The Stories that Inspired Operation Pink Chair
My name is Amy Bratcher. When I was 47 years old, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. The cancer was found during my yearly mammogram and due to its scope and size, my doctor recommended a bilateral mastectomy. On September 16, 2020, I had the first of several surgeries. As I prepared for my surgery, the breast health navigators and my surgeon recommended I use a recliner chair during my post-surgery recovery. I did not own a recliner but was lucky to have a friend who had undergone a similar surgery several years earlier. Angie was given a recliner chair, which was so impactful in her post-surgery recovery that she kept the chair to lend out to other women undergoing breast surgeries. Angie’s chair was an essential part of my recovery both physically and emotionally; being in that chair, knowing other women before me had endured similar surgeries and recovered, gave me such comfort knowing that I was not alone.
Anytime I’ve walked through a hard situation, I’ve hated the beginning…
but I’ve always come out the other side changed and grateful for what God showed me there in the valley. Sometimes it’s only in those places we “see” what He wants to show us. Cancer can bring you closer or make you busy doing all the “things.” It’s cancer that can teach a lesson that not much else in life can – slow down, see Jesus, see people and rest in both their arms.
I leaned heavily on Jesus during this journey and was blessed to have my husband Cary of 22 years and my three children by my side every step of the way. As hard as it was to endure my cancer diagnosis, surgeries and recovery, God used my experience to inspire my daughter Olivia to help other families on their path of breast cancer recovery.
In March 2021, when I scheduled my reconstruction surgery, I was not able to borrow Angie’s chair because it was being lent out. Our disappointment at not having this tool for my recovery, led Olivia to envision a fleet of recliner chairs available for women to use after their own breast surgeries. Operation Pink Chairs was born as Olivia’s Girl Scout Gold Award Project. Olivia has always had a heart for serving others, and this was a way she could help on a larger scale. I’m so proud of Olivia for taking a difficult situation that our family endured and turning it into something positive for her community. I pray that the Lord is with you on your own journey through breast cancer and that Operation Pink Chairs will be as impactful for your recovery as Angie’s chair was for mine.
My name is Angie Wesley. I’ve been aware of breast cancer all my life. My maternal grandmother was diagnosed when I was only 8 years old. She lived a full life after a mastectomy until she recently died at age 93.
My mother discovered a tumor at age 47 but didn’t live to see old age. After mastectomy and treatments, she passed away when she was only 54. I am the oldest of 3 girls and was always trying to do the “right” things to avoid the same diagnosis, but at age 44, a biopsy confirmed breast cancer. Recommended treatment included a double mastectomy.
I only had a few weeks to prepare for my surgery. Trying to make the arrangements for 3 young children during the summer was no easy task. However, many friends and family offered to help, and I couldn’t have managed without them. The harder question became who was going to take care of me? My husband could not take extended time away from work and other family members nearby were willing to help but had their own young families to care for as well.
A good friend that had been a nurse for many years graciously offered for me to stay in her home and be my caregiver post-surgery. What an unbelievable offer. It felt like such an imposition, but it was an offer I could not refuse. So, on July 11, 2016, I had a double mastectomy, and the next day was welcomed into her home for around-the-clock care. Waiting for me in the guest room was a recliner. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to move and be comfortable. This recliner became my refuge. My little nest. It was such a comfort both physically and emotionally. As I started to recover, I realized I didn’t want to leave the chair behind. I knew my time was limited before needing to transition back home, but I did not want to be without the chair. It was like we were like a team. I don’t remember exactly how I came to know that the chair was purchased for me. Purchased specifically for the purpose of aiding in my recovery. It was mine to take home and use for as long as I needed. This was the most amazing gift. I did take it home and continued to recover in it for several more weeks, and again after reconstruction surgery. It still was my place of refuge. Through the hard days, the additional surgeries, the uncomfortable changes, it continued to provide me comfort.
Almost a year later, a good friend of mine called me with the news that she too was facing a double mastectomy. I knew just what she needed! The chair. It could be her place of refuge and recovery. I took it over to her house and explained she was welcome to use it for as long as she needed it. Then one day, she had a friend facing the same surgery. Could she pass it on? Absolutely! This was the beginning of the traveling chair. Just by word of mouth, this same recliner has helped over a dozen women facing mastectomy.
