Lori and Kelley received their breast cancer diagnoses separately, but they fought the disease together — as newfound best friends.
A mutual friend introduced them at the soccer field one weekend shortly after they had each been diagnosed. Two days later, they went in together for lumpectomies and comforted each other in the recovery area.
“There’s an amazing bond between you and the people who are going through something like that with you,” says Lori. “It’s a different kind of friendship, and I don’t know how I could have gotten through it all without Kelley.”
Their friendship strengthened during the weeks of treatment they spent at the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre in St. John’s. The two friends completed four rounds of chemotherapy together, sitting side-by-side surrounded by their family and friends.
“The chemotherapy unit was a place where you could take off your wig or your hat and know that no one was judging you or whispering about you,” recalls Kelley. “No one was pitying us or saying ‘Oh, look at that poor girl.’ It felt very comfortable.”
Lori says being able to complete the treatments with Kelley made everything “so much easier.”
“The days passed in the blink of an eye. We’d be there 6-8 hours some days, but it was always enjoyable to sit there and talk together,” says Lori.
She says it was “a different kind of support system” because she and Kelley both have young children, so they shared the same struggles and worries. They often couldn’t talk about their cancer at home, because showing too much emotion — or discussing difficult details — would scare their children, so their private conversations were much-needed therapy.
“I’d always thought chemotherapy was something scary that would make you very sick, but this experience really opened my eyes to a world that I didn’t know,” says Lori.
“I’d had the misconception that a cancer diagnosis meant a long, drawn-out sickness and then death,” adds Kelley. “I didn’t know you could go and have your treatment and then go on with your life.”
They shared chats and late-night texts — sometimes funny, sometimes emotional — about what was happening to their bodies and how things had changed. They also commiserated over the awkward and insensitive comments people would say to them both, like “Oh, I would just get my breasts removed — no biggie!” or “My aunt had breast cancer and she died from it.”
Kelley’s breast cancer was HER2-positive — an aggressive form that required 54 weeks of treatment in the chemotherapy unit at the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre.
Although she describes getting to ring the Bell of Hope at the end of her chemotherapy treatment as “the best feeling in the world,” Kelley says she had mixed feelings knowing she wouldn’t be returning.
“After that year, I almost felt kind of sad I wasn’t going back,” says Kelley. “I’d gotten to know the nurses so well, and it was such a comforting place.”
Lori says that while the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre’s current chemotherapy unit is “lovely,” there’s always a need for new and improved equipment and compassionate care.
“When you think about the fact that one in two Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will be diagnosed with cancer in her lifetime, it’s essential that there’s good cancer care here,” says Lori.
“You never know if it will happen to you or your parent or your sister or your friend, so anytime we can rally around making changes that will be positive to patient outcomes, we’re going to do it.”
These days, the two friends say they don’t talk about cancer nearly as much. Their children are similar ages and they’re both busy, but Kelley says they always make time to get together and catch up.
“We do a lot of laughing.”
Please visit www.inthistogethernl.ca for more information on how you can support the In This Together campaign for a new chemotherapy unit at the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre.