News: Sharing Courage: Breast cancer survivors offer support
Story by Christine Cabalo
KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii - Banding together to talk about their experiences has helped a group of Hawaii survivors deal with breast cancer.
They meet monthly at Naval Health Clinic Hawaii for the Makalapa Clinic’s breast cancer support group. Several survivors formed the group four years ago after a visit from Heidi Floyd, a cancer survivor and national ambassador for the Vera Bradley Breast Cancer Foundation.
“Her positive energy inspired us to keep the group active,” said Mary Johnson, breast health educator and support group facilitator, Naval Health Clinic Hawaii. “Each woman who was in attendance left with an amazing feeling of hope.”
Every meeting features guest speakers who answer questions on nutrition, mental well-being and other health topics related to breast cancer. Johnson said support group attendees are invited to sit and listen to others or share their own stories.
For some, discussing breast cancer can be difficult. Shelbi Thompson, a breast cancer survivor and a spouse of a member of Combat Logistics Battalion 3, said she initially didn’t talk about her breast cancer with others. She decided not to join a support group or speak about it because she didn’t want the disease to define her.
“The only people who knew I had cancer were my mom and husband,” she said. “I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me, or talk to me differently. I want them to treat me normally.”
Talking about her diagnosis and treatment at the group meetings has helped Eve Lisa Conley, a spouse of a Navy diver stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
“Without [the support group], I would not have been as brave,” Conley said. “It helped me realize that I am strong enough to fight this thing. It helps me now to keep going and still fight so that cancer never comes back. I can move on and face the world.”
With no sign of cancer in two years, Conley continues to attend. She’s learned about how to keep up her good health and has spent time with other survivors. Meeting others who are going through similar challenges helped her, especially while undergoing several surgeries and multiple treatments of chemotherapy.
“My first day going to the group was scary as I was just diagnosed,” Conley said. “Then seeing how the other woman looked so beautiful and full of positive energy, it really helped me in ways there are no words to describe. I left the support group that day feeling stronger and ready for the journey which laid ahead.”
The group has also taken on informing others about the disease and debunking rumors. Johnson remembers when the national ambassador of the Vera Bradley Breast Cancer Foundation spoke at the first meeting. The ambassador shared her experience of going through chemotherapy while she was pregnant.
Others in the group have gone through breast cancer treatment while caring for their children, including Sera Song who is a spouse of a Marine stationed at Camp H.M. Smith. She noticed a lump while breast-feeding her youngest child.
Speaking with other breast cancer survivors has helped her deal with depression and other symptoms as she’s continued her medical treatments.
“For the ladies who are going through chemo, they all had different reactions,” Song said. “We all talked about it, and I think my story can be comforting for them too.”
Initially Tracy Navarrete, the Makalapa Clinic health promotions coordinator, didn’t think she needed to visit the group as she sought medical help for breast cancer. However, once she attended and met others who were going through treatment as well, she was hooked.
Navarrete and the other regular attendees agreed that one of the best aspects of group is how they can share as much or as little as they’d like.
“They’re so positive and funny,” Navarrete said. “The support system is great. It doesn’t matter how small your cancer experience is.”
For more information or to join the support group, call 473-1880, ext. 2242.
The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 10, Makalapa conference room, 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.