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I remember the day as if it was yesterday; my whole life changed. I was in my office, and it was nearing time to pick up my son from the neighbor. When my phone rang at a little after 5:00, and it was my doctor, I knew something was wrong. She said those dreaded words, "you have breast cancer."
Let me back up a minute. I was 39 years old and after my annual exam, they told me great news! Everything looked good, and I didn’t have to worry about a mammogram until I was 40. WONDERFUL!
A month later, the tumor was there. My husband found the lump in my cleavage area. It hurt so much I jumped and screamed. We both looked at each other and were scared. The next day, I called my obstetrician, and they immediately took me in. I made my husband leave work early so he could go with me. I couldn’t see my regular doctor, so we saw the doctor who was there that day. We told him everything, and he felt around and didn’t seem too concerned. He even told us we shouldn’t have anything to worry about, but he sent me for a mammogram and an ultrasound to be safe.
Because he said there was probably nothing to worry about, I went to the mammogram alone. I knew something was wrong once the technician asked: What type of insurance do you have? Can you take off work easily? Panic started to rush in, and I began to cry. Then she told me the doctor would probably want to talk to me.
I called my husband right away. Not only did they find a lump in my cleavage, but they found something on the other side. Not only did I have one biopsy, but I had two, and to make matters worse, it was a Friday. I had to wait until Monday for the results. It was my primary care physician who called late on Monday because she didn’t want me to wait until Tuesday to hear the news.
As I held the phone, seeing my life flash before my mind’s eye, I thought about my husband, Aldo, and our 6-year-old son, Mikey. How would they live if I wasn’t here? I didn’t want to die and wanted to see my son grow up, and I was only 39 years old. Breast cancer does not run in my family. I was diligent about my health. If they had told me a month before to have my mammogram, I would have. Why was this happening? I thought about how to tell my husband, parents, and brother, and how do you tell a 6-year-old child Mommy has cancer? I didn’t want him to think Mommy was sick and will die.
Luckily, my husband was already on his way home and, unfortunately, already knew something was terribly wrong. My doctor called his phone number by mistake and asked for me. She couldn’t tell him anything because of confidentiality, but he already knew. We called my parents and my husband’s parents, my brother and Aldo’s brothers, my aunts, and a few close friends. They all rushed over. It was then I knew how supported and loved I was, and that I would make it through.
The next day, I was on the phone from when my son went to school until 1:30 on the dot. I made appointments, called the insurance company, talked to Mikey’s pediatrician for advice, and talked to friends, family, and my husband, who was checking in on me throughout the day. At 1:30, I was finished with phone calls, sat on my son’s bed, and said aloud, “now what?” I started crying so hard, holding one of his stuffed animals, begging not to be taken away from him or my husband. For the next ten minutes, it’s all I kept saying. Once 1:40 hit, like I knew what time it was, I stopped crying and got myself together because Mikey would be home in 20 minutes. Once he was home, I focused on work. How was I going to tell my clients? Will I lose business? How will we support ourselves?
Back in 2010, I chose to start a business. I have been fighting Fibromyalgia since I was a teenager which meant it took a lot of work to hold a job. Aldo and I talked about me staying home and raising kids, yet I knew I still wanted to work. Through a lot of research for work-at-home jobs, I realized I could offer people virtual assistant services while working from home, raising a family, and taking care of my health.
Virtual Assistance 4U was born! Did I know what I was doing? NO! Did I know how I was going to find clients? NO! Did I have any help whatsoever? NO! So, how did I become a successful work-at-home mom? I found my way, networked, had a great support system, and found my tribe. After being on social media for a while, I fell in love with it. I saw how it could help grow my business, and I knew from other entrepreneurs and small businesses there was a need for it. In August 2010, I rebranded my company to Savvy Social Media. I have been providing social media management and coaching ever since. I always say if it weren’t for Fibromyalgia, I wouldn’t be doing what I love.
