Support Connection is proud to introduce the Walk Ambassadors for our 2020 Support-A-Walk for Breast and Ovarian Cancer.
Walk Ambassadors are cancer survivors who share their personal stories to illustrate the spirit and purpose of this uplifting annual event.
Kendra Ekelund: Kendra was just 31 years old, married only 2 years, when she was diagnosed with a rare form of uterine cancer in 2012. Her diagnosis came after a long and frustrating period filled with pain that no one could explain, as well as multiple surgeries and hospitalizations, and numerous complications. When she finally had an answer, she had to undergo a complete hysterectomy: “Having a hysterectomy at 31 was a hard thing to come to grips with, but at the very least, it ended my painful symptoms.”
After the surgery, there was no other treatment available for the type of cancer Kendra had, so she found herself in a “watch and wait” situation, which inevitably leads to anxiety and fear. A close friend, a breast cancer survivor, told her about Support Connection and encouraged her to call, but Kendra was hesitant: “I didn’t want to take services away from others who I thought needed it more. I wasn’t used to asking for help for myself.”
One day, after an especially difficult night, Kendra decided to reach out: “I remember holding the phone for several minutes trying to decide what I would say. When I finally called and was connected to a counselor, I just blurted out ‘I have cancer.’ That’s all I had to say; Robin took it from there, answered all my questions, and encouraged me to take advantage of the different services Support Connection offered.”
Kendra says joining one of Support Connection’s monthly support groups was the best thing she did for herself. Initially she was reluctant and worried about sharing her story, especially because no one else had the same rare type of cancer she had. But she quickly felt at ease and reassured by listening to other women who had coped with similar challenges. She always felt validated and supported.
Kendra participated in her first Support-A-Walk in 2014, walking with friends and wearing handmade ribbons. She says “I get a real feeling of support and inspiration from the Walk.” That’s why she’s proud to be a Walk Ambassador this year: “The Walk is important because it makes it possible for Support Connection to continue its work.”
Kendra also hopes her story will encourage other women dealing with gynecological cancers to reach out for help: “Support Connection is uniquely positioned to provide direct support to those who need it. I hope other women hearing my story will know they should not hesitate to call.”
Kathleen Michel: Kathleen was not surprised in late 2012 when she had to go for further testing after her annual mammogram. It had happened before and was never an issue. But this time, she got the news she hoped she’d never get: she had breast cancer. “I couldn’t believe it. It was devastating.” The next few weeks were filled with tests and appointments, and in January 2013 Kathleen underwent 2 lumpectomies, two weeks apart. She says: “I thought that was it, that the worst was over.”
However when Kathleen’s pathology report came back at the end of January, there was more bad news: the lumpectomies could not get all the cancer cells, so she’d need more surgery. Kathleen says: “I never expected to hear that when I went for my follow up. It was overwhelming. We were in shock.”
Kathleen was scheduled for a bilateral mastectomy on February 28. She had learned about Support Connection the day after she was diagnosed, from her daughter’s friend, a longtime volunteer for the organization. But she never picked up the phone until the day before her mastectomies: “My daughter called to check on me. I hadn’t slept, and she said to me, now’s the time to make that call.”
Kathleen remembers that saying “I have breast cancer” on that call was one of the hardest things she’d ever done. But she also remembers that Marlene spoke to her for more than an hour, and that her calming words gave Kathleen the confidence she needed to walk into her surgery the next day: “She told me what to expect and made me feel I could do it.” Kathleen continued to rely on Marlene throughout her treatment. To this day, almost 8 years later, Kathleen still calls Marlene each year on the anniversary of that first call.
Kathleen finally met Marlene in person a few weeks before attending her first Support-A-Walk in 2014. It was a memorable experience, as was that first Walk: “It meant so much to know that everyone there was by my side. It was so emotional.” Kathleen has attended the Walk almost every year since then, and has raised funds by asking people to donate.
When asked to be a Walk Ambassador this year, Kathleen didn’t hesitate and is eager to share her message with as many people as possible: “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Support Connection. It is a great organization that helps so many women and families.”