The start of her breast cancer non-profit did not come from a life-long dream, but rather from circumstance, out of necessity and a surprising personal story. Mary Beth describes her ride down the rapid of her life, and how she (with the help of her co-founder, Rene Bowditch) turned it into a thriving haven where women diagnosed with breast cancer can seek in-person and online help. Below is her guest post.
Kayakers vs. Speed Boaters
Mary Beth Gibson, Executive Director and Co-Founder, Here for the Girls, Inc.
There are lots of different ways to put people into categories – like introverts or extroverts, spenders or savers, glass half full or glass half empty, cat lovers or dog lovers. You get the drift. I have fun putting people into categories, and I do it without judgment. People are just who they are.
One way I like to think about people as they travel along the river of life is in terms of speed boaters or kayakers. The speed boaters know what they want in life, they have set goals, and they have a route mapped out for getting there. They are full speed ahead. An example would be my brother. He knew by the age of 40 that he wanted to be a successful business owner, marry, and have children. And he did. I admire him greatly. I am so not him.
I am more like the kayaker. I am along for the ride, drift with the currents, steer when necessary, and paddle through the rapids. Here is an example:
I was in my late 30s and living a very contented life. Somehow the river had taken me to a nice smooth stretch where everything was just flowing along so comfortably, and I was enjoying the pleasant view along the way. I had an awesome job as a human resources executive in a Fortune 500 company. I was part of a successful team rolling out innovative strategies in our division that was being recognized across the company. I worked hard but was rewarded well – well enough that my husband was able to be a stay-at-home dad. He actually had the harder job – taking care of three boys under the age of 5 – but he enjoyed it, and he was good at it.
I received a call from a colleague, Carrie, who had just attended a personal development conference, and she was pumped. Now this was someone I worked with but didn’t know super well; she was so moved by her insights, she wanted to share them with me. She asked, “If you could do anything, and success was guaranteed, what would you do?” Without a whole lot of thought I immediately responded with, “I would be a rock star, like one of the Go Gos!” Carrie said, “Well then why aren’t you doing it?” “I can’t sing.” “Okay, well seriously, what would you do?” Again, without a whole lot of reflection but from the heart, I responded with, “I would start a non-profit for young women to help them improve self-esteem.” “Why aren’t you doing that?” she asked. Hmmm… Well, let me count the reasons: I have a job I really enjoy working with a great team doing great things. I get paid very well to do it. I am the sole bread winner, and Bo would not be able to replace our income even if he did work. And on top of that, I know nothing about running a non-profit and no idea how to start one.
That was the end of the conversation. I thought. Little did I know there was white water ahead, and I was going to have to start paddling like hell to get through it.
Fast forward two years. There was a major change in the company, and the promotion I had been promised was gone, along with my position. Out of the blue, the successful, happy HR executive was on the streets. The job I loved – that was my identity and that supported my family – was gone. I was shaken, scared, depressed, angry, confused, lost. Equipped with a decent severance package, I took some time off to enjoy my family before initiating a job search. A workshop I attended for people in transition presented the benefits of starting a franchise. I was hooked. I could start my own company and if I worked my ass off, could replace the income I had lost. I was used to hard work. I could do this, so with equal parts of trepidation and daring, I purchased a coaching franchise called The Entrepreneurs Source.
The stress of it all had taken its toll, however, and more rapids loomed ahead. Six weeks after investing most of our life savings in this franchise, I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and immediately embarked upon a grueling, year-long treatment regimen that included intensive chemotherapy followed by a double mastectomy and then radiation.
My comfortable existence was now completely shattered. I worked the new business while undergoing treatment, but it was hard having the energy to learn a completely new career while fighting for my life. Not to mention, the things I valued before, like money and professional success, weren’t high priorities any more.
It was during treatment that I met the woman who would ultimately become my friend and co-founder, Rene Bowditch. We began hosting a group for young women with breast cancer to offer them love, support, and encouragement while they were going through a life-transforming journey. That small support group, initially six women in Rene’s home, is now a ten-year-old non-profit that is continuing to grow and spread a special brand of love to young women all over the country affected by the devastating disease of breast cancer. And you know what? One of the most important things we do is help these women rebuild their self-esteem after breast cancer, and if they never had self-esteem, we help them build it now. Somehow the river had brought me to the thing that I said would do but was too afraid to.
I don’t know what else life has in store for me downstream, and my kayak may have dents, but I have my paddle and my helmet, and I know I will be okay.
Young women diagnosed with breast cancer face unique challenges, yet specific resources are slim and peers can be difficult to find. Here for the Girls exists to ensure that no young woman has to make this journey without all the love, encouragement, and information possible from peers who understand. We offer not-your-typical support through Beyond Boobs! (our community-based, in-person support) and Pink Link (our nationwide, 24/7, online support). Here for the Girls creates and serves an extended family of young survivors who help one another through diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. www.hereforthegirls.org
Why we’re amazing:
-We offer a place where our members don’t have to be strong for everyone else and we provide peers to ensure they can face the future with women who love them at their side.
-We focus on our women’s health, not just their breast cancer. We emphasize wellness and practicing healthy lifestyles to help our young survivors live their best lives.
-H4TG funds its services solely with revenue from donations, events, and community support. We receive no government funding.
-77 cents out of every dollar raised goes directly into our programs for the young women we serve.
-We charge no fees for our services.
Do you have an foundation or cancer center that’s giving back to the cancer community? Contact Lexi at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit a guest post.