Susan G. Komen Power for the Promise Luncheon
May 3, 2015
Good afternoon! Welcome to the Power of a Promise Luncheon and thank you to Komen St. Louis for having us here today! My name is Bridget DuMont and this spring I am an 8-year breast cancer survivor!
I was diagnosed with aggressive form of HER2+ advance staged breast cancer when I was 30 years old. I had no family history of cancer, was otherwise very healthy, and these two sweet boys sitting at the table in front of me were 1 and 3 years old. To say this diagnosis stopped us in our tracks would be an understatement.
The last week of March in 2007, our son had just tested positive for strep throat and that week I had a sore throat also and really swollen lymph nodes. I went to the doctor and I too was diagnosed with strep. That evening I was taking a shower and feeling those swollen lymph nodes in my neck around my throat and came down my neck and felt a lump in the top portion of my breast. I was very small chested and this was a noticeable lump that I had never felt before. I didn’t think too much of it but enough to mention it to my husband Ben, who immediately said I should call the dr. that Monday morning just to be safe.
I went in to the doctor that day and was assured it was probably nothing but just to be safe I should get a mammogram in the next month or two. I focused on the fact that they thought it was probably nothing and was going to go in the next few weeks for a mammogram! My best friend went in to action calling different hospitals trying to find a place I could get in for a mammogram immediately. I thought she was completely overreacting, as other than the strep throat I felt fine and in a million years did not think I had cancer. I thank God every day for her insistence that I get a mammogram immediately, had I not, I truly believe I would not be standing here speaking to you today.
I went in for my 1 and only mammogram I will ever have and never left the hospital that day. Immediately I was told there was a 99% chance that I had breast cancer and I stayed for biopsies/tests. Within hours, the doctors suspicions were confirmed and we were told those words that you never ever believe you will be told…I had cancer. I will never forget that moment as long as I live. The pain I felt is indescribable and all I kept thinking was this cannot be true, I have two babies who need a mom, I am too young to have breast cancer, I wasn’t even old enough for a mammogram! I think I literally cried for a week. It was during that time though I got the best advice I was given from my mom who told me “Bridget, however you handle this, is how your boys will handle it.” That was all I needed to hear to know I was going to stop crying, stay positive, live my life and not let this get me down. I was going to show our boys that it was going to be ok.
Within 24 hours of being told I had cancer, I had CT scans, bone scans, MRI’s, core biopsies and within 5 days I had a port in and started chemo. I was treated aggressively with chemo for 6 months, then had a bilateral mastectomy, followed by radiation therapy then reconstruction. Those 18 months were some of the hardest of my life, I don’t have the words to describe it but the one thing that always comes to mind is a rollercoaster. With cancer there are the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
Through it all I had an army of support behind me. I always say as long as it doesn’t come back I am thankful for all that I went through because it truly changed my life for the better.
The Race for the Cure was a few months after my diagnosis and I was in the midst of chemo treatments so my family created a team for the race and my brother in law named it Bridget’s Brigade because I frequently mentioned the army of support we had behind us. My brigade walked for me that year and while I went to the race, which was my first race ever, I sat on a street corner sick, too weak to walk or even stay for the whole race, no hair, my husband pushing our babies in a double stroller beside me, I was in complete awe of all of the survivors passing by.
The theme of this years race is WHAT GIVES ME STRENGTH….in that moment that sea of pink gave me strength. When I signed up for the race I didn’t want to check survivor box because I didn’t know at that moment if I would survive, I don’t even think I wore that shirt that day because I hadn’t felt like I earned it yet. I remember a lady at the race telling me, “Honey if you have lived with cancer for one minute you are a survivor, wear that pink shirt proudly, you my friend are a survivor!!!” At that moment, I knew I would be there every year after proudly wearing pink to hopefully inspire others in the same boat I was in that day.
The next year when I was able to walk in the race even though I was still getting treatment, I met a woman who was also HER2+ at the survivors tent check in. I was so excited and told her I have never met another HER2+ survivor! She told me because there were not many, before HERCEPTIN many people who were HER2+ did not make it and Herceptin was still very new at that time. That literally gave me goosebumps all over! While I was so excited to meet her, I couldn’t get that out of my head that had this happened to me a few years or even months earlier there would not have been a drug that was targeted for my type of cancer. In that moment I knew that once I beat this, I had to pay it forward to help others who may not have a targeted drug for their type of cancer.
