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"Family" Redefined

Lisa and Erica are two women in Texas who had never met, were both diagnosed with cancer, and were not immediately in love with the idea of a so-called support group. Despite this hesitation, they gave it a try, and good thing they did.

During the pandemic and a fateful snowstorm, the two formed an unbreakable bond – a sisterhood and forever friendship that enabled them to redefine the meaning of family. Hear their story and learn more about the community and support at Texas Oncology.


Voiceover: Two women, two worlds apart…who would come together in friendship because of cancer.

Lisa Loring: I was just grateful that we were all able to somehow meet.

Erica Tecce: I told her, I said, "Lisa, you are the first non-family member in my life to be on my island."

Ted Canova: Hi and welcome to Right Here, a podcast from Texas Oncology, who knows that family and friends are a huge part of cancer treatment, so being right here makes a difference. For expert cancer care, go to Texas Oncology.com. I'm Ted Canova.

Nothing could get in the way of this friendship, not distance, not a winter freeze, not even cancer.

Lisa Loring: I'm Lisa Loring. I live in Austin, Texas, and I am a cancer experiencer.

Ted Canova: Before being diagnosed, Lisa was living a busy and complicated life.

Lisa Loring: I had just moved back to Austin from Washington, D.C. It's the middle of the pandemic. I normally would have my annual mammograms in May of every year, but because of this background moving situation, I didn't have that.

Erica Tecce: I'm Erica Tecce, I live in Dallas, Texas, and I am a cancer patient.

Ted Canova: Before Erica was diagnosed, she was caretaking for her mother and brother, both of whom had cancer.

Erica Tecce: It was hard. I coped with my diagnosis at the time by pretty much pretending I didn't get diagnosed because mom and brother were a lot further along on their cancer journey and needed more attention than I. And those that are caregivers would understand that that's the mindset you go into. They were priority.

Ted Canova: So much a priority, that all three of them moved into a big house together, so Erica could hold down a job while still caring for them.

Erica Tecce: It was not pretty.

Ted Canova: For work, Erica had been an event planner, so juggling was part of her job…a talent that proved valuable as her mother went in and out of the hospital while she rushed home to care for her brother and their dogs.

Erica Tecce: I thrive in chaos, I guess. Yeah.

Ted Canova: This chaos became Erica's life. But did she ever think, "How did this happen to me?"

Erica Tecce: I did think about that. You feel sorry for yourself. You have moments. I mean, you wouldn't be human if you didn't. But after mom passed away, my brother and I were obviously still living together, and he was getting worse. We had a big talk about that, like how people always feel sorry for us, "Oh, you poor family, everyone has cancer," but the relationships we formed because we were brought together by this horrifying situation, like, I got to spend so much one-on-one time with my mom…and then that kind of went right over to older brother when she passed.

Ted Canova: Months before her mom passed, Erica received her own diagnosis.

Erica Tecce: It's all surreal. Everything was so bad that when my doctor called me to give me the results and to tell me I had cancer, I was online at Whole Foods, checking out, and I told her, "I'm shopping," and she was like, "Oh, well, you have breast cancer."

Ted Canova: Erica wasn't surprised.

Erica Tecce: I literally felt like at that point in my life that just a black cloud was following us around. So, when I was diagnosed, it was just that black cloud feeling, that if something bad was going to happen, it was going to happen to us.

Ted Canova: When Erica learned of her medical options, she immediately chose the most drastic surgery possible.

Erica Tecce: I did the double mastectomy with reconstruction all at one time. And I did the deep flap reconstruction, which is a lot harder to recover from. But my mindset was, "I don't have time for cancer, my mom and my brother need me," so I told them, "You have me once in the hospital. I'm not coming back, so do it all while I'm here. I need to get home."

Ted Canova: Today, her decision seems so matter of fact.

Erica Tecce: After my surgery, life continued. I just picked up where I left off prior to the surgery. I had a walker for the first three months after my surgery. It was my job to take care of my family, so I kind of ignored my needs and I helped them, especially since I felt guilty for being gone for like a week. I was in the ICU! But I had to pick up where I left off.

Ted Canova: Erica didn't have much time to pick things up before her mom died four months later. Her loss brought her closer to not just her brother, but also to her dad living in Florida. But family tragedy didn't end. Years later, her dad died. Then a few years after that, so too did her brother.

Erica Tecce: I did not find light. So, I literally after that latched on to my dogs. My dogs were older at the time, and they were my mom's dogs, so I turned my caregiving to them.

Ted Canova: Going through cancer can be lonely and confusing. Erica found strength in the Texas Oncology community and saw first-hand a unique difference in dealing with other medical practices.

