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Volunteer program helps those struggling with breast cancer

The local branch of a national program that helps women with breast cancer cope with their disease is making a renewed effort to spread the word to women with breast cancer on the Hi-Line.

Reach to Recovery, a program sponsored by the American Cancer Society, trains breast cancer survivors who volunteer to make house visits to women still undergoing treatment.

The volunteers do not give medical advice, said DaNelle Bakke, the new coordinator of the Hi-Line's Reach to Recovery program. Instead, they give simple tips like how to prepare foods that will be easier on women undergoing chemotherapy, and beauty tips for women struggling to minimize some of the side effects of the disease and its treatment. They bring bags with informational materials and breast forms for women who have had mastectomies. Most importantly, Bakke said, the volunteers listen and try to give hope.

"You let them talk," she said. "You try not to tell your story. It's not your time to talk. You try to answer their questions."

Bakke, a cancer survivor as well as a volunteer for the program, has sat on both sides of the table. She said the moral support women gain from seeing someone who has made it through is one of the most important benefits of the visits.

"They see you looking alive and healthy and well, and they know they can get there some day," she said, adding that many more people survive the disease than not, and that the survival rate is getting higher and higher.

"It's one of the most treatable cancers," she said.

The program has existed in Havre for decades, but in recent years relatively few women - about four or five a year - have taken advantage of the volunteers, she said. At one time in years past, volunteers might serve four to five people a month. The need is still out there, Bakke said, but many people don't know the service exists.

"There's an awful amount of people afflicted. There's a lot of people we're not seeing," she said.

The program has volunteers in Havre, Hingham, Chinook, Gildford and Malta - 10 in all. When a women calls the program for a referral, the program tries to match her with a volunteer with similar characteristics, like the type of cancer, age, family status, types of treatment and whether she has had surgery. All client information is confidential, Bakke said. Volunteers usually only visit the same client once or twice, unless extra visits are requested, she said.

Whether a woman has just been diagnosed, has had a lumpectomy or mastectomy, is going through chemotherapy or radiation, or is recovering but having anxiety about relapse, the program is ready to refer her to a volunteer.

"There's not ever a bad time to refer somebody," Bakke said.

Anyone interested in having a referral can call DaNelle Bakke at 265-3025. Anyone interested in being a volunteer can call (800) 537-7710.


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