By Jessica Valenzuela, Ph.D.
Gilda's Club Member
The new year often brings reflection and promise. What has 2019 meant? Where will I go in 2020?
Last year at this time, I was recovering from surgery and beginning chemotherapy. For me, a big part of coping during treatment was journaling, being as active as I could by walking and participating in yoga classes, and finding some normalcy with my children (being able to play with them and laugh sometimes). Gilda’s Club offered me opportunities for all of the above (yoga, writing, painting, family fun days) during a truly challenging time. It is difficult to express the gratitude that I feel for the simplicity of being able to drop-in to Gilda’s at any time to participate in these activities when I felt well enough to.
This year, I’m settling into “survivorship” and learning to live with change. On the outside, I’m aware that I appear to be back where I started – I’m working, I’m parenting two small children, and I have the responsibilities I always had. On the inside, I often feel like everything has changed. I have thoughts and feelings that are new and different, and some are effects from active treatment and others from maintenance treatment (like fatigue, joint pain, hot flashes). Other changes probably have more to do with surviving a trauma – like having a new relationship with my body and always wondering when cancer might return. How will I move forward in 2020 with the “new normal” that is my life?
I was recently given an opportunity through Gilda’s that gave me a glimpse into their “Each One, Reach One” philosophy. I helped to host an event for women with breast cancer and their families. We created a planning committee of survivors. We screened Ginger, a film about a woman’s experience with breast cancer written and directed by a young woman living with metastatic breast cancer. We held a silent auction and raised money for our cause through dozens of donations. We partnered with the Breasties, a group dedicated to supporting young women affected by breast and reproductive cancers, and we learned more about Broward Fierce Fighters, a group of breast cancer survivors who support the community through dragon boat racing. The event was a success because of everyone’s contributions and care.
Brene Brown says that “connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued.” Working together to create this event was empowering. It reminds me that, moving forward, I am not alone. As I think about what the new year holds for me and for all of us: I hope with all of my heart that we continue to find opportunities to connect. We need services, we need research, we need a cure, but we also need one another.
Happy new year, everyone.