Erica Tecce: When we moved to Texas, we found Texas Oncology for my mother. When my brother's health turned, he turned to Texas Oncology for help as well. And then, of course, I did also when I was diagnosed.

Ted Canova: When you're first diagnosed, you face a storm of information and emotions. But from diagnosis to surgery, Erica found great comfort in the warmth at Texas Oncology.

Erica Tecce: I'm not saying this for any reason other than the God's honest truth, I saw the difference between that practice and Texas Oncology within one visit. I found Texas Oncology to form relationships with their patients differently than I saw elsewhere.

I saw the doctors deal with each of us as a person, talk with us as a person, just one-on-one, trying to make us feel more comfortable because each of us came at them with different needs and different personalities. And this isn't just the doctors, the nursing staff, the staff in the infusion rooms, they became family. They made you feel better. They made you feel loved, they made you feel like you weren't alone.

Ted Canova: At the same time Erica was feeling loved, she struggled with asking for help.

Erica Tecce: We were on our own island. It was just us, close family, we kept everyone at arm's length... I'm very stubborn…it was us against the world. For years.

Ted Canova: A saving grace for Erica, then and now, was coming across Lisa, who had her own difficult journey. It was the summer of 2020, when Lisa and her adult daughter moved to Texas to live closer to her husband with whom she was going through a divorce. Upon arrival, Lisa had her annual mammogram.

Lisa Loring: And that day I was on the edge of my bed, grazed my thumb across my breast, and I'm like, "What the f*** is that?" I had my daughter feel it, and she's like, "Mom, what is that?" I could feel that piece, that tumor. I knew immediately what it was, it was the size of a couscous…the size of a pearl.

Ted Canova: Even with boxes still to be unpacked, somehow Lisa had all her medical records, including images and mammograms from the past. So, she was ahead of the game when her OBGYN recommended she see her close colleague, Dr. Debra Patt at Texas Oncology. Like most cancer patients, Lisa was completely overwhelmed.

Lisa Loring: Ok, I know this is cancer. There was no reassurance, I just had to have faith in them. To be very honest, I had to allow them to take care of me. There were so many points in time when I would say the recognition of faith and the gratitude for their care, they were actually such a huge support. Even the day I had, the last few days of my radiation treatments, I literally just broke down and cried because they were kind of the family that couldn't be there for me while I went through this.

Ted Canova: Having confidence in your medical team makes a difference when fighting cancer. But so too are the intangibles.

Lisa Loring: There was this support group.

Ted Canova: A support group organized by Texas Oncology provided patients who had never met a chance to start a community.

Erica Tecce: Lisa and I did not know each other prior to the support group. I think I can safely say for both of us, we were brought in kicking and screaming.

Lisa Loring: I guess my kicking and screaming would be, to like, allow an outside entity that isn't family.

Erica Tecce: We were not support group advocates at the time. Emily the social worker kept suggesting support groups and I was like, "No, that's not going to help me. How is hearing other people's sad story going to help me feel better about mine?"

Lisa Loring: I wasn't wanting to open myself to the possibility that other people can take care of you. This feels confusing and I'm like, "Oh, but I already committed to this, so I guess I'm doing this."

Erica Tecce: I said, "My plate is full," and that's what I would tell people prior to all of our drama, "I don't have room. I love other people; I care about other people. But no, I just can't. I don't have the capacity." I was absolutely against it.

Ted Canova: So, of course, you know what happened next, both Erica and Lisa joined the support group during the pandemic, meeting every Thursday at 3:30 over Zoom, for six weeks.

Erica Tecce: I saw Lisa's journey from our first session. She was very angry and very upset, and one thing that probably broke my heart a little bit was, she would say that she had days where she just cried, she couldn't get up, she couldn't function, she was just crying because it was so much, and I understood.

Ted Canova: And what did Lisa see in Erica?

Lisa Loring: She was just a super bright light. I came to learn more about her overall cancer experience. And there was this energy about her, of hope. There I am at rock bottom, my life's been tsunami-ed, my life's been devastated and I'm clearly trying to swim out of that. But she's got that kind of like chutzpah that I love.

Erica Tecce: She has grown and morphed. She won't admit that, but she's become my caregiver. She told me, "I can't allow you to go through cancer treatments by yourself. I am going to help you." She's a completely different person.

Lisa Loring: It was great to develop a support system. When you have a cancer experience, one of the themes that they brought up was about how we manage our expectations about what the loved ones and the people, even in the best of circumstances, can and will be able to do for you.

Erica Tecce: People who have not experienced cancer have no idea what to say to us, how to act, how to help us. But cancer patients also keep a lot of things inside and don't tell their family or people who don't have cancer, some things. But in our group, you could.

