2U ABC provides support for breast cancer survivors

Willie Dunn, service coordinator with the Niagara Falls Housing Authority, and Niagara Falls City Councilman Charles Walker speak with breast cancer survivor Tandra Parker and 2U ABC member Mercedes Wilson about support groups in 2012.

Breast cancer patients confront a major hurdle in their diagnosis and treatment regimen, but struggles with the disease extend well beyond the doctor’s office and remission.

For those in need, Niagara Falls has a support group in 2U ABC, or “To You, it’s all About Breast Cancer.” The program is a splinter group from the outreach work of Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s “Witness Program,” a collection testimony from sufferers and survivors of breast and cervical cancer across Western New York.

Niagara Falls City Councilman Charles Walker, an outreach director at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, said 2U ABC takes all the positive efforts of RPCI’s witness project, but brings special attention to the disparities in cancer treatment for African-American women and those in disadvantaged communities.

The Falls’ support group, according to Community Health Worker Bertha Brinson, is a boots on the ground effort to provide an understanding network for those who feel alone in their confrontation with the cancer.

“After going through the treatment, women have to endure changes and make necessary adjustments,” Brinson said. “Their loss of hair, changes in their skin, and dealing with the fact it may not return to how it was.”

“They’re basically a group that comes together to encourage each other, to walk women through the survival and healing process,” Brinson added.

The group meets monthly, at the lower level of the HSBC Center in Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, 501 10th St. But its work continues outside that venue, as 2U ABC brings its programming to local churches in its outreach efforts.

“The name speaks to the fact that when a woman is diagnosed, nothing else in her world can seem to matter,” Walker said.

Walker indicated that the community trips are another dimension of 2U ABC’s civic engagement.

“It is also a prevention program, teaching women how to keep themselves healthy,” Walker said. “They go into churches and educate women on how to properly examine themselves and navigate process of getting medical work done.”

Among the early warning signs for breast cancer, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, range across many symptoms, including: a swelling or “hard knot” in the breast, warmth or darkening of a particular section of the breast, a change in breast size, any dimpling or puckering of the skin, irritation, changes in the nipple or its discharge, and general pain.

But many of the symptoms can be indicative of other ailments, or nothing as serious as cancer. Moreover, Komen’s foundation advises, the diversity of symptoms is such that the disease may present itself in less visible way. 

That is where Brinson’s support group comes in. It’s overseen countywide by Cassandra Jackson, who became a community health worker for Memorial Medical Center and Roswell Park Cancer Institute in 2011. A graduate of St. Phillips College in San Antonio, Texas, Jackson received a certificate in medical administrative assistance from the school.

With 2U ABC, a network of individuals with diverse experiences is available to patients new to the obstacles of cancer.

Brinson and Walker said that a large portion of 2U ABC’s work takes place in churches, in many cases already sources of support for residents. Brinson said that experiences in her own church propelled her to involvement in the support groups work.

“Not only have I had to endure it through family members and my church, but I have a strong compassion for people,” Brinson said. 

To that end, Brinson helps orchestrate a subgroup of the American Cancer Society, “Look Good, Feel Better.” Brinson said that a large portion of the a cancer survivor’s battle can be rebuilding their confidence and self-esteem after dealing with breast cancer.

“We put together this quarterly pampering session for the women,” Brinson said. “It helps them to reinvent themselves.”

With Brinson, breast cancer survivors get tips on their hair, make-up, skincare and wigs as they attempt to get back to the life they knew. The next such event is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 19 at Memorial’s HSBC Center.

Walker and Brinson, like so many others in the Niagara community, listed relatives and friends who have been diagnosed and battled breast cancer in the past. Though both are tied to support groups through their employment, Brinson and Walker expressed a commitment to their outreach efforts through their own personal experiences.

“It’s a part of my work, but a greater part of my heart,” Brinson said. 

For more information, Brinson can be reached at 278-4763.

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