Behind the Scenes of Breast Cancer

1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. From those diagnosed, there are 10,000 oncologists in the United States that will care for them. Even more are the organizations, peer counseling groups, and family members that will help them through this journey.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States and it’s important to venture behind the scenes of breast cancer, past the battle for one woman. This journey is made up of many invisible angels who provide guidance and support for the women diagnosed.

Maria Hehl, an oncology nurse at Mount Kisco Medical Group, speaks of the specific plan that is prepared for woman diagnosed with breast cancer. A team of oncologists and nurses create a schedule, including a treatment plan, times when the woman has lab visits versus office visits, standard checkups and so on. “We try to guide them, to prepare them for what is to come, and give them a plan of action.” Hehl also informs that a psychology service is offered for those diagnosed and their families to support them through all of the upcoming changes and role reversals that may be taking place in the home.

At Support Connection, a local non-for-profit organization in Yorktown Heights, NY, peer counseling and support groups are offered to those affected by Breast and Ovarian Cancer. Robin Perlmutter, a peer counselor at Support Connection has been working behind the scenes for nine years. As a survivor herself, Robin is able to provide a level of depth and understanding when speaking with a woman diagnosed with breast cancer. “We can really say to these people, ‘we’ve been there,’ and help them to establish a sense of control in their life and take charge of this disease.” Robin receives various calls throughout the day, ranging from two to three, up to 10 from women asking for guidance and reassurance throughout this difficult time. “Each call is different,” she says, “I get questions from women about how to talk to their kids, where to buy a wig, what questions they should be asking doctors; as a counselor, I am trying to empower women with information and provide them with a place to bring their questions. They don’t have to hide here.” Robin and the rest of the counselors at Support Connection try to bring hope into the lives of these women, as well as, hope for their families through confidential phone calls and meetings.

Robin also runs a support group for women who are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer; metastatic meaning that the cancer has spread outside of the breast and has impacted other places of the body. She has coordinated with this group specifically for four years now, and has seen women come and go. When asked about a typical day for these women, Robin replied, “There is no typical day. Every day is like being in the front seat of a rollercoaster, and when they have a plateau – they are waiting for it to fall again.” This support group offers a safe haven for women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and it gives them strength to know they are not alone. “These women are the bravest, most inspiring women I have ever known,” Robin concludes. She believes it is a gift to work alongside these women through their journeys.

Barbara Cervoni, Director of Services and Communications at Support Connection, oversees many of the counseling programs offered and helps to train and supervise the counselors. In her 11 years working with Support Connection, the mission of the organization has grown near and dear to her heart. Cancer was not as widely spoken about when Barbara initially started, and she believed this job would be a great way to combine her social work degree with her communication skills. However, Barbara has seen the impact of the services and realizes how truly amazing her job is. “It is both rewarding and difficult at the same time,” Barbara says, “when someone says straight out that we’ve helped them…it’s a remarkable feeling.” Barbara goes onto discuss how many people really do utilize their services by describing their annual Support-A-Walk that takes place the first weekend in October at FDR Park in Yorktown Heights. An estimated 9,000 people come in support of their survivors and in memory of those they lost. “To see those two missions coincide side by side is incredibly touching,” Barbara stated.

Marist student, Rachel Danko has an aunt that is currently battling with breast cancer. She was first diagnosed in June of 2012 and again this past August. Rachel speaks out about the importance of remaining emotionally strong in front of her aunt and about taking life day by day. It’s important to Rachel and her family to remain positive, even on the hardest of days, and to not let it show how much it hurts. She continues to pursue normal activities with her aunt like calling her every Friday, going to family dinners, tailgating at football games, and taking beach trips. “Overall, it’s not her battling alone; your family is all in this battle together until she is in remission!” Rachel states. Though one woman is battling, it is the efforts of many that help and support her through.

Medical professionals, community organizations, and beloved family members are all in the battle together. They are planning treatment schedules, accepting phone calls, organizing support groups, and even heading to the beach for some relaxation and a place of peace. These are the invisible angels that face breast cancer every day. These are the angels that advocate for hope. “The best part of working with these women,” Robin Perlmutter recalls, “is that we’re working with a person who has cancer, we’re not working with cancer…and no one’s life gets put on hold.” 

Peer Counselors and the Director of Services and Communication at Support Connection

Far Left: Robin Perlmutter, Far Right: Barbara Cervoni

(Thumbnail image retreieved from csaeny.org)