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Guest Editor | Finding support for breast cancer victims/survivors

Published:Friday | September 1, 2017 | 4:16 PM

It is never an easy feat dealing with breast cancer as the disease is no respecter of individuals irrespective of race, age or class. We are all susceptible to it but we all handle it differently, one thing is true however, we all need the support.

Fact is while many of us might get the support from our family members facing breast cancer can still feel lonely if they never experienced it. If they never felt the near loss of life, the hours spent at the hospital, the treatment or the mere anxiety we just do not believe that they truly understand. This is where the support group comes in handy.

The breast cancer support arm of the Jamaica Cancer Society is the Jamaica Reach to Recovery which was founded in 1977 by Dr. Denise Thwaites. After being diagnosed with breast cancer she recognised the need for peer support amongst women who were going through this experience. She thus reached out to the American Cancer Society whom informed her of their support group called Reach to Recovery and the rest was history.

Current Chairperson of the body Carolind Graham had a similar experience. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2004 after a routine breast mammogram. Her gynaecologist was husband to the founder of Jamaica Reach to Recovery Dr R.E.D Thwaites. He seeing her distress recommended that she visited.

"Having no previous exposure to the topic of breast cancer, I attended this meeting with great trepidation and was reassured to see women who looked and sounded normal although they were breast cancer survivors," she told the Gleaner.

Graham moved from member to Chairperson of the group. They were built under the premise that a woman who has lived with breast cancer comes and gives support to women sharing similar experiences. Graham noted that the group is committed to working to improve the quality of life for women with breast cancer and their families through a variety of services.

Mavis Desport-Baugh is currently a member of the group and she herself have admittedly gotten some support from Jamaica Reach to Recovery. She admits that she is uncertain as to what she would do without them. Her ordeal has been one that is stressful. Through her tears she recalled her ordeal that started from August 2012.

It was not an easy one. She was unable to afford the private system and thus had to go through the public. Each stage more daunting than the next. After her concerns arose in 2012, she did not get her results until January 2013 and then did her surgery on March 15, 2013. Her chemotherapy treatment started in December 2013 and radiation did not start until August 2015. In 2016 she started to feel pain once more. She went to the orthopaedic clinic and was told that she needed to do a few scans. She admitted that she did not have the money. Desport-Baugh started to cry as she stated that poor people suffer in the end. But the Jamaica Reach to Recovery did help her she told the Gleaner.

"I do not know what I would have done without them. They helped to pay for the first set of scans," she said. Unfortunately the scans and MRI revealed her greatest fear that the scan had now moved to her back.

The Jamaica Reach to Recovery also gave her the moral support that she needed. She is not without family but having women who went through the same things that she did and is going through, who spoke to her and encouraged her, was something that has helped her greatly.

"They embrace you. If you are down, they lift you up. We exchange numbers and they keep in touch to help and encourage you," she told the Gleaner.

Apart from their support group meetings and helping to pay for some tests that you may not be able to afford they share our expertise in breast cancer support, as well as resources, connections, and experiences. They also do hospital visits, home visits and presentations to Schools, Churches and Service Clubs to increase the awareness of breast cancer.

"We are a totally voluntary non-profit organization. The costs associated with the treatment of breast cancer can be devastating to a family. In many cases persons are not able to pay for the required tests and treatments often resulting in death. We raise funds to assist women who would not otherwise be able to access lifesaving diagnostic tests and treatments," said Graham.

There are no requirements to joining the group. Cancer survivors can simply turn up to their meetings on the second Tuesday of each month at 5pm at the Webster Memorial Church Hall at 53 Half-Way-Tree Road, Kingston. The meeting may go up to 7pm. There is a small membership due, however, this is voluntary and not forced. While the group is filled with predominantly breast cancer survivors they have had other cancer survivors and men who have survived prostate cancer come to their meetings on occasion and welcome them with open arms.