A small but mighty group of local breast cancer survivors meets for a monthly potluck dinner to celebrate successes and milestones, like marriages or new grandbabies, or the end of chemo treatments. They're the Madison County Breast Cancer Support Group, and since 2000, they've built a community of positivity, support and friendship that touches women regionally and attracts supporters to their cause.
According to breastcancer.org, as of January, there are more than 3.1 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S., including those being treated or finished with treatment. About 1 in 8 U.S. women (around 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, and in 2019, an estimated 331,530 new cases of breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in American women.
"Some women worry about why they got breast cancer," said Paula Hollon, a breast cancer survivor and member of the group. "I think I got breast cancer because I have breasts; it just happens to some people."
A breast cancer diagnosis can be isolating and overwhelming, which is why the Madison County Breast Cancer Support Group works to mobilize its group of 50 members, of which 30 are active, to reach out to recently diagnosed men and women. An expected 2,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men this year.
"I've worked through the doctors with men who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, although men are very shy about talking about it," said Arlayne Francis, a breast cancer survivor and one of the founding members of the group. "We absolutely give support to men; we welcome anybody, anyone can come to a meeting to see what it's about."
Francis notes that when the group visits someone newly diagnosed, they share their own stories of survival to give encouragement.
"We don't tell them it's going to be okay; we tell them 43 years ago I did this and give our name and our years of survival," she said.
They deliver gift baskets to women who have just undergone breast cancer surgery and provide free wigs, turbans, bras and breast prostheses.
"We say we offer a lifetime membership without any admission or charges," said Francis.
Hollon likes the group's positive attitude and sense of fun.
"And look at how wonderful they look -- they're a healthy, lively, active group of women," she said.
Some members can't participate at times when they're sick or going through treatment. The group has lost several members to the disease, old age or car accidents.
"We all wear pink and go to their funeral if possible," said Francis. "We send a single pink rose to the funeral to represent our group."
The community has been particularly supportive, especially local school groups who have fundraised for the group. The women spread breast cancer awareness by talking with young women in the schools to learn to recognize symptoms and talk with the women in their lives about breast cancer.
"Spread the word that if you start early on breast cancer, you can save a life," said Francis.
They participate in Baptist Health Richmond's Paint the Town Pink, The Komen Foundation's Race for the Cure and The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. They work with the Madison County Health Department, the Madison County Breast and Cervical Cancer Coalition and The Kentucky Cancer Link, too. They host a Women's Wellness "Fun Day," every October.
The "Fun Day" came from the idea that there was a need to share the information locally, but Francis saw that women didn't want to travel to Lexington to go to a conference.
"We organized one, we made and took food and had someone talk to them who had breast cancer," said Francis. Sixty women came, so they decided to make it an annual event.
The event kicks off with a continental breakfast and crafts with a speaker from Kentucky Cancer Link. Additional speakers discuss women's health issues, testing and stress and life management, like Dr. Kristin Moore, head of surgery at Baptist Health Richmond, and Frances Howard MS, OTR/L. The group's own Melissa Aldridge will share her survival story.
Uptown Catering will provide a hearty buffet luncheon where guests can eat and mingle, followed by a style show of fashions from Belk and Cato modeled by breast cancer survivors.
"We'd really like to thank the community for their support," said Francis. "We could not do this without their help, especially our sponsors for both monetary and in-kind support."
Events sponsors include Baptist Health Richmond - Paint The Town Pink, Berea Fire Department, Mrs. James "Lou" Salter, RN, ANC, Gordon & Saltered Chartered, Anchor Baptist Church, Lexington Clinic Center for Breast Care, Markey Cancer Center at Lexington Clinic, Adrienne Millet, MD, FACS, Stephen Mattingly, DMD, Merle Norman Cosmetics, Madison County Health Department, Central Bank and Trust Co. in Richmond, Jeff & Gina Fultz, Madison Central High School Girls' Soccer, Model Middle School Girls' Soccer, Berea Middle School Football League, Marine Corps League, Det 1012, Cato Corporation, Belk, EKU Events Office, Kroger in Richmond, Chick-Fil-A in Richmond, Walmart in Richmond, Richmond Greenhouse and Flowers and Minuteman Press.
This year's Women's Wellness Day is Saturday, Oct. 26, from 8 a.m. till 2 p.m. at EKU Perkins Building on Kit Carson Drive in Richmond. It's free to women 16 and older, and registration is preferred. Call (859) 986-1213 to register before Oct. 21.
For more information on the Madison County Breast Cancer Support Group, contact Arlayne Francis at (859) 200-7388 or Nola Newman at (859) 200-5235.