Speaking to Arbella Parrot, you naturally latch on to her every word and get inspired by what she shares given her sincerity and enthusiasm. A licensed clinical psychologist for eighteen years, Arbella joined the ZBC board just over a year ago and has been an invaluable member of the organization ever since. We took some time to catch up with her as part of a Get to Know the ZBC Board series and are so honored to share her story with you.
Experiencing Breast Cancer as a Patient
Arbella’s journey with breast cancer began in 2009 when she was first diagnosed with the disease. A young mother, she had no specific risk factors and her diagnosis came as a big shock. While undergoing surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, she directly experienced the hospital provided mental health support services as a patient. This led Arbella to key insights on the importance of timing and frequency of services; there are critical moments when patients might have to absorb new medical information, make decisions and cope with the ups and downs of treatment.
Upon returning to her own psychology practice in 2010, Arbella had a new mission of bringing more holistic mental health support for breast cancer patients and their families. “I feel a real kinship with my breast cancer patients,” she says, “and I also think that when you are going through something that life altering, it is helpful to have someone who understands what you are taking about from the very beginning. My clients don’t have to spend time educating me about what is going on with them treatment wise, so then we can just focus on them… Typically in psychology it isn’t necessary to have a shared experience but in this area I think it helps my clients to feel an immediate sense of closeness and understanding that helps our relationship.”
Why Zero Breast Cancer?
In 2015 Arbella was connected to ZBC through a friend, JT Peterson, a co-founder of Ripped Body Fitness, a fun and dynamic exercise experience that she was participating in. As a member of the ZBC board, JT introduced Arbella to Executive Director Rose Barlow and there was an instant connection. “I loved that ZBC is focused locally and has grassroots origins, and that they work on girls puberty education focusing on how young people and teens can make positive lifestyle changes now rather than wait until they are adults,” she shares. “Focusing on future generations, on what we can do to help them create a better lifestyle to give them the best possible chance to not be in this situation is so important. As a parent to two boys it really resonated with me and I found this approach invaluable.” Rather than joining a committee as a starting point, Arbella decided to dive right into board work and hop on a wonderful opportunity to act on her passion for the mission.
While there are many breast cancer organizations out there, ZBC spoke to Arbella in a unique way. “Unlike many other breast cancer organizations, ZBC’s message is more about what YOU can do,” she says. “Oftentimes we feel very powerless in making changes in our life, in effecting change because things seem so big, what could I as one person possibly do in the big bad scary world of cancer? It is important to realize that there are things that you can do, without becoming overwhelmed by it, paranoid, anxious, or paralyzed. Know that you can do certain things for you, your family, your kids, that can be helpful… I think it is important for people to learn, and ZBC is getting that message out there, what we can do as individuals to help move the world towards one with zero breast cancer.”
A Good Decision
Speaking to her experience so far, Arbella says that is has been great. “People have so much dedication and passion and its infuriating that we are still dealing with this problem to the degree that we are and there are so many amazing medical advances being made every day and people seem to getting closer and closer to some real solutions but I feel like being a part of this organization helps me to help a broader range of people.” She highlights her unique position as one of only two board members who are cancer survivors. Recently being diagnosed with cancer again and being back on the patient side of things makes Arbella feel even more passionate about working with ZBC. “For me it is very personal, and I do think that it is important to have the perspective and the voice of the person who is your audience on the board. There is one other former cancer patient and myself, I think it is important because I am always looking at my work as a board member through two lenses – that of a board member and that of somebody who would be the recipient of this information, and always digesting it from that perspective too.”
Another aspect of her first year on the ZBC board that Arbella highlighted was that of being a Team Captain for the Dipsea Hike for Zero Breast Cancer. Raising money to support ZBC in memory of her husband’s aunt who died of breast cancer felt really meaningful. “The outpouring from friends and family from the fundraising perspective is wonderful, as is the event itself – it is a beautiful day, you are out in nature building community with friends and family, being physically active, supporting each other emotionally for such an important cause. It is a great event from every way that you look at it.” This experience motivates her as she works to plan an excellent Dipsea Hike in September 2018 and invites others to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity for volunteerism.
Reflections on Life and the Future
“We get so caught up on in what is good for me, what are my needs? What are my problems? I find sometimes that if we just take a step away from what is the crisis du jour of our lives and focus on something bigger than us, it can be oddly rewarding and really helpful for our own mental health as far as putting things in perspective, which is something that people who have dealt with life threatening illnesses who are faced with their own mortality often mention. It is a shame we cannot feel that way more often, because I think it is one of the only bonuses. Really focus on the bigger picture of joy and appreciating our lives, being as fulfilled and happy as we can be.”
As part of her hopes and plans for the future, Arbella sees opportunity for ZBC to reach out to more areas beyond Marin County and the Bay Area, speaking to people from diverse socioeconomic and racial backgrounds as well as to men, highlighting that breast cancer is not exclusively a women’s issue. And, ideally, seeing a day where ZBC will be able to close up shop all together because there will truly be zero breast cancer to prevent, cure, or educate around. We look forward to continuing to have her on our team as we work towards this inspiring goal.
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Did you know? One surprising fact that you might not know about Arbella is that she is a first generation Assyrian American, a Christian minority group that originates in the Assyrian Empire, a major power in the ancient Middle East, which spans across parts of northern Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. While most of the 2 – 4 million Assyrians live in those areas, many have fled due to conflict and live in different countries around the world, including about 100,000 in the United States today.
Written by Helaine Alon, ZBC Communications Coordinator