A cancer diagnosis is never easy. Support groups such as Bosom Buddies and Look Good Feel Better, both of which are offered via a partnership with Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and the American Cancer Society, offer a way to channel the maze of feelings, frustrations and fears.
Agnes Russell of Valencia started attending Bosom Buddies 11 years ago after learning she had breast cancer.
“The first thought I had was, what if I’m not here for my children or grandchildren?” said Russell, a retired office manager. “My grandson’s teacher, who was a breast cancer survivor, told me about Bosom Buddies, because my grandson mentioned I was having a hard time.”
Meeting women in a similar situation was reassuring to Russell, as Bosom Buddies is targeted to those with breast cancer.
“When I started chemotherapy, I thought I was losing my mind because I kept forgetting things,” Russell recalled.”The other ladies assured me this was normal. There’s even a term for it - chemo brain. Everyone there is pretty much going through the same thing. We understand one another.”
Now cancer-free, Russell continues to attend Bosom Buddies, facilitating the groups for the last four years. The open-forum support meetings, held on the second Monday of every month, are free and open to any breast cancer patient or survivor.
“My feeling was it helped me, now I want to help someone else,” Russell said. “I get a lot out of it. Many of these women have become my friends. Family members try to help, but they don’t understand or it can be frightening to them. That’s why I think a support group is so valuable.”
Look Good, Feel Better is a bi-monthly meeting that offers cancer patients the opportunity to learn makeup application, nail care, wig or scarf fittings and more from professional cosmetologists and aestheticians.
Each attendee leaves with a free name-brand makeup kit provided by the Personal Care Products Foundation and National Cosmetology Association. Reservations are required for the Look Good, Feel Better meeting.
“They teach you how to put on a face, from step one to the end, such as how to draw in eyebrows you might be losing from chemo,” said Heather Warrick, director of healthcare corporate initiatives with the American Cancer Society’s Santa Clarita division. “It‘s a fun class. Women come in looking kind of nervous, but they walk out with a smile. They look beautiful. It really does work.”
In addition, the Valencia American Cancer Society office has a wide array of free wigs, hats, scarves and turbans for its clients, as well as complimentary transport to and from meetings and physician appointments.
“We have wigs of all different styles, lengths and colors,” Warrick said. “However, if a woman can’t find the wig she wants, we can usually find one for them.”
Warrick deeply empathizes with the women who walk through her doors, as she is an 18-year breast cancer survivor recently diagnosed with advanced stage cancer of the bones, lung and heart.
When she was initially diagnosed, Warrick took advantage of the many support services the American Cancer Society and Henry Mayo had to offer.
“Talking with other patients, who may be bald like you, you finally realize, there are other women out there like me,” Warrick said.” You get to talking, what drug are you on? Do you get this side effect? It just flows; you never know what you’re going to learn.”
Mindy Burgess, Henry Mayo’s breast health navigator, concurs with Warrick. Burgess refers patients to support groups, including a recently started Young Adult Cancer/Chronic Illness meeting, for their emotional health.
“I can tell my patients the basics because I’m a nurse, but I can’t tell them how they’re going to feel,” Burgess said. “When they have someone else who has gone through it, a patient can relax a little because they know what to expect. Knowledge is power.”
That knowledge, coupled with the medical services offered by Henry Mayo, makes the Santa Clarita Valley a helpful community for those with cancer.
“It’s extremely important for people to realize what we have here at Henry Mayo, which is complete comprehensive cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment to survivorship,” Burgess said. “We have the top doctors and the latest technologies. You don’t need to leave our valley to get the best cancer care.”
For more information on the American Cancer Society support groups offered at Henry Mayo, call (800) 227-2345. Ask for services in the Santa Clarita Valley.