South Charlotte resident Marian Woertz Brawer has been living with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer for nearly seven years.In November 2008, with the support of Marcia Lampert, manager Presbyterian Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center, Brawer founded the Metastatic Breast Cancer Support Group which helps address the unique needs of women who are living with Stage 4 breast cancer. Stage 4 breast cancer is cancer that has spread, or metastasized, to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver, bones or brain..“Unlike initial treatment for Stages 1-3, women with Stage 4 are in constant treatment, which can be debilitating and at best is usually stressful,” said Brawer. “Though metastatic breast cancer can in some respects act like a chronic disease, it is progressive and almost always eventually fatal. … The term ‘remission’ is not used for patients diagnosed with Stage 4 disease.” Concord resident Jackie Jenkins has been attending meetings for the last three years. “The impact this group has had on my life has been tremendous,” said Jenkins.“Seeing other women living with this disease was encouraging to me because I was devastated upon my diagnosis,” said Jenkins, 47, a former massage therapist. “The women didn’t look like they were sickly and dying, which inspired hope. Additionally, these women are very proactive in advocating for the best care they can get.”Jenkins is also grateful that the group provides her with a place to “unload” to women who truly “get it,” said Jenkins. “Therefore, when I am with my other friends, I don’t need to talk about cancer. I can talk about other things that I find uplifting.”Shannon Crystal, a licensed clinical social worker, is the facilitator for the group. Crystal has over 20 years experience in oncology and is oncology social work certified.“Having facilitated this group for the past four years, I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to know these women and guide them along this journey,” said Crystal. “They have courage beyond words and the fortitude to fight like no other.” The goals of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Support Group are to provide support and comfort while offering educational information and discussing medical and treatment-related issues. Past meetings have also included physician-led panel discussions about clinical trials, radiation therapies, and current treatments for Stage 4 breast cancer.“Guest speakers are usually a result of the group identifying specific topics they are interested in learning more about,” said Crystal. “This group of women are very proactive in their care and try and take advantage of finding ways to enhance their overall well-being while living with an advanced stage disease that is seen as a chronic illness.”The group meets for an hour and a half on the first Tuesday of every month. No guests, friends or family members are allowed; only individuals with Stage 4 breast cancer may attend while Crystal facilitates.“For what is said in the room is for our ears only,” said Rena Hollo, 75, of south Charlotte. Hollo has been living with Stage 4 breast cancer for almost seven years. To Hollo, the meetings are like a “warm blanket.”When someone new joins the group, everyone introduces themselves with a little history of their illnesses. Most of the meetings consist of free-flowing dialogue about whatever issues are on the women’s minds, such as sharing practical tips and new trial drug information.“The group has also dealt with losing group members to the disease they are fighting and that has been difficult for everyone, including myself,” said Crystal. “Unfortunately, when that has happened, it brings home the reality of the seriousness of this disease, but to have a group of women who can openly share their thoughts and feelings about their loss, their own mortality, death, and anything else that they care to discuss, has been one of the most positive aspects of the group.”
Tuesday, Jan. 08, 2013
Group offers support, comfort for women confronting Stage 4 breast cancer
Women confront Stage 4 breast cancer
Metastatic Breast Cancer Support Group facilitator Shannon Crystal, left, and Jackie Jenkins, a group member. "The impact this group has had on my life has been tremendous," said Jenkins. COURTESY OF JACKIE JENKINS
Marian Woertz Brawer founded the Metastatic Breast Cancer Support Group in 2008 with the support of Marcia Lampert, manager Presbyterian Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center. “(The Metastatic Breast Cancer Support Group) has been a tremendous source of support and comfort as I progress through my Stage 4 cancer journey,” said Brawer. The Metastatic Breast Cancer Support Group is free and open to women diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. Meets the first Tuesday of every month at the Presbyterian Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center. www.presbyterian.org/buddykemp. COURTESY OF MARIAN WOERTZ BRAWER
Learn more: The Metastatic Breast Cancer Support Group is free and open to women diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. The group meets 1:30-3 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month th) 1:30 – 3 PM at the Presbyterian Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center, 242 S. Colonial Ave.,Charlotte. www.presbyterian.org/buddykemp To sign up: 704-384-5223.