It was this that drove us to create our non-profit Bridget’s Brigade. Bridget’s Brigade is a charity that helps local women battling cancer with wigs, lawn service, cleaning service and gift cards for meals. We also always give a portion of the money we raise to breast cancer research to help find targeted treatment for the different forms of breast cancer that do not yet have them. Had people before us not raised money to fund Herceptin I would not be here speaking to you right now and that is what drives me to do what we do. We have a derby party each year at Chandler Hill Vineyards called the Komentucky Derby, which was actually yesterday and this year we raised about $90,000. While I can’t wait until we no longer need to have events like this because a cure is found, until that day, I will continue to do all I can to raise money to help find a cure and help other women battling this disease.
When I think about What Gives Me Strength today? The answer is so many things. My faith first and foremost gives me strength, my amazing husband and boys Jack and Andrew give me strength, my brigade of family and friends gives me strength, this room full of breast cancer survivors gives me strength. Helping others fighting this awful disease gives me strength, strength to find a cure, and strength to work together to do all we can to end breast cancer forever!
Thank You. It is a privilege to be here with you all today.
As Bridget mentioned, Komen is running a campaign about what gives survivors and co-survivors strength. It’s a compelling campaign that features real-life profiles. There are many responses to the question of what gives people strength, like sisterhood, determination, giving back, a spouse, family and friendship.
I think it’s also a successful campaign because we can all relate to their stories, as survivors, caretakers, and friends and family. We can relate to their struggles, but more importantly, to their perseverance, spirit and perspective.
So what I thought I’d do is to talk about is what’s given us strength since 2007, when Bridget was diagnosed with breast cancer…in the hope that somehow you can relate.
When I thought about all of the answers of what it is that gives us strength, I was able to crystallize everything into three core concepts: FAITH, HOPE & LOVE. Theses are not unique concepts, of course, but they have the power to do more than simply strengthen us. They have the power to transform us, and for us to transform the world.
Faith for us has been our foundation, the rock on which our life stands. Dr. Martin Luther King described faith as “taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
In 2007, we had a big staircase called Breast Cancer. It was so dark we couldn’t even see if the stairs were going up or down.
We’d never felt so scared or helpless. We wondered what we would tell our boys, who were only 1 and 3 at the time. How would we cope? How would they cope? What was our future? The questions were everywhere, but answers were nowhere.
We needed inspiration. We needed comfort. We needed guidance.
About a week after Bridget’s diagnosis, we finally got an answer.
I was leaving work one day, and I had a migraine because I hadn’t slept well for six nights. I just wanted to get home. A man whose name I didn’t even know at the time stopped me. I later learned his name was Isaac. He worked where I did at St. Louis U. High. Isaac said he knew my family’s pain, and that he had had cancer. For ten minutes Isaac gave me the most important pep talk of my life. He was intense and impassioned as he spoke. His message was quite simple: Forget about the cancer (leave that up to the doctors), and turn to God. He said to have faith, and believe!
It was a turning point not only in Bridget’s illness, but in our lives. Our faith used to be at the top of some hierarchical pyramid, but it became the center…the hub from which every spoke of our life emanated. I remember getting home from work that day and sobbing on the couch with Bridget.
Finally, we both felt relief, like our spirits had lifted and awakened. Our attitude transformed because we now had direction and hope…and cancer would not stand in our way.
With renewed faith, I came to view Bridget’s cancer as more of an inconvenience than a monster. In fact, I knew one day we would feel blessed by what I described on her CaringBridge site as a ‘momentary inconvenience.’ My only regret was that I was not the one with cancer.
I still get emotional when I think about what Isaac did for me—and US—that day after work. He not only picked me up when I was down, he reminded US about the power to believe–that fuel that ignites everything good in the world; the catalyst for change; the roadmap that defines our mission in life.
Isaac, thank you for inspiring us to have the faith to take that first step up the staircase. We’re still climbing! And thank you for showing us all that we can make a big impact on people who we know very little, or not at all.
HOPE also gives us strength.
John Lennon, in my favorite Beatles song, sang ‘I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends.’
When I think about those lyrics, I think about hope. If we derive our faith from our God, we get hope from one another—and quite often, that hope comes in the form of help. We were very fortunate throughout Bridget’s breast cancer, because we had a lot of help.
