Life after cancer is filled with uncertainties, but one thing Beyond Boobs! guarantees the women they support is that they will always be surrounded by friends. Friendships blossom at our annual retreats, during “Not Your Typical” Support (NYTS) group meetings, and at our signature events like the Pink Carpet Gala. For some women those friendships transcend the group atmosphere and take on lives of their own in the outside world.
I recently had the chance to chat with two Boober! besties. Michele Yepez is the facilitator for the Wards Corner NYTS group in Norfolk. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2013 at the age of 32. Shawn Huddy, diagnosed in October 2010 at 42, has volunteered for several different BB! projects and has also contributed to the BLOG. Both Michele and Shawn represented the group as calendar models in previous editions of A Calendar to Live By. Here they share the love by talking about how their friendship began, the importance of good food and cold beer, and why Boober! love is the best.
Beyond Boobs!: When and how did you two meet?
Shawn Huddy: Michele and I met at a BB! fundraiser.
Michele Yepez: It was called Hoops for the Cure and it was held at Old Dominion University. It was the very first BB! event I participated in. Shawn was there with several other people and I got to measure her boobs for tickets! After that when we would see each other we seemed to really click. I saw Shawn again at a World Cup game with her daughter Bryleigh that summer and the rest was history.
BB!: Why did you two hit it off?
MY: Why didn’t we hit it off would be a better question. We have a similar sense of humor, enjoy the same things, and our kids get along swimmingly. There is nothing about Shawn not to like. I’m not the easiest person to get along with at times and I don’t make friends all that easily, but Shawn never took my weirdness or cordial distance personally. Right from the beginning she just knew that’s who I was. It takes a long time to crack this nut and I’m glad she managed to do it.
SH: I can’t exactly pinpoint the moment when I realized “I love the stuffing outta that chick,” but we have become much closer over the last 12 months. Michele and I both have a passion for writing and reading, we spend a lot of time at a local watering hole eating yummy food and drinking a beer or two, and our kids get along great so we include them in our activities, too. We have been to BB! retreats together, I’ve attended her Not Your Typical Support group a number of times, and we spent New Year’s Eve together – kids included.
I was with Michele for her birthday and she insisted on being with me for mine, too, even though mine is so close to Christmas that I try not to make a big deal out of it. By then most people’s energy is spent from gift-giving and partying. But Michele made a special trip to celebrate my birthday with me, and in case you aren’t aware of this, Michele doesn’t drive to Virginia Beach without a good reason. My birthday happened to fit the bill, and I was so tickled about it.
BB!: Sounds like you two have a great friendship. How do you support each other through the ups and downs of life after cancer and just life in general?
SH: Michele is a huge support to me. I am kind of a softie about some things, and at times I can be taken advantage of if I don’t put my foot down. Michele is often my voice of reason when I find myself drifting into a position where I might represent myself as a doormat versus a person with a strong mind and a strong will. Michele helps me reconnect with my inner strength. When she gives me advice it isn’t preachy or judging and she’d never chastise me if I didn’t follow her suggestions, either. I find Michele’s sense of self to be inspiring and I’d like to have her power to walk away from certain situations I find myself struggling with. I envy her conviction and ability to be a badass with no apology.
MY: I have so much love and trust in who Shawn is and her opinion of me and who I am. For example, she was the first, and at the time of this interview, the only friend I let read my novel. That’s my most personal, intimate part of me and I’m selfish with that. That’s how much her viewpoint means to me. She gives me advice when I need it, whether I want it or not. She just knows that I need to hear it. It’s always honest and genuine, and comes from her heart. Plus she’s smart and so open to the world, so she kind of helps ease me into it a bit. I know I can lean on her if things get too heavy. I hope she thinks the same of me, too.
Shawn and I are close, like friends who have been together for ages. We laugh at the same things, enjoy an ice-cold beer and some spicy Mexican food, and can hang out with or without the kiddos and not miss a beat. The BB! retreat, the Pink Carpet Gala, and all the other BB! events are more fun when you have your bestie along for the ride. We also hang out at my house, because she knows what an awful anti-driving homebody I can be, and we have holiday fun together with friends. We also enjoy our moral vices, like poker and smack talk, and sometimes we just hang out and do nothing at all. There’s so much to be said about someone like that.
When BB! said these women become your sisters, your family, I was quite cynical. Now I know they are right. Shawn is the family I got to pick, and now she’s stuck with me. Ha!
BB!: You guys are too funny. What role has BB! played in your friendship?
MY: What can I say? I’m not one to believe in fate, but it’s hard to argue with the chain of events that led me to BB! and then to Shawn. Having cancer blows, but it’s an eerie sort of feeling when you are actually unconvinced you would change if it meant giving up all that this group and my friendship with Shawn have given me. Given the choice of no cancer ever or a whole new friend to bond with over beers, most people would pick the former hands down. But you know, I think Shawn would get me when I say I’d still probably pick the latter. Who am I kidding? She always gets me. That’s why I love her as much as I do.
SH: Although I think Michele and I are friends beyond what drew us together, we both have a deep-seated appreciation and love for BB! and what the organization and its cofounders, staff, volunteers, and Boobers! have contributed to us by way of our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. They are life savers, all of them.
BB!: What’s the best part of having a Boober! bestie?
MY: The strangest benefit to having a Boober! bestie has been the level of comfort in conversation. With my Boober! sisters I can discuss all things cancer. With my best friends I can discuss everything else. But with Shawn, I have it all. You know what it’s like when you’re feeling insecure and kind of want to date again but your kids are there and you wonder how it will affect them and, oh yeah, those scars? How does that even work and how do you bring it up? We get it and that’s the kind of thing that truly reminds me I’m not alone and that there is someone who gets me.
SH: Michele and I would like to collaborate on a fictional account of breast cancer . . . Fictional characters and fictional scenarios, but filled with energy and drama and triumph and sadness. We would incorporate BB! into the book in some way, too. Thanks to Beyond Boobs! I have coped with breast cancer in a healthier manner. I think Michele feels the same way. The catalyst to our friendship was breast cancer and the warm handshake was Beyond Boobs! We are friends apart from those elements, but we still appreciate the circumstances that brought us into one another’s circle.
Because we are geographically apart, not professionally aligned, and there is a big age difference, Michele and I may never have had the chance to meet but for a cancer diagnosis. Cancer is bigger than we are, but apparently not stronger.