We are honored to feature Helene Palmer as our first Pink Warrior on the night of the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Boston and the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Helene is a two time cancer survivor, advocate and an amazing woman and friend. Helene epitomizes advocacy with 21 years of volunteering for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, chairing the Bicycles Battling Cancer ride as well as chairing and volunteering for others.
Q: What is your current town and state?
A: Groton, MA
Q: Please tell us a little about your cancer story and journey.
A: Mum died of breast cancer at 55. I was being followed by a breast specialist since I turned 40. My second mammogram in June 2014 revealed stage one, non invasive and invasive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in the left breast. After two lumpectomies failed to reveal clear margins, I was advised I would need a mastectomy. The plastic surgeon suggested a double but I was waiting for the oncotype test and genetic tests to make the decision for me. It was taking so long I swear I heard mum’s voice saying “Just do it.” I chose the double and was glad I did, there was new DCIS on the right that hadn’t been there three months before. I avoided radiation and chemo and after three reconstructive surgeries I am enjoying being a Survivor. I also caught a malignant melanoma on my shoulder 7 years ago, Stage 0, re-excision but no treatment required since I caught it early, so I am a double Survivor!
Q: Tell us how you are involved in your community?
A: Chaired the Marlborough Relay for Life then went to work for the American Cancer Society for 3 years. Since then I sold Daffodils and fundraised, walked and volunteered for Making Strides Against Breast cancer (21 years!). Joined the Bicycles Battling Cancer (BBC) ride as a volunteer in 2012 and was diagnosed two days before the ride in 2014 when I was supposed to ride 100 miles in memory of 20 years since we had lost mum. 2017 will be my third year Chairing BBC.
Q: What are some of your favorite ways to spend down time?
A: Riding my bike, hanging in my hammock.
Q: Tell us about your family (spouse, kids, pets, etc)
A: My cat Lola was a great nurse through all the surgeries, you can’t feel stressed or worried listening to that purr. My family in England had met all my friends here so they weren’t worried about who would take care of me, my family of friends all stepped up and helped out with everything. I saw their personalities shine in the different ways they took care of me, it was amazing.
Q: What does Breast Cancer Awareness month mean to you? How do you celebrate? How do you act as an advocate?
A: Early detection saved my life, twice! So anything that brings awareness and education to the forefront is good for me. Now as a Survivor I do any publicity I can to help ACS. I am very open and shared a lot of my diagnosis and journey, and battle with depression and have needed therapy several years after treatment. It helps show that young women can be diagnosed and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.
Q: If you could offer one piece of advice for a newly diagnosed person, what would it be?
A: Make notes, bring someone with you to office visits, if only to have a shoulder to cry on. I tried to keep a stiff upper lip but should have talked about the emotional and physical impact it was all having on me. Go to support groups, even if you don’t feel like talking, just listen, you are not alone.