Survivor reaches out to someone 'In My Shoes'
"There's nothing like talking with someone who has been there before and is literally in your shoes," says Micki Huston, a seven-year breast cancer survivor. "I called the hotline and was immediately reassured by a peer counselor, who is a breast cancer survivor herself, that I wasn't alone."
Huston, the mother of two and grandmother of two, says her 2001 diagnosis with invasive ductal carcinoma left her in a state of shock.
"I was only 52 at the time and it was a routine mammogram which alerted doctors to a suspicious area," recalls the Lake Zurich resident.
"I knew something wasn't right when the technician had me wait after the exam. She came back into the room with the radiologist, who told me they needed to do an ultrasound exam and biopsy."
Huston says she literally held her breath for three days over the ensuing Fourth of July holiday, awaiting word from her doctor. The devastating news came Monday morning.
"I had breast cancer," she says. "I called Breast Cancer Network Of Strength hotline and found emotional support and information, learning that breast cancer isn't a death sentence. Actually, having breast cancer has turned out to be a blessing in disguise, allowing me to meet some of the nicest people!"
Treatment included a lumpectomy at West Suburban Hospital, Oak Park.
"Unfortunately, I had to return a second time to the surgeon when the radiation oncologist noted one suspicious area on my left breast," recalls Huston, whose grandmother died of breast cancer.
"We discussed a wide resection versus mastectomy. I chose to return for a mastectomy and have never regretted it."
Huston, who has now completed a special two-day training session and works as a Network of Strength YourShoes peer counselor, says providing those facing a breast cancer diagnosis with immediate support, information, answers to questions and a reassuring voice is a passion.
YourShoes is the umbrella name for the organization's peer support services, including the country's only 24/7 toll-free hotline staffed exclusively by trained peer counselors, all like Huston who have faced a breast cancer diagnosis.
"You don't have to be a breast-cancer patient to call the support center hotline or email us at AskYourShoes@networkofstrength.org," Huston explains. "Spouses, family members and friends seeking information and support, or women who are symptomatic and may have just learned of an initial abnormality on their mammogram or the need for a biopsy are also welcome.
"Some callers simply want information on cancer risk or advice on mammogram frequency or information on breast self-examination."
Peer counselors also are able to match callers with survivors who had a similar diagnosis and life experience, provide support via e-mail, the ShareRing Network, a monthly one-hour educational teleconference program and survivor-facilitated support groups. Interpreters are available in 150 languages.
A special partner match program connects spouses and significant others with parents trained as a peer counselor.
"When someone calls, crying or in a panic, we understand it," says Huston, who reports Ask YourShoes e-mails and support center hotlines calls averaging 45,000 per year.
"We're able to provide information that helps reassure callers, empowerment and peer support. Once you've had breast cancer, you realize that no two patients have the same experience."
As a peer counselor staffing the support center, Huston admits it is both a huge commitment and a huge reward. "It's so rewarding to hear callers tell me how grateful they are that I was "there" for them when they needed that support and information," she reports.
"I knew after finishing my treatment that I needed to reach out to help others. Thanks to the hotline, that opportunity is as near as the phone."