A NEW support group for breast cancer sufferers is being launched in Paphos with the aim of providing patients the opportunity to share experiences and forge friendships.
The initiative was founded by Maxine O’Daly of The Cancer Patients Support Group Paphos – CPSG and PASYKAF- the Cyprus Association of Cancer patients and Friends, and breast cancer patient Cherrie Gregory.
Karen Roe, also a cancer patient, is an inspiration for many, and a spokesman for the group. She told the Cyprus Mail that they would meet for the first time in June.
The Paphos resident said that breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer affecting women all over the world; 18.2 per cent of all cancer deaths worldwide, including both males and females are from breast cancer. It is also the leading cancer in women in Cyprus, with approximately 400 new cases diagnosed annually.
“Cherrie’s vision is not the doom and gloom of cancer, but instead to focus on more of a social get together, where likeminded people will be able to hold confidential discussions with each other if they need it.”
Roe also pointed out that there will be guest speakers covering a number subjects, and not all will be related to cancer. “The emphasis for the group is based on a social level, and also giving the opportunity, if needed, to ask open and personal questions. We may also meet for lunch once a month.”
“Breast of Friends,” has been formed in association with PASYKAF Homecare Nursing and Support Services, Paphos and The Cancer Patients Support Group- CPSG.
PASYKAF nurse Rachel Grainger-Christou RGN, will attend the first meeting to welcome guests, give a short address and be on hand to answer any questions. Roe said that the group is open to everyone and added that confidentiality is paramount.
She said: “When you are diagnosed with breast cancer, or going through treatment, you can try and put on a brave a face, but people who haven’t experienced it can’t be expected to understand what we go through. I want to tell all breast cancer patients, past and present, that they don’t need to feel alone, confused or ‘abnormal’.
Roe was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2012, aged 47, and said it took her at least one and a half years to feel ‘normal’ again. She said that she has now been given the ‘all clear’, although her ongoing treatment of tablets and monthly injections will continue until the end of 2017.
She stressed the importance of early diagnosis for the best outcome, and stressed that if women or men discover a lump in their breast they must visit a doctor immediately.
After finding a lump in her breast, Roe rang the cancer patients support line, a free service provided by the charity which is manned by trained volunteers. She said that she asked so many questions and what if’s that she was prepared and ready for the next step.
“They were wonderful and I had so much support. But I felt very detached from the diagnosis, the best way to describe it is that I was in a play. It didn’t feel like it was happening to me.”
Roe noted that everyone reacts differently, as do their partners. In her case, she became very practical and was lucky that husband Phil was a huge support, helping her through the entire journey.
Women and men can have so many different types of lumps, cysts, polyps and calcium build up in their bodies, she said, which is what she thought she had, but it wasn’t.
“My lump was quite hard and they removed a large mass including a number of lymph nodes. Luckily, these were clear of cancer by 2cm, which shows that getting it in time is so important.”
The cancer patient said that after losing her hair, she managed to find some enjoyment in wearing all different sorts of wigs and joked about saving money on shampoo. But she also said that chemotherapy treatment was the worst experience of her life.
“Some days I couldn’t even get out of bed, everything hurt, even my bones. My mouth and teeth were sore and tasted of metal and I couldn’t eat. I had an all over rash, and without eyebrows or eye lashes I felt absolutely terrible.”
She added that she also had days where she feel reasonably alright and made an effort to get ready to go out for an evening meal.
“This can take all day, and people you meet say, oh you look amazing and aren’t you coping well, they have no idea that you were vomiting into the toilet all morning.”
Roe said that it took a long time for her hair to grow back and she didn’t feel like herself. “My chemo hair, as I called it, was a different texture and colour, it was horrible. This process changes your priorities and outlook on life and although I’ve always been a positive person, I feel far more positive and confident after surviving breast cancer,” she said.
Roe said that she feels it’s important for her to be involved in the group to try and help others to be positive, and although she’s not trained, her name and number is often passed onto fellow sufferers, because she wants to assure them that there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’
“You have to take baby steps and set yourself all sorts of goals,” she advised. “A short term goal might be just to eat a bowl of soup that day. My medium goal was to go on a holiday which was booked before I was diagnosed, it was touch and go but I managed to do it. My long term goal was to be back to being me.”
She said that she once naively said that she was controlling the cancer and not the other way around, but that the psychological fight is sometimes overwhelming and it (the treatment) won.
“But each day is different and it’s a journey. I called my cancer ‘The Alien’ as it shouldn’t have been there.”
Roe said that before her diagnosis she was immersed in her work as the Sales Manager of Cyprus Living magazine. She is now a silent partner in the venture, and spends much of her time at home with her husband, a vegetable patch, chickens, quails and two much loved dogs.
“As well as my husband, my dogs helped me through, as one of them, Lotty, then a puppy, we’d only had for a month before my diagnosis. She became my shadow and still always lies next to the side where I had cancer, she has been a joy.”
Roe also joined amateur singing group the ‘Zingers’, which she describes as her oxygen and which raises thousands of euros for local charities, including CPSG.
The support group meetings will be held on a regular basis, and they would like to hear from anyone who is going through treatment for breast cancer, or has successfully overcome it, even if it was many years ago, to help to give inspiration to others who may be facing difficulties.
“Everyone who has been through this has something to offer a fellow sufferer, sometimes it’s the small things that make life a little easier, as well as sharing and caring,” she said.
An event in support of the new group, ‘The Akamas Music Festival,’ will be held on Saturday 4th June at Searays Café and Bar at 2pm. A number of local groups and singers, along with craft stalls, a raffle, food and drink will be on offer.
The first meeting of the new support group will be held at 10.30am on Thursday the 9th June in a private room at the UKCA in Paphos.
For more information call: Karen Roe 99 370103, Maxine O’Daly 26 272701 or Cherrie Gregory 96333072.
PASYKAF Paphos 26222929
Cancer Patients support helpline (m) 97 760989 – Monday to Thursday 9am- 4pm – Friday 9am – 1pm