Havre Daily News
When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she has decisions to make and challenges ahead of her. Nobody knows that better than a breast cancer survivor, local Reach to Recovery coordinator Danelle Bakke said.
October is breast cancer awareness month and Bakke wants more women to know about Reach to Recovery, an American Cancer Society program that pairs a recently diagnosed woman with a breast cancer survivor.
The program has been in place on the Hi-Line for at least six years and has eight volunteers from Hingham to Chinook, Bakke said. Volunteers are available to talk to women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and want some extra support and information.
”When I was diagnosed, I was 35, and finding other people who had survived was very important to me,“ Bakke said.
She didn't get involved with the program at the time of her diagnosis but did a few years later. She hopes more people will get involved now.
”(The program is) not big enough and the reason is I don't think people know we have it,“ she said.
Volunteers give out American Cancer Society pamphlets on different types of treatment including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. They can also talk about their own battle with the disease and the treatments they chose. To become a volunteer, women must attend trainings by the American Cancer Society and be cancer-free for at least one year.
Though the Hi-Line program has never worked with a man diagnosed with breast cancer, volunteers are trained to do that as well, Bakke said.
Volunteers are there to show the light at the end of the tunnel, ”to help other people see how it looks to get better,“ Bakke said.
Volunteers can also help women take advantage of another American Cancer Society program - Look Good, Feel Better. It allows women undergoing treatment a free consultation with a cosmotologist. The cosmotologist provides makeup and application instructions so a woman fighting breast cancer can reduce the signs of strain left by treatment.
Bakke said the principle of that program is: ”The better you feel, the more positive you are, the better your body responds.“
Women diagnosed with breast cancer can sometimes experience a self-image crisis, particularly as they face debilitating treatments and possibly a mastectomy, or breast removal. Volunteers can help women cope with this experience, Bakke said.
Coordinators try to pair women of roughly the same age with the same type of cancer, Bakke said.
Most interactions are via telephone, but volunteers generally make themselves available for face-to-face meetings as well, Bakke said.
Volunteer Paulette Frey said she hasn't worked with anybody for several months, and Bakke said she'd like to see more women take advantage of the program.
”The one thing I would like to see is to get to people before they make their decisions“ about treatment, Frey said.
Frey is a nurse at Northern Montana Hospital and a breast cancer survivor of eight years.
Volunteers can't give medical advice, but they can talk about the procedure they chose and the experience they had with it, Frey said. ”We don't back any certain treatment,“ she added.
Frey's desire to get involved earlier in the cancer treatment process reflects a shift in the program itself.
Karrie Erickson, quality of life relationship manager at the Billings American Cancer Society office, said that Reach to Recovery began in 1969, when volunteers got involved at about the time that a woman had surgery to remove a cancer.
Since breast cancer can be detected earlier now, volunteers can be involved earlier in the process, Erickson wrote in an email.
Twenty-four communities in Montana have a Reach to Recovery program, Erickson wrote.
For more information about Reach to Recovery on the Hi-Line, call Bakke at 265-3025.