Community Relations Officer at the Public Safety Office. Contact the author at wcogswell@andover.edu.

C.Nguyen/The Phillipian
Oct 12, 2018