Breast cancer patients, survivors find support

While she waited for members of The Pink Magnolias breast cancer support group to file into the Breast Health Center at University Hospital, Pam Anderson thought back to her first day there, when it opened in 2000.


She walked into the center that day, and it was just her and the secretary.

"And I thought, 'What am I going to do?' " Anderson said. Then a woman called and said, "I've had a lump in my breast for six months, and I didn't know who to call.

"And I thought, 'That's what I need to do,' " Anderson said.

The Pink Magnolias and other support groups like it make sure there is always someone to turn to who has been through it before. There are about 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S., so newly diagnosed patients need not feel alone, said Nicole Aenchbacher, the breast health navigator for Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.

"It might help them sort out, 'How do I handle talking about this with my husband or with my daughter or with my mom,' whoever their support system is," she said. "Patients who come to the support group who don't have a big support system will find that by coming to the support group (they) will naturally develop a support system. The ladies in the group are very close-knit and very willing to help one another out."

The MCG Hospital support group, the Pink Butterflies, often hears from a health expert about something other than breast cancer, such as getting a yoga demonstration.

"If somebody comes to the support group, at a minimum they are getting some basic health education," Aenchbacher said.

At the Pink Magnolias meeting, about 30 women packed the seating area in the breast health center.

"Is this anybody's first time?" Anderson asked, and a few hands went up. "OK, we're going to put you on the spot just briefly. And then we're all going to talk to you. Just tell us about yourself, as much or as little as you want."

Theresa Bartley was initially diagnosed in 2008 and had a relapse in June. "Got kicked back again, for a minute," she said. "So I'm back into treatment. But at least this go around I'm able to work a little, and I'm able to attend meetings. I was sick every time the meeting rolled around. I'm glad to be here."

"We expect you to come now," Anderson said.

"I will," Bartley said.

"We will be here for you," Anderson said.

One by one, the women shared their stories of mastectomies and lumpectomies, of chemotherapy and radiation and recovery. They cheered when a member announced negative results. And for a group whose common bond is cancer, there is a lot of laughter.

While Jacqueline Lawrence was battling her breast cancer five years ago, another group member, Erena Creighton, was her support.

"She would call me every day and tell me what to do," Lawrence said.

"I'm good at that," Creighton said, joking.

There is a common thread to their stories: Stay positive, let others help you and pray.

"I don't know anyone who could go through this without believing in a higher power," Sue Lotspeich said.

When Sherri Clanton told them she had been diagnosed with breast cancer just a week before, the group was quick with helpful suggestions.

"Get a notebook," Ann Young said. "Write everything down."

"Don't second guess yourself," Lotspeich said.

And ask questions, Dianne Waller said.

"That's one of the reasons this is such a wonderful group," she said. "I've never heard anybody ask any of us a question that we hesitated to answer. There's nothing you can't ask us."

"They've done show and tell before," Anderson said, to peals of laughter.

Afterward, Clanton said she was glad she came to the group.

"This helped a lot," she said. "I can hear their voices, I can hear their experiences. That helps to direct me, instead of me just trying to figure the whole thing out on my own. It's a lot better when I have others' support."


Support groups

- The Pink Magnolias Breast Cancer Support Group, University Hospital Breast Health Center, next meeting Monday, 6:30 p.m. Call (706) 774-4141 for more information

- University Hospital is forming a new breast cancer support group targeting younger patients in their 20s and 30s. Its first meeting will be held at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the Breast Health Center. For more information, call the center at (706) 774-4141.

- Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics Breast Cancer Support Group, every second Thursday, 5:30 to 7 p.m. Call (706) 721-4109

- Journey of Hope cancer support group, Barney's Pharmacy, 2604 Peach Orchard Road, every third Monday at 6 p.m. Call (706) 798-5645 .

- Cancer Survivors Support Group, 6 p.m. every second Thursday, Augusta Oncology Associates, 3696 Wheeler Road. Call Lance at (706) 651-2283