With a little help from her friends, Brigette Bacheller makes a pink impact.
Author Angela Fornelli
In her job at United’s Flight Operations base in Denver, Brigette Bacheller supports nearly 900 pilots. But when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2010, and throughout the year of recovery that followed, it was the support those pilots gave Bacheller that kept her going.
“In that first month, between when I was diagnosed and when I had my surgery, I would cry on the way to work and cry all the way home,” Bacheller says. “Work was my refuge. They took care of me. They are like my second family.”
Bacheller, 50, almost didn’t have that support; she debated telling anyone about her diagnosis. “My mentality was always to act like everything was OK, even if it wasn’t,” she says. “I’d be dying inside with challenges, and I’d deal with them myself.”
But, inspired by a vow she’d made to herself and two close friends from her Bible study earlier that year, Bacheller did reach out and share her news. “We’d set out in our Bible study to work on the things in our lives we needed to work on. I needed to learn to ask people for help,” she says. “Little did I know that vow was preparing me for one of the biggest challenges of my life.”
Now, Bacheller is on a mission to help others and to encourage women to talk about their diagnoses, too. “I’ve met so many women who go on this walk alone and do not tell anybody—and it’s just a walk nobody should go on alone,” she says. “Had I kept quiet, I would never have gotten all these unbelievable blessings.”
With support from her husband of eight years, Steve, Bacheller started by telling her two friends from Bible study. Then, she told her family. Then, she opened her phone book and went through it—even calling friends she hadn’t spoken with in years. At work, she pulled aside people she’d come to know in her 29 years at the company to tell them.
“Because I told people, I met pilots and wives of pilots who’d gone through it themselves,” she says. “Somebody always knew somebody for me to talk to. To be on the other side and have others taking care of me was life-changing.”
That support was key to her healing process. After her surgery, Bacheller came home from the hospital to dozens of cards, flowers and gifts—the majority of which came from United pilots. “Every single United pilot base, plus Chicago headquarters, sent me something. I was overwhelmed—blown away,” she says. “All of their encouragement brought me so much comfort. I felt like, ‘Everything’s going to be OK. I’m going to get through this.’”
On her first day back in the office after her three-month recovery period, all her co-workers were dressed in pink as a sign of support for her.
That was just the beginning of the office’s “pink” support. For the last two years, Bacheller has led the Denver Flight Operations effort to raise funds for United’s Pink Program, through which co-workers support breast-cancer organizations with fundraisers and by purchasing special pink uniform accessories to wear throughout October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“We wear our pink proudly in October,” Bacheller says.
Since beginning the Pink Program in 2009, United and its employees have raised more than $100,000 for local and national organizations that promote breast-cancer awareness and provide access to screening services. In 2012, Bacheller’s fundraiser alone raised more than $2,000, half of which went to a Denver nonprofit that gives massages to cancer patients; the other half went to a regional organization that provides mammograms for uninsured women.
“I’m so glad to be able to pay it forward,” Bacheller says. “You need relationships to get you through challenges. What other people have done for me has equipped me to help others.”