What do you do after you have survived and recovered from breast cancer?
The answer to that question for Myrtle Mitchell, a survivor from Wakefield, is to help other people with their healing.
Mitchell, a retired nurse who went through a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation after her diagnosis in 2010, is a volunteer at Montefiore’s Bronx Oncology Living Daily’s Buddy Program.
There she provides companionship and encouragement for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients at the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care.
Additionally, she is a part of BOLD’s Screening Buddy Program, a Susan G. Komen foundation-funded initiative that reaches out to women and attempts to recall them for diagnostic mammograms if they have not followed up for care or may be hesitant to keep appointments.
According to Montefiore, after reaching out to hundreds of women as part of BOLD Screening Buddy, she is responsible for 67% of the people she contacts scheduling and keeping follow up appointments.
She credits strong support form her church community, as well as family and friends, in her recovery from her ordeal.
“My faith and my faithful community was a significant part of my support,” said Mitchell. “There were people praying for me, supporting me and if anyone can get that kind of support, I think it is a big help.”
Realizing that others needed encouragement was one of the motivating factors for her volunteering at BOLD.
“If my journey could give someone else hope and encouragement, it would be good,” said Mitchell, adding of the BOLD Buddy Program: “Just in case there is someone who doesn’t have (family), BOLD connects people who can in essence become their family.”
Mitchell said knowing that there are people around who are supportive can be an essential piece of breast cancer patients’ healing and recovery.
Her own breast cancer journey began in 2010 when she felt a lump in one of her breasts, and Mitchell stresses the importance of breast self-exams for women.
“I had already had my mammogram six months before and I wasn’t planning on having another mammogram for a year,” she said, recalling her own self-exam.
At the time of her diagnosis in April 2010, Mitchell said that she experienced a range of emotions that ran the gamut, including peril, fear and sadness.
The cancer had spread to 14 lymph nodes near her breast that were removed during a lumpectomy. This was followed by chemotherapy and then radiation, ending in February 2011.
“The hardest part was total exhaustion from chemotherapy,” said Mitchell, who returned to her work as a pediatric nurse manager at Montefiore’s Family Care Center at its Moses campus in March 2011.
One of the things that she takes away from the experience is that life continues after a breast cancer diagnosis and it can be an opportunity to help others in a meaningful way.
“It is not the end of the world once you get this diagnosis,” she said. “Your life will continue.”
Right now, Mitchell is cancer free, with her latest MRI and mammogram totally clean.