Volunteer Spotlight: Maxine Mennen
When Maxine came to the Cancer Support Community shortly after being diagnosed with lobular invasive breast cancer in 2007, it was the start of a relationship that would continue to this day, bringing with it lasting friendships, valuable information, and the chance to make a difference in her community.
Maxine was on the freeway driving to work when she got the call from the hospital where the biopsy had been performed. When she heard the words “invasive mammary carcinoma” she said to the woman on the phone “I’m on the freeway driving to work. I’m going to pull off at the next ramp.” The woman stayed on the phone with her until she got home and walked her through her next steps.
“My initial feelings were terror and horror,” recalls Maxine. “That word ‘cancer’ is horribly frightening.” But when her gynecologist told her “this is not a death sentence,” it helped alleviate some of that terror. And then she began what she calls the Waiting Game. “You wait for the appointment with the surgeon, you wait for your test results. You wait to get word after word after word from your doctors.”
One thing she did not have to wait for was the Cancer Support Community. Her friend was a volunteer there and kept encouraging her to check it out. “I cried my way through my orientation, then I tried the guided imagery group and cried my way through that. And I cried my way through my first support group,” says Maxine, who underwent radiation treatment and two lumpectomy procedures to treat the cancer.
Day by day, Maxine got through the difficult initial emotions and gained support and helpful information from her group members. “When I was unhappy with my doctor, my group members let me know it was okay to get a second opinion and even switch doctors. They answered my questions and educated me. They helped me feel like I wasn’t alone.”
Wanting to give back to the organization that helped her, Maxine donates much of her time to CscVvsb. That orientation session that Maxine cried her way through the first time she went to CscVvsb? She now conducts those sessions herself, all on a volunteer basis. “I want to help them like I was helped,” says Maxine. She also volunteers at many events and fundraisers.
In addition to her CscVvsb support group, Maxine also attended a six-week pilot program called “LiveWell! Life Beyond Cancer” for people who were finished with treatment. This group helped Maxine realize how helpful emotional support was even after treatment was over. She and several other LiveWell participants got a group started for post-treatment survivors and met regularly until the economic downturn made it impossible for CscVvsb to cover the costs of the group. Maxine and her friends kept meeting on their own, choosing a different restaurant each month for their meeting spot. The group suffered a tremendous blow recently with the loss of their dear friend Jeannette Fitzgerald to ovarian cancer. “We were shocked, numb and sad,” says Maxine. At their next meeting there will surely be something missing, but the members will support each other through this loss, as they have been there for each other through seven years’ worth of life’s ups and downs.
When asked what she wishes she had known when she was newly diagnosed, Maxine brings up the issue of emotional support after treatment. “It’s never over. There is always a small fear in the back of your mind that the cancer will return. We didn’t talk about that eight years ago. Now the medical community is starting to realize this is a real thing.” Regarding her surgery and recovery, Maxine wishes someone would have told her that she would always have discomfort when lifting her arm, even eight years post-surgery.
Retired after 20 years as a project manager at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Maxine loves being involved in many activities in her Leisure Village community in Camarillo, including organizing art shows, gardening, aerobics, yoga, and more. “There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t see something and think how lucky I am to live here.”
“I can always count on a witty comment and a laugh from Maxine, and as we all know, keeping our sense of humor and being able to laugh is an important part of getting through a cancer diagnosis,” says fellow CscVvsb volunteer Gail Lemberger, who is also in Maxine’s post-treatment monthly dinner group. “She has always been a wonderful supporter of CscVvsb and encourages us to volunteer in any way we can.”