Sarah Greaney entered her early 40s at the peak of her life when she received her unexpected ovarian cancer diagnosis in December 2018.
The Lewiston, Maine native had worked hard on a career she loved as a behavioral health professional in a local high school and had just celebrated four years of addiction recovery. She was also very active and participated in many 5Ks and other road races as part of Team Red White and Blue – an organization that helps veterans suffering with PTSD. She had even been lacing up her skates and participating in roller derbies!
Needless to say, Sarah lived an active and healthy lifestyle that she took great pride in.
Her life changed very quickly, though, when her doctor said the dreaded “C” word.
“Ovarian cancer is kind of nefarious in that it doesn’t really give us women a whole lot of symptoms,” she remembers. “I didn’t have any real symptoms that I was aware of at the time they were presenting themselves.”
Sarah suffered from extreme abdominal pain one morning in November 2018, and for only the third time in four years called out of work for a sick day. She quickly went to St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston where she received a CT scan. As soon as she returned home her phone rang. It was Sarah’s doctor, who was already calling will the troubling news: the scan had shown a 10-centimeter mass on her ovaries. Doctors advised Sarah to come back to the hospital right away.
The team at St. Mary’s reacted quickly and referred Sarah to Maine Medical Center so she could have surgery to remove the mass a few weeks later. In that short time, the tumor had already grown to 15 centimeters.
Following her initial surgery, Sarah had six rounds of chemotherapy and three rounds of radiation, as well as another follow-up surgery – putting her out of work for the duration of her treatment.
For the average person, missing work creates financial obstacles, but the struggle is even greater for employees in educational settings who rely on school-year earnings to get them through the summer months.
“I was out from December 8, 2018 to March 8, 2019,” she says. “The school year only goes until mid-June, so it didn’t give me a whole lot of time. I was still going through chemotherapy, so I wasn’t even at work full time, which was really frustrating.”
It was during that critical time that Sarah’s social worker from St. Mary’s mentioned the Joe Andruzzi Foundation. Sarah was already worried about making rent and was relieved to learn about an organization that would be able to assist her in such a time of need.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get back to work, even if I was feeling better, until September, and that’s when the Joe Andruzzi Foundation provided me with an incredible, amazing financial bridge to help me get over the hump and ensure I was going to land safely until I could work again.”
The grant from Joe Andruzzi Foundation helped Sarah cover one month’s rent, which was a huge relief. The emotional boost it provided, she explains, was even more impactful.
“When you’re out of work because of cancer, it’s such a volatile thing because you don’t know what is going on with your body and you don’t know what to expect,” she says. “You’re living in a constant mode of instability and wondering what is going to happen next. Then you don’t have the ability to keep up with bills. The stress was affecting my mental and physical health, and the Joe Andruzzi Foundation allowed me to feel like I had more stability to cross that bridge to being healthy and able to work again.”
Sarah credits those around her, and the skills she cultivated during recovery, as paramount in getting her through the hardest times.
“Knowing I had the support of my family and friends, and also the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, was so helpful. I needed everyone’s help, and admitting I needed that help was the hardest part. But knowing I had all of that support allowed me to remain upbeat during the darkest times.”
As someone who thrives in a busy environment with a packed schedule, Sarah is happy to be back at work and in her normal routine again. Sure, her job can be hectic and requires patience, but Sarah is ready for life’s challenges and is happy to take them on.
“Before, if I ever had a day when I didn’t feel grateful, I worked on it due to my recovery – but after cancer and seeing people’s generosity and love, I have a renewed sense of faith in humanity. I also have a deeper appreciation for how fragile life is.”