Fighting breast cancer one tulip at a time

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Last October, I was moved by a conversation I had with a barista at Caribou Coffee about an initiative the company launched 17 years ago to raise awareness about breast cancer.

Rushing into the building, I practically jogged up to the counter that morning, failing to acknowledge the offer at the counter to support the initiative through the purchase of a special blend of coffee. Instead, I handed over my cash, grabbed my black cup of coffee and sat down. That was when a conversation between two women nearby pulled at my heartstrings; their own personal battle with breast cancer unfolding one word at a time. On my way out that day, I proudly purchased a bag of coffee.

Caribou Coffee, Facebook, breast cancer, tulip, garden, Amy Erickson

Photo credit: Caribou Coffee

Since my visit, I’ve learned Caribou Coffee continues to raise awareness about breast cancer and pay tribute to Amy Erickson,  a former roastmaster who sadly lost her battle to the disease. The company planted a garden filled with Amy’s favorite flower – the tulip – near Washington, D.C. last fall and invited customers to join the cause online. For every submission made via Facebook, a tulip was planted in support of finding a cure, expanding the reach and recognizing all who have been touched by breast cancer.

When you think of coffee as a product, community support may not naturally come to mind. But, when you think of coffee as a connector, it makes a difference.

Cancer in Caribou

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Cancer.

After ordering my morning cup of joe, the friendly coffee connoisseur behind the counter began telling me the story of Amy Erickson. Who is Amy? She was a “Roastmaster” at Caribou Coffee and someone who I learned helped set new coffee standards for the company. She was also someone who loved life, and unfortunately, lost her battle with breast cancer at just 33 years of age.

After sharing, the kind gentleman offered me a bag of “Amy’s Blend” coffee beans for purchase, with 10 percent of all sales  benefitting Susan G Komen for the Cure. Being aware October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but also in a hurry to start my day, I politely declined.

Learning from a stranger

I noticed a bald woman sitting alone at a table on the opposite side of the packed coffee shop. I saw her, but didn’t want make her feel uncomfortable by staring. I found a seat nearby, sipped my coffee and went on about my business.

A few minutes later, another woman walked through the door, peering around the room as if looking for someone. She spotted the woman sitting near me and quickly ran over to greet her, telling her she didn’t recognize her without hair.

That’s when I started listening. And, began getting a glimpse of the events which occurred during the past year of this woman’s life.

Around Christmas time last year, she was in a car accident, sustaining a few minor injuries. She went to the chiropractor as part of the recovery process and noticed a few unusual lumps in her breast and started to show symptoms of a cold. Not overly concerned, she decided to continue with plans to go on a ski trip with friends. This is a trip she was looking forward to and had purchased a new ski suit for, on clearance – two sizes too big – but thought it would fit perfect after piling on layers of clothing. A few days into the trip, her cold had gotten worse and after visiting a nearby doctor, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

 The cancer progressed quickly, the sinus infection continued and after three different antibiotics and a few months later, her body was showing no signs of improvement. Her spirits were still high until she learned during a regularly scheduled doctor’s appointment the cancer had spread to both breasts. It was a Wednesday and she was asked to make a final decision about the “all or nothing procedure”, scheduled to take place on Friday.

Sharing her story, she went on to explain how she almost “fell off the table” when an ultrasound technician left the room and she peeked over to see the images of the monster taking over parts of her body. Listening to her gut, she decided to move forward with a lumpectomy on Friday, but also scheduling a full body massage hours before. The procedure went well and removed all of the cancer.

Now at the coffee shop, she wears a colorful necklace imprinted with the word “journey” to remind her about the ups and downs in life. She gave a hug goodbye, as her friend brushed her hand over her soft, tiny pieces of hair and then walked out the door.

Her friend reached for her cell phone and began a new conversation with the words “she’s a fighter”.

And, I left with a new perspective on life. But, not without purchasing  my new bag of Amy’s Blend first.