Breast Cancer Profiles – You Can Survive and Thrive!
By Whitney Bermes
When Arlene Wylie was going through treatment for breast cancer, she made a deal with God. If she survived, she promised she would give back, she would work to help others. And that’s exactly what she did.
From helping to start support groups for cancer survivors and manning the phones for a suicide crisis line, to becoming a big sister for Big Brothers Big Sisters and serving on the Gallatin County DUI Task Force. In the more than two decades since receiving her breast cancer diagnosis, Wylie has kept her word.
“(Cancer) completely changed my outlook on life,” 68-year- old Wylie of Bozeman said recently. Wylie was diagnosed with stage-two breast cancer in August of 1995, a shocking diagnosis considering both of Wylie’s parents passed way from cancer. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh,’” Wylie recalled. “You just never know what’s going to happen in your life.” And it was an interesting switch of mindsets for Wylie, who was a nurse and had worked on cancer floors. “I had always been the one to take care of people,” Wylie said. “Now I had to switch roles.”
Wylie endured surgery as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatments. “I was bald. It scared the heck out of my kids,” said Wylie, whose sons were just 8 and 11 years old at the time of her diagnosis. Even after being deemed cancer free, Wylie said she didn’t feel much relief. For years, she stayed on medications, just to be safe.
It was while she was going through her treatments, Wylie and a friend who also had cancer tried going to a support group, but “there was nobody there.” They tried another group, but that one wasn’t for them either. They wanted a positive environment to help them through their experience. So for a couple of years, Wylie and her friend, alone with three other women, met weekly in their own small group. “We would laugh and cry,” Wylie said. “We had all sorts of really wonderful support with each other.”
That group turned into a springboard to start Bosom Buddies, a support group they modeled off a 12-step program. “Word grew and I’d get 17, 18 people at a time,” Wylie said. That group then merged with another group, and after hiring a director in Becky Franks, eventually became the Cancer Support Community in Bozeman.
While it has been long enough that Wylie might not remember names of drugs she was on or exactly how many months she spent doing radiation treatments, what it felt like to go through cancer is never far from her mind. “I never wanted to forget what it’s like to go through treatment,” she said. Remembering what she’s been through has helped Wylie press forward and always find ways to help her community in any way she could.
I don’t want to die and say, ‘I wished I had done more,’” Wylie said. Wylie is hopeful for cancer patients today, with new and improved technology and treatment. “So many people are surviving,” she said. “In the old days when my mother got it, you didn’t talk about it.” Today, however, “you can survive and thrive,” Wylie said.
Join Ressler Motors in a celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month