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My Life of Advocacy

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For me, every month is Breast Cancer Month.  At age 22, I underwent breast surgery for, what I thought was a benign tumor. Unenlightened at the time, I did not realize the gravity of what had transpired. At that time, 1964, age 22, I found out that radical mastectomy surgery was the standard for breast cancer but my surgeons made the decision not to perform a radical mastectomy and instead removed the tumor and surrounding tissue. After research and gaining knowledge based on breast cancer, I became an outspoken person to urge women to check their breast and when mammograms became standard, I started encouraging women to get screened. I was always keenly aware of the possibility of recurring breast cancer. I knew the value of maintaining annual screening and monthly self-examination.

In 1999, I was again diagnosed with breast cancer. The options were mastectomy or lumpectomy.  Weighing the options, and after discussing it with my husband and surgeon, I decided for the lumpectomy.  I knew if I were to have a third diagnosis, I would have bi-lateral mastectomy.  Three years later, breast cancer recurred for the third time it was a no-brainer – I had bi-lateral mastectomy and reconstruction.  All options were explored and I was very comfortable with my decision.  I did not have any complications with all three surgeries and I still feel blessed.  However, I know this is not the outcome many women go through and I have always been compelled to share my journey with others and to be a hands-on support for anyone.

This has led me to, especially for the past 25 years, be a one-on-one, caring person on whom women can depend.  With a breast cancer diagnosis, I have seen the devastation, turmoil and hopelessness many women experience.  I cannot give medical advice, but I can be there for knowledge as a layperson to help with a myriad of questions and how to navigate the journey, whatever stage and anxiety level that are presented. 

I have spent hours with women for doctors’ appointments, chemotherapy sessions, radiation sessions and just holding hands.  With the deluge of life-altering circumstances, such as, care of family, employment, finances and so many more things, I try to fill the void of “How can I manage all of this?”  I have been there to set up a management system with friends, family members and myself to ensure women do not have to worry about appointments, meals and basic necessities.  My shoulders are for support and positive thinking.

My inspiration to give service in the community is vividly etched in my memory. At the age of 15 I recall my mother saying, “Marguerite, you should think about helping those less fortunate than you.”  My mother’s words still echo today and guide me to always give to my community. I give special credit to my husband, Carl, who has been an unwavering support throughout my journey and a cheerleader for my outreach to others.  He always says, “This is your calling.”  He goes beyond our personal journey, and is an outspoken advocate for men to be hands on, a supportive partner, and to become knowledgeable.  His message, “Be There.”

You are not defined by your breasts and your journey begins with you as a whole person and knows that others are with you for the journey.

Inner Strength
Maya Angelou said, “Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.” I love this quote because I believe that I control the narrative of my life and whatever happens, the pieces are picked up and I move on.  ~Marguerite

By: Marguerite Toliver
Marguerite Toliver is a retired corporate executive and has lived in Stockton since 1984. She and her husband, Carl, grew up in Chicago and have known each other since the first grade. In addition to her personal one-on-one advocacy for women with breast cancer, she is actively involved with Stockton Chapter, The Links, Incorporated; Eleanor by Women United, an affinity group of United Way; Messages of Peace – University Park World Peace Rose Garden; and many other community projects. She and Carl, cherish spending time with family, especially their two grandsons. They enjoy entertaining friends and time spent on getaways.