One of these women was Amy, Olivia Bratcher’s mother. I was more than happy to pass on the chair to support her recovery. But when she needed it for reconstruction surgery, it was already with someone else. Obviously, more chairs were needed and that is what planted the idea that Olivia has watered and nurtured and worked to create Operation Pink Chairs. She has taken a simple act of kindness and turned it into a ministry to serve others facing mastectomy to provide a place for healing and recovery. I know that all the Pink Chairs will be a place of comfort, both physically and emotionally, to all women facing breast cancer and the recovery journey after mastectomy.
My mother’s name is Marie Hazel (Hahn) Snakenberg. She has lived her entire life in Sigourney, Iowa. She raised three sons with her husband Mel Snakenberg, WWII Navy Veteran. They lived on the family farm which was started by the Snakenberg Family in 1843. We still own this farm, minus acres which have been incorporated into Belvidere Park which is located in rural Sigourney, Iowa.
Marie lost a breast in the early 1990s to cancer and of course followed up with radiation. She had a full recovery and still lives in Sigourney. She is a healthy 88-year-old with no signs of slowing down!
My name is Tara Ward. What joy it brings to have a chair named after my sweet friend, Leslie Edwards, and I’m honored to share a little about her story.
It is with sadness that I have to speak of Leslie in the past tense because she ultimately lost her battle to cancer. BUT, her life, her spirit, her legacy lives on beautifully through every person who had the privilege of knowing her.
Leslie was the wife to her loving husband, Troy, and mom to three beautiful daughters, Madison, McKenzie and Cayleigh. She openly talked about how lucky she was to be Troy’s wife and it was evident to all how much she loved her man. When I think of them sitting together in the church pew, I don’t remember a time when his arm wasn’t around her and she just cozily molded into the corner of his chest. And you certainly couldn’t spend any time around Leslie without her proudly speaking of her girls. She was their biggest cheerleader and her face lit up as she spoke about them. Madison, McKenzie and Cayleigh were just as adoring of their mama as she was of them. They all shared a sweet closeness.
Leslie loved life, loved the Lord and ALWAYS had a smile on her face. When I think of her, I can still hear her laugh. She found humor in things… little things, mundane things…and to Leslie, life was good, fun and everything had a bright side. I can’t think of Leslie without thinking of her hospitality on Christmas Day.
Every year, she invited a group of people to join their family at their house to swim, yes swim, on our cold, wintery Tennessee days. They cranked up the pool heater and had a blast. Sadly, we never got to go because of our own family commitments but I always thought it would be fun.
Leslie was humble and grateful, and maybe just a little controlling! But hey, it’s hard to be a mama and not be controlling at some point! Ha!
Unless she was at church, you would almost always see her in a tennis skirt. She loved the sport and had a competitive spirit.
I don’t think she really liked to lose…like ever!
If there’s one word that really describes Leslie though, it would be “fierce.” And when I think of the word “fierce,” I think of a lion or lioness. A lioness is a magnificent image of strength, beauty and passion. A lioness stands for a fierce defender of her family and a capable provider. Leslie was without a doubt a lioness. She was a fierce supporter of all things good in her life.
She was protective of her clan and had godly strength that stemmed from her faith. She was beautiful and had a heart of gold and was certainly passionate about life, her family…and tennis! She provided for the needs of her family and took joy and pride in being a wife and mother. Leslie’s cancer journey began in May 2015 when she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy in June 2015 and started chemotherapy in July of that year. As anyone with a cancer diagnosis knows, it’s easy to fall into fear.
Leslie put this quote by Renee Swope on her Caring Bridge site, “I want to be a woman who overcomes obstacles by tackling them in faith instead of tiptoeing around them in fear.” Leslie did just that! Throughout her journey, she conquered fears with her steadfast faith in God, fought back and stood on God’s promises. Losing her hair was hard but she conquered and took control so the fear didn’t control her. She buzzed her hair off herself and in Leslie fashion, she found a way to make it fun with her family. She shopped and sported fun hats because in her words, she wasn’t a “wig girl.”
