Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation, produces the podcast series Your Stories: Conquering Cancer to showcase unscripted conversations between patients, doctors, and the family and friends who conquer cancer with them.
In the episode “An Open Book,” Brenda Brody speaks with Mark Lewis, MD, about the highs and lows she experienced while living with breast cancer. Brenda revisits tough memories, like the moment she learned she had cancer and the emotional lows of navigating treatment. She also shares how a support community can be helpful to people with cancer and the advice she gives to those who have just been diagnosed.
A scary call
“I’ll never forget it,” Brenda recalls of the moment she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was 3 p.m. on Halloween in 2012. Brenda was preparing to take her daughter trick-or-treating when her doctor called with the devastating news.
“My colorful life turned grey, and everything moved in slow motion,” says Brenda. “I had to take my daughter trick-or-treating and pretend nothing was wrong.”
Cultivating a care community
Before her diagnosis, Brenda had lost her dad and best friend to cancer. She couldn’t believe it was happening to her. Although Brenda’s prognosis was promising, she still felt isolated and anxious. She managed these feelings by maximizing her control over the choices she could make about care teams and treatment plans.
It wasn’t until Brenda’s oncologist encouraged her to form a support network that she learned to let go and embrace help from loved ones. “[My doctor] quickly told me that, you know, it was time for me to stop Googling and to start trusting,” says Brenda.
Brenda leveraged her natural outgoing nature to form a community of caregivers she could trust for support. “I basically gave my sisters and my friends carte blanche, and they put together a spreadsheet, and we really ran my cancer almost as I run my business,” says Brenda. “Thank God for a bunch of driven women.”
From blogger to mentor
As Brenda continued treatment, she launched a blog to document her experiences. This gave Brenda a therapeutic way of expressing her thoughts and emotions when she felt too sick or overwhelmed to spend time with friends and family. Blogging was Brenda’s gateway into a pivotal role she would play after surviving breast cancer: a mentor to other people with cancer.
“I want to continue to tell my story because I’m finding that I’m able to help people,” says Brenda. “And to me, that matters.”
Reaching out for help
Brenda has been cancer-free for 8 years. When she mentors people who have been newly diagnosed with cancer, she shares the lessons she has learned along the way about asking for help. Between getting treatment for mental health, enduring the side effects of lymphedema, and managing the costs of care, Brenda wants people to know that relying on others for help is essential during and after cancer.
“There are things that if I wasn’t trying to be so independent, now that I look back, I would have done differently to get more support for me and for my daughter,” says Brenda.