Breast cancer survivors Sherry Palmer and Connie Chiles-Cooke team up to provide support to local breast cancer patients.
Connie, who was three treatments ahead of Sherry, offered encouragement. “I was sitting there scared to death”, Sherry says about her first treatment. “Connie was this fountain of information.” The pair quickly learned they shared many similarities, each having three grown children and husbands named Steve who gave them love and support throughout their procedures and treatments.
A year later when they were looking for a way to help others. Sherry went on the Internet looking for some type of volunteer opportunity and discovered Breast Friends. “This was the perfect fit for us. We knew we wanted to do something to help others in our situation.” Breast Friends was started in 2000 by two Portland, Oregon co-workers and breast cancer survivors to assist patients by teaching their friends and family how to offer appropriate help. The organization also has affiliates in Mississippi and Washington State and recently announced plans to launch a nationwide expansion.
Connie maintains, “a lot of organizations are available to women to provide information and even financial assistance. But we saw a lot of women who didn’t have any emotional support. Our husbands were with us for every treatment, but not everyone is as lucky. One oncologist told me that if my marriage was strong this would make it stronger, but if there were cracks this could widen them-we see that quite often. Susan G Komen® is all about finding a cure and the American Cancer Society’s main focus is on education and prevention. Breast Friends is more personal. Until there is a cure we’re helping women deal with cancer one friend at a time. We’ve found that survivors who have the heart for this really want to be involved, this brings great women together.”
The organization pairs patients with “friends” who are undergoing similar experiences. When contacted by a patient, volunteers are matched by age and diagnosis “so if a question comes up they’re better able to answer. We’re especially important to women who don’t have a support group. This is where we’re making a real difference,” says Connie. Sherry volunteers in chemo rooms “to try and take some of the scariness out of it.” She hopes that, in time, all chemo rooms will have volunteers available to patients to lend support. Raising awareness of the services they provide is the primary mission of both women right now. The group has put together a packet of information for newly diagnosed patients. “First I Cry” contains helpful information for patients and their families and a handkerchief “because we all have to cry”. Many doctors give newly diagnosed patients information about the organization, but it’s up to the patients to contact Breast Friends. Once a volunteer is matched their job is just to be there when needed. “We look at each person individually because you never know what anyone is going through at any given time,” says Connie. “Some women just want to talk”, Sherry adds, “and some need us to talk, not to them but to family members. I had one woman tell me she was doing fine but asked if I could speak to her mother.”
Breast Friends founders Becky Olson and Sharon Heflin say “every woman in America will be touched by breast cancer in her lifetime. One in eight will be diagnosed with breast cancer; the other seven will know her”. Connie and Sherry want every breast cancer physician, oncology nurse, patient and survivor in Brevard County to know about Breast Friends and the services they provide. ”We’ve walked the walk,” says Sherry. “We know what to expect and we want to help.”
Co-Directors: Sherry Palmer and Connie Chiles-Cooke
Address: 1103 Hibiscus Blvd. Suite 405, Melbourne
Phone: 321-474-6900 or 321-474-4159