“It turned out I had stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which meant it was in both regions of my abdomen, a little on my spleen, some on my heart and a lot in the chest and neck,” said Molly Huffman, of Missoula, who received her diagnosis in July 2013.
For 37-year-old Eileen Deda, her diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer came when her youngest child was just 7 months old. “I was diagnosed last November, and I had my double mastectomy that same month,” said Eileen, who – after almost a year – is finally coming to the end of her treatment and reconstruction procedures. “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Each year, hundreds of families in Western Montana are affected by cancer. The emotional, physical and financial burdens associated with a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Since 2009, Team Up Montana, the Providence Montana Health Foundation and the generosity of countless Western Montanans have helped provide life-saving treatment for hundreds of people with cancer in their communities. This includes Missoula’s Molly Huffman (right) and Eileen Deda (left).
“We didn’t have insurance and I didn’t know how much I’d be able to work,” said Molly. “Team Up Montana told me they were going to pay three months of my mortgage.”
Eileen’s experience was similar.
“I was missing work. And, especially following maternity leave, I had nothing as far as earned time saved up,” said Eileen. “Team up Montana was able to make a house payment for me at the beginning of my chemotherapy.”
“For people like me who are scared about missing work – a house payment is big. It’s one less stressor you have to think about when you’re not feeling good.”
Keeping it Local
Since its beginnings, Team Up Montana has focused on helping the local community of Western Montana. It’s designed to connect community members who want to help with the people who need it.
“I hope people know what a remarkable community we have. This is a community that can come together and is really doing amazing things for people,” said Molly, whose support from Team Up Montana came directly from the fundraising efforts of a local student and Hellgate High School. “It did for me.”
“Disasters don’t just happen in places far away. They happen here, too,” said Eileen. “I think a lot of people really want to help, but they don’t always know how.” She explained that when donations remain local you can actually see your impact. “You can see the people you’re giving to. You might even know them.”
Beyond Financial Help
Team Up Montana did much more than provide financial support to Molly and Eileen.
“When I got that phone call from Mike Bullard at Team Up Montana and he explained to me that they wanted to help, it just really assured me that everything was going to be okay,” said Molly. “It was incredible, actually, to have a stranger call me when I was at such a low moment and tell me that my community was really supporting me.”
“They’re just great people,” said Eileen, who explained how the people at Team Up Montana made her feel like part of the team, not simply like a person in need. “They have gone above and beyond for me, without expecting anything in return.”
“The generosity of so many people who have helped me through this illness made healing a lot faster,” said Molly. “I didn’t have to worry so much about the financial aspect of everything and I could just focus on healing.”
Just Focus on Healing
“Walks in Pattee Canyon,” said Molly. “That helped.” So did finding a way to let things go.
“I was a manager and really busy. It was very hard for me to let go of all my responsibilities. But, once I was finally able to surrender to the idea that others could take over those responsibilities – that I could let go of those responsibilities – I gave myself time to be creative and to do things that made me feel good, knowing that I didn’t have to go to work and could just take time for myself and to rest and to heal.”
“Today, I feel good. I’m getting lots of exercise and eating well. I still see the oncologist every few months and everything’s looking great,” said Molly. “Today, I feel healthy.”
For Eileen, her path towards healing was about keeping life familiar.
“I tried to mostly keep a normal life. I continued to work when I could. I worked Monday-Wednesday, then chemo and Thursday and recovered on Friday. I was just trying to keep my life as normal as possible while going through this. I have two young children and we had just bought a house. And now I look back on that time and think, ‘Wow, how the heck did I do that?’ But, at the time, it seemed like what I should do.”
And, she found support from others with cancer.
“I met some really extraordinary people during chemotherapy and we’ve kept in contact,” said Eileen. “With cancer, you’re suddenly part of this new group. It’s a group of people from all different walks of life, who are suffering, like you are. We were all suffering. But we were together. We seemed to find ways to smile through it and have a better appreciation for life.”
Advice for Others
“It’s really, really okay to not be okay,” said Eileen, who encourages people to accept help. Ask for help. But Eileen admits, this isn’t always easy, whether help is coming from the people closest to you, or from the generosity of strangers.
“It can be embarrassing. Or sometimes people don’t know where to look for help,” she said. “But Team Up Montana made it so easy. I didn’t feel awkward. I didn’t feel like I had my hand out. I needed some help – and people came together and they helped me.”
Molly reminds others to share their stories.
“I created a blog. It not only helped me express myself, but it helped a lot of my friends and family start to understand something they hopefully won’t ever have to understand,” she said. “And it let them in a little closer. They were able to conceptualize where I was. People were really grateful for that.”
“I think it is good to share your story,” said Molly. “I think it really helps people understand that none of us is going through this alone.”
Showing Your Pink Pride
Since 2009, Team Up Montana has hosted the annual Pink Griz Game to celebrate cancer survivors and raise awareness – and to help others in Western Montana facing this life-changing disease. Molly, Eileen and thousands of supporters will be at the Pink Griz Game this Oct. 18 at the University of Montana. Want to join them? Learn more.