Each journey is unique, like the people affected by cancer.
Along the journey, the ones who provide help, whether it be a kind word, a warm meal, a ride to a treatment, or a well-thought card to lift the spirits — those stand out.
For anyone diagnosed with breast cancer, who ever has to sit in a sterile doctor’s office and hear the words, “You have breast cancer,” there is a place where there is help and understanding.
Reach to Recovery is located inside the old Medical Arts Clinic building, now known as Medical Arts Plaza on Hospital Drive off Second Avenue. It is a service offered by the American Cancer Society (ACS), but operated by local volunteers who are also survivors of the breast cancer journey.
It’s much more than simply a place to go for wigs, hats or scarves to wear during treatment.
It is a place with empathy and compassion.
Sharon Ballard, who began her own journey with breast cancer 28 years ago, is the volunteer coordinator of the local Reach to Recovery. Not only has she been there, she’s been through extensive training with ACS.
“The program is about helping that newly-diagnosed patient,” Ballard said. “The image we want our volunteers to project is that of ‘I’ve done this and I’m OK, and you will be OK too.’”
While Reach to Recovery does not offer medical advice or share recommendations or opinions, they do have quite a bit of information they’re happy to share with the new patient just beginning his or her journey. There is a breast cancer dictionary with terms unique to this battle and definitions of those terms. Ballard may share a guide for what to do following your diagnosis, which includes how to deal with unexpected feelings about your health. There’s a guide on “how to be a friend to someone with cancer,” and where to get emotional support online. A pamphlet on how to talk with your doctor or oncologist is available, as well as how to listen to a friend with a diagnosis. Two books that undoubtedly will be given to a new breast cancer patient are “Sexuality and Cancer, For the Woman who has cancer and her partner” and “Caring for the Patient with Cancer at Home.”
The online support offered at 1-800-227-2345 is not only for patients, but also for caregivers. The site is secure, and people are able to connect with other patients across the United States who may be in the same shoes as they.
“A doctor, a friend, or a work colleague, anyone can refer a person to Reach to Recovery,” said Linda C. Richey, community manager of health initiatives with American Cancer Society. “Once Sharon gets the patient’s name, she then contacts the patient.”
“They are glad to know someone is there to help,” said Ballard.
Vickie Garcia is also a breast cancer survivor, and a previous Reach volunteer. She said most patients are literally starving for information, once they get past the initial shock of their diagnosis. The program is totally free, and can help anyone facing a possible breast cancer diagnosis, those who have had a lumpectomy or mastectomy, and anyone considering reconstruction. They can also offer insight to those having arm swelling (lymphedema) from their treatments, or those going through treatments, or a patient who is facing a breast cancer recurrence or who has advanced breast cancer.
“The room is private, safe and secluded,” Garcia said. “The patient can be sure that everything is kept confidential, even the hats, wigs and scarves.”
Patients may feel safe in expressing anger or allowing tears, because each person’s privacy is respected, and each volunteer is bound by HIPPA laws. The Reach to Recovery room is a safe environment.
Though Reach to Recovery is geared for women or men suffering from breast cancer, they will not turn away people with other cancers.
“Anyone who calls our 800 number for services in this county, we refer them to Sharon,” said Richey. “Both Vickie and Sharon worked all the way through their treatments. Many people didn’t know Vickie had cancer, because she worked in a warehouse (where the work was physically demanding).”
“It’s all about your attitude,” Ballard said. “You are going through a crisis, but it’s all in your attitude. You find an inner strength and peace that takes over.
“And when you tell someone that you’re a survivor for 26, 27, 28 years — you see that glimmer of hope in their eyes, too.”
Deanna Kirk may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: email@example.com
Each journey is unique, like the people affected by cancer.
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