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Feeling Helpless...Help Others

Feeling Helpless...Help Others by Jennifer Van Dusen

Jennifer Van Dusen's Paint Nite to raise funds and help others

Another Young and Breastless blog post beautifully written by Jennifer Van Dusen, May 10, 2017.

The moment I knew for sure something was wrong I was alone and naked in a generic hospital gown.

I had had no anxiety walking into the hospital, was calm filling out the forms. I was even ok once I went to the 2nd waiting room outside the mammogram & ultrasound rooms. I wanted to make conversation with the other lady waiting, or to just share a hey we have no bras on in public smile with her. I was relieved when the technician agreed something felt ‘strange’ on the lower left side of my breast – I wasn’t just wasting her and my time. The ultrasound seemed simple and my untrained eye didn’t see a blob attacking me from the inside. But by the time we left that room the radiologist had already ordered more films. The quicker you are treated the more you can be certain something is wrong.

I thought I was just having tests. I didn’t know they could tell you have cancer from an x-ray. The air left me and the room. I can’t remember how my stomach felt. I don’t know how I got up and left that room. But I do remember the doctor telling me there was a social worker at their center. She was the first resource offered to me. She might not have cured the cancer, but she saved my life.

For me the only way to navigate my new reality was to find as much help as I possibly could. Some of the places are obvious and others you have to hunt for. For the 1st time in my life I understood the internet and social media.

Rethink Breast Cancer was like finding a new world.

Rethink Breast Cancer’s mission is to empower young people worldwide who are concerned about and affected by breast cancer. Rethink is the first ever Canadian charity to bring bold, relevant awareness to the 40s and under crowd; foster a new generation of young and influential breast cancer supporters; infuse sass and style into the cause; and, most importantly, respond to the unique needs of young women going through it.

By taking a breakthrough approach to all aspects of breast cancer – education, resources, advocacy, community engagement, and fundraising – Rethink is thinking differently about breast cancer.

For me, Rethink connected me to an online world of young women like me. I didn’t feel so alone anymore. I saw other women who had to put promising young careers on hold, women who were just coming into their own now having to accept the damage breast cancer was about to do to their bodies.

Then I was fortunate enough to travel to Stretch Heal Grow.

Stretch Heal Grow is a yoga, wellness and meditation retreat for young women living with breast cancer. The retreat offers a chance for young women to come together in wellness, support and community.

While at SHG I was ‘normal’. Everyone there had breast cancer. I have never felt peace like I felt while at this retreat. I didn’t have to go out of my way to tell the instructor that I can’t do a push-up. I could ask others what they did to manage side effects from medication. We could all talk about our scars, fake boobs, hot flashes or simply what we all thought of the selection for the next Bachelor. And that’s what we really did focus on. I made friends but when I got home I realized I didn’t know what stage they were, if they were in active treatment or finished. That’s when I realized, for me the women I was there with weren’t just friends, they are sisters I don’t have, soulmates.

There are other incredible charities that have helped me along the way. Look Good Feel Better and Forget For A Moment put on by Colleen from coKANna. Stores such as Kelly’s Mastectomy Boutique who’s consultants are helpful and kind without being condescending. And my local support group, the Kanata & District Breast Cancer Support Group.

But I still haven’t been myself since I lost my breast again. I don’t feel settled in this body. I’m not self-conscious but I’m also not at peace. And I’ve mostly wallowed in these feelings of loss and confusion, settled into a depression. For me the hard truth is the only way I’m going to feel better about myself and my situation is if I choose to help myself.

What better way to feel useful than to give back to the same community that has helped me. The well would dry up if those who drank from it never replenished the stock. Do any of you remember the Friends episode where Joey told Pheobe there is no such thing as a truly selfless act? Wise words from a funny character!

Writing this blog helps, it was one of my first steps to help myself feel better but I also hoped other women may read it and feel less alone. And I want to help my community. I know I can’t stop breast cancer, but I can make it better, less scary, give those women a soft place to fall.

The next thing I am doing is organizing a Paint Nite where the proceeds raised will be donated to Stretch Heal Grow. Friends have also generously donated raffle prizes and my husband has agreed to sell 50/50 tickets. I’m hoping some of the alumni from past SHG events will come speak to how the retreat helped them. I’m excited to help SHG but I am also grateful for the distraction that planning this will provide.

Paint Nite Fundraiser organized by Jennifer to support Stretch Heal Grow

Paint Nite Fundraiser organized by Jennifer to support Stretch Heal Grow

I was also honoured and touched as I was invited to participate in the Queensway Carleton Hospital (QCH) Foundation's fundraiser A Night for the Girls. It was brought to my attention that the mammography machine at the hospital I was treated at is close to a decade old. With the hospital being able to purchase a 3D Tomosyntheis for mammograms lives will be saved. This new technology allows technicians to capture multiple views of the breast tissue, allowing the radiologist to better see a small mass that might be lurking under dense breast tissue. Early detection for breast cancer is lifesaving. My role in this evening will be modeling fashions from Shepherd’s who is sponsoring the evening and donating 10% of their sales to the QCH Foundation.

Last fall when I was still in the early days of recovery from active treatment me and a very dear friend volunteered at the Epic Walk run by the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, this year I will be entering at team – The Rack Pack – to walk the 28 kms on behalf of the ORCF & QCHF. This walk will be hard, but with every step I take I will remember cancer was harder. I’m looking forward to the exercise but even more excited to spend the 28 km with people by my side who helped me get through diagnosis, surgery, treatment and who are still by my side for recovery. We will be able to talk, laugh, support each other through the journey to the finish line. 

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Jennifer Van Dusen is a 30-something breast cancer champion who loves her husband, fur-kids, shopping, reading, and public speaking. Having cancer has taught her to live each day to the fullest, to appreciate the moment, and do what she can to help others and her community. 

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