People view support groups in different ways. If you’re a private person, you may prefer to not talk about your situation to strangers or maybe you see joining a group as a sign of weakness — an inability to cope on your own. Maybe you’re open to the idea, but you’re not ready yet. 

Sometimes you need to process the facts and get them straight in your mind before you can articulate your feelings to others. I’ve come to believe that even if you’re not typically an open person or someone who feels you can express yourself well, you need to know that others care. You have much to gain by discovering that you’re not alone in this struggle and others will benefit from hearing about your experience and knowing they are not alone.

From the time I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1983, I’d been encouraged to attend a support group. My feeling then was, I don’t have time for this and besides, I’m not going to have cancer for long. So much for my plan. In 1989 when I had survived my first recurrence, I saw things differently and wanted to give back. When I heard that a local group had so few attendees that it was ready to fold, something inside of me instinctively said, “We can’t let that happen.” There are women who aren’t yet diagnosed and will need a place to go; and so began my 26-year involvement with the Mount St. Mary’s Breast Cancer Support Group.

When I joined, I was happily reunited with Barbara Zimmer, my “Reach to Recovery” contact who had come to the hospital when I had my mastectomy, she shared her story, brought a bag of information and a hand-made comfort pillow, and reassured my husband and me that we would get through this. Barbara and her co-facilitator Sandy Moretti had established the support group and welcomed the reinforcement.

At that first meeting, a couple of other new women came and, while I was able to say I was in remission, they were just starting their uncertain journeys with many questions and fears. I was impressed with Barb and Sandy’s knowledge and ability to calm, reassure and inspire hope. I found great satisfaction in listening, offering ideas and seeing relief and renewed confidence on the faces of the newly diagnosed women as they left, determined to take charge of their illness and looking forward to the next meeting. I was hooked.

Since mourning the loss of Sandy in 1995 and Barbara in 1997 to this disease, I’ve become a co-facilitator along with retired nurse and 23-year survivor Joyce Laubacker, and we’ve worked to keep the purpose of the group as Barb and Sandy established it -- one-on-one support and shared information. We know the courage it takes to walk through that door, and we know when you have to say out loud, “I have breast cancer,” you may surprise yourself and need to cry, because you’ve been putting on a brave face for your husband, your children, your friends, and you’ve put their concerns before your own. But in that room it’s only about you. It’s a place where you can let your defenses down, talk about your deepest concerns and be assured that everything said there, stays there. Best of all, once we get the grief out of the way, there are many more laughs than tears. And that’s why a support group can be just what you need to begin to heal.

Statistics show that people who attend support groups of any kind, have better health and well-being. When a woman who comes to her first meeting confused and frightened, returns eager to comfort and encourage the newer members, we know she’s found her inner strength and has come full-circle.

The Mt. St. Mary’s Breast Cancer Support Group meets every other month: January, March, May, July, September and November, from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., in Mount St. Mary’s seventh floor conference room.

We welcome anyone you’d like to bring: a husband, sister or friend, who might want to better understand what you’re going through in order to be your support. For more information, call me, Kathy Kifer at 754-4719 or Joyce Laubacker at 434-5081. 

  Kathleen Kifer is a writer from Lewiston, currently working on a romance novel about a breast cancer survivor who reunites with the love of her life. 

BREAST CANCER SUPPORT

Area support groups

The Mt. St. Mary’s Breast Cancer Support Group — Meets every other month: January, March, May, July, September and November, from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., in Mount St. Mary’s seventh floor conference room. For more information, call Kathy Kifer at 754-4719 or Joyce Laubacker at 434-5081.

Breast Cancer Network of WNY (BCNWNY) — (Professionally led) meets at 7:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month at BCWNY, 3283 Walden Ave., Depew. (706-0060).

Stage IV Breast Cancer Support Group — (Professionally led). For information, call Chris Bylewski (565-2092)

Young Survivors Support Group — (Professionally led) . Meets two times a month at BCNWNY, 3297 Walden Ave, Depew. Time determined by attendees. Call Chris Bylewski at 565-2092 for details.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Networking Group — Coordinated with Life Transitions Center. Call 836-6460 to confirm meeting date and place.

Bosom Buddies —  East Aurora, (652-1930)

The Power of Pink — Breast Health & Cancer Care of WNY, 3915 Sheridan Drive, Amherst (632-7465).

Life Transitions Center (formerly Gilda’s Club) —  1140 Delaware Ave., Buffalo (322-5900) for the Young Breast Cancer Survivor Group (diagnosed under age 40) and breast cancer support group.

Breast Cancer Support Group of the Tonawandas — DeGraff Hospital Community Room, Division St., North Tonawanda. (845-4432)

Best Friends Support Group of Lockport — The Dale Center, 33 Ontario St., Lockport. ( 778-8131 or 434-2902)

2U ABC - “To You It’s All About Breast Cancer — Open to all women with a focus on African American women. (957-8255)

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