No Family History of Cancer: Mom Stays Positive Beyond Unexpected Diagnosis
With no history of cancer in her family, Vaishalee was in complete shock when she found out she had breast cancer. Her life as a 32-year-old mom was thrown off course, and she faced the panic, uncertainty, guilt, and other varying emotions that many newly diagnosed patients experience.
Rewind to 2008, and she was graduating from Rutgers University, which also happens to be where she met her husband, Keith. Vaishalee began working in the Big Apple after college, and soon after got married and started a family in her native state of New Jersey. The couple now have two children, Sophia and Lucas.
Unaware that cancer was looming, Vaishalee decided to leave her corporate job after 10 years in the financial services industry and become a full-time stay-at-home parent. A short six months later came her diagnosis and the beginning of chemotherapy, followed by Sophia’s fourth birthday and then Lucas’ second birthday. From there, Vaishalee endured a double mastectomy, radiation, and all the side effects that come with them.
Confronting a major change in plans
The physical and financial burdens that often accompany a cancer diagnosis quickly made it difficult for Vaishalee to continue life as normal. Her and Keith hired a nanny to care for Sophia and Lucas while Vaishalee recovered from treatment and Keith continued to work full time.
“Being a stay-at-home parent, living on a single income, and having to get full-time childcare while undergoing treatment is what crushed us financially,” Vaishalee explained.
Vaishalee and Keith leaned on family for help so they could afford their monthly utility bills and avoid missing mortgage payments, but it wasn’t long before the financial struggles put a strain on their marriage and plans for their growing family.
“We knew going down to a single income was going to be tough without cancer, but with cancer it was no longer feasible,” Vaishalee said. “My time off that was supposed to be spent with my kids was stolen from me and instead I ended up having to spend it fighting for my life.”
What’s more, not being able to care for her children with her usual vigor became a mental challenge for Vaishalee.
“To hear my kids struggling or calling out for me and not having the physical ability to help was exhausting and added to feeling guilty about being sick,” she said.
Finding relief in positivity and financial support
Vaishalee drew strength from her children during treatment, and was especially focused on maintaining a positive outlook.
“My mantra was ‘I am strong, my body is strong. I will beat cancer and I will live to see my kids grow up,’” she said.
When she was nearing the end of active treatment, Vaishalee found Family Reach through John Krasinski’s 40th birthday social media campaign, during which he encouraged his fans to donate to Family Reach in lieu of presents. More than raising an incredible $500,000, the campaign made invaluable introductions to families like Vaishalee’s who were in need of financial support.
“When we were in the middle of it we were just trying to survive,” Vaishalee explained. “However, once we had a chance to look at our finances and budget, it was looking grim.”
I am strong, my body is strong.
I will beat cancer
and I will live to see my kids grow up.
Thankfully, Family Reach was able to help relieve some of the financial pressure and allow Vaishalee’s family to focus on moving forward.
“Family Reach’s support allowed us to finally take a breath and get out of the red after active treatment was over,” Vaishalee said. “We could start our new ‘normal’ off on the right foot.”
Holding her family even closer than before
Cancer has a way of shifting perspectives, and, for Vaishalee, a lot of that came in her role as a mom and wife. She’s now a big believer in letting little sources of stress go, instead finding reasons to be together and celebrate whenever possible.
“A sink full of dishes doesn’t bother me anymore – they can be done after the kids go to bed!” Vaishalee teased.
She’s also always mindful of reminding her husband how much she appreciates him, recognizing her kids’ successes, and living life to the absolute fullest.
“I try to be more present and hold on to every milestone because with cancer you just never know – everything is a celebration because I lived to experience it,” she said.
With treatment behind her and no evidence of cancer in her body today, Vaishalee is ready for a happy and healthy 2020. Now in the process of becoming licensed foster parents, her and Keith are already back on track to their next milestone.
Always walking the fine line between her right and left brain, Stevie brings her creative and strategic thinking to her role as Marketing Coordinator. Through writing and design, she amplifies Family Reach’s voice and puts financial toxicity in the spotlight.
In Conversation: AbbVie Executive and Family Reach Board Member Melissa Walsh On Career and Community
Our newest board member spoke with with us about her career path, connection to our mission, and advice for growing as a professional.
Here’s a look at some recent conversations and perspectives about health inequity, including financial toxicity and social determinants.
Monthly donations are an important and rewarding way to show your support for your favorite nonprofit organizations.