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Breast Friends: Celebrating stories of friendship and courage

Chatelaine.com teamed up with Roche Canada and Rethink Breast Cancer to find inspirational stories of love and support

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Breast Friends: Celebrating stories of friendship and courage
Chatelaine.com teamed up with Roche Canada and Rethink Breast Cancer to find inspirational stories of love and support
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Breast Friends celebrates the special friendship that exists between women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and the friends who help them through diagnosis, treatment and beyond. A Breast Friend can be a friend or family member who provides the emotional and practical support a woman with breast cancer needs. The special friendships of courage and love that exists between these women with breast cancer and those who support them are truly inspirational.

This spring, Chatelaine.com, Rethink Breast Cancer and Roche Canada asked women from across Canada to share their stories of a friend who supported and empowered them through their journey with breast cancer. Throughout October, for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we chose a selection of the most inspirational stories to be profiled online.

Jo Fitger and her mother,
Goldie Doratti

Breast Friends from Kamloops, B.C.

Jo Fitger has been battling breast cancer for 14 years. Through it all, her mother, Goldie, has continuously been there for her. “My mother has become more than a mother – she is my Breast Friend. She has helped me along every step of the way,” said Jo. Four years after initially finding a lump, Jo was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer when she was 32. She had an infant daughter and was overwhelmed by the diagnosis and the path that lay ahead. Jo’s mother inspired her with strength and determination. “My mother has constantly reassured me that we will get through this,” said Jo.

Jo describes the importance of having her mother accompany her to doctors appointments as a second set of ears. “The appointments can be difficult and it is so important to have someone with you to ask questions and listen to the information from the doctor. When we got home my mother would go online and learn as much as she could about my diagnosis and the medications that I had been prescribed.” Jo encourages women to learn as much as they can about their type of cancer. “You have to be persistent and ask questions. Take charge of your own health and make sure you learn about the different treatment options available for your type of cancer so that you can make informed decisions.”

Jo’s cancer has now spread to her bones, but she is continuing her fight. No matter what she faces, Jo knows that her mother will always be by her side.

Liane Richer her mother-in-law, Vel Richer

Breast Friends from Grande Prairie, Alta.

When Liane Richer was diagnosed with breast cancer exactly three months after her mother’s death from gall bladder cancer, she was numb and filled with grief and fear. Liane was still in shock from her own mother’s passing and needed a mother’s love and support more than ever.

“Without skipping a beat, my mother-in-law Vel, a 14-year breast cancer survivor, stepped into those shoes,” said Liane. “She took charge and never let me think there was any alternative to getting through it. After all, she had made it.”

Liane was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma at the age of 45. When she looks back on her journey, Liane realizes how important it was to have the love and support of a Breast Friend like Vel. “I am a very independent person, so I know how difficult it can be to accept help,” said Liane. “But breast cancer is something that no one should face alone.”

Liane encourages anyone who finds themselves in a position to be a Breast Friend to offer help without being asked, as Vel always did. “Don’t just ask what you can do, because each woman who is going through treatment may not know exactly what she needs,” said Liane. “Take cues from your friend. Offer to go grocery shopping or take the kids for the afternoon. It’s the daily tasks that can be difficult when you are going through treatment.”

One year after her diagnosis, Liane is back at work. She recognizes that she is here today because Vel was by her side. “My mother would be so pleased that my ‘other’ mother, and Breast Friend, is looking after me in her absence.”

Valerie McLeish (centre), and her sisters Laura Sedran (left) and Lisa Simone (right)

Breast Friends from Tottenham and Toronto, Ont.

Valerie McLeish may not appear to be a strong person, as she is petite. But her battle with breast cancer has made her realize just how strong she is, both mentally and physically. She credits this strength to the love and support of her two sisters, Laura and Lisa. “Not a day went by that they didn’t call and offer support or bring over groceries and little presents to tell me that they were thinking of me,” said Valerie. “On my treatment days, Lisa would prepare a beautiful lunch for the three of us and Laura would accompany me to every chemotherapy session, where we would laugh and chat about anything and everything.”

Valerie was diagnosed with infiltrating ductal cancer, grade three, at the age of 43. Valerie’s battle with breast cancer has taught her to appreciate what each day brings. She wants all women to know that cancer can be fought and urges those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer to look for the support Breast Friends can provide.

For Valerie, her sisters are now also her Breast Friends and she knows she would not have made it through the tough times without them. “The love and support of family and friends has been so important throughout this process,” said Valerie. “My sisters tell me that I inspired them with my strength and courage during treatment, but how could I not be strong with two such wonderful sisters holding me up every step of
the way?”

Lori Ann Miehm (left) and her best friend Linda Willsher (right)

Breast Friends from Courtice, Ont.

Lori Ann and Linda have been best friends since the fifth grade. Since then, they have shared many ups and downs, but nothing has compared to the journey they embarked on after Lori Ann was diagnosed with breast cancer (stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma) last year at the age of 37. “My initial reaction was complete shock,” Lori Ann recalls. “While I was at the appointment, my doctor’s secretary called Linda and she was there within minutes. From that moment on, I never had to go to an appointment alone.”

When Lori Ann and Linda describe their journey, it always begins and ends with “we.” Lori Ann cannot stress enough the importance of having a Breast Friend, as Linda was always by her side. “Linda made lists of questions to ask my oncologist. When I was so sick that I wasn’t sure if I could make it through my appointments, she always took the lead and helped me get through it,” Lori Ann said.

Linda describes the importance of doing the “little things” for anyone who is able to be a Breast Friend. “Just listen and be there. Watch how she is feeling, so that you can offer help even when she doesn’t ask. Help her ask questions and learn more about her diagnosis, because it is so important to take charge of your own health.”

“Supported by our friends, family and community, through this journey Linda and I have become even closer,” said Lori Ann. “As difficult as it was, Linda always helped me find the positives by making me laugh and helping me take everything one day at a time, celebrating the small victories along the way.”

Dawn Rudolph (right) and her friend Rose Phinney (left)

Breast Friends from Halifax, N.S.

Dawn Rudolph and Rose Phinney share a special friendship. Through Dawn’s battle with breast cancer, Rose has been her constant companion, providing emotional support and practical insights gained during her career as a nurse. “Rose was with me when I received my diagnosis, which left me overwhelmed. It was Rose who asked all of the important questions that I would have forgotten to ask,” said Dawn. “Since that day, Rose has never left my side.
Day or night, I knew that she was always there for me.”

Rose believes no one should face breast cancer alone and encourages those who are able to be a Breast Friend to help gather and understand information. “Go with your friend to appointments to help ask questions and record the answers. There is so much information, it is something that is best done together.”

Dawn was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer that starts in a milk passage, or duct, of the breast and has spread to the surrounding breast tissue, at the age of 40. Looking back on her journey, Dawn compares Rose’s support to a lifeline. She feels that is of paramount importance that women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have the support of a Breast Friend.

“Rose was my comfort; she kept me grounded. She laughed with me, cried with me, and helped me focus on the positives, so I could take the next step in my journey,” said Dawn. “I could not have done this without her; she is truly my Breast Friend.”