Once the conversation started, no one was going to stop it.
Two NOTES to my readers:
- Tomorrow, October 1, begins Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This week’s blog post honors the month, those with (and who have had) breast cancer, the caregivers, and the activists who do all they can on behalf of those touched by breast cancer. This post, also, will appear in my forthcoming book Community as a Safe Place to Land (due to be released in January 2019).
- On October 15, 2018, you will be able to hear my full podcast with Bobbi de Cordova-Hanks and Jeannie Blaylock. They share their passion—their mission—on behalf of breast cancer awareness. At the end of this post you can link to a brief snippet from that podcast episode.
Connected people create, nurture, and sustain the best resource a community has to offer. And, those relationships play a pivotal role in establishing, bolstering, and sustaining resilience. That is the story from the perspectives of two Jacksonville, Florida community activists. They have been advocates for countless women facing a breast cancer diagnosis. One as a breast cancer survivor and both as organizers/voices for breast cancer awareness. They became key community players helping people embrace their agency—their power to control their destinies.
Bobbi de Cordova-Hanks was enjoying life as a bass guitar player, magazine editor, and newlywed, when she got the news in 1986 that she had breast cancer. As she relates in the book she and her husband wrote, Tears of Joy, the doctor seemed to use every word but “cancer.” Bobbi said, at the time, there was a stigma to the “C” word. The Big C. It seemed that to utter the word was the same as proclaiming a death sentence. No one wanted to talk about.
Well, almost no one. Bobbi did in 1988 when she formed the support group “Bosom Buddies.” Likewise, a woman very much in the public eye, created another pathway for agency.
Jeannie Blaylock, co-anchor of the evening news for First Coast News (Channel 12) in Jacksonville, Florida, was not a cancer survivor. Nor was she living with a diagnosis. She was grappling, however, with the sudden and tragic death of her twenty-nine-year-old friend to breast cancer. In 1993, Jeannie used her visibility as a news reporter to shed light on the topic. She initiated “Buddy Check 12,” encouraging women to connect and remind one another, on the 12th of each month, to conduct a breast self-exam. With her persistence the station aired segments showing actual models conducting breast exams in the shower, lying down, and sitting up. This was unheard of for the time and market. And most definitely needed. The first night, the station received 234 calls from women. A door had been opened.
Jeannie remembers speaking with a woman, who in hushed tones on the phone, said she did not know how to tell her husband. She feared he would divorce her. While speaking, the women hurriedly hung up saying, “Oh, no, he just came home. I have to go.”
Meanwhile, by 1993, Bobbi was formally a “survivor” and her “Bosom Buddies” was steadily gaining momentum. Starting with just three women in the initial support group, the organization had served more than 7,000 by 2018.
I asked Bobbi, “How did you survive the diagnosis, the treatment, and at least at the time (1980s), the social and workplace stigma of breast cancer?”
The first thing she had to do was recognize the situation was bigger than herself; bigger than anything she had ever tackled in her life. She prayed. “When I was given a death sentence, I had to go to someone upstairs.”
She, also, found humor in an otherwise dark situation. “I told myself that I was too busy to die. And, after all, no other woman can wear my jewelry!”
She asked her doctors hard questions and demanded clear and pointed answers. She stood up for herself and her husband. When patients are diagnosed with cancer, Bobbi said, “Everyone around them, also, has been diagnosed with cancer.” That includes the caregivers. It’s a community. She had something greater than herself to live for.
She came to understand the importance of the mind/body connection and of the difference that emotional support can make to newly-diagnosed women. In her book, she shared that she “desperately needed other women to talk to, especially those who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and lived to talk about it. I felt like cancer was a death sentence. Now, I know it’s a life sentence.” She came to focus on seven words: “Facing the worst. Preparing for the best.”
“Bosom Buddies” gave women a forum to share stories and learn from the survivors. “What? You too? I thought I was the only one,” summed up the feeling when they learned they were not alone on this journey. No stigma involved. Friendships were born, and they helped grow resilience.
Like Bobbi’s experience, Jeannie Blaylock found that “Buddy Check 12” gave “permission.” Once the conversation started, no one was going to stop it. The women, she said, “had—and have—guts, spunk.” In hearing other people’s stories, they began to hear the “echo of a voice” of their story. They would not be denied and would not give up. Cancer was not about what could not be done. It was about what they would do.
“Buddy Check 12” has become a national, intergenerational, and international movement. This growing breast cancer education and support program has developed legs over a quarter of a century. These are people, according to Jeannie, who are “staying alive for themselves and for the people they love.”
Bobbi says that she and the thousands she has worked with remain proud to be survivors. They are victors, not victims.
“It’s beyond surviving. It’s thriving,” she told me. “While a little humor goes a long way when you’re wearing a prosthesis the size of a 38 double D, I needed more.” She made a choice to connect with a support group. “That connection made me feel alive again,” she said. “What a wonderful feeling….”
Relationships. That matter. Resilience.
Video Recommendation of the Week:
Listen to Bobbi speak about the power of sharing, caring, and thriving within a community. The full podcast will “go live” on October 15, 2018.
For more about community building and sustainability,
look for my new book, Community as a Safe Place to Land, due out the beginning of 2019. More information to come.
Make it an inspiring and grateful week and H.T.R.B. as needed.
For information about and to order my most recent book, Stories about Teaching, Learning, and Resilience: No Need to be an Island, click here. A few colleges and one state-wide agency have adopted it for training and coaching purposes. Contact me if you and your team are interested in doing the same.
The paperback price on Amazon is now $14.99 and the Kindle version stands at $5.99. Consider it for a faculty orientation or a mentoring program. The accompanying videos would serve to stimulate community-building conversations at the beginning of a meeting.
Pearson Education publishes my student textbooks for life success—Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? (3rd edition).
(c) 2018. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.