In 2017, Amy and Andrew Thomas attended an in-person Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat® with their three-year-old son, River. Amy was first diagnosed with breast cancer when River was just one, and then re-diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer two and a half years later. Until their retreat, Amy did not know any other young mothers with a terminal diagnosis, and Andrew had not met other male caregivers with children still at home.
|The Thomas Family found Hope in NYC|
Back in their small town of Hendersonville, North Carolina, the Thomases wished they could do more than just keep in touch with the other families they had met through Inheritance of Hope. They craved the connection, understanding, and practical advice found only through IoH. Both tried Facebook support groups, but nothing came close. Nearly a year after their retreat, Andrew asked Inheritance of Hope staff if it would be possible for IoH to offer structured, ongoing remote resources. The answer was, “We’re working on it!”
Hope@Home™ is one of the products of that work, and the Thomas Family is one of the first beneficiaries. Amy now attends an online metastatic breast cancer support group, and Andrew jumps in on caregiver coffee hours. Along with River, the couple took part in our first eReunion, which brought together over 1,000 people for workshops and large group talks. Amy especially enjoyed some of the legacy-making breakout sessions that could be adapted for any parent determined to instill values into their child, “I appreciated the fact that not everything is related to our diagnosis. That is important to me--I’m not defined by my diagnosis.”
But, she also acknowledges that the empathy she encounters through IoH is different, “When you go to something that is specifically for the IoH demographic, you expect to have sessions that ‘get it’ more than a psychiatrist who has training. Personal experience means more.”
For Amy, that means when she shows up through Zoom on Wednesday nights, she knows the other women there will be able to shore her up if she is having a bad day. They can be honest and candid in a way that needs no explanation or apology. With no other young metastatic breast cancer patients in her area, these women have become Amy’s community. The importance of that cannot be overstated, “If any of us are having ‘one of those days,’ those who aren’t can pull the others up, and we can help each other not stay there. It can also serve as an accountability system.”
Andrew agrees, and has found IoH caregiver groups to be equally helpful, “Being around others that are experiencing like struggles makes things easier. There are many emotions that we go through as a spouse to someone facing a terminal illness,” he explains. “Some of these can make one feel ashamed or even scared. Knowing that you are not the only one that has ever had these thoughts is liberating and confirms there isn't something wrong with you or that you are a horrible person.”
|Amy (upper right) tunes in almost every week to the IoH Hope@Home MBC group|
The reality of a diagnosis like metastatic breast cancer forces hard conversations, ones that Amy says need to keep happening by “those of us who are still going strong.” She hopes that IoH might be able to expand Hope@Home™ group programming into areas that specifically affect this population, such as nutrition during treatment, and relating well with your caregiver. In short, she knows that people who are experienced in and are experiencing these same issues will offer something she can’t find anywhere else.
“It gives us all the chance to have a better life because of how we can learn from other people’s experiences and what has worked for them,” Amy explains. “Even more beneficial,” she says, “might be the fact that it helps create compassion and empathy between people who may have different situations even though they have the same diagnosis. That is a huge benefit for the community, not just for our diagnosed group.”
Beyond that, Amy has even bigger plans, “I love making stuff, learning new things, and I have a ton of fabric. I would love to give back to people in cancer centers, maybe by making quilts and lap blankets. Blessing others is a way I share the love God has given me."
Angie Howell is constantly inspired by the people she meets in the Inheritance of Hope family. Her connection to IoH goes back to Davidson College, where she met Kristen Grady Milligan the first week of their freshman year. Kristen eventually started Inheritance of Hope with her husband Deric, and Angie heard about their work at a college reunion. In 2010, the two former hallmates got back in touch, and Angie became involved in IoH shortly afterwards. She has served as a Legacy Retreat volunteer, Coordinator, and now, as Communications Manager, Angie helps tell the stories of IoH. Read more Inheritance of Hope blogposts >>