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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month ACS volunteers ‘reach’ to give hope

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A two-time breast cancer survivor, Doris Elliott wants women to know that a mammogram saved her life.

“I had very large breasts and I didn’t mind going and getting them smashed,” said Elliott, 53. “I call it temporary pain for long term gain because had it not been for the mammogram I may not be here today.”

A newly trained volunteer for Central Indiana’s American Cancer Society’s (ACA) Reach to Recovery program, a free service that pairs newly diagnosed breast cancer patients with breast cancer survivors, Elliott wants to teach women what she’s learned about breast cancer while encouraging them to advocate for their health.

“I’m in the community everyday with people who aren’t concerned with health care,” she said. “I want people to know the importance of going to the doctor and how that trip could save their life.”

Reach to Recovery began in New York during the 1950s by a breast cancer patient who like Elliott, wanted to share her experience to help women cope. The ACS adopted the program in 1969 and is one of its longest standing volunteer opportunities. Volunteers are trained to give support and up-to-date information, including literature for spouses, children, friends and other loved ones.

“Some patients are very fearful of going for a chemo treatment or radiation treatment and we’ve had volunteers to accompany them to their first treatment,” said Barbara Miller, ACS community program manager. “After the initial visit, many of our volunteers keep in touch with the patient throughout the course of their treatment giving them frequent calls to see how they’re doing and sending notes of encouragement.”

When Barbara Dinwidde, 79, was diagnosed 12 years ago she was paired with two volunteers and says their warmth and kind words helped her get through the tough times.

“They were always there if I had a problem and I liked that they didn’t try to solve the problem but they would tell me where I could go,” she said. “It helped me to know that someone else had gone through what I was going through and came through it all right. It really helped increase my confidence.”

Reach to Recovery is funded by the ACS’ annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. In its 10th year, the walk provides funds for most of the ACS programs as well as research to help find a cure.

“We could not provide the education, fundraising and the support programs without our volunteers,” said Miller. “Particularly, for the Reach to Recovery program it’s extremely important for new patients to talk to someone who has been there and gone through the experience.”

Which is why Dinwidde and Elliott are two of the 40 breast cancer survivors who offer hope and encouragement through Reach to Recovery.

“I tell them to look at it in a positive way,” said Dinwidde who has participated in the Making Strides walk each year. “Don’t feel that everything is going downhill. Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean that everything is all over.”

Elliott, who designed a breast cancer ribbon for women of color called Queen for a Cure, adds, “I hope that the women I meet who may feel discouraged or may feel that there’s no hope, I can give them that hope by sharing my story of what I went through and learned.”

For more information or to locate a Reach to Recovery program in your area, visit “In My Community” on the Web site www.cancer.org or call toll-free at 1-800-ACS-2345.

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk

What:

5K noncompetitive walk

When:

Saturday, Oct. 20 at 9 a.m., registration begins at 7:30 a.m.

Where:

White River State Park

For more information call (317) 347-6670 or visit www.cancer.org/stridesonline.

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