Amber Willey had been in her new job for just two days, when she found out she had breast cancer.
“The first thing I thought is… ‘Oh my God, I’m going to lose my job,’” remembered the 35-year-old Nashua mom, who works in medical billing for Southern New Hampshire Medical Center.
But Amber didn’t lose her job. Her workplace – which is also her treatment provider – was accommodating and compassionate, allowing her to take days off for appointments and treatment. And so, she continued to work full-time, since her diagnosis in October of 2016.
“My job has been so supportive, through the whole thing. I’m really grateful.”
Amber still remembers the shock of learning she had breast cancer.
“I came home from work one day, and I felt uncomfortable,” she remembered, adding she did a self-exam and felt a lump in her breast. She received an exam, right away, followed by a biopsy. Her results came back quickly. That day is still a blur. “It felt like the day didn’t even happen.”
Amber is single mom and her son, Lorenzo, was 14 at the time. “At first, he took the news a little hard,” she said. “He thought it was the end.” But, they talked it through, and he even attended chemotherapy with her a few times, so he could understand what was happening. He felt better when he learned more.
“Emotionally, he’s been pretty good,” she said. “We talk about a lot of things. He’s my everything.”
The last year of Amber’s life has been filled with chemotherapy, surgery (a lumpectomy) and radiation. Now, she’s finishing a last round of oral chemo, to prevent her cancer from reoccurring. “I’m at a high risk,” she said. “So, I figured I’m already doing this… what’s a little more?”
When she started getting really fatigued, in her first round of aggressive chemo, Lorenzo began doing more around the house. It was wonderful, because her bones ached and she was so tired, she said.
“He really stepped up. I would come home from work and he’d say, ‘I did the dishes and the trash is out!’ He helps me clean, cook, do the marketing. I don’t even have to ask. And he makes me laugh and makes me happy.”
Every night, she still makes a home-cooked dinner for her son, no matter how tired she is.
“He’s my reason to keep going. He needs me. I have to fight with all I’ve got.”
Amber has pushed herself to keep working, all through treatment. But even so, missed days added up and she lost income, particularly in the first month. Organizations like the Joe Andruzzi Foundation helped her keep up with heat bills and unexpected car repairs.
“I kind of worried about the utilities being paid,” she said. “It was stressing me out. The help I got took a huge burden off me.”
Amber said she’s had two main goals every day, during cancer: stay calm and be nice. She really appreciates the small things in life now, so much more. “I’m thankful I get to see the sun rise every day.”
She’s also learned a lot about herself. “When being strong is your only option, that’s what you do,” she said. “I learned that I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was.”