When 38 year-old Sarah Kettenbeil first felt the lump in her breast in December 2018, she knew something was wrong. Her suspicions were confirmed when she received the diagnosis of stage 2, grade 3 breast cancer. Months later, after a PET scan revealed a mass on her liver, the diagnosis was changed to stage 4, and that’s when Sarah felt as if she were wandering in a fog. “Stage 4 is scary,” she says, adding that less than two years earlier, she had lost her mother to lung cancer. As she stood crying outside the pharmacy window at the hospital, another patient gently told her, “You can live perfectly well with medication.” This chance encounter turned out to be a pivotal moment for Sarah, shifting her perspective and activating her fighting spirit.
On the very day her stage 4 diagnosis was officially confirmed, Sarah registered for Breast Friends, Hope & Cope’s unique support group for women living with metastatic breast cancer. Within minutes of attending her first meeting, she instantly felt something she had not felt in a long time – hope. “Seeing women who have been living with cancer for 20 years was so encouraging. It showed me that I could live a full life.” Determined to benefit from all that Hope & Cope offers, Sarah consulted with our Cancer Exercise and Rehabilitation Program, began working out in our gym and participated in a jewelry-making class.
And then, in March 2020, COVID-19 knocked everyone off balance, bringing lockdown, retreat, uncertainty and vulnerability. An outgoing person who thrived on social interaction, Sarah found herself working from home and dealing with the challenges of cancer in the context of a life-threatening pandemic. Living alone compounded her sense of isolation. Fortunately, she was able to turn to the Breast Friends Support Group, which increased the frequency of its meetings from monthly to weekly in order to meet an obvious need for ongoing support. “Hope & Cope has been such a critical source of connection as well as mental and emotional support, especially during the pandemic,” states Sarah.
Above all, according to Sarah, Breast Friends is safe space where she can be 100% true to herself, without fear of being judged or having to live up to society’s unrealistic expectations of how she should act and feel. “This is a place where you can be devastated and angry about the unfairness of cancer. You can talk through your emotions – negative and positive – knowing that you will be supported and understood.”