In the winter of 1990, I moved back to my mother’s house to provide care for the last six months of her life. She died in June of that year at age 69 from metastatic breast cancer. My fiancé stood by me during that awful time, providing my mother with the daily laughter she loved until the end. Juan and I were married the following January. I wish my mother had been at my wedding to share our joy. Nine years later, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Juan and I both knew first hand where that could lead. Unlike my mother’s, my cancer was found at a very early stage because of my diligence with annual mammograms, thanks to the earlier work of the American Cancer Society. But during my cancer treatment, no one told me I could have accessed the American Cancer Society’s information, services and programs. We handled the surgery and radiation – and the fear, and the financial strain – on our own. I believe now that it made us stronger. My radiation technologist told me she had survived for ten years following a double mastectomy, and I remember thinking that if I could just have ten more years, that would be a blessed life.
I have now enjoyed fifteen years since my diagnosis, almost ten of them with the American Cancer Society in Hawaii. My mother’s cancer experience caused her to advise me, “do what you enjoy, and do it now.” I remembered that advice when the opportunity arose in 2005 for me to move to Hilo on Hawaii Island, and I began looking for a job in a community and culture I knew only as a visitor. I found a small newspaper ad for a job with the American Cancer Society’s Hilo office, wrote the best application letter I had ever attempted, and within three weeks of relocating, I started as Program Director, later to be called Community Manager for Health Initiatives. On a steep curve, I learned about Hawaii, ACS and community volunteerism from this role, and made friendships that sustain me today. The Society gave me the opportunity to work to my strengths next as Health Initiatives Regional Director, then as Regional Vice President, and finally to round out my working career as Senior Director for Community Engagement. I will be forever grateful that my cancer story could reshape into a meaningful and fulfilling mission. Ten years more were not nearly enough, as it turned out.
We all know intellectually that growth comes through change, as most cancer survivors will affirm, but change can often feel like loss before any gains are realized. I thank all those who have told me they will miss me. Retirement is a happy change for me and I am excited to explore more aspects of myself. It is also bittersweet because of challenges left unconquered and people I will miss. I take comfort in knowing that our mission is so strong and our organization so vibrant, we continuously draw new people to the cause. These people will bring a wealth of talent and energy to the work. It is this synergy, greater than any individual contribution, that will finish the fight.
I thank our exceptional volunteers and staff in Hawaii and Guam, and our High Plains division leadership, for being part of my life. Because of you, the American Cancer Society has been my final, best and favorite career choice.
~Erin Moncada, Senior Director, Community Engagement