Lorraine Elmo takes on the disease armed with faith, family, friends and an outpouring of creativity.

By Suzanne Rust Photography Jörg Meyer

Brian Jr., 11; Caitlyn, 10;  and Lorraine Elmo, 45, pediatric occupational therapist. 

Pictured below: Brian Elmo, 43, physical therapist. Trumbull, Connecticut

When the going gets tough, sometimes the tough start writing songs. And rapping. And beatboxing. At least that’s been true for Lorraine Elmo. Her breast cancer diagnosis back in 2015 inspired some surprising creative outlets—once she got over the initial shock.

We’ll come back to her musical metamorphosis later, but when Lorraine, then 43, was told that she had stage 1 triple-positive invasive ductal carcinoma, she says that time stood still. “Life became a blur as the words came out of my doctor’s mouth, followed by many other big words, procedures and protocols that went right over my head. I thought, ‘Me?! How? I’m so healthy and young.’ ” But Lorraine’s faith kicked in. One week before hearing the news, she’d been taking an online course about spiritual enlightenment and had written down her goals, one of which was to develop a better understanding of Jesus. Seeing her diagnosis as a sign, Lorraine paused for a moment and changed her outlook. “I suddenly felt a few sparkles of hope as I heard another voice in my head and my heart tell me, ‘This cancer is a gift.’ ”

She started the Facebook page Lorraine’s Big Pink Adventure to keep family and friends informed about her status, and to give hope to others battling the disease. “However, what it became extended beyond my wildest imaginings,” she says. “As I underwent treatments, I used the page as a platform and release for my creative expression as well as my surprisingly positive inspirational moments.”

She also drew comfort from poetry, singing and playing the saxophone. “Other unexpected talents emerged along the way—songwriting, rapping and beatboxing. Often I would laugh at the absurdity!” One of Lorraine’s songs, “Left-Side Boobie Blues,” came to her about three days after her lumpectomy, the first stage of her 18-month treatment process. “I had no idea that others in similar situations would draw comfort from my silly musical rants.”

Now in remission and recovery, Lorraine feels fortunate to have the support of her husband, Brian, and their two children. “What I love most about Lorraine is her ability to bring out the best in people—not only our family but our neighbors and friends and all the children she helps at work,” says Brian Elmo. In fact, Lorraine relishes her work as a pediatric occupational therapist. “I enjoy helping others. I’m very much a kid at heart and have always been able to relate well to little ones.”

Before she got married, Lorraine says she suffered from severe endometriosis and was told by a doctor that she would never be able to have children. “Boy, did I prove that doctor wrong! Brian Jr. and Caitlyn are my miracles—they heal me every day and always make me laugh.”

Lorraine chooses to remain optimistic about her future. “There’s always the daunting ‘What if?’ that never seems to go away, but thinking positive helps you not only survive but also thrive with grace.”

“Being positive and counting your blessings is one of the most important

tips for survival I could ever give.”

How did you and your husband meet?

My husband is a physical therapist, and I was his patient. I could barely walk because of the physicality of my job as an occupational therapist working with disabled children. Orthopedic surgeons were telling me I needed back surgery. My analytical, gifted therapist, Brian, was able to heal me without it. Then we found out we were both big Star Wars fans, and the rest is history! Our love story is a great example of how a seemingly negative situation can lead to a very positive outcome.

What do you love most about your kids?

I love that they’re always the first ones on the dance floor, and the first to offer help to those in need. I grew up with a lot of self-doubt and very little confidence, but loving them has helped me to love and respect myself.

What are you proud of?

Detecting my cancer early. After my mom passed away from breast cancer, I became very diligent in my monthly self-exam, checking myself the first of every month. From September to October 2014, I felt a difference in my left breast. It was such a small lump that my doctors were surprised I noticed it. The mass didn’t even show up on my mammogram. And although everyone reassured me that it was probably nothing, I followed my gut and got it checked out, and thank God I did. An ultrasound confirmed my finding, and then I underwent 18 months of intensive treatment to ensure my “98% success rate.” Early detection saved my life.

Has being a pediatric occupational therapist made you a better patient? If so, how?

Because of my understanding of physical and emotional development and the importance of overall good health, plus my strong foundation of exercise and healthy habits, I think in some ways it has made me a better patient. My experiences as a caregiver, particularly caring for my mom, gave me the most perspective on being a good patient. I came into my diagnosis armed and ready for battle. I kind of knew the drill already.

“My dog, Lola, is incredibly intuitive and magically healing. Since the day I was diagnosed

with breast cancer, she has not left my side, and has been especially protective and

in tune with my emotions.”

Tell me about your relationship with Warriors in Pink.

I’m so proud to represent the 100-plus women and men across the country being recognized as Models of Courage by Ford Warriors in Pink. A key part of our mission is to help drive awareness of day-to-day realities of breast cancer and help others take action to give patients the support they need while going through treatment. I’m really proud to play a role in bringing advice, resources and comfort to those like me who are dealing with this disease.

What has surprised you during your journey with breast cancer?

I‘ve been most surprised by the kindness of strangers in this pink adventure of mine. I know there can be a lot of negative outcomes to social media. But I feel that my use of social media to promote not only breast cancer awareness but also breast cancer coping strategies and inspiration has had a very positive outcome, both for myself and for the hundreds of people whose lives I’ve touched with my story.

I’m so used to my role as a giver, as the listener, as the silent supporter. It has been eye-opening and refreshing to be on the receiving end of love, support, encouragement and kindness from so many others. It’s a gift to the giver to allow them to give, and it’s our right and privilege to receive. Allowing myself to receive has been very necessary in my healing and recovery. It surprises me how few of us know how to receive.

Often, even in the most tragic circumstances, there is humor. Has that been your experience?

I think it’s hilarious that I’ve become a rapper and beatboxer! It also cracked me up on my first day of a retreat with the Ford Models of Courage, to be in a room where all the women AND men were having hot flashes and complaining about it at the same time. How often does that happen?!

When we hear of a friend or family member who has cancer, most people want to help but aren’t always sure how. What advice would you give them?

It’s really important to understand and respect that everyone’s cancer journey is different. Some prefer to keep their journey quiet, while others prefer to share and receive support. But there are a few things I think we all appreciate. When I was going through treatment, the check-in calls and texts, the meals, the sweet gifts and acts of kindness from people I knew were my lifeline. Everything counted. I suddenly loved the color pink in ways I never knew I could. Being thought of and prayed for was like manna in the desert.

I felt most uncomfortable when people around me pretended not to know, or just told me “You’ll be fine.” Or when people used my cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to compare notes on all the things they needed to complain about. Just be kind and show that you care. Be a good listener. Tell a survivor that they’re beautiful and inspirational and thought of and prayed for.

Ford Warriors in Pink is an incredible resource that offers excellent services and suggestions for anyone trying to think of ways to support a friend or loved one battling breast cancer. Their clothing line and accessories are beautiful and high quality, and all the proceeds go to the breast cancer organization of your choice at checkout.