From tips on remedying a lack of taste to finding rides to treatment sessions, the Butler Breast Cancer and Women's Cancer Support Group is a compendium of knowledge, help and moral support.
Cheryl Schaefer, the group's leader, said it is open to anyone with any type of cancer. The group aims to help women undergoing treatment with all aspects of cancer, with members sharing their personal experiences to make life even a little easier.
“A lot of people who are done with treatment are very good at helping new patients with their treatment, because they can tell them what they went through and they can help them with little things that helped them,” Schaefer said.
Home remedies for things like a lack of taste — Schaefer recommended aloe vera juice or adding citrus — or metallic tasting food, caused by metal silverware, can help newer members.
This comes from the group's diversity with members ranging in age from 20 to 90 and evenly split between those currently undergoing treatment and those who have completed treatment.
“The people going through it are always looking for help and advice and are grasping for those things, and the people who have finished treatment are always looking to learn about new treatments and new modalities so that we can help others who come into the program,” Schaefer said.
Many survivors in the group continue to attend long after their treatment has ended, such as Beth Neese, because they feel their stories can help new patients.
“It's not for anything I need now. I'm kind of there to help give new people some hope, that we can kick this,” Neese said. “I feel it's only right for me to give back. I want to be there to help, because I'm in a different position now.”
The emotional support from the group can also be meaningful, Schaefer said, because not everyone in a patient's life understands the struggles. Other group members agreed.
“The moral support is most important,” Kate Karabi, a group member, said.
But the knowledge group members share comes not just from those among them but from experts in the field as well. The support group meets from 7 to 9 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month at the Butler Health System Crossroads Campus.
While every other month is an open meeting, Schaefer said, speakers come to share their expertise during the other meetings. Radiologists, oncologists, breast surgeons, elder law attorneys and dieticians have spoken at the group's meetings.
“There's always something to learn, something that we didn't know already,” Neese said.
These speakers have helped these women understand their diagnosis, Schaefer said, while also dispelling myths about some types of treatment.
“A lot of people don't understand what palliative care is. They think it's end-of-life,” Schaefer said. “But it's not.”
Karabi said she learned about the group through her oncologist, who told her to contact Schaefer. She instantly loved the members.
“They were just the nicest people. They were willing to help out,” she said. “And just telling their stories, even though you know 'it's not my story,' you know they'll listen to yours because you listened to theirs.”
Attending treatment sessions is a necessity, Schaefer said. The group helps support patients in any way possible. Karabi said she was offered rides to treatment sessions and the grocery store. Neese added she received help for her medical bills.
“It's to help the patients where the insurance is not coming into play,” Neese said.
The help extends beyond group settings. Karabi said she speaks with Schaefer almost every day. Schaefer said this is a common among group members.
“A lot of the girls have formed very strong bonds and very strong friendships. Some of us talk back and forth all the time, some of us meet for coffee, some of us go out and eat together,” she said. “You form a sisterhood with a lot of the girls, because they know what you went through and what they went through, and the bond is very strong.”
There's no expectation of monthly attendance, and Schaefer said she understands why those recently diagnosed may hesitate to attend.
“The hardest thing for a new cancer patient is to make that move to come to a meeting, because it's hard to admit you have cancer, you're not feeling good when you're going through treatment, and sometimes you're just feeling like crap and you can't bring yourself to go, plus you're having a hard time accepting it,” she said.
But taking that first step can bring friendship, support and aid, Schaefer said, and she believes the group's ability to do that has helped many women.
“I think it's helped a lot of women be able to come to terms with breast cancer or other cancers,” she said. “It's been able to get them through their treatment, answer questions, or help them to figure out what to go back and talk to their doctors about.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Butler Breast Cancer and Women's Cancer Support Group
WHEN: Meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month
WHERE: Butler Health System Crossroads Campus, 129 Oneida Valley Road