Lori (L) and Kim love training for races together.
October 23, 2018
Written by Katie Kuhn, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County
When Lori was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, she was most worried about her three kids. After emailing their teachers to let them know about her diagnosis, one wrote back: “Have you heard of ABCD?”
After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, or ABCD, is a locally-based nonprofit that provides free, genuinely personal help and support that eases the stress and burden of breast cancer. One of ABCD’s signature programs is the one-to-one mentor match, which pairs those who have a recent breast cancer diagnosis with one or more mentors who have had similar experiences.
“I thought, what the heck, I’ll give it a try,” remembers Lori. “I knew of people who had had breast cancer, but not many.”
Lori was matched with two mentors. One, Debbie, had had a similar diagnosis as Lori and shared her experience with different treatments. The other, Barb, was, like Lori, the primary caregiver for her elderly parents when she was diagnosed. “It was so hard being a caregiver who needed care,” said Lori, whose mother had been diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. “So it was great to have someone who could empathize.”
About a year later, Lori got an email from ABCD about becoming a mentor herself. “Training was unbelievable,” remembers Lori. “That was the first time I had heard stories of so many other people who had breast cancer. It was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had.”
Kim was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2017.
“My mom had been through breast cancer in 2001 and told me to connect with ABCD,” recalls Kim. “I called right after I was diagnosed, but it was such an overwhelming time, so I pulled back.”
Five months later, Kim had completed chemotherapy and was preparing for surgery.
“I was really nervous,” said Kim. “I had never had surgery before and thought I would really like to talk to someone who had gone through this.”
She called ABCD again and was matched with Lori. “I couldn’t think of a better match,” said Kim. “We both worked, had teenage kids, had the same type of breast cancer, both were self-diagnosed. After my first surgery I was feeling very down because the pathology results showed the cancer was multicentric (meaning it was more extensive than the doctors initially thought), thus, I had additional surgeries. Lori had a similar experience (multicentric) and when she told me that I felt some comfort knowing someone else had this happen too.”
“It changed my whole experience,” remembers Kim.
United Way supports ABCD’s Nuestra Conexion program, a culturally responsive peer support initiative meant to reduce barriers and increase support for Spanish speaking survivors and individuals living with breast cancer. This program offers community outreach and engagement to promote awareness of breast cancer and offers one-to-one peer support for survivors.
Over the past year, Kim and Lori have met up and talked regularly. For Kim, having someone to reach out to any time of day with questions has been invaluable. She also appreciates Lori’s positivity and willingness to get out and be active together. In fact, Kim and Lori both joined Team Phoenix, a triathlon training team for cancer survivors.
“I never thought I could do a triathlon, even before cancer,” said Kim. “But looking at Lori and the other people doing it, I was inspired!”
For Lori, being a mentor has been life-changing.
“While I wouldn’t choose to go through it again, there has been a silver lining to having breast cancer,” said Lori. “Meeting Kim and the other people I have mentored makes me feel like there is some benefit to what I’ve been through. If I can help my mentees avoid some of the challenges I experienced early on, that is a really cool thing.”
Kim has one more surgery to go, but feels supported and good about the future.
“You meet a lot of special people through the breast cancer experience,” said Kim. “Lori is one of those people who have changed my life. I think she will be a lifelong friend.”
Learn more about United Way’s work in Health.