Author: Camryn Allen
January 31, 2017
Open the door, hear a smooth “whoooooosh”, and feel a cold breeze engulf your body. Feel for the lights with your hand– switch them on and see your surroundings come to life. The freshly waxed volleyball courts, like a blank canvas, dare someone to make their mark, not only in the gym, but also in the real world.
Growing up, everyone is exposed to the topic “cancer” in some way or another; however, when you’re young, it just seems like another vocabulary word that needs to be memorized for a health quiz. “Cancer” didn’t become real to me until it affected me personally, when both my aunt and best friend’s mom were diagnosed with breast cancer. All of a sudden, the symptoms and treatments I had only read about in a textbook were happening around me. Fortunately, both of my loved ones were able to receive adequate treatment and after a hard battle they survived; however, not everyone is that lucky. Knowing that some people won’t get the chance my family received, I decided to contribute to the cause in any way I could to help increase the chance of survival for all breast cancer patients.
I have played volleyball since seventh grade, so I saw the Dig Pink booths at all of the major tournaments my team went to, and I knew it was the perfect way to combine my love for volleyball and desire to help people. I spent hours researching what The Side-Out Foundation was really about and what I could do to contribute. Becoming an ambassador was something I was instantly interested in doing because not only is it a way to raise money for research, it also provides me with a way to share what I have learned throughout the process.
I fulfilled my educational hours by volunteering at Johns Hopkins, specifically shadowing a lymphedema specialist. Lymphedema is a potential side effect of breast cancer surgery and radiation because lymph nodes are removed or damaged, causing a backup of lymph in the body’s tissues. Almost all of the patients we worked with were breast cancer survivors, so they each had their own unique, but equally inspiring story.
One woman was in the military when she was diagnosed, even though she didn’t meet much of the risk factor criteria, like being over 55 years old, Caucasian, or never giving birth. After going through a double mastectomy and achieving remission, she was made a part of the Wounded Warriors program. I learned from her that besides lymphedema, many other side effects can occur from surgery and radiation, like muscle stiffness, fatigue, and change in skin around the breasts.
Students can earn up to $3,500 in scholarships by leading student-athletes, coaches, and their school in a community service based program that raises funds and awareness for stage 4 breast cancer research.
From seeing so many different patients, I learned that there are a plethora of treatment options: chemo, radiation, surgery, hormone therapy, drug therapy, and stem cell transplants. With these treatments come many side effects that could really affect the morale of the patients, but perhaps the most important thing I learned from speaking with breast cancer survivors was that the most important “treatment” is to have a strong support system. This team, made up of family members, friends, coworkers, doctors, and even pets, ensures that the patient follows through with all of their medical treatments and will never be allowed to stop fighting.
Compiling all of my knowledge acquired from volunteering and information from researching, I created an interactive PowerPoint about stage 4 breast cancer. Then, I presented the PowerPoint to all of the health classes at my school, as well as to my volleyball team. After the presentation, we had an open discussion about any questions they had. I encouraged all of them to do their own research, especially to look at the Side-Out website to see how they can help. Even though most of my focus was on stage four, to emphasize the importance of early detection, I created posters about self-exams and hung them up in the bathrooms and locker rooms.
From the very beginning of this experience, I have felt nothing but joy. Volunteering has an effect that compares to nothing else because it gives me a sense of selflessness. I am so thankful for all that I was able to accomplish and contribute, and I will never forget the amazing people I met and the incredible stories they told me. Although my loved ones motivated me to take action, I am overcome by pride and hope knowing that my efforts will also benefit thousands of other people.