Haley Pollack is the Executive Director of Bright Spot Network, an organization that supports young parents with cancer. Haley lives in Oakland, CA with her 2 kids, husband, and dog. Find more about Bright Spot Network at brightspotnetwork.org or on instagram/brightspotnetwork.
What was your cancer diagnosis and how was it discovered?
I had been suffering from severe constipation -- written-off at first to pregnancy, then to the throes of post-partum, then to nursing. Once it became too much to bear, I saw my doctor who prescribed laxatives. In passing, I mentioned an overwhelming exhaustion (also previously written off to new motherhood). He suggested I get some tests that showed that I was dangerously anemic, which spurred more and more tests and ultimately a colonoscopy which found a tumor in my colon. I was diagnosed with Stage IIIc colon cancer.
What is the biggest piece of advice you have for newly diagnosed patients?
Probably not the most unique advice but the advice that I *had* to come back to every single day: put one foot in front of the other. Waking up each morning and making it through, allowed me to do the same the next day. Whether recovering from surgeries, procedures, endless monitoring and scans, 6 months of chemotherapy, or the excruciating task of talking to my little kids about cancer, I realized that I could climb the mountain if I just moved forward a little bit each day.
That advice probably won't work for everybody, so maybe the actual advice is finding the mantra that brings you comfort and helps you to get to the next day and the one after that.
What is the most important thing you learned from your cancer experience?
The most important thing I learned from cancer was to hug your people tight. The people in my life gave me the strength day after day to keep going but cancer's presence is also that nagging reminder that none of this is guaranteed.
What was the most difficult aspect of organizing your care/community?
As a full-time working mom with a new baby, I had enough on my plate before my diagnosis. When cancer was added to all of this, I was more than over-whelmed. With so much going on I needed to be o.k. asking for help. We called on our local community for everything from groceries, dog walking, childcare pick-ups, and food to our community located all over the country who helped organize a meal train, sent encouraging texts, and visited. The truth is that we needed more help than could be provided from our close family and friends. We also relied on our pre-school teachers to support our older daughter's emotional well-being when she struggled to understand my surgery or chemo's side-effects. And our new neighbors were friendly and warm, and took out our trash. It was still a lot to juggle but, of course, made easier with the help of wonderful community.
What are three words you would use to describe your cancer experience?
Community. Family. Tomorrow. (also: WTF)
Are there products, services, experiences or physicians that you couldn't be without?
When I finally found my cancer-buddies, I felt like I could finally relax. My family and non-cancer friends were amazing, but having people to text on days when I felt terrible or got hard news became essential to my mental health.
Also, CBD bath salts on my hard chemo days FTW.
Interested in connecting with Haley?
Explore her organization, the Bright Spot Network, or connect over email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donate to Bright Spot Network by adding their donation card to your WishList today!