Breast cancer was lonely for Sarah Beckmann.
When she was diagnosed at 25 — a 10-centimeter tumor in her right breast — she didn’t know anyone else going through the same thing. She had chemotherapy, radiation and a bilateral mastectomy.
Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in Minnesota, but it’s rare in young women. Only five percent of all cases are people younger than 40 — even fewer under 30.
In 2015, a few years after her diagnosis, Beckmann found The Firefly Sisterhood, a St. Louis Park-based organization matching women fighting breast cancer one-on-one with women who have been through it. She decided to become a guide and mentor another survivor.
“I wanted to do it because it was something that I felt was still missing for myself,” she said.
Beckmann was matched with Anna Weisenberger, who was then 29, just like she was. Weisenberger had just been diagnosed.
“When I first got sick, they gave me this big folder with a bunch of brochures, and I remember there was a flyer for Firefly,” Weisenberger said.
She reached out, and soon met Beckmann at a coffee shop.
“I had my purple three-ring binder, and was asking questions about, are things going to hurt? What does this scan do? What is it like to have a port? What was it like to lose your hair? Did you cut your hair off? Did you shave your head? You know, all those things that are running through your mind,” she said.
“I can't even begin to tell you how awesome it was just to sit for probably four hours, and feel the sense of comfort in a new partner in crime … as I go through the process.”
Seven years later, their connection has proven much deeper than they anticipated.
Like a few years back, when Beckmann got sick and needed to go to the emergency room. She had a family and children at home at that point — Weisenberger was the one who met her there.
“We’re sitting there and she's trying to make me laugh. Because what else do you do when you're sitting in the ER, right?” Beckmann remembers.
A young doctor walked in and began to examine Beckmann’s chest.
“Anna's like, ‘Yeah, you want to see mine too?’” Beckmann said, laughing. “You lose some of that modesty around your chest, because it's just a medical thing. It has a totally different significance now than it did before.”
Sometimes, their friendship is not about making each other laugh, but just being there for each other.
Not long after Weisenberger’s treatment ended, the two went to a Boyz II Men concert. Weisenberger’s hair had started to grow back after chemotherapy at that point— it was cropped in a short buzz cut.
They got in a cab after the show, and the cab driver called Weisenberger “sir.” It hurt more than she expected.
“And I remember Sarah just grabbing my hand in the back of the taxi and squeezing it. And I just shook my head and tried to just keep my cool,” she said.
“I don't think I would have been able to just have a moment like that with any of my friends. They didn't get it. She understood.”
Beckmann and Weisenberger say there’s a level of unspoken understanding with people who have been through the same experience. A natural kinship with other breast cancer survivors.
Since they were matched back in 2015, Weisenberger has since become a guide with the Firefly Sisterhood, too, and mentors newly diagnosed women. Beckmann and Weisenberger have formed bonds with even more survivors.
“Everybody else feels bad for you. Right? You’re sad. You're depressed, and nobody knows what to say,” Beckmann said. “But you get your breast cancer sisters in there and they got rolling laughing like you’re busting a stitch. And so that's something I didn't have before Firefly, or before Anna.”
Connecting with Beckmann has given Weisenberger vital perspective on her future survivorship, and a sense of hope.
“I can see (Beckmann) being 10 years out, compared to me being five years out. I can see what it's going to be like,” she said. “And it gives me hope when I'm having a difficult time with something.”
“It's incredible that breast cancer is the thing that gave us this,” Beckmann said.
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Breast cancer was lonely for Sarah Beckmann.