SOME Employee Recognizes Nonprofit’s Care for Staff During Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis

The following blog post was written by Bettina Straight, SOME’s Chief Inclusion Officer.

On October 29, 2021, I noticed a lump on the side of my right breast, as well as an odd indentation that I had never seen before. My gut said, uh-oh, and my heart dropped out of fear. I’m a naturally optimistic soul, but some things you can’t smile your way out of, so on Monday the 1st I called my primary care physician and scheduled a diagnostic imaging appointment at my former place of employment, a hospital that is thankfully in my insurance network. What happened next can only be described as a whirlwind and that is both a blessing and a curse.

Former colleagues (who are amazing friends) helped me navigate the process, recommending great providers, ensuring that things were done in the right order, and providing emotional support along the way. My mammogram was on Friday, November 5th, my biopsies (breast and lymph node) on the 12th, SOME’s Annual Break the Cycle Gala and my wedding anniversary were on the 13th (I spoke on stage still bandaged in front of hundreds and appreciated the distraction), and I got my results on the 15th and 16th — positive for cancer and a positive lymph node, respectively.

Next came all … the … tests.

In just a few short weeks I had an EKG, a bone scan, 2 MRI’s and my port placement, all of which were on top of appointments with my new teams — surgical, oncology and, later, radiation. Life changing decisions had to be made without much time to research or contemplate because time was of the essence. I started chemotherapy on Thursday, December 9, just about one month after my initial mammogram. As I said, it was a whirlwind.

I am receiving what I call the full course meal of treatment. I had six rounds of chemotherapy from December to the end of March 2022, followed by a double mastectomy mid-May. Next came 28 sessions of radiation and then adjuvant chemotherapy which will continue every 3 weeks until March of 2023. Because I had a positive lymph node detected at my biopsy, my surgery included the removal of 13 nodes in all so that we could determine how far my cancer had spread. When you hear people say metastatic breast cancer, that means it has spread beyond the breast and is found in other areas of the body. sometimes bones, sometimes lungs, and in my case, the lymph nodes. Unfortunately, when my pathology came back after surgery, 3 of the 13 nodes removed were still positive. So, while chemo absolutely shrunk the tumor and originally presenting lymph node, it was not able to blast it completely away. This certainly wasn’t the news I was hoping for, but what I am learning is that medicine has advanced to the point of having a backup plan to every primary plan, so we changed medication protocols and moved onward.

In addition to receiving what I call a “chemo light” infusion every 3 weeks, I am also taking a daily aromatase inhibitor, Letrozole, that decreases the production of the hormones that feed my cancer and hopefully, helps prevent recurrence. It is not without its own potential side-effects but so far, I’m not noticing anything concerning. I’ll be taking this little yellow pill for 5 years though, so I’ll keep you posted! It’s amazing to say that I am in kind of a maintenance stage now, because there are certainly still days when I stop and go,

“WHOA!! When, what, why, how… whew.”

It’s a lot in less than a year. Some days I am tired for no discernable reason and some days I 100% feel like the pre-cancer Bettina. I’ve gone from taking a multi-vitamin a day to needing one of those uber-sexy 7 day pill sorters that immediately make you feel 97 years old but they help, so I cannot complain. I strike a balance between going to live music shows one weekend and binging back to back episodes of My Millionaire Dream Home on HGTV the next and I have no guilt about the latter any more. Cancer brings with it so many lessons, but I’ll share those in another post on another day.

I’m sharing this story on this blog because one thing I don’t think a lot of people speak about is the ability of an employer to make or break, help or hurt, the healing process of its employees. I have shared on LinkedIn and other platforms how vital the compassion and support of my team at SOME has been to my emotional health throughout this process because I do not think that impact can be overstated. What I didn’t mention earlier is that I started at SOME in the middle of September, 2021 and that my new health insurance kicked in THE DAY I called to schedule my mammogram, on the first day of the month after my first 30 days of employment. I had barely met my colleagues before I had to determine what to share, how to do it, and whether it was even advisable to do so.

My journey has illustrated what I believe can be a mutually beneficial blueprint for employees and employers to navigate one of the scariest situations imaginable: a sudden and unexpected critical illness diagnosis.

The positive dynamic I experienced has solidified my commitment to SOME, created incredible relationships with colleagues, and afforded me an opportunity to impact our culture by speaking out about the need for this level of support.

As an employee, I feel so fortunate and as a leader, I want to share with everyone I know how amazing this organization has been. I knew that our mission set us apart from other non-profits because I see the life changing work that is done here, and I can truthfully say that SOME has been life changing for me. If you are reading this post I know you feel how special SOME is as well, and I’m so glad you are a part of the work we do every day.