Caitlin Whitney of Springfield has walked for Rays of Hope since high school. She feels it is important to give to an organization that gives back to its local community.
"I love that Rays of Hope is local, and everything stays right here," said Whitney.
"Breast cancer affects so many people, so I made it a point to always donate to Rays of Hope each year. I always purchased breast cancer awareness merchandise like silk scarves that benefit breast cancer organizations and would proudly wear them during the month of October."
A life-changing diagnosis
Little did she know that several years later, at the age of 29, she would be using those scarves to accessorize her "no hair" style.
Diagnosed in 2014 with invasive ductal carcinoma, Whitney had surgery at Baystate Medical Center along with chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the D'Amour Center for Cancer Care.
"For such a traumatic situation, I could not have asked for better care. Every single person made my treatment more positive from the minute I pulled into the parking lot and was greeted by Gordon the valet. I loved my chemo afternoons with Nancy and Joanne. Dr. Mason, Dr. Yunes, and Dr. MJ (Makari-Judson) have all been fantastic through this journey. They always listened to my concerns, easing my anxiety and helping me cope with my diagnosis. Katie and Sara made my six weeks of radiation fly by with their fun personalities, jokes and ability to make me smile even on my darkest days. We are so fortunate to have this amazing place here in Springfield," said Whitney.
Meet Seal Team Pink
That year, Whitney created her Rays of Hope team called "Seal Team Pink" inspired by SEAL Team Six, the special operations unit of the Navy. They started with 150 people and have grown to add her fifth grade students at Glenwood Elementary School in Springfield. The students have also held fundraising events to support Rays of Hope.
"The day I was diagnosed with cancer was also the day I decided I was going to conquer cancer," said Whitney.
"When my team gets together to walk each year, it reminds me how loved I am. We give back and now I am a survivor. We know how important it is to help everyone who is diagnosed become a survivor, too."
Recognizing the signs
Caitlin educates people on how to detect cancer early by recognizing the signs. She says this knowledge empowered her to not dismiss the signs of breast cancer her body was exhibiting, which she feels saved her life.
"I share my story in the hope that I will inspire other people, motivate them to recognize cancer symptoms, and save someone's life," she said.
The breast cancer survivor noted she has met a lot of amazing people through Rays of Hope that have helped open new opportunities for her to share her story.
"I'm currently working with Survivor Journeys to create a young adult survivor group in Springfield. Rays of Hope events like Survivors' Day and the Pink in the Rink Thunderbirds game continue to help me heal. Participating in these events is like therapy that helps me stay positive and reminds me that I beat cancer, and with the help of my team of doctors will continue to stay cancer free," said Caitlin.
Should you get screened for breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. Learn more about when you should get screened.