Thursday, August 25, 2005 was my first day at Breastcancer.org. My first 2 days of work were pretty uneventful… I unpacked my boxes in my new office, had a couple of introductory meetings, and started my first to-do list as Managing Editor. You know… typical first week stuff. I went home that weekend with the distinct feeling I had found that rewarding job I had so longed for. I really felt that I could make a difference and help people.
Monday, August 29, 2005 was by far my most memorable moment to date at Breastcancer.org. That morning, as I was easing into my third day at my new job, the nation experienced its most catastrophic natural disaster when Hurricane Katrina made landfall and swept over the Gulf Coast.
It became apparent very quickly that people with breast cancer who were affected by this catastrophe needed our help. Over the next few days, as the rest of the world watched the news helicopters capture the devastating images of men, women, and children stranded on the roofs of their houses, the phones at BCO were constantly ringing and discussion board posts started pouring in.
It felt a bit like running a triage unit as we were inundated with calls from patients asking for advice about how to manage their care after being displaced by the hurricane. I remember one woman with a lovely lilting Southern accent called and asked me, “Hon, any idea who I should call about my surgical drains? I had a mastectomy last week in Louisiana and have made it to Atlanta.”
There were so many calls like that. “Where can I continue my chemo treatments?”…“Can you recommend a radiation oncologist where I am now?”…“Has anyone heard from my doctor?”…“I don’t know where my medical records are…” The questions were endless. Some we could answer and many we couldn’t. But it was clear there was relief when people finally reached somebody who would listen and try to help them out.
We were also constantly receiving calls from physicians offering their services in states where people were relocating. It was absolutely amazing. A few women on our discussion boards even opened their homes to fellow discussion board members who had been displaced.
To be witness to this bravery and willingness to help others was life changing. When I would go home at night during that week and my husband would say, “How was your day?” I began to realize just how extraordinary this job opportunity was. Originally, I had thought that it would be a place where I could make a difference (and it certainly has been that!), but it is also a place where I get to watch from very close up how kind we can be to one another… such a gift.