Helping Women and Men Survive Breast Cancer

Every year, CURE invites one advocate who is attending the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium to serve as a guest blogger. This year, readers will be hearing from Bev Parker, PhD, a 24-year breast cancer survivor who is attending the symposium for the seventh year.

CURE

Every year, invites one advocate who is attending the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium to serve as a guest blogger. This year, readers will be hearing from Bev Parker, PhD, a 24-year breast cancer survivor who is attending the symposium for the seventh year.

Since her first diagnosis in 1985 at the age of 40, Parker has been there for women—and men—diagnosed with breast cancer. She began working as a peer counselor on the Breast Cancer Network of Strength (formerly Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization) hotline and for the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program shortly after her diagnosis. The diagnosis also prompted her to switch her career from business to public health, a field where she earned her PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her dissertation was a study of men who had breast cancer.

“I always had a bent to help people,” Parker says.

Parker recalls deciding to get involved in helping other survivors even before she had surgery. “I called a woman to get some information on lumpectomy and mastectomy, since I had a choice, and I remember telling her that I wanted to do what she was doing.”

It didn’t take long. Parker began volunteering for Y-ME, becoming a paid staff member as the hotline director and later as a research analyst. She graduated from Project LEAD, the science training and education course for advocates sponsored by the National Breast Cancer Coalition, and served as a grant reviewer for the U.S. Department of Defense, the California Breast Cancer Research Program, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

In 2001, 16 years after her lumpectomy and radiation treatments, Parker had a local recurrence that necessitated a second lumpectomy. Then in 2005, she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in her other breast and had yet another lumpectomy.

Over the years, Parker has seen treatments change and improve from the options she was given 24 years ago, which prompts her to attend SABCS to keep up to date on the most current treatments, most of which were unavailable when she was first diagnosed.

She is particularly interested in the psychosocial aspects of living with a breast cancer diagnosis, an interest reflected in her PhD dissertation, which explored the emotional issues of men diagnosed with breast cancer.She says the universal reaction of the men she interviewed was, “I didn’t know I could get that.”

“Men have many of the same reactions as women,” Parker says, “but they are very isolated and often treated poorly by breast cancer groups.”

She recalled one of the men she interviewed who wanted to take part in an event as a survivor but the organization refused to give him a pink T-shirt.

“One man had all the side effects from tamoxifen, and the women in his life thought it was funny that he had hot flashes,” Parker says.

Parker is a now a full-time volunteer at the cancer center near her home in Chicago where she counsels breast cancer patients. In addition, she serves on the review board of Rush University.

This article is a part of CURE’s 2009 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium coverage. To read more articles from SABCS 2009, visit sabcs2009.curetoday.com.