In 1999, Arleen Boyes was living a quiet life as a pre-school teacher in Philadelphia until her husband noticed that one of her breasts looked abnormal. Arleen quickly scheduled a mammogram, which confirmed her worst fears. At the age of 40, Arleen was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. She immediately felt alone; as though there was no one who understood her feelings and was overwhelmed with her treatment options.
“There just weren’t as many pink ribbons back then. I was young and didn’t know about any resources or, really, of anyone who had been through this before.”
Arleen and her doctor opted for treatment using a combination of chemo and oral therapies and, although her health was improving, she reflects that she wishes she could have connected with someone throughout the experience, instead of feeling alone and isolated.
“I would have liked for them to refer me to a buddy system but I was never referred anywhere. It would have been nice to connect with someone who had been through this before. I needed someone to talk to but I had no one who had been through this before. I felt as though I was finding everything out on my own.”
With time, Arleen began to regain a sense of normalcy as a cancer survivor. But then, in 2007, her doctor noticed alarming numbers in her blood work during a routine check up. She soon learned she had developed stage 4 breast cancer in both her breasts that had metastasized to her bones. Arleen opted for the same treatment plan used during her previous diagnosis, and quickly began therapy.
“Developing cancer in my other breast was overwhelming. I would have considered having both breasts removed after my initial diagnosis, but no one suggested this to me. I wish they had. I feel as though I could have prevented the recurrence if I had both breasts removed.”
Following her recurrence, Arleen discovered Gilda’s Club Delaware Valley
, an affiliate of the Cancer Support Community. She noticed an ad in the local newspaper seeking volunteers and suggested her son conduct his Eagle Scout project at the center. Arleen, a skeptic of the program at first, decided to give it a try and join. She began attending support groups, exercise classes, quilting groups and her son enjoyed Noogie Land, a support program for children and teens of cancer patients.
“I found such a wonderful connection there and met some incredible people. It’s truly support - the people there, they ‘get it.’ They understand your fears and struggles. I’ve met other women who have experienced reccurrence and don’t feel alone anymore.”
Today, Arleen is a proud 4 year survivor but lives with the constant fear of reccurrence. She regularly volunteers at Gilda’s Club Delaware Valley and still attends support groups and her weekly quilting group. Recently, she became involved with The Breast Cancer M.A.P. (Mind Affects the Physical) Project, where she joined a registry of breast cancer survivors online. “Whatever I can do to help - I can only benefit someone else by sharing my story.”
For more information or to join the movement, visit www.breastcancerregistry.org