Going the Therapeutic Mile for Cancer Survivors

Christine Willett displays her best of class lunch award at Green Acres Elementary Center and discusses teaching and being a cancer survivor.
Christine Willett displays her best of class lunch award at Green Acres Elementary Center and discusses teaching and being a cancer survivor.

If Christine Willett looks familiar, it might be because you've seen her in a cancer therapy television commercial for Middlesex Hospital.

Life took an unexpected turn when Christine, a teacher at Green Acres School, was diagnosed with stage-two breast cancer in 2007 when she was seven months pregnant with her son Chase.

Christine says, "The Green Acres staff helped me through my recovery process. They cooked for me for six months and would come out to my house once a week to visit and watch my kids so I could rest or get things done."

She adds, "My grade partner, Laura Donle, even took a day off to sit with me after my chemo. I really couldn't have gotten through it without all of them."

Christine says, "At that time integrative medicine hadn't made its mark yet."

After her chemotherapy treatment began, Middlesex Hospital started its own integrative medicine program and hired a reflexologist, so Christine was able to try out these healing methods at the very beginning of the program.

Having experienced the difference the new therapies made for her treatment, Christine realized other cancer survivors needed this integrative approach and she, initially with another breast cancer survivor, started fundraising for the cause.

"Treatment isn't free and insurance doesn't cover it," she says.

In 2009, Christine started her own non-profit foundation, After the Storm. The foundation is probably best known for its very popular yearly show and auction, Art Bra, which returns on
Aug. 21 to the Oakdale Theatre. After the Storm also holds other events throughout the year (visit afterthestorminc.org for details).

Christine laughs as she says her husband, Bruce, and his friends take part in the Art Bra show, which challenges locals to create fashionable (or at least notable) bras that are auctioned off, runway-style. She notes that the guys wear bras and have a "man-show down the runway." They also have some survivors and volunteers walk the runway.

After this year's allocations, Christine says proudly, "We will have given out more than $100,000."

The support of her family makes it even more rewarding.

"Even though the boys get a little embarrassed, they love the show," she says.

Christine actually attended high school with Bruce, but says, "I would never talk to him in school; he was a year older, and we just didn't know each other."

They didn't cross paths again until five years later when Christine, again laughing, says, "We met in a bar and I didn't recognize him until a few weeks later when we met again, at the same bar, and Bruce then asked me out."

They were married in 2001. Bruce is also a teacher-he teaches health at ACES in North Haven, and they have two boys, Connor, 10, and Chase, 6.

Christine always loved reading and going to school, so becoming a teacher for her was a natural transition. She was born and raised in Connecticut and only spent time away when she attended Stonehill College in Massachusetts for four years.

With her parents' support, after graduation Christine came home and job-hunted for about a year before landing her current position at Green Acres Elementary School, which was her 13th interview.

"Lucky 13," Christine says, laughing. "Funny enough, I thought it was my worst interview ever and remember being upset with my mom and slamming my bedroom door, but 20 minutes after my temper tantrum I got a call from the superintendent asking me to come back the next day."

Christine has been at Green Acres ever since.

Parenting has made things more of a juggling act, but Christine says, "everything gets scheduled in the calendar, and my kids always comes first."

To learn more about After the Storm, visit afterthestorminc.org.

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