Inspiration can have Curious Roots

Cancer diagnosis leads to path of discovery.

Jacquie Connell (from left), Merry Jones and Jennifer Denham. Photo by Ron Dubick

Suzanne Murphy of Milford had a great job, a wonderful house—and, then, suddenly, breast cancer.

“I thought I had it all,” she recalls. “Cancer woke me up.” 

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Cancer was the catalyst that inspired Murphy, 69, to make positive changes in
her life.

After her diagnosis in 2011, the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition connected her with a peer mentor, who provided support and ultimately became a close friend. 

Through DBCC, Murphy began taking yoga classes. She made a friend who introduced her to t’ai chi, a system of gentle stretching and exercise to relieve stress.

With a renewed appreciation for life, she embarked on a series of adventures, house-sitting for a friend in Florida and traveling to Europe. She ended a longtime relationship with a man that wasn’t working anymore.

She took up watercolor journaling, the process of writing in a journal, then sketching and watercoloring an image that reflects that experience. 

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“I discovered I could paint—and it feels so good,” she says.

Murphy now packs a palette and notebook to take on her trips. Four of her grandchildren are sketching and painting, as well.

“I honestly can say that cancer was a gift in my life,” she says.


Paddle Your Own Canoe

Merry Jones of Dover retired from her job as a speech pathologist in the public school system soon after she was diagnosed in 2006. A month later, her
husband died.

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Support from DBCC helped her through both traumatic experiences.

“I had a wonderful peer mentor and took part in every activity I could find sponsored by DBCC,” she recalls. “Soon, I realized that there is life after cancer.”

Jones was drawn to Nurture with Nature, a program that brings women together to experience the outdoors by hiking, kayaking, biking, horseback riding and astronomy.

“I went back to the things I had enjoyed when I was young and growing up in the country,” she says.

It had been many years since she had been canoeing. But she picked up her paddle and got back in the water. She started
hiking again.

Jones also dove into new pursuits. She kayaked for the first time. She turned to  meditation and stargazing. She became a peer mentor at DBCC.

Today, at 68, Jones is fit and healthy. She has learned to be accountable for her health, losing 35 pounds after she was diagnosed as a pre-diabetic. 

“I’m happy, healthy and confident,” she says.


Portrait of a Survivor

Jacquie Connell of Wilmington was 48 when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2009.

Unable to work, she turned to painting, reawakening a dormant creative spirit. She had always been artistic, painting in vivid acrylics. Now, her painting took on
new purpose.

“I painted to relieve my anxiety,” she says. 

Connell captured snippets of life at shops and restaurants in Trolley Square, her old neighborhood. She turned her artist’s gaze to St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington’s Little Italy, where her children were baptized.

“I really got into flowers, which I had not painted before,” she says.

Immersing herself in art proved so beneficial that Connell decided to share her joy with others.

On the first Tuesday of every month she volunteers her time and talent, teaching an art class at Christiana Care’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center. A grant from the Legend Foundation pays for supplies.

“It’s extremely fulfilling for me, plus I get to meet new people,” she says.


‘I Feel Wonderful’

Even before she learned she had breast cancer, Jennifer Denham felt depleted.

She had just quit a grueling job and had completed training as a yoga instructor when she was diagnosed in 2007. She was only 42 and facing multiple surgeries and chemotherapy.

“I couldn’t go up the stairs without sitting down and taking a rest,” recalls Denham, of Greenville.

Battling cancer increased her determination to become as fit as possible, a commitment she maintained after her
treatment ended.

“I do something physical every day,” she says. “It makes me feel empowered.”

She also banished soda and gluten from her diet, opting for green, leafy veggies and other foods rich in antioxidants.

“I’m a green smoothie girl,” she says. “My stepson looks in the refrigerator at all the kale and Swiss chard and says ‘it looks like a forest in there,’” she says.

Denham also resolved to help others. She became a peer mentor and joined Young Survivors in Action, a DBCC program that focuses on the concerns of younger women. She has taught free yoga classes for survivors at the Helen F. Graham Center, Chester County Hospital and other venues.

“Before I was ill I was tired all the time,” she says. “Now, I feel wonderful.”  

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