For many breast cancer survivors, their diagnosis and treatment goes by in a blur of doctor’s appointments, treatments, and leaning on family and friends for the strength to continue the fight. There is no doubt that breast cancer survivors are resilient, but the need for support and guidance continues even after the cancer is treated.
“Most patients ‘white knuckle it’ during treatment and focus all of their energy on getting through it,” shares Patty Plaskon, Oncology Social Work Coordinator, University of Maryland Shore Regional Cancer Center, who facilitates the Breast Cancer Support Group. “But the truth is that once you’ve had breast cancer, you are changed in more than just physical ways.”
Kathy Payne, a two-time breast cancer survivor and support group participant explained, “When I finished my treatment I was a different kind of frightened. I kept thinking, ‘What am I going to do now? What if it comes back?’ I was running from doctor to doctor and felt that someone always had my back, and when treatment was over no was holding my hand anymore.”
According to Plaskon, some breast cancer patients can’t begin to process their experience until after they have completed treatment – and along with adjusting to their “new normal,” a lot of survivors struggle to answer the question, “So now what?”
That’s where the Breast Cancer Support Group comes in. This group is one of many support and educational programs offered by UM Shore Regional Cancer Center. Some women initially prefer the support of a one-on-one mentor through the Survivors Offering Support program and then find that the support group meets their needs after treatment. With the help of Plaskon, women are able to find which program is the best fit for them.
This particular group combines education and support and focuses on relevant topics of interest to participants such as bone health, menopause, stress, nutrition, relationships and genetic testing.
“The topics are interesting and help us on our path to wellness after cancer,” commented Judy Bottorf, a seven-year survivor. “We don’t meet to commiserate, we’re done with that, we’re moving on together and looking towards to the future.”
20-year survivor Sybil Cochran began coming to the group to support a neighbor, but as a mother of a breast cancer survivor, the meetings took on a new meaning.
“Hearing from the younger women in the group has helped me understand what my daughter is going through as a recent survivor, and also gives me information to share with her about the options available. It’s amazing how far things have come in the past few years.”
“As a ‘new’ survivor, I have questions about how things will be 2, 5, and 15 years from now, and I have learned so much from the 20-year survivors who have walked this road before me,” shared Bartoff.
“Everyone’s breast cancer experience is different, but we know that we are not alone,” said Payne. “There will always be someone there to hold our hand.”
The Breast Cancer Support Group meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 6:00pm at UM Shore Regional Breast Center located at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton. Inquiries may be directed to Patty Plaskon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In photo: Breast Cancer Support Group members with UM Shore Regional Breast Center Staff. From left: Melissa Kelly, Coordinator, UM Shore Regional Health’s Breast Center, Kathy Payne, Judy Bottorf, Sybil Cochran and Patty Plaskon, PhD, LCSW-C, Oncology Social Worker.