For Fairfield County resident Bonnie Myers, a breast cancer diagnosis that she thought was her death sentence turned out to be a life sentence instead.
A 16-year breast cancer survivor, Myers dedicated her life to volunteering and reaching out to others facing the disease after she had been cancer free for one year.
At that time, Isabel Laws who was the oncology nurse at Baptist Hospital called and asked if she would be interested in training to be a volunteer with the Reach to Recovery program.
Volunteers are trained to offer understanding and caring and to help that person cope emotionally with the diagnosis of breast cancer.
They offer information on other services available to the patient such as I Can Cope and Look Good…Feel Better. Myers said that volunteers are not allowed to give medical advice but rather that they must confer with their doctors for that.
Volunteers can, and do, discuss their treatment experiences with other patients, though.
In addition to acting as the only Reach to Recovery volunteer in Fairfield County, she felt called to help set up a local support group for persons suffering from cancer.
Nancy Stone, an oncology nurse at Fairfield Memorial at that time decided the community needed a support group. Stone and Myers formed the Breast Friends and Cancer Support Group, which met at the hospital.
The group has grown over the years to include a 318-name mailing list, and meetings are now held at the Fairfield County Council Center (Council on Aging) 210 E. Washington St.
Breast Friends and Cancer Support Group is open to anyone who has been a cancer patient or the caregiver of a cancer patient. At first the group was only for breast cancer patients but after the organizers learned there were few other local support groups available for other forms of cancers, the members expanded their focus to include any cancers.
Myers acknowledged that, “Everyone is welcome, but no one wants to join if it is not necessary. We offer support and try to assist with needs where possible or lead them to the right agency for help.”
The group meets the second Saturday of each month at 11 a.m.
Each month the American Cancer Society sends cards to members reminding them of support group meetings. Referrals to the group are made by doctors and nurses, or by a call center in Atlanta Myers receives messages from as part of her Reach to Recovery work. Friends and acquaintances also can refer patients to Myers and the group by calling Myers at 635-5826.
Breast Friends and Cancer Support Group works with Relay for Life, collects coats and warm clothing for the Good Samaritan House, and works with Hospice Care of Tri County in supplying clothing and afghans.
A “Memory/Survivor” quilt project also is in process and the group requests pictures of cancer survivors for the quilt.
This spring the group raised over $1,700 for Relay for Life with a bake sale.
They also produced a cookbook featuring recipes from cancer patients. Not all of the recipe authors are still survivors, but the book has done work to honor their memories.
Cookbook sales raised $3,300 which the group donated to Children’s Chance, an organization that will distribute the funds and that it stay in Fairfield County for children with cancer.
Breast Friends and Cancer Support members also are knitting and/or crocheting caps to be given to the hospitals for infants and to Children’s Chance to distribute to those who lose their hair from chemo.
Children’s Chance provides funding for gasoline and for counseling and other services that are not met by the American Cancer Society.
About 15 more cookbooks are available for purchase and can be ordered by calling 803-635-5826.
Myers often tells people that, “Cancer is not a blessing, but I have been blessed in so many ways by having cancer. I have made so many loving, caring friends that probably would not have crossed my path (otherwise). You do not want to join our club, but if you must, you have a wonderful group of friends to support you. When your life is threatened, you have a different outlook on your future. Those little problems are not so important anymore!”
She invites all cancer patients and their caregivers to contact the Breast Friends and Cancer Support Group, a support group is in the business of living.