Interview With Andrea Nugent

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During this holiday season we are thankful for so many wonderful people in our lives, EDDF supporters and organizations that work so hard to fight cancer and support people who have cancer. One of those organizations is Bionic Girls, founded and run by Executive Director Andrea Nugent.

Cancer survivor Andrea Nugent had a team of family and friends help her and her young son when doctors found cancer in her breast, ovary and lymphatic system.

However, Andrea knows that everyone doesn’t have the same type of support system that she had. So, she used her own money to launch Bionic Girls. This non-profit organization in Pembroke Pines, Fla., provides a range of services to patients undergoing treatment at Memorial Regional or Memorial West Hospital in Broward. These services include housecleaning, in-home counseling, spiritual counseling, workshops, rides and prescription pickups. Andrea is a well-respected author who has written “Mommy is Still Mommy: Cancer Can’t Change That,” “The Road to Prosperity: Let Your Passion Lead the Way” and “Declarations of a Survivor: A Guided Journal for Motivation, Encouragement & Strength.” These books help fund the important work of Bionic Girls.

Andrea was kind enough to spend some time telling the Eric D. Davis Sarcoma Foundation a bit about herself, Bionic Girls and the books that she has written.

EDDF: What is a typical day like for you?

Andrea Nugent (AN): Each day is different for me as I am not a typical CEO. There is nothing glamorous about what I do. Some days I am in the office handling everything from administrative duties, to marketing, business development and IT work as I have to do it all.  Then there are the days I am on the road, providing free rides to chemo, going to food banks to collect food for patients who are too weak to stand in line for themselves, or offering prayer support over the phone.  Evenings and weekends I can be found participating in community events where I man our tables and hand out flyers to promote awareness and our organization.   Then there are the times that I have delivered food in the middle of the night to breast cancer patients who have called and said they had nothing in the house to feed their kids because they were not working.

EDDF: Why did you start Bionic Girls?

AN: During chemo my family was there in ways you could not believe.  They came they cooked, they cleaned, they drove me to treatment, and they took care of my then 2 year old son. They wanted me to focus on healing and not on life’s stresses.  I kept meeting women who said their family lived in another state or they were going through a divorce, or who were taking the bus to chemo.  I just could not imagine going through this journey alone and I definitely could not imaging getting on a bus after chemo.  As soon as I was better, it ignited a fire in me that I had to find ways to give back.  I was laid off during treatment and had gotten my severance pay so that was what I used to start the organization.

EDDF: Since you started Bionic Girls, what have been some of your milestone moments? 

AN: We have been fortunate enough to accomplish so many things in the short year and a half we have been operating.  I feel so proud to be in the position to bring joy to the lives of patients and survivors in my community.  Any time you can enrich someone else’s life it is a blessing.

– Taking 20 breast cancer survivors and their caretakers on an all expense paid 4 day Carnival Cruise to Jamaica for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  The look on the faces of the women that went was priceless, many of whom had never been on a cruise before.

– Feeding 40 breast cancer patients for the 2011 holiday season.  We provided Turkeys, Hams, and all the side fixings to patients who were going through treatment and not working during the holidays.

– Taking breast cancer survivors to swim with the dolphins at Miami Seaquarium during 2011 Breast Cancer Month for their Hopetober event.

– Participating as a team in the various breast cancer walks and relay for life events this year.

– Being selected by General Motors South East as a partner.  They loaned us a fleet of Chevy Vehicles to go into the community and deliver goodie bags to breast cancer patients and survivors October 2011 for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Overall just proud that my life has come full circle to the point where I am no longer the one needing the help, I am now the one who is giving back.  We have other survivors that we have helped who are now coming back and paying it forward and helping others.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

EDDF: What inspired you to write “Mommy is Still Mommy: Cancer Can’t Change That?”

AN: My son Zachary who was 2 years old at the time.  He is now 6.  I just kept looking at him and wondering what was going through his mind as he watched me lose my hair, get weak and witness all the changes that take place during cancer treatment.  I knew that he was aware that things were different and I just wondered how they felt.  Then I thought about all the other women who get diagnosed and had young children and how this book could be used as a tool for them to explain cancer treatment and its effects.

