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Articles / 2008

Breast cancer group offers support, guidance
CMH resource center provides safe haven

Ventura County Star
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
By Alicia Doyle

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, Lynda Kessler has been able to accept her condition in a way that she may not have been able to before, thanks to a new breast cancer support group offered by The Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara and Community Memorial Hospital.

"Generally, I am not a person who joins any sort of group," said Kessler, 66, of Westlake Village, who joined the group about six weeks after beginning chemotherapy.

"However, when I was diagnosed, I felt the need to talk to other women who were either going through what I was experiencing or had already been through it," she said. "My initial thoughts were that it might be depressing to hear the stories of others who have suffered multiple cancers and recurrences, but I personally find inspiration and am amazed at how brave some of these ladies are."

Kessler is among a handful of women gaining support and guidance from the free group, which meets every Thursday, from 1:30 to 3 p.m., at the newly opened Community Memorial Hospital Cancer Resource Center at 184 N. Brent St. in Ventura.

"A support group can be a great source of hope, camaraderie and knowledge," said Maryana Palmer, group facilitator and a licensed therapist who has worked with breast cancer patients for three decades. "It reminds people they are not alone as they face cancer, that they have allies and a safe place to talk about their day-to-day journey."

The Cancer Support Community has been working in alliance with the hospital for a year discussing the possibility of opening a satellite program, and there has been a need in the community for a special breast cancer support group, Palmer said.

"Several women have called within the past year requesting one," said Palmer, who launched the group March 14.

"Women with breast cancer have specialized feminine needs and emotions that are not easy to discuss in an open cancer group with men and women," Palmer continued. "In this group they are able to discuss in a safe environment with other women the common concerns of body image, sexuality and other feminine issues and feelings surrounding this type of cancer."

Doctors can tell you the side effects and how you might feel on the various chemos, but there's nothing like hearing from those women who have experienced it, Kessler said.

"Even with the most supportive, loving family and friends, I felt I needed to be able to talk and get out my true feelings, perhaps feelings I didn't even want my husband or children to know I had," Kessler said. "With the wonderful group of ladies we can discuss anything and everything, and this can be noncancer-related as well. We are there for one another in every way possible."

Suzanne Kinsey of Thousand Oaks, whose mother died of breast cancer at age 46, thought she was free of the disease after she got breast cancer herself at age 46 and sought treatment.

"Years later a mammogram found a tumor on the other breast," Kinsey said. "Again, I went through chemo, radiation. Later I had a bilateral mastectomy."

In the breast cancer support group, she finds comfort in sharing information and fears with women who understand what she's going through.

"Sometimes because we have all experienced cancer, we discuss thoughts that we are unable to share with family members," Kinsey said. "Each week I look forward to encouraging others in the group, sharing experiences and visiting with my friends."

The Cancer Support Community provides a safe, confidential environment to assist in dealing with a cancer diagnosis, Kinsey added.

"Along the way, you lose some members and grieve their passing," she said. "But the rich friendship and support that develops in the group helps you deal with this and be grateful for whatever time you have on this Earth."

A group like this is especially crucial now that breast cancer is the No. 1 women's cancer today, Palmer said.

"The bonding and sense of connection that takes place in this group is very powerful and healing," she said. "These women quickly learn that they are not alone."

For more information or to join, call The Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara at 379-4777.