A cancer survivor’s journey to give back and help others with a cause close to her heart
Claudia Elmslie still remembers the day in January 2006 when she received a diagnosis of stage 1 breast cancer at the age of 44. “You don’t ever think you’ll hear that news. You don’t believe it when they tell you that you have cancer,” she said. “But then your mind goes into the zone of thinking ‘what do I have to do to get rid of this?’” Elmslie immediately went into battle mode, undergoing months of surgery, radiation and physical therapy. At the time her two young daughters were attending elementary school in their hometown of Fairfield, so Elmslie and her husband, William, made the decision to keep the full details about her illness from them.
By May 2007, she had completed her treatments and begun learning how to navigate life as a cancer
survivor. As part of her recovery process, she sought genetic testing to assess any health risks that her daughters might inherit. This led her to The Norma Pfriem Breast Center at Bridgeport Hospital. The Breast Center, part of Smilow Cancer Hospital, was the first freestanding community breast center in Connecticut to offer one-stop coordination of care, patient navigation and rapid diagnosis. More than 38,000 women throughout the region have received comprehensive services and programs from
the Breast Center over the past two decades at locations in Bridgeport, Fairfield and Trumbull. “The
staff at the Breast Center were so wonderful. They helped me emotionally, and they stepped in when I
needed help getting the insurance company to cover the cost of the genetic testing,” Elmslie said.
Her experience at the Breast Center was such a positive one that she decided to call the center a
few years later to ask about volunteer opportunities as a way of giving back. “I reflected upon my
journey with breast cancer. I had a tremendous amount of support from family and friends. I was
lucky to have good insurance,” she said. “I thought about all the other women who were going through it without that support. I wanted to be there for them. When you’ve been through cancer, there’s a bond
you have with other survivors.”
Over the years since then, Elmslie has worn a number of volunteer hats at the center. She has done everything from organizing educational packets for high school information sessions and making blankets for women who are undergoing chemotherapy to serving as a member of the President’s Council and as coordinator for volunteers. “Everything I did made me feel like doing even more,” she said. “Any time any help is needed for anything at the center, they ask me. I want to be included in everything I can. It’s a special place. I can’t imagine not being a part of it.” If there is one single message that Elmslie
wants to spread, it is to urge women to schedule their annual mammogram. “My lump was small
enough that I couldn’t feel it, so I’m forever thankful for the technician who picked up on it,” she said.
“Breast cancer isn’t a death sentence anymore. There are treatments if you catch it early enough.”
In 2022, it will be 16 years since Elmslie received her diagnosis – a milestone that she does not take for granted. “When you are diagnosed with cancer, you don’t know what the future holds,” she said.
“I am able to be here today to help my daughter plan her wedding. That’s a gift that I cherish every