Beating cancer once is tough enough. Having to fight it twice can be devastating.
In 2014 Hope Good was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy, underwent chemo, and started the path to reconstruction.
“I learned from an early age that you do what you have to to survive,” says Hope. “My grandmother had to have her leg amputated and lived her life with a wooden leg. My mom had breast cancer in the 70s and had to have a radical mastectomy. They fought with an inner strength and determination without being hindered by their loss.” As Hope’s mother told her, “Life is more important than a breast.”
It was with her family in mind that Hope opted to have the double mastectomy; she wanted the breast cancer gone, with no chance of coming back. It was a shock then, when in 2016 she learned that not only was there cancer present in her body, it had spread from a tumor that had not been eliminated during the original treatment.
The diagnosis was not only shocking, but frustrating as well. Hope had regular medical check-ups following her treatment. Looking back, they don’t seem as thorough as they could have been.
“I had a visible mark that wasn’t caught,” she says. “I didn’t feel great about the medical team I had but I stayed with them. I should have trusted my instinct and got a second opinion. You shouldn’t put your life in the hands of someone you don’t trust.”
Now in the fight for her life a second time, Hope is doing things differently. She has replaced members of her medical team with professionals she feels more comfortable with and that seem to have her interests in mind.
“Doctors are human – they can make mistakes – but you have to feel good about the people you’re working with,” says Hope.
Although the battle with cancer has been hard on Hope, many things keep her optimistic and determined to beat it. Support from her family and friends has been a blessing, and she doesn’t take for granted the power of prayer. Bonding with other breast cancer survivors has inspired her as well, motivating her so far as to create her own charity, Breast Cancer Awareness (BCA).
“Knowledge is power,” says Hope. BCA is a charity that first and foremost seeks to empower women with tools to prevent, understand, and overcome cancer. In 2015 BCA published a breast cancer awareness booklet with information about the disease.
“There are a lot of big, clinical words that get thrown at you when you first get cancer,” says Hope. “If you don’t understand any of it, how can you know if you’re making the right choices? I started BCA to help others navigate through treatment.”
BCA holds two fundraising events each year in Great Falls. The first is at the WHA Footprints on the Trail Art Show’s Art Competing for Causes event where artists donate 50% of their auction art to charity. The second is the Collecting for Cancer event in October. Formerly Collectibles for Christmas, this event has been redesigned into a more upscale affair with a silent auction, baked goods, art, and wine. These fundraisers allow BCA to print and distribute more awareness booklets and find new ways to share cancer-related information.
“My mission is to educate and help people. You have to have knowledge to know what you’re fighting,” says Hope. She adds, “You shouldn’t ever accept cancer as a death sentence.”
“Honestly, the first thing you think of when you learn you have cancer is that it’s a death sentence,” says Melissa Greenwood. “I was in shock.”
On July 31, 2013 Melissa was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). She had a clear mammogram 3 months prior and no family history of the disease. The diagnosis blindsided her.
“I thought cancer had to do with genetics,” she admits. “I was ill-informed.”
In actuality, less than 10% of breast cancer is linked to genetic factors. What Melissa thought was just a cist, was actually a 2-centimeter malignant tumor. It had grown quickly since her last mammogram (which is why regular self-examination is so important).
After the initial shock passed, Melissa and her husband, Richie, worked on a plan. They gathered as much information as they could on breast cancer and faced the difficult task of explaining the situation to their family.
“The biggest struggle was telling my parents,” says Melissa. “They were in their mid-80s. I thought a lot about that. There was no way on God’s green earth that I was going to make them watch their youngest daughter die. I had to fight for my family.”
Melissa had a double mastectomy before undergoing radiation therapy and four rounds of chemo. “I just wanted it out by all means,” she explains. “But it doesn’t go away. You don’t forget about it. It affects you every day.”
As a cancer survivor, Melissa uses her knowledge and experiences to educate others. She encourages women to be proactive in their cancer prevention and urges those going through cancer treatment to take precautions.
“You need to concentrate on getting healthy and getting rest,” Melissa advises. “Directly after a chemotherapy treatment, you’ll initially feel good due to the cocktail of drugs they give you, but you can’t push yourself. I went to the grocery store one time after a chemo session. There were a bunch of sick people coughing and I got really sick because of it.”
Melissa says that in addition to taking care of yourself when you have cancer, it’s important to find support. Sometimes this can be a loved one who takes care of you during recovery. Other times, you may want to be around cancer patients who are experiencing similar things. The comradery can be helpful in your fight.
Melissa has advice for the friends and family of cancer patients as well. “A cancer patient is always going to say, ‘I’m okay,’” she explains. “I did it. I told myself I was strong and I said I was good when people offered to help.” That’s the problem; Melissa wasn’t always good. There are many times she could have used the help but didn’t want to be a burden. And often times, people would ask if there was anything they could do to help knowing full well what her response would be.
The advice then is this: Don’t ask. Do.
“Just show up at the cancer warrior’s door,” says Melissa. “Bring a meal or offer to vacuum for them. Don’t wait for them to tell you what they need or to ask. They’re going to need you.”
If you truly care about someone with cancer, a little help goes a long way.