Survivor Story Spotlight: Elaine Durrman, Making Her Voice Heard
I became a volunteer for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer in 1993, the year it was started while I lived in Harrisburg, PA. At the time, I was the Chairperson for Pinnacle Health’s Woman Care Center which featured a 3-day live event with multiple tracks for health and wellness for women. I was the event chair for 11 years. In 1993, I met some of the most inspiring women I knew; 2 of which were newly diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
I did not know much about the disease at that time but quickly learned about it through their health journey and through a desire to help. I engaged with the American Cancer Society and started to volunteer. At first it was part of the Logistics Committee and then co-chairing the event with my very best friend who worked for the Women’s Imaging Center.
This group of strong, brave, articulate and awesome women became my friends. Over the years, several died from this deadly disease. I worked harder to raise funds and get more involved in educating others and getting the word out into the community. My infant son started on this journey with me and grew into an engaged volunteer himself.
I had been monitored by my Health Care Provider since I was 16 years old and had my first mammogram at age 21 due to fibrocystic breast disease which was a benign, non-cancerous condition in which the breasts feel lumpy. I experienced discomfort but there was no health risk at this time.
In 2003, my Cardiologist found a lump during my visit and referred me to a breast imaging center. In my mind, I did not fit the stereotypical breast cancer patient. I was not small boned, already had a child, and there was not a single diagnosis of cancer of any kind in my family heritage on either side, maternal or paternal. So I was not prepared to hear those words “YOU HAVE BREAST CANCER.”
I had a lot of things going on in my head when I was trying to process these words. I knew I did not have a support system to help me; I knew that I was a newly single mother with a son who was growing up in my volunteer world and saw some of our friends die; and I knew that I did not have the financial resources to battle this disease and all that came with it. I was terrified.
My fear had nothing to do with me and everything to do with “Who was going to care for my child?” and “How do I keep him from worrying about me?”
My son had a best friend since preschool, and he was now 8 years old. Our weekend routine was long established that we alternated Friday sleep over, went searching for Pokémon cards, and went out to eat. Both boys were happy in this routine. His friend’s father was my only hope to keep normalcy in my son’s life since his own father did not engage even for visitation. So my journey to health began.
I would go to Oncology at the Medical Center on Fridays for Chemotherapy at 1 pm. It was an exhausting experience which generally lead me to being nauseated and tired for the next 24+ hours. His friend’s father would pick my son up from school and they would continue the established weekend routine at their house for many months that year. I would pick him up on Sundays and take him home to start the week all over again. I am eternally grateful to my son’s friend’s father for taking this burden off my plate. For without him, I would not have peace of mind to stay focused on getting well.
I did not tell my place of employment about my diagnosis as they were unforgiving about any kind of absence or illness. I worried about keeping my job, so I kept it to myself. I found the perfect wig and had it cut into my current hairstyle and no one ever said anything to me, so I assume they didn’t know.
Mid journey, I shared my diagnosis with my family. My Mom was deceased by now, from heart disease, and my Dad and siblings chose not to engage, acknowledge or assist. I cannot understand or explain this except that they did not understand the severity or thought if they ignored it, it would go away. I was hoping for an offer of assistance, and when I did not get it, I chose not to ask for help. I was not weak, I could do this all by myself. How wrong was I?
I look back on my journey over the last 17 years of Survivorship and ask myself, what would I tell my 37 year old self today?
I would tell myself, that you are no less strong because you ask for help when you need it most. There were plenty of resources and people, albeit strangers, that would have assisted if I would have just asked. I would tell myself that I should have been truthful with my son, who is now 26 years old, and to whom I have never shared my story. I would tell my 60 year old self, today, that it is time to tell your story so that you can positively affect someone else who was stuck like you were. You do not have to do this alone!
I continue to volunteer with MSABC, this time chairing the event in Charlotte, NC. 27 years later, I am still raising money and giving of my time and talents to this worthy cause. I encourage you to engage as well.
Please help me raise awareness and support the mission of the American Breast Cancer Society and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Follow my link to make a contribution today in my honor or in the honor of someone you lost. We are together in this fight! http://main.acsevents.org/goto/elainedurrman