By Susan Redden
When Shirley Frerer called Tisha Lolley for first time, she said it was just to reach out and offer her support.
“I didn’t know her, but I wanted to tell her that I cared and I was there for her,” said Frerer.
That contact has grown into a lifelong friendship for the two woman, both of whom are breast cancer survivors. It has also come full circle and inspired the two to reach out to others who have received a cancer diagnosis.
Lolley, of Joplin, said she was 34 when she discovered a lump in her breast. She and her husband had been trying to have a second child. She learned she was pregnant and had cancer on the same day.
“I had my mastectomy in February 2007. Shirley started calling me right after that,” Lolley said. “Those contacts are really important because I had to quit work and quit school, and my family isn’t close by.”
Frerer said she learned of Lolley through women at a Joplin clinic after telling workers there she wanted to help other women with breast cancer. She was in treatment at the time for breast cancer, which was first diagnosed in May 2006.
Her doctor had performed a lumpectomy, which was followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
Despite being ill from the treatment and side effects, Frerer felt it was important to reach out.
She said her faith and family were great supports after her diagnosis, but said it is important for someone in treatment with cancer to “talk with someone who’s been through it because they understand.
“And when you’re first diagnosed, everyone is there, but after a while, life goes on,” Frerer said.
Lolley said the frequent calls from Frerer were uplifting and educational because the two would be able to compare notes on treatments and effects.
“It was good to hear from someone who had gone through it, and it was sweet for her to call me because she didn’t even know me,” she said.
“One of the things we’d talk about is what we could eat that wouldn’t make us sick, but that was harder for Tisha because she was in treatment and pregnant at the same time,” she said.
Chemotherapy was delayed until after her second trimester and her son, Ilario, now 5, was delivered early. She and her husband, Robert, have an older son, Massimo, who is 9.
The two women talked frequently on the telephone but didn’t meet face-to-face until about 18 months later in October 2008. They agreed to get together at Freeman Hospital, where Frerer was visiting a newly arrived grandchild.
“I could hear her voice in the hall, and I recognized it,” Lolley said.
In January 2011, Frerer discovered a lump in her breast and learned the cancer had reoccurred.
“Tisha was there for me through all of that and helped me pick a doctor for my surgery,” Frerer said.
She said the doctors are satisfied that the surgery got all the cancer. For Lolley, this November marks five years out of treatment.
The two women say they are part of an informal but tightknit network of people who reach out to others after they have received a cancer diagnosis.
“We learn from each other. Knowledge is power, and if you can you can help someone understand better what they’re going through, you can help them get through it,” Lolley said.
“It makes it easier for you to understand what they’re going through, because you can relate,” Frerer said. “And you can tell them ‘you can get through this, and I’m here for you.’”
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In addition to reaching out to others in cancer treatment, Lolley said she also works to remind women of the importance of breast self-examination, adding “I wouldn’t be there without it.”