Pathways Through Crisis: A Lifetime of Healing Connections
By Pat Battaglia
My parents had six children; five boys and one girl. Even though I was the only girl, I did just about everything my brothers did – bike riding, hide-and-seek, tree climbing, ice skating, swimming and even touch football. In fact, I was the quarterback! But one day, my father said I could no longer play with my brothers and their friends. I was devastated by his unannounced declaration. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Now what was I going to do? There was no one else I could play with or talk to. One other girl lived on our block, but she wasn’t interested in the same things I was; no other girls I knew lived within several blocks of my home. Besides, we teenage girls were not allowed to visit friends alone, like the boys were. We had to have an escort, which was usually another friend or older sister, and one of our older brothers had to accompany us. This was my first crisis, and what an impact it had on my world.
From the day of my father’s announcement, I felt isolated. I no longer had someone else to play with and talk to as I had with my brothers. My mother, in her infinite wisdom, acknowledged my crisis and reached out to an organization for help: the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America. Just as it does to this day, this program matched children like me with a young adult who was there to mentor, tutor, or counsel. All in all, I had three Big Sisters. The first was great. We went horseback riding and tobogganing, but our time together was short-lived; due to family obligations, she left the city. I was matched with a second Big Sister, and that was a very short encounter before she also left. My third Big Sister was a young African American Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She wore dashikis, had a big bushy Afro, and drove a yellow Datsun 280 zx, two-seater. This proved to be my best Big Sister match. She was proactive. She did not spend a lot of money on the activities we did together, but she spent time with me. During the summers, we would attend weekend festivals. She liked cooking, so I would spend time in the kitchen as her sous-chef. She also loved to save money. When she and I painted her apartment together, I learned I had some other talent. We had a wonderful relationship and she remains my Big Sister to this day.
She is married and has two daughters, and we are still in touch. She is in it with me for the long haul.
A few years ago, I went for my annual mammogram. This resulted in further imaging and a biopsy. When I heard the test results, it was as if I was hit once again with a ton of bricks. When I heard the words, “You have breast cancer,” I felt as I did when my father was taking away my play time and friends. Again, I felt isolated. But this time, my mother was not there to offer her infinite wisdom. This time, I reached out to the Breast Cancer Coalition, for it offered what I needed: companionship through my crises and a path to healing.
I parallel my childhood Big Sisters experiences to my breast cancer experience. I see the events around my mastectomy as my first Big Sister, but not as much fun. Like the second Big Sister, breast reconstruction was a short encounter. Then, after five months of chemotherapy and beginning a daily hormone medication targeting my estrogen-based cancer, I found a wonderful resource in my third and last Big Sister: the Coalition. This organization is in it for the long haul. Its resources may not include a yellow Datsun 280zx (maybe pink?) but I feel as if I’m riding in style with this Big Sister. The tools and resources of the Coalition are helping me heal. Because of this Big Sister, I have taken Fluid Motion classes and Gentle Yoga sessions, learned how to cope with the side effects of my hormonal medication through Surviving and Thriving on Aromatase Inhibitors, experienced the support of other survivors at Brown Bag Lunches, and attended the 15th Annual Cindy L. Dertinger Advanced Breast Cancer: Tools for the Journey seminar. And there’s so much more. As an Advocacy Committee member, I’ve met with lawmakers in Albany to discuss important issues for survivors. I am connected with others who are also in it for the long haul.
I’m inspired by a book, titled Welcome to Your Crisis: How to Use the Power of Crisis to Create the Life You Want, by Laura Day. Here’s a quote from the book:
“In the field of medicine, the word crisis has a specific meaning: that sudden point in the course of a disease when the disease either gets dramatically worse or turns around and gets dramatically better. Our everyday crisis presents us with similar junctions, at whom our lives can turn dramatically worse or dramatically better depending on the actions we take.”
In my childhood crisis, my mother took action and found a resource in Big Sister/Big Brother to make my path through crisis better. As an adult in crisis with a breast cancer diagnosis, I took action and found the resources at the Coalition to make my path one of healing; a journey dramatically better.
Betsy’s story appeared in the Voices of the Ribbon, Fall 2020 edition.