Written by Lyn Dobrin Friday, 13 September 2013 00:00
Roz Catena of Westbury says that even though it was twenty years ago when she found out she had breast cancer, she can recall it as if it were yesterday. “First was denial,” she says, not believing it could happen to her, a healthy 49-year-old woman. Then she kept asking, “Why me?” Eventually with the support of her daughter, Theresa, and the Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Program, she moved to acceptance, rising above the disease.
Roz doesn’t think she could have moved forward without the support. There was Theresa at home. “If she was feeling fearful, she kept it in check,” says Roz. “We were going to get through it together.” At the time, Roz was working as an executive assistant to the president of an international shipping company and her boss was supportive, allowing her time off when the chemotherapy threw her for a loop. Her next helper was her oncologist who, recognizing that Roz was depressed, recommended she call the Adelphi Breast Cancer Hotline. It was there that Roz found a new direction in her life.
Established in 1980, the Adelphi Breast Cancer Hotline has helped thousands of women like Roz deal with the emotional consequences of breast cancer. Through social work staff and 100 volunteers, most of whom are breast cancer survivors, the hotline educates and empowers breast cancer patients, professionals and the community. The hotline answers almost 4,000 calls each year.
When Roz called the hotline, she was able to talk to a trained volunteer who had overcome breast cancer. “She was caring and understanding,” says Roz. Next she joined a support group for newly diagnosed women. She found it frightening at first to share her feelings with people she didn’t know but she became comfortable and discovered that being in the group and listening to what others were going through gave her new perspectives. After the group she received individual counseling with an Adelphi social worker. In 1995 she became a hotline volunteer.
“While going through the counseling process and getting to know the social workers and talking to people on the hotline, I realized I had a passion for this profession,” Roz says. She returned to school to get a master’s degree in social work and has been working in the field since 2004.
Today, she says, the breast cancer is behind her, although she does think about it when she goes for yearly checkups: “I think, ‘what if?,’ hold my breath a bit and then it’s over.”
Fellow Westbury resident Betty Rodriguez has a similar story. It was 2007 when she was told she had breast cancer. Hearing the news in the doctor’s office at Lenox Hill, she said she was dumbfounded. She was told she would have to have a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Her doctor told her, “Go home and be positive—I know Colombian women are very strong.”
In the subway returning home to Long Island, Betty broke down; her family and friends tried to console her.
“Then a lady came by,” says Betty. “She touched my hand and in Spanish told me I would be all right. She said to me, ‘You have big angels around you.’” And then she was gone.
Betty’s angels are many: her husband, Samuel, her sons Juanito, Andres and David, her friends Rosita, Estrellita, Marta and Rodrigo and her social worker Lois Goetz.
Betty calls Goetz, the bilingual social worker at Sisters United in Health, a program of the Adelphi Breast Cancer Program, her “big, big angel.” Seeing how Goetz spoke with members of her support group, Betty decided to help others coping with breast cancer. When she finished her chemotherapy in 2009 it was time for her to be an angel for others.
She presented talks to her community and began distributing cosmetics to breast cancer patients through the Look Good, Feel Better Program. She participated in the Creative Cups fund-raising for the Adelphi program, making beautiful art bras to be auctioned off.
She knew she had to better her English to advocate for women in the Hispanic community. “When we don’t speak English we can’t say, ‘why, doctor?” she says. She is also concerned for the women who do not have the support system that she did. “I am lucky to have my sons, husband and beautiful friends,” she says. “Life has given me so much that I have to give back.” To find out more, visit www.adelphi.edu/nysbreastcancer or call the hotline at 800-877-8077.