The surgeries and chemo treatments went well and she went into remission…all praise and glory to God! Throughout the whole process, Leslie handled it with grace, an overflowing heart of gratefulness to her Lord and Savior and to her supportive friends and family, humor (of course), transparency (some days she admitted to “stomping her feet and throwing a fit” because things weren’t exactly going her way), looking at the bright side, dotting on Troy and her girls on how they handled the difficult days, southern manners (she was SO concerned that she had forgotten to send a thank you note to someone…bless her heart), a heart that showed more concern for her family than for herself (she would ask for prayers for Troy and the girls more often than for herself) and a tenacious faith in the Lord.
One of her favorite scripture verses was Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Only the Lord could make Leslie still! I can see sweet Jesus now, saying to our busy, wanna-do-it-all, fighter, go-getter friend, “Leslie, let Me take the wheel. Let Me fight this for you. Just relax.” She relied on the Lord, her faith, the prayers of family and friends and the promises of God to get her through, and He sure did! She finished chemo in October of 2015 and went into remission.
I wish the story stopped there. During Leslie’s journey, she often sought the Lord in what she was to learn in her cancer battle because she knew the Lord had a plan. The Lord has a plan and a purpose in all things and will use difficult things for our good and for the good of others. Little did I know then that part of God’s plan in Leslie’s journey was to be a cheerleader and support to me in 2019. I, too, was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in February 2019. Leslie—having fought and conquered the limitations from surgeries, the horrible drains, the dread of endless doctor visits and appointments, the reliance on others to help with the daily routine, all the fears and hurdles and what if’s—learned how to help others through these same struggles.
She was a friend who understood, a friend who could sympathize, a friend who knew exactly what I needed (even before I knew I needed it), a friend who constantly checked in, a friend who visited, a friend who brought meals, sent cards, sent text messages, a friend who prayed, a friend who encouraged and supported and cared. And as only Leslie could do, she found a way to make me laugh, to find the bright side. She was a fierce friend. She displayed strength, beauty and passion to me when I needed it the most. And I could not be more thankful for her support during my cancer journey.
Sadly, in the fall of 2021, Leslie’s greatest fear became reality. She came down with a cold and surprisingly, after a visit to her PCP, she and Troy found out that her breast cancer had returned..this time on her liver. In the weeks to follow, they learned that the cancer was more advanced than expected and she rapidly declined. All of us were shocked and saddened to say the least. On October 9th, 2021, Leslie saw her loving Savior face to face. Troy, on her Caring Bridge site, wrote, “…while we are sad for our loss, we know that Leslie is happy, whole and will be taking care of all of us.” So beautifully said. As much as I wish God had a different plan and she could still be lovingly taking care of her family here on earth, there’s no doubt she will continue to be a fierce supporter and cheerleader for her family and friends from Heaven. I wonder if she might get a little sassy with Jesus and tell Him how to do things (ha, JK). I know she’s smiling… with an even more vibrant smile than she had on earth. I know she’s laughing…with even greater joy. I know she’s pointing out Troy, Madison, McKenzie and Cayleigh to the citizens of Heaven, to all who will listen, bragging on them. I wonder if she takes a dive in the Heavenly pools on Christmas Day and I wonder if there are winners and losers in tennis matches. If there’s still a competitive spirit in Heaven, I’m sure she finds a way to keep score! She’s a lioness with a beautiful crown relishing in God’s presence, waiting to be reunited with her clan.
Although I don’t know Leslie’s full experience with a recliner in her breast cancer journey, I know she had one and I KNOW it was instrumental in my recovery and sanity. I was fortunate enough to have one at home and I lived in it for weeks during my recovery from my own mastectomy. It was the only place I could sleep and rest comfortably and the place I often read Leslie’s encouraging and supporting texts to me. Knowing the fierce supporter that Leslie was, I know she would want to encourage you as you recover in this chair that’s now named after her. I think she would tell you: Hold tight and take one day at a time. You are not alone in this fight or in how you feel. You are totally allowed to hate the entire process, to stomp your feet and scream. She would say it’s O.K. to ask God the hard questions, but she would also be praying that you would experience God’s indescribable peace. She would tell you that you CAN do this and she would be cheering you on. She would say that the process isn’t fun but that laughter is the best medicine. She would tell you to be patient, give yourself some grace, allow others to help you and love on you. You will experience many blessings in your own journey, so look for them. May you be encouraged by others who have walked the same road before you. And most importantly, she would tell you that you are in good hands, being lovingly held by Jesus. Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”