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My Breast Cancer Support Group Offered Me Advice, Camaraderie


My major source of support throughout my journey was our local breast cancer support group.

My major source of support throughout my journey was our local breast cancer support group.

In 2008 I had my yearly mammogram, and I was told that my mammogram was clear and to come back next year.

A few months later in early 2009, I had my yearly physical and my primary doctor felt a lump in my left breast. A diagnostic mammogram showed what appeared to be a cancerous tumor, and a follow-up biopsy confirmed that the tumor was cancerous. During the biopsy, it was noted that I had swollen lymph nodes. The surgeon who performed my mastectomy confirmed I had two cancerous tumors and six of the nine lymph nodes they removed were cancerous.

In a matter of a few months, I went from being told my mammogram was clear to being told I had stage 3 breast cancer. Receiving the newsthat I had cancer was bad enough but realizing it most likely had gone undetected for an unknown number of years was unnerving.

I was the first person in my family to be diagnosis with breast cancer, so I had to forge my own path in dealing with this disease.

Through the urging of one of my neighbors, herself a breast cancer survivor, I agreed to attend a meeting of our local breast cancer support group, CVMC Breast Cancer Support Group. I am not comfortable going into a room of strangers, so it was not an easy thing for me to do. But, from my first meeting onward, I found the women to be welcoming; they told me to go at my own pace in terms of what I wanted to share. This put me at ease, and eventually I was able to share and ask questions during the meetings.

The support group gave me hope that there was life after having breast cancer. The group was made up of women who had been diagnosed with different stages of breast cancer; women who had undergone treatment in our area and outside our area; women who had completed their treatments; and women still in treatment. This meant the group had a wealth of information, from their experiences with breast cancer treatments to dealing with its long-term effects. They told me what I could expect from my radiation treatments. I had just completed my chemotherapy treatments, so told me that it was not unusual to be stressed before each of my oncologist visits where I would get the results of my cancer/tumor marker blood tests (CA 27.29).

The women in the group helped me formulate questions to ask my oncologist and other doctors andlet me know that I was my best advocate when dealing with my doctors.Theyassured me that no question was too stupid if I didn't understand what I was being told.

It was through the support group I learned about lymphedema, because neither my surgeon nor oncologist had discussed this possibility with me. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with lymphedema shortly after I completed my radiation treatments. Through a recommendation from one of the women in the group, I was able to locate a physical therapist who specialized in treating lymphedema. I believe having the knowledge about lymphedema and having a physical therapist who specialized in treating it has kept my lymphedema in check.

Today I am a 14-year survivor of stage 3 breast cancer. The CVMC Breast Cancer Support Group was instrumental in helping me get to where I am today, living a full life and not dwelling negatively on the fact that I am a breast cancer survivor.

As I passed my five year and ten-year survivor marks my needs from the support group changed. Through this group I have managed to turn my experience with this horrible disease into helping others, I now have the privilege of leading this support group.

This post was written and submitted by Irene Gutierrez. The article reflects the views of Irene Gutierrez and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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