After many years of building my business and reputation, I didn’t have to worry about losing my clients because of breast cancer. My clients were understanding and caring; it still touches me today. They donated to my GoFundMe, cooked meals for us, and sent well wishes through cards and gifts. Like any business owner, I worried about my business failing. Instead, because I had the support of my clients and my tribe, Savvy Social Media is still here and thriving.
Once I found my team of doctors, we came up with a strategy for chemo first and then surgery. I had 16 rounds of chemo every other week. I had a hospital stay at one point, which extended the chemo period. During that time, I planned to see how I would react to the chemo, take the time I needed, and then work on the good days. Luckily, the only symptoms I had were fatigue and body aches. I was lucky I never had nausea.

However, I was in bed for five to six days straight because of the fatigue and body aches, which could have been a combination of the chemo and the Fibromyalgia.
During those five to six days, my parents and in-laws were Mikey’s parents. They helped during the day until my husband came home from work. A close family friend also started a meal train for us, so we had meals during the bad weeks. On day 6 or 7, I would start to feel myself again, and then I was the happiest because I was able to work. I missed working and couldn’t wait for the good weeks.
When it was time for my surgery, I thought long and hard and decided to go with a double mastectomy. With my type of surgery, the recovery time was about six to seven weeks. The month leading up to my surgery, I worked my butt off making sure my clients were set for the next two-to-three months. I wanted to focus on my recovery and not worry about work.
I have learned a lot since going through breast cancer. Growing up, I saw my mom do everything, and she never really asked for help. When I went through breast cancer, I thought I could do it all: be a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, as well as a business owner. Boy, was I wrong! If there is one lesson I learned during my journey, it’s don’t be afraid to ask for help and then accept help when it is offered.
I couldn’t be a parent to Mikey during my chemo weeks. I couldn’t cook or clean, do the shopping or the laundry, and after surgery, I couldn’t drive for six weeks. I had to learn how to accept help. Thank goodness I did because I wouldn’t have been able to make it through that part of my journey without my tribe. Some of the people who cooked meals were those I met through my business: clients and networking. Some of the people I only met a few times, but they took time out of their day to do something kind for my family and me.
After my recovery and when I was ready to step back into the business world, my tribe welcomed me with open arms. I started networking and speaking again, despite being a nervous wreck. I looked different because of my wig. Most people already knew what I looked like wearing Lucy (my wig) because I wasn’t afraid to share my journey on social media. I shared pictures and videos from my diagnosis, from shaving my head to the bad days in bed to the good days. People knew why I named my wig Lucy: I am a huge fan of Lucille Ball. Because I was open and honest, and vulnerable, people were welcoming when I stepped back into the business scene. If it weren’t for my tribe (my friends), it would have been more difficult. It felt like I was starting over in some ways, but when I talked to someone, they would make me feel so much better. Sometimes, they would feel the same way but didn’t go through what I did.
Today, in 2023, I am happy to be a small business owner and an entrepreneur, all while being a mom and wife. If it weren’t for the love and support of my husband, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, coaching female entrepreneurs who want to achieve a social media presence and make a great impression.
I create customized training to fit your needs, regardless of your business level or what industry you’re in. My favorite platform to teach is LinkedIn. With it being the number one professional platform around, people underestimate the power of its reach and how it can really help people grow professionally. I understand the value of time, and it empowers me to give clients back theirs. I desire to help female entrepreneurs turn their limitations into strengths, giving them more time to do what they love and have more time with the people they love.
During the challenging days, weeks, and months of treatment and recovery, I dared to lead when I could, to rest when I should, and I grew. Perhaps the lessons and realizations about myself and my place in this world are those I might have learned in some less traumatizing way. Lucille Ball said, “…it doesn't pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself. Remember to recognize the small successes you will have. Don't let the brightness of that big goal blind you to what happens on the way toward the goal. Meet one wave at a time and enjoy what progress you make. I want you please not to be taken up in the undertow of pessimism. In life, all good things come hard, but wisdom is the hardest to come by."
Wherever you may be in your life journey, it’s good to take the high road, to count on others, and to give back when the chance shows itself, even if that payback is writing an article about one of the most challenging times and difficult experience of your life.
Written by Michelle Arbore
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