By: Cati Stone
By Cati Stone, Survivor and Executive Director of Komen Greater Atlanta
A survivor recently told me, “People think it’s ‘life as usual’ after cancer, but it’s not.” And she’s right! As a five-year breast cancer survivor myself, I understand how nothing seems “usual” after a breast cancer diagnosis.
My own treatment took a year and a half to complete, and I was changed as a result. Facing a diagnosis and undergoing treatment is hard. And when it was over, I still looked like me on the outside (just with less hair from the chemotherapy), but I was undoubtedly no longer the same. Even now, I feel differently about my body and wonder how something so strong could have become so weak. But in the end, my breast cancer experience left me with a new way of living life that has brought unbelievable peace and happiness along with it.
Breast cancer survivors need support for both their emotional and physical health. They may experience long-term treatment complications, and they must live with the risk of cancer recurrence or with the daily trials of metastatic disease. Support services can be limited, especially if you have no insurance.
In our 25+ years of service, Komen Atlanta has enabled more than one million people to access lifesaving breast health education and screenings they could not otherwise afford. But the need in our area is great, with breast cancer mortality and late-stage diagnosis rates that are higher than the national average.
Our most recent Community Needs Assessment showed a great need for better support for the survivors in our community who are still going through treatment, who will be forever fighters of metastatic disease and who have completed their treatment. Many of the survivors we spoke with shared how they had little access to support or wellness services after their active treatment. This is particularly true of survivors who live outside of the core metro area.
Komen Atlanta wants to be on the forefront of survivorship support, and on March 21, 2015, Komen Atlanta and Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Newnan, GA, held Surviving & Thriving in 2015 – our inaugural survivorship conference for breast cancer survivors and co-survivors. The aim of the conference, which was free to all attendees, was to provide resources and tools to help survivors navigate life after breast cancer treatment, while also bringing together a community of support.
More than 100 people attended this celebration, including a diverse group of survivors (both men and women!) and co-survivors (husbands, wives, children, friends and more). Topics included educational and inspirational discussions and presentations, as well as valuable time for attendees to share challenges and triumphs with one another.
It was incredibly touching to watch one attendee, a 25-year survivor, assure a six-week survivor that she was not alone in her feelings of fear. I know from personal experience the unbelievable impact of conversations like these. There is nothing quite like bonding with other survivors. And for many survivors, there are few opportunities to meet and talk with others going through similar struggles.
Surviving & Thriving presentations emphasized the importance of being positive and mindful, finding one’s self after treatment, and living a healthy lifestyle to prevent recurrence. Dr. Anita Johnson (Medical Director of Surgical Oncology at Cancer Treatment Centers of America) and Dr. Neil Spector (Komen Scholar and Associate Professor of Pharmacology & Cancer Biology at Duke University) discussed the future of breast cancer treatment, the evolution of screening and diagnostic and services, and advances in breast cancer treatment.
Knowledge is power, and we want survivors in Atlanta and beyond to be armed with the latest information to empower them to move beyond fear and into control of their own well-being.
Breast cancer survivors are central to Komen Atlanta’s mission. We understand their victories and unique challenges, and we are here for them.
If you plan to be in the Atlanta area, we would love for you to join us May 9th at Lenox Mall for our 25th annual Race for the Cure where we will continue our celebration of survivorship!
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