PUBLISHED: 9:12 AM on Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Friends' help crucial when facing breast cancer

  Judy Halone
The Beatles were right-on when they sang about getting by with a little help from their friends.

And for Mary and Jeanne - both breast cancer survivors - it's a song they'll never stop singing.

Mary and Jeanne have never met, but like thousands of other women, they've grabbed life by the collar and looked it straight in the eyes - with a little help from their friends.

Mary received her diagnosis seven months ago.

She underwent 16 rounds of chemo. Radiation and reconstructive surgery are set for the near future. Jeanne's 14-month-old diagnosis brought along eight rounds of chemo and 34 radiation treatments.

For both women, their greatest medicine consisted of something insurance can't buy: a little help from their friends.

"People just came out of the woodwork to help," they both said.

"It's all the little things they did," explains Mary, a dedicated wife and mother of two teen daughters. "My house looked like a floral and greeting card shop." A close friend arranged weekly meal delivery throughout the ordeal.

Like Mary, Jeanne discovered the depths of friendship along her journey of survival.

"There were so many people in my life that helped me," she graciously recalled, referring to home-cooked meals and transportation to and from appointments. But that's not all.

During one particularly exhausting week, the combination of treatments, holding down her job, and daily visits with her husband -who resides in a nursing home - nearly overwhelmed her.

Then Jeanne arrived home one evening to a manicured lawn and freshly-planted flowers below her windows.

On the night of her last chemo, those who nurtured her lawn nurtured her body and soul as well with a celebration dinner - a lotta' help from her friends.

I know what it's like to be on the receiving end, too. I watched Dad's buddies brave the elements, untangle Christmas lights, and hang them high for him to see upon his return from the hospital. That evening Mom and Dad's home twinkled with the gleam of love-in-action; so did Dad's eyes. We got by with a little help from our friends.

For those who face cancer, Jeanne and Mary want you to know you're not alone.

"I wouldn't want any woman out there to put off getting help just because they're afraid.

There are so many excellent treatments available now that weren't available even a few years ago," said Jeanne.

"And people really want to help," added Mary.

"Facing cancer has shown that I can't take life for granted. I want to share my faith with more of my neighbors and live life to its fullest. I don't want to procrastinate," Jeanne remarked.

Cancer changed Mary's lifestyle, too.

"Before my diagnosis, my life was always rush, rush, rush.

I'd take the girls to gymnastics classes and center my days around them.

But it's important to take a step back and keep a moment for ourselves - and to not take life for granted," Mary said.

Taking a step back can also mean knowing how to understand others. "Sometimes there are people who, I think, are just unsure about how to react to the diagnosis.

That's when I really pray for God to help them. They might have a problem with it and don't know what to say. I really want to encourage women to not take it personal if that happens to them. You just can't be bitter."

Both Mary and Jeanne carry a gracious form of tenacity in their lives.

"I want to live to be 95 or 100," Jeanne stated. The smile I heard in her voice told me she'll probably reach her goal.

"I love my girls dearly," Mary tenderly commented.

"I'll make sure they get mammograms at an early age. And now I feel so brave, I want to start speaking to women about breast cancer."

With positive attitudes like that, something tells me the Mary's and Jeanne's of this world will be humming along with the Beatles for a long time to come.

"People are just so beautiful," they both added.

And so are you, Mary and Jeanne.

This week's column is written in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To encourage Jeanne or Mary, or for more information about Mary's speaking, contact me at:

Judy Halone is a member of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.