“A woman is like a teabag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt said that. Becky Haddad lived it. Through her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, divorce, and the loss of her adult daughter to breast cancer years later, Becky found out the hard way just how strong she is.
Born the middle of six children on a farm in Indiana, her early years were defined by hard work: feeding and cleaning up after chickens, pigs, and cattle; pulling weeds in the garden; and canning and freezing produce for the winter months. Seeking a life beyond the farm, she defied her mother’s expectations and went to Purdue to study science and from there on to an advanced degree in Medical Technology from Baylor University, in Texas, securing for herself the kind of options life on the farm never could.
Becky wanted to see the world and, in her early twenties, jumped at the chance to explore Europe with friends, wetting an appetite for international travel that would stay with her. Once she got back from her months-long adventure, Becky took a chance on a move to Denver, quickly landing a job at a local hospital. It was one of the happiest periods of her life, she now reflects, a time of new friendships, skiing, and the kind of freedom she had longed for as a child.
Eventually, Becky fell in love, got married, and had three children. Juggling the competing demands of motherhood and work in the hospital lab, life went on predictably enough until, at the age of 43, a routine mammogram revealed something unexpected. With no history of breast cancer in her family and having never noticed any lumps, she had no reason for concern and yet, there it was: a positive diagnosis for breast cancer. The cancer was an early stage, but with three children at home (ages 9, 10, and 13) depending on her to raise them, Becky decided to throw everything she could at it: chemotherapy, radiation, and bilateral mastectomies, all the while going in to work as often as she had the stamina to do it.
Despite her exhaustion, Becky did what she had been raised to do; she put one foot resolutely in front of the other and carried on. She also, however, did something that had never been a part of her upbringing: she sought out emotional support. Her husband was not able to be there for her in that way – the cracks in their marriage, which had already begun to show, became much more apparent under the added pressure of her diagnosis and treatment – and so Becky began looking elsewhere. She found a support group and began seeing a therapist, and slowly began to learn to open herself up on an emotional level as she never had before.
Surviving breast cancer and later getting through a difficult divorce were, she now says, some of the hardest things she has been through, but also some of the best. “I sometimes think of it as a gift,” she says, “because it gave my life meaning and purpose.” Her divorce taught her that she could do far more on her own than she had ever known, helping her find the inner strength she had not always been certain was there. Her cancer diagnosis led her to call on that same inner strength to help others, a mission that she has committed herself to ever since.
Becky, alongside other survivors who quickly became some of her closest friends, began volunteering with breast cancer organizations. She worked to educate women, particularly women of color, on how to protect their health. In large part due to limited awareness and access to high quality, affordable medical care African-American women have a death rate a shocking 40 times higher than Caucasian women when it comes to breast cancer. Becky worked with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, as well as other organizations, to do what she could to change that terrible statistic. Her advocacy work took her back to Europe, this time to Budapest, Albania, Kosovo, and Serbia. Closer to home, she volunteered as a patient advocate, helping breast cancer researchers apply for grants.
Becky was living a good, full life on her own terms – working, volunteering, spending time with friends, and becoming a grandmother four times over – when breast cancer intruded again, this time with her daughter, Beth. The mother of two young children, Becky’s daughter was only 36 when she got her first diagnosis. At first, Becky felt sure that, like her, Beth’s treatment would be long and difficult but would ultimately be successful. This time, tragically, the outcome was different. After multiple rounds of debilitating chemotherapy and one short period of remission, the cancer came back and metastasized. Beth died soon after, leaving behind two young children. Becky was devastated.
Now, as she looks to her nearing retirement from her 40-year career as a hospital-based laboratory scientist, Becky is making plans to continue her advocacy, hoping to spare other families from succumbing to the same cruel disease that took her daughter. She wants everyone to know that early detection is key to surviving breast cancer. In addition to spreading that message, she hopes to volunteer for an organization that focuses on children, like her grandchildren, who have lost a parent, while also taking some time to enjoy the home she has made fully her own.
There is another quote Becky has always found deeply meaningful, this one by Ralph Waldo Emerson. He wrote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Cancer survival, divorce, and the loss of a cherished daughter took a tremendous toll, but each, in their own way, also provided an opportunity for growth as a human being, an opportunity to truly see what lies within, and it is that opportunity Becky has chosen to hold on to.