Women may have been labeled the fairer sex in previous centuries, but today’s females show their true strength by using their experiences with cancer to help others. Whether they are survivors themselves or have supported others through illness, these local ladies refuse to roll over. Instead, they reach out to others to share what they’ve learned.
When Tracie Metzger was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30, she had difficulty finding support that was specific to her needs as a newly married, young mother. Metzger found two local women with similar situations, and they quickly became her “soul sisters.” The trio got together frequently, sometimes talking about their cancer and sometimes just hanging out and being themselves. Through this support, each made it through her treatments without feeling alone. Soon, they were asking themselves, “How can we help others like us?”
To do just this, Metzger co-founded Pink Ribbon Girls with Dawn Harvey, making it their number one goal to connect young survivors. “First,” Metzger says of her diagnosis, “you can’t imagine that you’ve heard those words at such a young age.” To help younger women begin making sense of the things to come, Pink Ribbon Girls developed a Web site full of information and a nationwide, searchable database of breast cancer survivors.
The group also promotes education and awareness for young women. “We’re surviving when catching it early,” Metzger says. In addition, Pink Ribbon Girls helps breast cancer patients and their families by raising funds to provide food, housecleaning services and flowers that are sent to the hospital while the women go through treatment.
Eight years after her diagnosis, Metzger believes her experience with breast cancer has made her a stronger person, given her a stronger marriage, and made her a better mom to her four children — two of which were born after her cancer treatments. She finds comfort in thinking that her cancer was God’s plan for leading her to her true calling — bringing women together through Pink Ribbon Girls. She’s learned that by helping others, it helps ease the burden of dealing with her own health challenges.
National studies confirm that cancer patients and survivors who attend support groups or reach out to others benefit emotionally and physically. In fact,88 percent feel less alone and 82 percent gain hope, according to a survey by The Wellness Center. In addition, 75 percent experience a strengthened will to live, and 72 percent believe the support helped their relationships with their loved ones.
Karen Sacksteder is another woman who knows the importance of supporting others. She put wig to head, then pen to paper in order to help women face one of the most unfeminine side effects of chemotherapy — losing one’s hair. Sacksteder was referred to a wig boutique by her oncologist, and there she met Vivian, the hairpiece that helped Sacksteder get on with her life and inspired many adventures.
Sacksteder wrote about her experiences in “Vivacious Vivian: The Wig that Helped a Girl through Breast Cancer.” Currently available online, Sacksteder hopes to get the book into doctors’ offices and other locations where women in the beginning stages of cancer treatment can find it.
“I really want to help people with this book,” says Sacksteder, who was recently asked to join the local board of the American Cancer Society. She hopes her tale will not only inspire laughter, which will in turn bring some small happiness to her readers, but will also encourage women to step outside their boundaries and learn to accept the changes that inevitably result from challenges such as breast cancer. Sacksteder strives to create a “new” happy for herself, post-cancer, and a large part of that comes from helping other women.
Marianne Breneman did everything she could to support one of her closest friends, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at a young age. When she realized how little awareness there was about this silent disease, Breneman decided the best way to make an impact — for her friend as well as for all women with ovarian cancer — was to get involved with fundraising and education.
“I felt helpless to really help her, but getting involved really helped me deal with her illness and made me feel like I was doing something,” Breneman says.
Breneman serves on committees for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and the local University of Cincinnati Ovarian Cancer Research Team, and she contributes her talent as a professional clarinetist for benefits like the Whisper of Jazz events. Breneman also uses her athletic skills to raise money while participating in triathlons, marathons and other races.
Like Metzger and Sacksteder, Breneman finds motivation to keep helping others because she continually is inspired by her fellow female warriors. Breneman is amazed by the women with disabilities or diseases who are at the runs and walks, who are out there living with their challenges instead of suffering from them. Sacksteder is spurred on by young women with breast cancer who don’t take it lying down but continue to be strong and pursue their life goals. Metzger admires women who empower themselves and embrace what makes them who they are.
Women like Metzger, Sacksteder and Breneman inspire the rest of us to take action when we face whatever challenges life brings to each of us. Their examples demonstrate that small steps can combine into incredible journeys, and they prove that strong women who work together can accomplish great things.
Makeup Artistry: Jocelyn Sparks, Zoë Custom Cosmetics