Thirty-six years ago, the Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline & Support Program began its work to help women and their families cope with the psychological aspects of a diagnosis of breast cancer. As a project of the Adelphi School of Social Work, it was clear that the staff would be comprised of social workers and social work interns. But what also became clear early on was the value of having breast cancer survivors help each other. Women in support groups discovered the value of sharing experiences and information and comforting each other. This grew into the breast cancer hotline—an 800 number where callers can reach a trained volunteer, a woman who has “been there.” What a comfort when you are newly diagnosed to talk to someone who has survived what you are going through and is now helping others.
Narges Rothermel, a 38-year survivor from Levittown, said facing and fighting breast cancer helped her know herself better.
“Breast cancer invaded my body and my soul, crushed my ego, my self-image, and my confidence,” she said. “It made me find the hidden strength and the fighter spirit within me.”
She said loving her children—her daughter was 4 and her son was 3—made the pain, surgery and side effects of chemo easier to tolerate. The cancer also helped her see the value of family, love and friendship. She also found a new purpose in life by joining the Adelphi University Breast Cancer program, which she called “the most unexpected and interesting gift of breast cancer.”
“I found the support uplifting and feeling that I am not alone. I could talk about my feelings without being judged,” Rothermel said. “And I found another positive result of being part of a support group—I loved and needed to help the others who were dealing with breast cancer.”
Diane Greene, an 18-year survivor from Plainview, said being diagnosed at age 38 came as no surprise.
“My mom and all three of her siblings battled the disease before me, and my family is BRCA positive, meaning we are at increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer,” Greene said. “Unlike my ancestors, however, I had a fighting chance of survival given the advances in medicine since their diagnoses in the 1970s. After aggressive surgeries and chemotherapy, I am happy to report that I am still cancer-free 18 years later!”
She said having the support of her amazing husband and loving family made her journey back to health easier, and because of that, she wanted to give back to others.
“I teamed up with the Adelphi Program where I have been a volunteer for 15 years,” she said. “There, I have had the opportunity to speak with women who are just beginning their breast cancer journey. Whether referring someone to a hospital, explaining a particular procedure, or just being a shoulder to cry on, I try to give at least a glimmer of hope to someone who is terrified. And surprisingly, I get back from them even more than I give.”
“Given the choice, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to be stricken with breast cancer, but I truly believe I am a far better person than I would have been otherwise,” Greene continued. “I live my life to the fullest and try to surround myself with positive and loving people. My life is full and happy and my blessings are abundant. Who would ever believe that it was all because of my breast cancer?”
Roslyn Heights’ Reva Rothenberg is a 13-year survivor and said she had always been an active volunteer so getting involved with the Adelphi Breast Cancer Hotline was a natural extension of that.
“It is helping people at their most vulnerable and at their greatest need. Sometimes people call the hotline at a particularly difficult time—with heightened anxiety, waiting for test results, worried about a special event in their lives and wondering if they will be there and if they will be well enough to enjoy it,” Rothenberg said. “Sometimes they just need to talk and be heard and feel they can’t keep talking and crying to their friends and relatives but find such comfort in talking to a fellow survivor.”
Rothenberg said she is grateful to be a survivor, and to be able to help others, sometimes with just a casual conversation.
“Speaking to someone in need and knowing that I helped someone move on with their day or with their life is very rewarding,” she said. “But as much as I may have helped someone, it is personally gratifying. What better use of our time and resources is there than helping someone else?”
Garden City’s Maria Bicocchi is a 10-year survivor of Stage 3 breast cancer. She said that upon receiving her diagnosis she decided she would be a “victor, not a victim.” She now no longer takes her health for granted, and gets her medical tests on time and keeps her doctors appointments.
“I make a conscious effort to share my time, talent and treasure,” Bicocchi said. “I especially enjoy speaking with breast cancer patients when I volunteer on the Adelphi Breast Cancer Hotline. I want to offer hope to others.”
Although I am fortunate enough not to have had breast cancer, working with these women for over three decades has shown me that breast cancer is not a death sentence and there can be a good life even with breast cancer. Nobody wants breast cancer but even from something as bad as this disease there comes some good. There are 100 volunteers who can lend a listening ear. Call 800-877-8000.