Dear Cancer Support Community Arizona (CSCAZ) family,  

My name is Marla Palmer and 8 years ago I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. As I reflect on this momentous occasion, which coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, cancer taught me to view life’s challenges as opportunities to start anew. My cancer diagnosis was my ‘new’ season of beginnings.

I was living in a gorgeous penthouse apartment in San Francisco. My view overlooked the Oakland Bay and at night I easily enjoyed her beautifully lit bridge. Despite her beauty, one Monday late night I received the ugliest news possible. I’ll never forget my doctor’s words—

“Marla, I don’t believe it, but your biopsy came back positive. You have breast cancer.”

My doctor was dumbfounded, and I was in disbelief. I had lost four women on my mother’s side of the family to breast cancer and now I was the fifth woman in my family to be diagnosed.

Within 2 weeks of my Stage 1 diagnosis, my cancer progressed to Stage 2. I’d been told by three doctors, including my gynecologist and a radiologist, that the thickening of my breast was of no concern. Now here I was with a very aggressive form of cancer. Surgery was scheduled and performed then rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. At the time, my daughter was 7-months pregnant with twin boys. It was those precious babies that gave me the strength to fight to survive. The day of my surgery, I carried a photo of my pregnant daughter into the operating room. I was determined to meet my grandbabies and see them play sports, graduate high school and eventually college. I wanted them to know their momma’s momma!

Even with the promise of meeting my grandsons, the emotional roller coaster of feeling happy and great one day then tremendous physical or emotional pain, the next day, was nothing short of hell. There were days I’d lay in bed sedated by Vicodin then others I’d spend fighting with my insurance carrier, so I could receive the appropriate medication I needed to prevent infection. It was beyond awful! It was horrific! On many occasions, I’d have to force myself to get out of bed, put on some make-up, put on one of my glorious hats or wigs, create a fabulous outfit and GET OUT of my apartment. I wanted to look my best because inside I was exhausted.

I was fortunate to have friends to support me and even my neighbors, people I barely knew, supported me by bringing me magazines, flowers and croissants. My friend, Catherine, joined me for a few of my chemo and radiation days. (Those Taxotere and Cytoxan mixes were something else!) I recall one night, my friend, JoAnn, was visiting and suddenly, I started to cry. I told her I was afraid of dying. I was afraid of leaving my son. I was afraid of leaving my daughter and her beautiful family; especially those grandbabies. I remember listing everything that could ‘go wrong’. She sat and listened then gave me a BIG hug and reassured me that I was going to survive and that she’d be there for me. Anything I needed, she’d help. I’m so thankful to her and everyone who supported me.

My cancer journey has led me to the Cancer Support Community Arizona. 

I returned to Phoenix, my hometown, a few years ago and my relocation brought me to the thriving downtown community. With Cancer Support Community Arizona, practically in my backyard, I decided to utilize their programs and services. For the rest of my life I will always be in some form of patient care or treatment, monitoring, and testing so the support offered by CSCAZ is critical to my quality of life.

I’ve attended numerous cooking classes and learned things I never knew—new ingredients; new ways to prep; new recipes! There’s a wealth of information in the library and the literal ‘information hallway’. I love that the CSCAZ leadership and staff are ‘all on the same page’—their #1 priority is the program participants and how to best serve their needs. Everyone wants to help you through the most difficult part of your life whether you’re the person diagnosed or a family member or friend.

The comradery among the staff and volunteers is so infectious that I decided to become a volunteer. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

Like myself, the rest of the volunteers and staff, have compassion for everyone’s condition and zero judgement for their circumstances. I’ve met so many wonderful people from so many walks of life. Working as a volunteer has brought me so much joy. I met a woman—not unlike me 8 years ago—who didn’t want to ask for help. She was battling cancer, worked a full-time and the day I met her, she had not eaten or drank anything all day. I asked her what she needed, and she said she didn’t want anything. I knew this woman even before I met her because I used to be this woman. I was unwilling to ask or accept help, so I knew, more than anything, this woman needed MY help! I bought her a week’s worth of healthy, nutritious groceries and we had dinner together. We sat for 2 hours chatting about our lives and connected over this horrible disease including the dread of chemo and loss of our hair. We had so many similarities and yet we were so different. Our connection has blossomed into a friendship that has been incredibly rewarding and it would not have happened without Cancer Support Community Arizona.

I recently became a monthly donor because I know firsthand the power of this organization. I know not every woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer. I know not every woman will have my same experience, but I know every woman and man can identify with the pain, frustration and fear associated with a cancer diagnosis. I know every woman and man can identify with the power of community, or, as some people call it ‘finding your tribe’.

Cancer Support Community Arizona is my family, they are my tribe! We can’t help everyone, but we’ll do whatever we can to try.

If you’re a fellow donor, thank you!  Thank you for supporting me and the many Arizonians impacted by cancer.

If you’re not a donor, and like me you’re inspired by Cancer Support Community Arizona, I invite you to join me as a monthly donor. I guarantee it’ll be an amazing way to support another survivor’s season of ‘new’ beginnings.

All my best,