One of the first days after Bridget’s diagnosis, we came home from the hospital and I heard a noise outside in our front yard. I went to the window and saw our next-door neighbor cutting our grass. I knew he was not fond of yard work, so I went outside and told him it was not necessary…but he insisted. And he cut our whole lawn. (I wish he still cut our lawn, but that was a one-time deal!)
We were overwhelmed by the generosity and outreach from our family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. They arranged for meals, cleaning service, lawn service…and they provided gift cards and even financial assistance to help with medical bills. Their help allowed us to focus our energy on Bridget and getting her well. In doing so, they provided hope.
Susan G. Komen also provided us hope. After Bridget’s diagnosis, she didn’t know who to turn to. Komen provided a support network so she could get some answers, but more importantly, talk with other survivors who could relate with her and provide some level of comfort.
But Komen’s help—and hope—continue for us all to this day. Komen continues to give us all strength as the world’s largest nonprofit source of funding for the fight against breast cancer. To date, it has invested more than $2.5 billion in groundbreaking research, community health outreach, advocacy and programs in more than 30 countries.
If this doesn’t give us hope, I’m not sure what will!
Finally, LOVE gives us strength.
Bridget, who’s a librarian in the Rockwood School District, told me about a student at her school who was crying one day last year. She was a young girl in middle school and said that her mom had cancer and was going through chemotherapy. She was especially sad that her mom would not leave the house because she felt ashamed and embarrassed that she had no hair—yet she could not afford a wig.
That night, Bridget arranged to have a wig paid for for the girl’s mom through our charity, Bridget’s Brigade, so she could go to the shop and pick it out. I can only imagine the look on the girl’s face when Bridget told her this the following day.
My wife continues to show me what Love is day-in and day-out through her selfless actions. I’m most proud of the example she sets for our two boys.
Bridget has never sought recognition for our charity. Bridget’s Brigade has helped dozens of local families struggling with cancer, yet Bridget prefers to remain anonymous when helping these families. She doesn’t need thanks or pay-back; though I know her only wish is for others to pay it forward.
You’d never know it if you based your perception of reality on news headlines, but there IS more love in this world than one might imagine. And if we didn’t realize this before Bridget’s diagnosis, we now know it firsthand.
I wrote a book (although it took seven years to finish!) and shed many tears in the process for one simple reason: to share and hopefully spread the love we experienced. The cancer-related books I’d previously read and heard about were cynical and negative. It seemed a positive, life-affirming message from the perspective of a caretaker was not only nonexistent, but deeply needed.
If my book conveys half of how our experience has impacted us, I’ll consider it a remarkable success. In one of the chapters, when it seemed the walls were caving in around us, I had a moment of clarity and epiphany…and I wrote:
I’ve learned that life is a mystery—magnanimous, electrifying and terrifying all in one—but the greatest comfort of all is that we get to share this mystery, this wondrous journey, together. We are all in it together, thank God.
I wrote that not because misery loves company, but because of the possibility and potential that exists when we endure hardship together. The bond of our togetherness is like a wound that heals stronger than the original, unblemished skin.
When I envision a brigade, I see a formidable force united in a common, collective goal. Our tagline for Bridget’s Brigade is ‘Together We Will.’ When do we experience love? When we’re together, of course, and with love, anything is possible—including an end to breast cancer.
Faith, Hope and Love: they are what give us strength.
So where do we go from here? What does one do when one is blessed abundantly with Faith, Hope and Love?
One of our responses is Gratitude. After Bridget’s diagnosis, she wrote the following saying on a small chalkboard in our kitchen. It’s still there today and encapsulates our own faith and philosophy. It reads:
In happy moments, praise God.
In difficult moments, seek God.
In quiet moments, worship God.
In painful moments, trust God.
Every moment, thank God.
I thank God everyday for the gift of life, for the gift of Bridget and our two boys, and for all those who have helped us on our journey.
And as we continue on our journey—and strive to be women and men for others, people of boundless compassion with an undaunted will—we know only one thing is for certain: that our future is UNcertain. We don’t know how many days we have, but we do know that we can make each one count. Ultimately, our journey is not about winning or losing a battle with a disease. It’s about Living.
To have faith and to hope, is to love.
And to love, is to live.
If we love completely, we live fully.
So let’s do it! Together, we WILL.