VanessaWomen'sCampaign1Vanessa Buck was at a WalMart last October, standing near the shoe section, when she received the call from her primary care doctor that her breast biopsy had come back positive for cancer. Minutes later, she was in her car, overwhelmed and having a good cry as questions raced through her mind. What does this mean? How far advanced is it? How will it impact my family? How will I get through it?

Turns out, she was far stronger than she thought she might be – in part because she was firmly held by the faith in God and the love and compassion of others.

The 47-year-old substitute teacher and church fellowship director drew support from family, friends, church, school, and health care providers. Strength came through gestures big and small.

The staff at the TMC for Women Breast Screening Center, for example, took turns holding her hand during the biopsy. Her primary care visit typically includes a hug.

After her double mastectomy, her family had meals for three weeks straight from community members dropping off dinner.

From loved ones, she also received mugs with positive mottos, a rose plant that is still making a go of it in the front yard, and a necklace she wore to every chemotherapy session because it features a photo and birthstones of her three children, ages 11 through 16.

“I think it changed a little of my focus. Relationships have always been a priority for me, but this experience just really helped me hone in on what’s important in life,” said the Tucson native, who makes her home in Corona de Tucson.

What’s important is not that her hair grew back after chemo the same slate color and same curly texture, instead of the red and straight hair she jokes she was kinda crossing her fingers for.

It’s that when her extended family sits down at gatherings, there is a new gentleness with one another instead of a focus on political differences. It’s that when she gets together with a support group of women who have been through cancer, they can joke that reconstruction means they can finally have “the girls” they always wanted.

It’s that others have helped her navigate the unfamiliar world she was entering, whether it was questions about wigs or bras or makeup classes to learn how to draw eyebrows on. “You don’t have to go through this alone. There are people out there who are going to love you and help you through this. You just have to look.”

Some of that strength also originates from within.

Vanessa Buck A Breast Cancer Survivor: You don't have to do this alone“You have to be real about these things and take life for what it is, but at the same time, I have to be happy in the moment,” she said. “Joy is a choice. Happiness is a choice. I can’t live on what-if’s. And really – worrying isn’t going to add any more time to my life.”

Karen Narum, the women’s health care nurse practitioner at the TMC for Women Breast Screening Clinic, said the willingness of survivors to serve as resources for others is a huge blessing to the community. “I can tell women they’ll be fine and that they’ll get through something, but seeing someone else who has had that diagnosis, stand up and say, ‘Look at me. I’m OK,’ that’s just so much more powerful.”

Buck said she hopes to return the favor, planning to volunteer to provide support to cancer patients. “I just feel strongly that I’ve got to pass this on, and I’m excited to see what happens next,” she said.

“As long as I have life, I have purpose.”

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