Beyond Breast Cancer and Addiction: A Journey to Wellness
Merri and Jen tell their stories
October 4, 2019
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is one of the most common kinds of cancer in women, and 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a chance to raise awareness about the importance of finding breast cancer early. Ammon Foundation wants to make a difference by sharing stories from women who have – and are in recovery from – breast cancer AND Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Here are the stories of two incredible women, Merri and Jen:
Merri – Living Proof
There’s a song from Mary J. Blige called “Living Proof” that I really identify with; it is all about recovery from anything. Whenever I hear it, I cry. She sings about being happy that the hardest part of her life is over, and now she is free. She sings, “I know where I’m going because I know where I’ve been.” Powerful stuff! And it is exactly where I’m at in life.
I am in recovery from SUD, and the drug I used was heroin. As a nurse, mother, friend and active member of society, I felt ashamed and hid my problem with pills for years. Progressing to heroin took years of pain, and me saying many times, “I would NEVER stick a needle in my arm.” Well, it happened, and once it did I lost everything – my soul, my freedom and choice. I lost my values, morals and drive to care for others around me, including my son and family. I started robbing banks to support my habit and was arrested by police officers with whom I attended school. It was horrifying, and eventually I was sent to a state prison for women.
There I was, a nurse and mother housed with women who were also sick like me. Those days in prison led me to such a state of desperation and depression, I didn’t think I’d ever feel better. I needed my son, and he needed me. We didn’t talk for a couple of weeks which was unusual; we were so close and did everything together. No matter how sick I was, I tried to be the best mother to him. Hearing my son’s voice for the first time sitting in prison was so sobering and sad. I’ll never forget the first thing he said to me – “Mom, I thought you were dead.” Those words were the biggest motivator to get my life together and change. I found my faith in God was my only comfort while incarcerated. God gave me probation for my crimes and made sure I kept my nursing license – what gifts! God was always near me or carrying me, just like the prayer “Footprints,” as I worked hard on bettering myself.
I am proud to say my recovery date is August 29, 2012. Today, I continue to work hard on myself. I have my son back in my life, I am still a licensed nurse and I have such peace inside my soul.
God had one more challenge for me though.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of this year. I was at peace with the plan, knew I had to do my part and fight, but also stay in the moment so not to live in anxiety or fear. My days are happy and full – even when I am sick – and I believe this is all temporary. I stay positive and claim my victory in being told someday soon I’ll be in remission. I see life so much different now; sure I have bad days, but the thought of impermanence helps me so much. I was always mindful and full of faith in recovery, but once I was diagnosed with breast cancer that metastasized to my lymph nodes, I was able to really use the coping skills learned in recovery from SUD to my recovery from breast cancer.
I am almost done with treatment and start radiation in a few weeks. I’ve had two surgeries, four months of chemotherapy and am being put into menopause. Yes, it’s a lot – but I’m not alone. I have God, my family and amazing friends who have been so helpful to me.
I’ve learned from the pain, and grateful for everyday I get to open my eyes in the morning. I don’t forget where I came from, nor do I make the mistake of leaving my diseases untreated each and every day. I hope to continue those things, one day at a time. I hope to be living proof that we can recover from breast cancer and SUD. I hope this will help one person suffering from addiction, breast cancer and all the fear and sickness both bring. Everything is temporary so I will live to the fullest while I am blessed enough to be here.
I do pray you got some hope from this. God bless.
Jen – I Recovered, and I’m Grateful
January 10, 2014 is the day my life changed forever. It’s the day that I was gifted the willingness to do whatever it took to start to piece my life back together again. For years before this, I had a raging drug and alcohol addiction – and it robbed me of everything. It took from me all of my personal possessions, my family, my own children and my soul.
My addiction led me to some very dark places. It left me homeless on the streets doing insane, manipulative, inappropriate things for that ‘next one.’ It left me spiritually, morally and financially bankrupt.
One day, I was sitting in a park and I had – what I now call – a spiritual experience. I could no longer live the way I was – like a disgusting animal. I was so so tired and this aching feeling deep within my heart to see and be with my children, and I wanted to do whatever it took to get them back.
So I made a decision to take my life back! I called my father (who was my only family member still communicating with me) and told him that I needed help. My poor father was very weary since I had been in and out of detoxes and treatment centers over the years. I don’t know how or why, but he did what he needed to help me enter treatment one last time. I was admitted to one final detox and from there, attended a treatment center in Newark for six months.
Receiving inpatient treatment was so eye opening for me because it showed me many of my negative behaviors; it also showed me a new way to live. Integrity House helped me to save my life!
Fast forward a few years and I started to put the pieces of my life back together. I started to get the relationships back with my children and family. I started to acquire some material things; I got married, and had another baby. Life was starting to feel normal and happy! Then BAM! I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer.
Although my diagnosis was shocking, I never once thought to myself Why Me? I mean, Why not me? Why does Jane Doe get breast cancer but Jen Giordano doesn’t?
Everyday, I woke up and got ready, putting my makeup on and making it to chemotherapy for 16 weeks. I attended many many different doctor’s appointments, got radiation, had surgeries, took care of my children, my husband and our home. My mantra was – if you act sick, you feel sick. So, I did everything in my power to keep myself busy so that I wouldn’t feel sick. Here we are 2.5 years since I was diagnosed and there’s currently no evidence of cancer! Yay!
Today, I’m a woman in recovery both from drugs and alcohol, as well as breast cancer.
I am a member of a 12-step fellowship, and my sponsor and sober sisters help keep me grounded everyday. My sober network are the sanity to my crazy, and I am so grateful for them. I’m a wife and a present mother to three boys.
My life isn’t always perfect but it’s absolutely perfect for me. I’m a constant work in progress and so grateful to be able to share my story with you all. I’m truly grateful for the ability to be grateful today.
The Ammon Foundation believes that when individuals are holistically and strategically supported to build purposeful lives, the likelihood of them maintaining their recovery substantially increases. We provide this support via our Ammon Recovery Scholars Program. Our program goals include: removing financial barriers through financial scholarships; providing strategic support for recipients through offering personal, professional and academic support; and creating a supportive peer community committed to combating the stigma associated with addiction by promoting that recovery is possible. We are committed to giving away at least $100,000 in scholarships annually and are looking to fund education as a stepping stone to stable employment, safe housing and adequate healthcare. To find out more about our programs, or to apply for an educational scholarship, please click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.