Picture a cancer patient.
Chances are, you’re thinking of an older adult, or maybe a child.
It’s not likely that you think of a young adult, but that’s where Wesley Chapel resident Rachell Moodie found herself in 2009, at the age of 24.
She had been married just nine months when she got the diagnosis — breast cancer. She went through 17 weeks of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.
“People know older adults get cancer and kids get cancer, but there’s this other subset of people,” Rachell says. “People wondered if I went crazy and shaved my head. No one thought I had cancer because it’s outside of the realm of what people expect.”
She says that although she had the support of her family and community, she wanted to connect with other people like her. Even her doctors usually treated patients in different life stages. So, for example, even though her doctors didn’t tell her that the cancer treatment could make her infertile, it did cross her mind.
“I knew I wanted to be a mom,” she says. “So I asked my doctor to let me figure out this fertility thing.”
She was able to have her eggs harvested, starting the process for IVF (in-vitro fertilization). That’s just one reason she’s now passionate about helping other young women who are facing cancer. “If you’ve already gone through chemotherapy,” Rachell says, “it’s too late.”
Rachell has now been cancer-free for eight years. “After going through that journey, I felt like I was on a mission to go through this with other people,” she says, adding that she wants to help others with all of the things she was so clueless about — from the unexpected side effects of chemo, to how to pick out a wig, etc.
A couple of years ago, Rachell met Madison Miller, another young adult cancer survivor, who had created a nonprofit organization for the young adult cancer community, called Spark The Way.
The two were both speaking at an event at the Moffitt Cancer Center on USF’s Tampa campus and recognized their mutual passion. In fact, they both say they instantly believed they would be lifelong friends.
“We just hit it off,” says Madison. “Rachell has such a passion for young adults in the cancer community, so I invited her to join me in Spark The Way.”
Madison was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2013, the same week she lost her grandpa to the same disease.
“He had fought with faith and fought fearlessly,” Madison says. “It was like he unknowingly equipped me to be able to fight.”
Madison says the most important lesson she watched was that her grandfather let people in. “Everyone was always going to treatments with him,” she says. “It was always a ‘we’ thing.”
So, while Madison says many young adults want to push people away when they struggle, even with cancer, “community is everything when you’re going through it.”
Through Spark the Way, Madison and Rachell — along with other “mentors” — make themselves available to cancer fighters, survivors and caregivers.
They’ll talk on the phone, chat online, meet for coffee, or come by a hospital room — whatever they can do to meet the needs of someone who is fighting cancer and would benefit from a listening ear and comforting words from someone who has been there before.
“Friends and family want to support you, but they just don’t get it,” says Rachell. “To have someone who’s been there and can say, ‘I know exactly how you’re feeling and this is how we can face this,’ is so helpful.”
That dream that Rachell once had to be a mom? She’s happy to say it has now come true.
She had to wait until she was five years cancer-free, and then Rachell became pregnant via IVF.
“Madelyn, who’s three, is my daily reminder that God keeps his promises, and you can hold on to hope because there is life after cancer,” she says.
Then, there’s Hannah, who’s now one-and-a-half.
“Right before Madelyn’s first birthday, I became pregnant naturally, so Hannah’s my reminder that God’s bigger than anyone else and He’ll make His plan happen,” Rachell says.
To learn more about Spark the Way or to request a phone call or other contact from Rachell or another young adult cancer mentor, visit SparkTheWay.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.