Ted Canova: And then one day, they finally met in person, taking precautions during the pandemic, and gathering on a restaurant patio.

Erica Tecce: It was cold. We were all bundled up. We had our masks on, and whoever couldn't come, we got on our computer and brought them in virtually. So, some of us got to see each other in person for the first time. It was awesome. Seeing the personality that you think you pick up with your little Zoom cube, I was very taken by Lisa, how spunky she was and her confidence when I saw her in person. It made it real. Seeing that you were real people…it solidified friendships when we got to see each other in real form.

Lisa Loring: For me, it was just like, I have this group of people with whom I have a particular commonality, and that feels very precious to me…. kind of following the little Hansel and Gretel nuggets towards love. I swear God put me here in Texas so I could go through some of these horrible things, but equally also learn to have faith in people who I didn't know to take care of me.

It took my willingness to open myself to letting these people take care of me and for God to put me in the right hands.

Ted Canova: These days, the group embraces what they call "love bombing", when a member knows another has a doctor's appointment or needs a lift, they do what they can- text, email- to remind one another that they're not alone. One act of love bombing took place during that surprise, deep-freeze winter storm in February 2021.

Lisa Loring: The day that happened and I'm looking outside, I'm like, "This is going to be a minute." I finally was able to reach Erica, she said, "I've been without power already," I'm like, "Get your dogs, get the cat. I'm coming up."

Erica Tecce: She did. And that's how she said it, she said, "Pack a bag."

Lisa Loring: Do this, this, this, and this, we'll deal with the rest later.

Erica Tecce: I was so overwhelmed. I'm hearing talks of like water heater issues and exploding pipes, and I was freaking out. And she literally was like, "Pack your stuff. Get the pets. I'm coming." And I was just like, "She's not coming. She's crazy," but I'll be damned, she was like, "I'll be there in however many minutes."

Lisa Loring: So, I told her, pack her bags, I'm bringing you down here now. I go, "I'm coming up," and it took me a minute to get up there, but I trusted my car to get me there. I knew my snow driving was on point.

Erica Tecce: She's going to sugarcoat it, because to her, it was nothing since she's from up north. I kid you not, I will never forget in my mind.

Lisa Loring: There was no lanes, and there were some very silly people trying to drive. And then I get to her house…

Erica Tecce: And I remember I was looking outside. Everything was white. Nothing had been plowed, there was over a foot of snow on the street. No one has driven- fresh, beautiful, uninterrupted snow. And then, here comes Lisa's car, without hesitation, plowing through all of this snow that no one had even thought about driving on.

Ted Canova: And how was that 90-minute drive back down to Lisa's?

Erica Tecce: I was white knuckled, she was not. She was absolutely calm and confident. I think the most tedious, horrifying part of her journey to get me back was trying to survive the texting drivers around her, all doing crazy things who didn't know how to drive. I was terrified. And if she was, she hid it well. She seemed calm, cool, and collected.

Ted Canova: This friendship resembles Thema and Louise, minus the ending, of course.

Erica Tecce: She's my best friend, I don't pour my heart out to people well…but God, I have to her. In my world, it was me and my family against everyone. I told her, I said, "Lisa, you are the first non-family member in my life to be on my island," and I said, I was like, "This sounds silly and sappy," but she got it. Lisa is the first non-blood relative in my whole life who I welcome to my island with open arms.

Lisa Loring: I'm grateful that someone would allow me into their life, that means a lot to me. We have a responsibility to one another, but it's an enjoyable responsibility. This support group, it is community, it is family. It is a sisterhood. I'm really grateful, because it has brought me together with people who I would never have known and who are a family and who have been there for me. It's not just a place to vent. It is an interdependency on one another that has grown in this really beautiful and healthy way.

Ted Canova: These days, both Erica and Lisa are using their cancer experiences to start wellness companies. Erica's HealthyPets.com sells healthy foods, treats, and shampoos for pets. And Lisa plans to start a five-star wellness company to help people going through a chronic illness, so others get the kind of care they received at Texas Oncology.

(Music transition)

Next on “Right Here”- a television reporter discovers her biggest story was now the cancer in her own body.

Woman: I teared up, just reflecting on how far I've come in my journey, where I started and where I am today. It's very emotional because I didn't know what would happen.

Ted Canova: Don't miss our next episode when we meet Lyndsay. We hope you enjoyed Right Here, a podcast from Texas Oncology, who knows that family and friends are a huge part of cancer treatment, so being right here makes a difference. For expert cancer care, contact Texas Oncology.com. I'm Ted Canova. See you next time. END

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