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Sharing insight with others Aurora woman finds support to face breast cancer second time

Peggy Brown of Aurora knows exactly what questions newly diagnosed breast cancer patients want answered.

Peggy Brown and her family celebrate survivorship.
Peggy Brown and her family celebrate survivorship.

She's twice been in their shoes, learning of her own breast cancer diagnosis first in 1999 and again just two years ago.

"You're afraid you'll lose your hair and worse yet, lose your life," explains Brown, a mother of two who currently co-facilitates a special breast cancer support group at Rush Copley Medical Center, Aurora. "Some women worry that treatments will make them ill, others wonder about day-to-day concerns like how to conceal hair loss, handle child and home care or manage mouth sores."

Brown's breast cancer journey began while living on the East Coast, when a routine mammogram helped doctors visualize calcifications in her right breast. Treatment included a mastectomy, eight rounds of chemotherapy and 36 radiation treatments.

The family relocated to the suburban area when husband, Kevin, was transferred. During a subsequent routine check up, Brown learned of Network of Strength Illinois' breast cancer support group meeting at the hospital and joined to help others facing a similar diagnosis.

"I thought I might be able to share some insight and tips," she says.

"It's often helpful to have someone who has been there before sharing information. Where else will someone warn you upfront that Neuprogen shots may leave you feeling like you have the flu, or offer advice for dealing with constipation, mouth sores, brittle nails and other side effects?"

Brown currently co-facilitates that breast cancer support group with Maureen Brinkman, a hospital social worker whom she turned to for support in October 2006 when she heard the fateful breast cancer diagnosis for a second time - this time on her left breast.

"I remember leaving the mammography suite crying and walking directly across the parking lot to the doctor's office," Brown recalls.

"My doctor had referred me to a surgeon who I saw the same day and both Maureen Brinkman and Katey Royer, patient navigator, were at my side. The next morning was the biopsy and within 13 days I had surgery. I literally had my family and my support group at my side the entire way."

Brinkman says it's not uncommon for women to begin seeking support and information immediately following diagnosis.

"Some come to support group meetings on the day they are diagnosed," she explains. "Others wait until treatment is over. Each woman responds differently, but all find comfort and support knowing that others have been in their shoes and there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Brinkman says questions about hair loss and mortality are those most frequently asked.

"We tell the women that while we don't know all the answers, we do know they aren't going to die today," she says. "They also are comforted to hear that while 98 percent of women will probably lose their hair during chemotherapy, it does grow back and sometimes it's even better than before!"

In addition to discussion, Brinkman says monthly support group meetings also feature a variety of guest speakers ranging from cancer specialists to dietitians, yoga instructors and even a sex therapist.

The Breast Cancer Network of Strength Illinois' support group meets from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month in conference room 6 at Rush -Copley Medical Center, Aurora. Meeting are free, and drops-in are welcome.

"Cancer can be an isolating experience and creates a whole new life for patients and their families," Brinkman says. "We encourage anyone facing breast cancer to come when they need help and to help others."

For additional information on breast cancer support groups available in the suburban area, call Breast Cancer Network of Strength Illinois at (312) 364-9071.


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