River Of Understanding

Breast cancer support group helps woman make it through diagnosis, treatment, survival

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A doctor tells a woman she has breast cancer.

First, there is the shock and the emotion. Then come the questions: How will I survive? What will my body look like after surgery? How will I feel during chemotherapy or radiation?

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Aggie Hansen, facilitator of Reaching Out breast cancer support group and Linda Brammer, a support group member, sit and discuss their new perspective on life.

Fortunately, women have someone to turn to for the answers -- women who have been through it before and women who are still undergoing treatment.

The local Reaching Out support group makes sure the frightening experience of a breast cancer diagnosis isn't a lonely one.

"After treatment there is not a good understanding of the cumulative effects of zapped energy," survivor Linda Brammer said. "You might look good but still feel lousy. It was a lonely and scary time."

Then she smiles.

"This is my re-entry time," she said. "It is a struggle to pace myself because I was always so active."

Brammer is a survivor of inflammatory breast cancer, diagnosed April of 2005, still in recovery from the lingering effects of chemotherapy.

Her apple trees are laden with fruit and it is time for picnics in the orchard with family and good friends -- like the ones she found in Reaching Out.

"It was like stepping into a river of understanding," Brammer said.

Aggie Hansen is the facilitator of the local Reaching Out breast cancer support group that meets from 12:30 to 2 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at Mt. Cross Lutheran Church in Payson.

The members have changed, but Reaching Out has been meeting for 10 years. There are no dues.

The ages of women in the group range from 25 to 80.

"We show that we've survived all this time," said Hansen, who had a modified mastectomy 13 years ago. "The sooner a woman comes to the group the sooner I've seen they feel better and start to relax."

Women are welcome to come to Reaching Out at any stage of life -- as soon as they receive their diagnosis, while they are in treatment, and after treatment, even if years have gone by.

Medical advice is not given.

Every person's reaction to chemotherapy is different. Some get sick. Some get really sick. It is rare to have no side effects at all.

Brammer was sick in bed for months after chemotherapy and radiation burned her fair skin.

"Inflammatory cancer is just so aggressive. So they threw the big guns at it," she said. "I talked and Aggie listened for two-and-a-half hours."

During one-on-one meetings Hansen brings the woman moral and material support.

"We have supplies -- prostheses, bras, wigs both new and used that people have donated," Hansen said. "We give them away."

Prostheses that were once big and heavy are now lightweight and designed to fit any shape. And bras have been redesigned, offering women choices from plain to lacy.

Husbands, spouses and family member can be included in the one-on-one home meetings if that is what the cancer patient desires.

"How your spouse responds to you after breast cancer has a huge impact on your recovery," Hansen said. "Most understand."

Hansen hopes to recruit more volunteers to be trained for the one-on-one program. The American Cancer Society provides training for volunteers, who must re-certify each year.

15 minutes could save your life

On-site mammography will be available at the Mobile Mammography vehicle in the Safeway parking lot. Mammograms are by appointment from 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22.

Groups or individuals are needed to sponsor free mammograms ($130 each) for women who meet the eligibility requirements (no insurance coverage, within income guidelines, at least 40 years old or have symptoms).

To sponsor a free mammogram or to see if you qualify for a free mammogram call Lynne at (928) 472-4661 or e-mail lynodonne@netzero. com.

To make an appointment for a mammogram contact call (800) 285-0272. Please have your insurance card available. Baseline mammograms start at age 35 through 39, and most insurance plans cover women every year over 40.

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