Finding ‘Hope and Friendship’ after a breast cancer diagnosis

Oct 22, 2020 by

Published October 22, 2020

BONDING through activities like drumming, music, art, yoga and meditation during Hope and Friendship support group meetings contributes to a decrease in feelings of anxiety, fear and isolation among members who also feel more empowered to become educated self-advocates. (Heather LoRe Photo)

By HEATHER LoRe

NORTH READING — I heard the words, “You have Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer” from my oncologist, Dr. Harold Burstein, at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute 12 years ago. He went on to say that the average life-expectancy with metastatic breast cancer (breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast, often to the brain, liver, lungs and bones) is two to three years, but that he suspected that I might live three to five years. I was 42 years old at the time, and living and working in North Reading as the Hood School nurse.

After getting over the initial shock that I was going to die young, I began to realize how very alone I felt. I started searching for a metastatic breast cancer support group right away. I found support groups for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and patients who were successfully conquering the disease through treatment, but I had to look hard to find a support group for patients with this darker, terminal form of breast cancer.

I found a metastatic breast cancer support group at The Healing Garden in Harvard, Mass., and there was also one in a hospital in Boston, but nothing was available within an hour’s drive from North Reading.

It was then that I decided to take action and turn this negative into a positive. In 2012, I formed the Hope and Friendship Metastatic Breast Cancer Foundation (MBCF), an all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) non-profit. Our mission is to enhance the lives of women and men living with metastatic breast cancer, and their families. The organization provides metastatic breast cancer support groups, creative retreats, enrichment programs, symptom management therapies, educational and networking opportunities, and an annual celebration. The foundation also supports research targeted at metastatic breast cancer. All of the programs offered by the Hope and Friendship MBCF are FREE and depend on individual donations and fundraisers.

The foundation has also held memorial tributes for the families and friends of the support group members who have lost their courageous battles with the disease. In the last eight years, 22 support group members have lost their lives to metastatic breast cancer and their ages have ranged from 34- to 68-years-old, including one male patient who was aged 52.

Services are offered free of charge

In 2015, the Hope and Friendship MBCF received a $100,000 grant from the Cummings Foundation in the form of a 10-year lease. A beautiful meeting center was created in Wilmington that is comfortable, warm and welcoming, and easily accessible for support group members. Patients travel from as far as Southern Massachusetts, Southern N.H., and the Worcester area to benefit from our programs. Our goal is that our programs always remain FREE because of the major financial burden cancer places on families.

Our support group members report positive changes in lifestyles and relationships; stronger mechanisms for coping with symptoms of the illness and side-effects of treatments; and, power in becoming educated self-advocates. Patients also report decreased feelings of fear, isolation and anxiety. We often incorporate art, music, meditation, yoga, guest leaders, brunch, and other activities into our gatherings. At present, our support group meetings are virtual due to COVID, and still very well-attended.

The support group is facilitated by Melissa Audier, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, from North Reading. Ms. Audier wanted to participate after losing one of her best friends in North Reading to metastatic breast cancer. Ms. Audier is the perfect fit with the knowledge, experience, and empathy needed to lead such a support group, and she has an open heart that the patients respond well to. As one patient puts it: “Melissa is exceptional and provides us with the guidance and support that we need throughout our journeys.”

Remember your mammograms

Mammograms and self-breast exams can lead to early diagnosis and timely treatments for breast cancer for both women and men. Discovering a breast cancer early and starting treatment quickly can be life-saving and should be the goal whenever an abnormality is detected.

Next group meeting Oct. 29

Our virtual support group meetings are held every other Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon. Our next meeting is on October 29. To join our support group, please contact Melissa at 978-604-5802, audier@verizon.net, or complete and mail a registration form from our website to our mailing address: Hope and Friendship MBCF, PO Box 706, Wilmington MA 01887.

For more information or to donate, please visit our website: hopeandfriendship.org.

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