Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Health

Life as a survivor


Published:   |   Updated: January 12, 2014 at 12:29 PM

When Beth Breedlove found a lump in her right breast, she immediately called her gynecologist, who scheduled a biopsy. The lump was malignant and Breedlove underwent a mastectomy and rounds of chemotherapy. Then she got to work learning how to live as a breast cancer survivor.

Proactive in her fight against what was diagnosed as triple negative breast cancer, Breedlove had no trouble doing what was needed to save her own life. The objective decisions were straightforward. But the emotional journey, layered on cancer patients from the moment they hear the frightening diagnosis, was enough to send Breedlove asking for help.

She found it at the American Cancer Society Hernando Resource Room in Pinebrook Regional Medical Center.

Open for four years, the Hernando Resource Room was created by the American Cancer Society to provide resources for uninsured cancer survivors. The cozy room is on the second floor of Pinebrook Regional Medical Center, stocked with many of the items survivors need, from accessories to literature.

The western wall is lined from ceiling to floor with handcrafted wigs of every style and color. Bins sit on an organized shelf with mastectomy bras. And other necessities such as beanies, knitted hats, scarves and creative hairpieces decorate the room.

The main focal point, however, is the team of knowledgeable volunteers who greet each client with empathetic smiles and kind gestures. They are seasoned in the art of nurturing, and their experience, either directly from walking a similar path or indirectly through the occurrence of a friend or loved one dealing with cancer, helps bond valued friendships.

Lamar Koontz, Gail Schulties and Claire Blust await new clients from inside the Resource Room for two-hour blocks a few times a month. They are three of 18 volunteers who offer their time to help those in need.

Each has responsibilities that keep them busy during their shift, like keeping track of literature and supplies. But all three women agree their main purpose is to help those who need them during what is often an emotional time.

"Sometimes we spend the two hours with no one walking in," Blust said. "And that's such a waste, not of our volunteer hours but of our resources that we know can help so many."

The struggle, the women agreed, is getting awareness out that they exist.

The Hernando Resource Room is run by volunteers who alternate their two-hour blocks between two days a week, providing information, guidance and support for survivors and their families. Since radiation and chemotherapy treatments weigh heavily on the patients' physical appearance, giving them a way to feel good again is vital to the healing process.

The wigs, Koontz said, are a big part of that. Many survivors come in to see the wigs before they start losing their hair, she said. It is a bit more difficult to fit at that point. But it's important to them because they want to match their own color.

Wigs are maintained by Hedy Emerson, who was responsible for creating the "wall of wigs" Koontz said.

Other items like hats, beanies, turbans, scarves and hairpieces are available - all donated - to help survivors feel more in control of their appearance and their lives.

The Hernando Resource Room was the work of the American Cancer Society branch that operates out of Lutz. "We fall under that umbrella," said Blust. "One of our volunteers, Victoria Crowe, was passionate about this room, and she was the fire behind it."

Now dealing with health issues herself, Crowe has stepped aside to focus on her recovery. Blust temporarily is coordinating Resource Room activities. "But Victoria was the impetus behind this," Blust said.

The space that houses the Hernando Resource Room was donated by Pinebrook Regional Medical Center. Everything inside, from the cabinets and mountings that hold items to the items themselves, was donated.

And everything is free to cancer patients who visit.

Many times, those who walk through the door are looking for something specific, like a wig or a special scarf or hat. And they are gently encouraged to come in and be comfortable and try on anything they want.

The room is filled with a sense of serenity, and visitors often find common ground with the volunteers. They discuss their experiences and fears and collaborate on topics that those walking a similar path would understand.

And they make friends.

Beth Breedlove found that valuable gift upon her first visit to the Hernando Resource Room about one year ago. She came looking for a prosthesis that day and left feeling like she no longer was alone. She recently returned to the Resource Room, hoping to replace the prosthesis that had been damaged accidently.

Unfortunately they no longer stock prostheses, Blust said, because of safety and liability issues. But she gave Breedlove some options to try.

And Breedlove wasn't deterred. After a few moments of teary hugs and soft conservation about her ordeal, Breedlove turned toward Blust, implying her visit was far from wasted. "I've gotten so much from coming here," Breedlove said

And that is what the three women hope to hear each time they sit in the room waiting for someone to walk in.

"That's why we're here," Koontz said. "We just need to get them to come in."

The ACS Resource Room is open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Wednesdays from noon to 4 p.m. It is at Pinebrook Regional Medical Center; 14540 Cortez Blvd., Suite 203, in Brooksville.

For more information on American Cancer Society programs and services, call 1.800.227.2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

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