DELMAR — As February marks National Cancer Prevention Month, it is an important time of year for cancer awareness and prevention organizations and individuals to continue educating the community.
Local resident and ToLife support group attendee, Denise Buono, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and finished treatment. In 2020, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. As she continues her treatment, she finds her way forward on her personal journey with her diagnosis.
“Along the way, you really need to connect with people, especially when you are metastatic. You feel like you need to talk to other people, share information and ideas, and see how everyone else is dealing with it,” she commented.
This is where her connection with ToLife began. “So I joined one of the support groups through ToLife. There is a specific support group for metastatic breast cancer.”
RoseMarie Carey, a friend of Denise Buono, is a breast cancer survivor. She has since developed lymphoma, which she is still receiving treatment for.
“When you’re dealing with diagnoses and surgery, you don’t really think about the long term,” reflected RoseMarie Carey. “The mental aspect is just as important as the physical aspect that you go through.”
Mary Bowen is a nurse navigator, a relatively new component of the medical framework designed to help patients navigate the life-altering period that follows a diagnosis. After observing a systematic lack of guidance for patients following a diagnosis, Harold P. Freeman, a physician in Harlem, New York, pioneered the role of patient navigation.
According to the American Cancer Society, a little over 1.9 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in the US in 2023. Uninsured people and people from other marginalized groups are much more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at a late stage, when treatment is often more involved, more expensive, and less effective.
“We have to take responsibility for our own health and make medical care more wellness directed as opposed to illness directed,” advised Bowen. “Instead of just running to the doctors office when you have a lot of distressing systems, work in partnership with your healthcare providers, and do what is recommended.”
While she acknowledged, “I don’t want to portray that it’s all under our control, because it’s not,” she noted the importance of following a regular wellness cycle. This includes regular screening tests that detect malignancy at early stages, such as mammograms, skin exams, and prostate and colon screenings.
Bowen emphasized the importance of self-care as an act of prevention. “I think it’s a matter of placing value on taking care of ourselves.” She also recommends learning what genetic and biological risk factors may predispose you to cancer. “That’s proactive; knowledge is power.”
Within her ToLife support group, Denise Buono reflected on how she likes to be aware “if someone reads something or learns something new.”
“I like to soak it all in,” she added. “I like to listen to what people have experienced, and I like to listen to experts. I think it’s a good thing to absorb all of that information.”
Mary Bowen recommends reading information about cancer at the National Cancer Institute, the Mayo Clinic, the American Cancer Society, and Susan G. Komen.
The support groups are at the core of Denise Buono and RoseMarie Carey’s lives. By offering virtual yoga, mindfulness sessions, seminars, and webinar programs, they help to create a sense of community and education.
Buono credits ToLife for introducing her to others who have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. While everyone is at different stages and points in their lives and is going through different treatments, she is motivated by the uplifting and understanding spirit within the group.
“You become very familiar with the people in your support group. You worry about them, and you pray for them. You always look forward to the next meeting to see how everyone is doing,” she said.
RoseMarie Carey’s friends in her former hometown of Rochester put her in contact with the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester. She recalls how she received a care package that was put together by the organization. It contained items that would bring her comfort during her treatment, such as hand cream, a coloring book, and a book of reflections.
“That was an amazing outreach,” she remembered. “Someone who cared about people like me contributed the coloring book and crayons because they care about cancer survivors.”
She suggested that one way to support those in and out of treatment is for the community to volunteer or donate to these local organizations. Denise Buono enjoys volunteering and taking part in the annual cancer awareness events, such as Strides for Breast Cancer.
“To participate in an event like that is very empowering because you’re doing something positive and surrounded by people who have had different and similar experiences,” Buono said.
“And the community comes out and walks with you,” she continued. “That’s something that makes everybody feel good. I tend to do a lot of things like that to keep things in perspective and enjoy life.”
“I think it’s really important to surround yourself with positive people,” agreed Carey. “Just by the nature of what you’re dealing with, there’s enough out there that’s not very uplifting. I think it’s really helpful to surround yourself with caring, upbeat people, and not cave because they’ve had such a challenge.”
“If I could be that for someone else, that’s really important, like passing it on,” she added. “That’s important— to just be positive and look for the silver lining wherever you can.”