Beyond Breast Cancer: The Bond of Survivorship
Lost — that’s how Brenda McFarland would feel if she didn’t have the support of her fellow breast cancer survivors to fall back on.
“When I meet someone else who is a survivor of breast cancer there is an instant bond. Before I joined the support groups and became part of the Avera Think Pink Ladies, I felt lost and like I was not dealing with it as well as I should be,” Brenda said. “When you meet women who are going through the same thing and are struggling just like I am, it’s just very cathartic.”
Brenda, who was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2014, underwent bilateral mastectomies followed by reconstructive surgery and is currently taking an aromatase inhibitor to prevent cancer recurrence.
Over the past few years Brenda has dealt with the worries, anxiety and side effects that come with a cancer diagnosis. She met a major personal milestone in late April — the birth of her first grandchild — and is enjoying her participation in the Avera Think Pink Ladies, a group of survivors who provide support and awareness for breast cancer.
Program Provides Help
One of the things Brenda has taken part in is Avera’s A Time to Heal program. Participants get ideas and tips on how to recover from cancer while talking with and sharing experiences with other survivors in the group.
Lynne Hunter, MSW, an Oncology Social Worker with Avera Medical Group who also works one on one with women undergoing treatment for breast cancer, runs the Sioux Falls A Time to Heal group.
“I talk with people about their fears and techniques to cope with the fear of recurrence,” Lynne said. “It’s about living in the moment and being mindful. A lot of health care providers are working on curing the cancer but part of my role is to help survivors heal from the cancer.”
Though every person is different, Lynne said fear of recurrence is a common stress for many women. A cancer diagnosis also brings with it a sense of loss for many women.
“When you’re diagnosed with cancer it’s the loss of your safety in the world, the loss of security, the loss of your breast for some women. Sometimes it can look like depression but it’s really that the woman needs to take the time to grieve these losses.”
In addition to A Time to Heal, Avera offers other support groups for cancer survivors and their caretakers.
Another upcoming opportunity to connect with survivors is the May 12 Avera Cancer Institute Beyond Breast Cancer Symposium in Sioux Falls, S.D.