One of every three women and one of every two men will be stricken with some form of cancer during their lifetimes. Perhaps you know someone who has fought this dread disease. Perhaps you have. Ellen Ledoux has been fighting a courageous battle with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
It’s a journey that started soon after she was diagnosed—a journey whose direction changed for the better when someone cared, when someone understood, when someone sat with Ellen while she cried. That change in direction began the moment Ellen walked through the doors at Cancer House of Hope.
“I was just diagnosed and so frightened,” Ellen recalled. “I had no one I could talk to about it who could relate to my illness. People will tell you, ‘you’ll be ok,’ but you want to be with people who’ve been there. My sister works for CHD and she told me to go to the Cancer House of Hope. The moment I walked in I began to cry. Suddenly my cancer was all quite real. Maureen, one of many volunteers who run the house, greeted me. In between crying, I got out my story about how afraid, devastated and alone I felt. Maureen must have sat with me for an hour and a half. She told me things that made me feel so powerful, gave me knowledge that made things easier to understand, and shared ways to help ease the side effects of cancer. Her experience became my experience. I left that day feeling like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Maureen set me up so I was able to walk into my chemo and radiation treatments with confidence. Knowing what to expect helped me get through it.”
You likely know already that cancer is a terrible adversary. The treatments can have harsh side effects. That was the case with Ellen. “When I had radiation,” she said, “under my arm it turned black. One day looking at myself in the mirror, looking at the effects of the treatment, seeing the burns and the blisters on my body. I felt sick to my stomach. A volunteer from the Cancer House of Hope just happened to call me that same day and said, ‘We have an opening for you to come in for a massage, can you come today?’ I never had a full massage in my life. I couldn’t afford one and to be honest I didn’t think I really wanted one. But I felt so horrible about myself, and Debbie convinced me it would make me feel better. I went in.”
At the Cancer House of Hope, Ellen talked to Beth Brett. Beth is a licensed oncologist massage therapist who volunteers to give massages to cancer patients. She drives in all the way from her home in the Berkshires to donate her time and talent to people who just want to feel better. Beth has a big heart, and as Ellen put it, magic hands.
“Beth must have seen this picture before,” Ellen said. “She just massaged every aching part of my body. Between her hands and the relaxing music that she has playing while she works, it felt so comforting. I came in that day with pain in my joints and muscles, and when I left it wasn’t so bad. I felt so much better, thanks to Beth.”
In case you are wondering, things are going well for Ellen. “I’m great,” she said. “Literally just this week I had to say goodbye to my radiation oncologist. It’s been difficult, and I won’t ever try to make it sound any easier, but even when I was as sick as I have ever been, I was grateful that I was alive. I found that fighting cancer was doable and I attribute my ability to stay with the fight to CHD’s Cancer House of Hope and everything I learned. The people there helped me understand that the more you know, the less you’re afraid, and the less you’re afraid, the better you feel.”
Ask Ellen and she will tell you that everybody at the Cancer House of Hope cares. She’ll share how they welcome you, sit with you, comfort you while you cry, then get you educated and knowledgeable so you can go out and do what you have to do to beat cancer. She’ll tell you that it’s empowering and you’ll know by her sincerity that it’s true.
Ellen set a goal for herself, which was to go back to work at Yankee Candle, where she says she loves working. I am delighted to report that recently she has achieved that goal. “I’m just back to my job now,” she said, “but I know that I want to volunteer at Cancer House of Hope. There could be another person like me walking through that door. I belong to the breast cancer support group and had a wonderful experience with Debbie. She was there the day I decided to shave my head and she helped me for hours with the wig. I met the most wonderful people I’ve known in my whole life at Cancer House of Hope. Now there are people who are calling me to say, ‘My sister has breast cancer, would you talk to her?’ I tell them yes, call me any time of day or night, and I mean it. You need to talk to people with experience, you need to get the knowledge. People with cancer want to feel they’re going to get through it. I’m very passionate about Cancer House of Hope.”
I hope Ellen’s story, which I’ve shared with you in her own words, compels you to continue your support to CHD. It is through your gifts that we are able to continue the important work that starts the moment someone who’s received a life-changing diagnosis walks through the doors of Cancer House of Hope.