EDDF: How have people responded to that book?

AN: Everyone who has read the book loves it.  The reviews have been fantastic.  Doctors say that there are not enough books like this from this perspective.  Mother’s say that it helps them to make the topic less scary when they have to talk to their young children.  They also say that it empowers them and reminds them that no matter what they are who they are and they are still mommy and nothing can change that.  The general public has said it is vividly captivating and because it is a multi-ethnic book all children can relate to the characters in the illustrations.

I just had the book translated into Spanish and hoping to release the Spanish version as well as the daddy version in 2013.

EDDF: What advice do you have for other parents talking to children about a cancer diagnosis?

AN: I believe that children should be included because personally I feel they understand so much more than we give them credit for. If you don’t talk to your kids about cancer, they may invent their own explanations, which can be even more frightening than the facts.

Communicating how my treatment would affect our lives was a priority for me.  My son wanted to know that he was my biggest caregiver and helper.  He enjoyed being included in my care. He still talks about how he took care of mommy when she was sick and I can see the pride in his face everytime he says it.  Even at 2 years old he would bring me water and blankets and help me out the bed each morning.

It is important to reassure your children that no matter what changes they may see take place that your love will not change.  Answer their questions accurately, and let them express their feelings.  Remember you set the tone.  Your children will react to things the way they see you react.

EDDF: What advice do you have for family members of a person battling cancer?

AN: A cancer diagnosis can be very devastating. Your friend or loved one will go through a wide range of emotions following their diagnosis. The hard part will be to try and figure out a way to show support and understanding.

The first thing you can do is give that person some time. Everyone processes things differently and they may just need time and space to come to grips with what the doctor just told them. They may be going through worry, shock, and in some cases even anger. You have to remember that in a matter of seconds that person’s life just got turned upside down. Until that person comes to terms with their diagnosis they may need you to just sit back and listen compassionately.

Then the next thing is to just be there in any way you can. There are several ways to show support. However, one thing that is important to remember, offer to help in specific ways and avoid the typical “Let me know what I can do to help.” This only makes it uncomfortable for your friend because now they have to ask you for assistance.  It may not even occur to them what they will really need help with in the beginning.

Some key ways to help out:

Go with her to appointments and consultations or even provide rides to and from treatments.

Offer to help do house cleaning, yard work, preparing or dropping off meals, run errands. If they are going through chemo, radiation or just had surgery, your friend will need rest and most likely be under extreme fatigue. Taking the pressure of their routine chores will go a long way.

Offer assistance with caring for their children, especially if they have young children. Things like feeding the kids, ironing school clothes, helping with homework, bathing the kids are tasks that seem near impossible when going through treatments.

Offer to give their normal caregiver a break. Their spouse or parent my just need a little time off themselves and maybe you can help fill in for a couple hours.

EDDF: Tell us a little bit about your other books and who may find them helpful.

AN: My other book is a self-help ebook titled “The Road to Prosperity: Let Your Passion Lead the Way,” and it is available on www.barnesandnoble.com.  You cannot achieve any kind of success in life if you don’t have passion about what you are doing. Be it the simplest thing or the most sophisticated thing, you need passion in order to succeed. This book discusses how important passion is and what different forms it must take in order to point our lives in the direction of super success.  It will benefit young adults starting out in life as well as someone that may feel stuck in a rut or just contemplating a career change.

EDDF: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

AN: For newly diagnosed patients just remember attitude is everything, so be very optimistic.  Your frame of mind will frame your world.  I am still standing after being diagnosed with Epilepsy in 2002 and Breast Cancer in 2009 among many other health challenges that I suffered along the way.  I’m living life with a new zest and most importantly “Living Beyond Obstacles.”  Life is good!

“Mommy is Still Mommy: Cancer Can’t Change That,” is available through all major online book retailers as well as through my website www.andreanugent.com

You can follow me for updates on Twitter @AndreaNugent, @BionicGirlsOrg, or @MomIsStillMom

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