She Showed Up and Sure Showed Out; the Aimee Williford Way
I met Aimee Williford, in the fall of 2013, during the first class of our first semester in the Counselor Education program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
It is fair to say we lived a whole lot of life before we got to that classroom. We were middle aged moms re-entering college, paying tuition and on a mission.
So many classes we spent laughing and freaking out over the sheer stupidity that we thought going back to school was something we could do.
Yet, the ease was with our connection. It came from our willingness to share the battle wounds, learning struggles and sacrifices we faced. We also shared a deep love for our children and were open about the hardships that came along with parenthood. The textbook descriptions of human development and the big wigs of psychotherapy were only partially right. We had our own version of the truth and those rose colored glasses were shattered long before we were tested on Erik Erikson stages of development.
But each semester we found ourselves back in the classroom, ready to show up for another round.
Aimee was working a full time job, attending classes and single momming it like a true girl boss.
She got married to the love of her life. Felt a lump on her breast. A mammogram found nothing in that breast, but found a fibroid adenoma in her other breast. A year later, the lump was officially diagnosed as lobular carcinoma. A breast implant pushed a tumor forward in her left breast which was diagnosed as ductal carcinoma in situ. She knew her family history of breast cancer, her grandfather suffered and eventually succumbed to the deadly disease. She understood the battle she was about to face. And she did it our last semester without much fan fare. She faced it for family.
The news came swiftly and Aimee began treatment for cancer as a newly wed, a master level counseling student all while holding down a full time job and raising her children.
Through it all, she continued to show up to class and complete the rigorous assignments. She was a mother, she knew hard but this was a battle that even with her best efforts looked uncertain. She joined groups, asked for help, made lifestyle changes and made the impossible, possible. I could not have been more inspired and scared.
What can you do for someone who is fighting for their life? Really???
I did what everyone does, walked in her honor, prayed for her and encouraged her. I was there with her when she was told that her numbers were not high enough to get her scheduled round of chemo, after they had prepped her for the treatment. It was an unexpected blow. I felt helpless and lost as to what a friend on the side should do, so I put on the brave face when I saw her, smiled when I wanted to cry and laughed with her at the sheer stupidity of it all.
We graduated together in May 2016. She barely made it to the ceremony but she made it. She wasn't going to attend the commencement ceremony, it wasn't her main focus but once again, she showed up. I remember calling her in a panic as we were called to line up "where are you?!" She was breathless and worried to catch something from the crowd, I knew this was yet another sacrifice she was willing to make. She wanted her family to have something to celebrate and I nagged her to be there.
Life goes on and Thank God so has Aimee. Aimee was honored as the 2018 Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Survivor of the year. She is an active breast cancer survivor who advocates for prevention awareness.
Every October, she can be heard saying, "Breast Cancer is longer than just 31 days, it's a life long battle." As her friend, October reminds me of her fierceness, her show up and show out attitude and a humble remembrance that life is not promised to us.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed in their lifetime. One woman will be diagnosed every 12 minutes in the US.
Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat, and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Early detection is the key. The majority of deaths occur in low- and middle-income families, where most women with breast cancer are diagnosed in late stages due to the lack of awareness on early detection and health care options. Sadly, not all breast cancer can be prevented. Risk factors like genetics can not be changed. Treatment varies from patient to patient and there are no guarantees.
Aimee's journey taught me that facing breast cancer takes a stupid amount of courage and a healthy amount of fear, a dedicated family, a boat load of awesome healthcare providers and a show up attitude. She earned a masters' in this, too.
Today, I am humbled to have my office right next to hers. We share a hallway, a play therapy room and every now and then some laughter over the stupidity of how we actually got here. It's as it should be.
Do yourself a favor, check on your friends, tell them to schedule their mammograms. The world needs less breast cancer and more survivors. Imagine a world with fighters like Aimee who show up even when it's stupid hard.
Oh and BTW, to show up and show out means you make an impression on the people in the places you attend. I think she does this everywhere she goes...it's Aimee Williford's way.