By Janie Franz
For many, to struggle with breast cancer once is a story of courage but to beat that demon three times and help other women along the way is far more than just heroic, it is plainly profound. It is with humility that Courageous Woman Magazine presents Becky M. Olson, the co-founder with Sharon Henifin of Breast Friends, as our Courageous Woman of the Month.
Becky was an active sales rep for a large national company, a real go-getter who was working her way up the corporate ladder, when she was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer in 1996. She was young…only 43. While she still worked, she battled her disease and came out the other side shaken but determined to help other women going through what she had been through. She co-founded Breast Friends, an organization that supports women with breast cancer and wrote the book, The Hat That Saved My Life, a humorous and inspirational look at surviving breast cancer.
When she was diagnosed again in 2004, she quit her stressful job and began offering support and education to women and their families who were dealing with this disease through inspirational talks. Even speaking when she was loosing her hair, she used humor to encourage people to follow their dreams and make their lives count. She also talked about how to really give support to breast cancer patients in ways they couldn’t refuse.
“Through our own personal experiences we found that people, friends and family just really don’t know how to support someone through this,” Becky says. People really want to help but usually when asked if the woman needs any help, she usually says, “I’m fine, but thank you.” She never asks for help. “We’re women,” Becky explains. “We don’t do that.”
And the friend or family member truly believes that the woman will call when she needs something. But she already does need something. “But we know she’s not OK,” Becky says. “So Sharon and I decided to do things in the world of breast cancer to support the patient by teaching the family the importance of support and how to offer it so it’s not refused and to surround that patient with a whole support team that will help her through that journey, and we do that by teaching the friends and the family.”
That program, HOPE (Helping Others Provide Empathy), is for newly diagnosed patients and those who are going to go through the journey with them. It discusses issues the patient will face and how others can provide support, often it’s just a matter of a different kind of dialogue. Instead of asking if you can bring over a pot roast, you ask would six o’clock be a good time to bring the pot roast. It changes the focus and becomes a different decision and one a woman can gracefully accept.
Another program, Thriving Beyond Cancer, is not only new but a very unique approach to support. “Their doctor releases the patient and says, ‘See you in six months.’ You would think she would be all happy. But she says, ‘Oh my gosh! Now what do I do? I just don’t feel the same.’ A lot of these women for the first time are starting to deal with the emotional impact of it all, and they feel lost. They feel stuck. The program helps women get unstuck and gives them the tools to get on with their life and to have a really fulfilled life after cancer,” Becky explains.
Breast Friends (http://www.breastfriends.org) provides groups support as in these two programs, but it also offers one-on-one support as well. The organization serves women and their families who are dealing with Breast Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, or other women’s cancers. Breast Friends launched its first affiliates in Mississippi and Florida in 2009 and have a strong presence in Oregon where the organization was founded. They hope to open a new affiliate in Pennsylvania soon.
In 2009, Becky faced the cancer dragon once more. Each time she battled, she learned something more. “I spend more time now, after cancer, thinking about my legacy, how I want to be remembered when I’m gone. I don’t mean that in a gruesome way,” she says. “When you start focusing on your own mortality issues, you start thinking about things like if I died tomorrow, would my employer really care or would he replace me in five minutes? He would replace me in five minutes. I started to think about what really does matter. I started thinking about my legacy. What’s important? What do you want people to remember about you? Are you living that life so people will remember those things about you?…Your values don’t change. What changes is your focus on them.”
And what did she learn? “If you can make a difference for one person today, you’ve done your job.” This last time was an eye-opener. “Each time I’ve been diagnosed, I’ve learned something new. Probably more so the third time than the second time. Each time cancer does strange things to my message. The third time gave me a much more powerful close because I had an opportunity to experience from the patient’s end something that I had been saying in my speeches that really wasn’t the right thing to say.” Because someone said the same thing to her, meaning to comfort her, she realized that the statement really wasn’t a comfort at all. She changed her wording and now has a much more compassionate message.
Breast cancer and ovarian cancer touch everyone’s lives in some way. Becky Olson shows us all what courage is and offers us tools to help our loved ones cope with these dreaded diseases. We applaud Becky M Olson for being Courageous Woman Magazine’s Courageous Woman of the Month!
Visit Becky Olson’s website
About the Author:
Janie Franz – Senior Editor, comes from a long line of liars and storytellers with roots deep in east Tennessee. Honed by the frigid Northern Plains and a degree in anthropology, she has written thousands of feature and cover articles over a vast range of topics for more than a hundred regional, national, and international publications.
She has five novels published with two different publishers, co-wrote two wedding how-two books with Texas wedding DJ, Bill Cox, and self-published a writing manual, Freelance Writing: It’s a Business, Stupid! She runs her own online music publication, Refrain Magazine (www.refrainmagazine.com), is a book and music reviewer, and was a radio announcer, a booking agent/publicist for a groove/funk band, and a yoga/relaxation instructor.
Her latest book, Sugar Magnolia, is a contemporary romance about the music and industry and can be found at Muse It Up Publishing.