From Patient to Advocate: Helping Other Young Survivors
— By Gina Rich
November 30, 2023
A breast cancer diagnosis turns life upside down. And often, the difficult news comes when you’re busy with other plans.
It was the summer of 2016, and Monique Wilson was preparing to celebrate her 42nd birthday. Earlier that year, she had found a breast lump. Although her doctor initially wasn’t concerned, Monique had a mammogram in July.
Soon after that, Monique’s doctor called – and she sounded worried. Then a nurse reached out to schedule more tests. “We need to get you in right now,” she told Monique.
“In my head, I knew something was going on,” says Monique. Still, she wasn’t alarmed. She had other plans – and they didn’t involve rushing back for more procedures. “It’s my birthday, and my husband’s taking me out for the weekend,” Monique told the nurse.
Monique was able to celebrate her birthday as scheduled but returned to the clinic a few days later for an ultrasound and biopsy. As an employee of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Georgia, Monique was accustomed to dealing with medical information. She had even worked on the cancer floor.
But being the patient was different. Now she was the one undergoing the procedure; now the friends she had worked alongside were taking care of her.
“Lying on that table, that’s when I broke,” says Monique.
The tests confirmed her doctor’s fears: Monique had breast cancer. She began treatment, which included a lumpectomy, radiation, and hormone therapy. As a person deeply committed to her faith, Monique discovered that writing and drawing in creative bible journals helped her cope with anxiety during treatment. Today, she continues to find comfort in this practice.
Connecting With Other Young Survivors
When you’re diagnosed with cancer, some people begin to see you only as your disease, says Monique. While not everyone in her life was supportive during her journey, Monique felt cared for by her husband, sisters, and church family.
Monique’s hospital had a breast cancer support group, but most of the women there were much older, and Monique found it hard to relate to them. “So I started researching and researching until I came across Young Survival Coalition (YSC),” says Monique. The organization supports young breast cancer patients and their loved ones.
Finding others to connect with through YSC has been a godsend, Monique says. “Even though every person’s journey was different, we all were told the same thing: ‘You have breast cancer.’”
Both Monique and her husband are actively involved in the YSC community. They’re regular participants in the organization’s Tour De Pink fundraising bicycle ride, and Monique serves as the support leader for YSC’s Georgia chapter. In this role, she helps newly diagnosed young women find support and resources. Monique is also president of the Sisters Network Southwest GA chapter, a survivorship organization for women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Though Monique had read about ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis in the past, it was not until 2023 that she realized the impact of its Mentor program. That year, while attending the National Breast Cancer Coalition conference, Monique met ABCD board members Bonnie Anderson and Linda Hansen, both of whom had previously been matched with Mentors. They had so many positive things to say about their experiences that Monique wanted to find out more.
When Monique learned that ABCD offers customized support through trained volunteer Mentors, it struck her that this could be just the connection she needed to help more women who were calling YSC. “I was beyond amazed that there was an organization out there that really offered that,” she says.
After applying and being accepted into ABCD’s Mentor program, Monique completed her Mentor training in September 2023. She has already been matched with two Participants. And she shares ABCD’s information with every woman she meets through YSC.
Monique also spreads the word about ABCD at her hospital’s Phoebe Cancer Center, where she works as a survivorship data coordinator and patient navigator for newly diagnosed women aged 45 and younger.
For Monique, what makes ABCD’s program so special is that Mentors can provide support to anyone, anywhere, at any stage. With support available virtually, Participants always know that someone is reachable to them.
Even when family members and friends are supportive, sometimes breast cancer patients want to talk with someone who doesn’t know them already, Monique says. “ABCD gives you the opportunity to meet a stranger,” she says, and in that person, you might find “a sister. A friend. A connection.”
Monique Wilson was diagnosed in 2016 with hormone-positive Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma. She had a lumpectomy followed by radiation and was on hormone blockers that proved problematic.