Breast Cancer Awareness Month - Week 4 : Mental Health

Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 12:33 PM EDT
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FISHERSVILLE, Va. (WHSV) - As Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close, three women who have battled or are battling breast cancer share their experience with it.

Each of them attends the Breast Cancer Support Group at Augusta Health, and they say it has been a driving force in maintaining their mental health while battling the disease.

The group started about six years ago at Augusta Health when there was a need for focused support for breast patients.

“We have women that are stage one, women that are stage four. They are able to sit down and talk about their diagnosis but we try to bring a lot of thankfulness, gratefulness we just don’t focus on the diagnosis,” Donna Berdeaux explained.

Berdeaux is a breast nurse navigator for Augusta Health and is often one of the first points of contact for newly diagnosed patients.

“Being able to come to a group and speak with other breast patients that are going through or have gone through. Everyone’s journey is different but they realize that they are experiencing the same thing other people are experiencing, so they actually do better,” she said.

Each Thursday, the group meets with other survivors or patients to talk, have fun, provide support, whatever they may need.

“They’re able to sit down and talk about their diagnosis but we try to bring a lot of thankfulness, gratefulness. We just don’t focus on the diagnosis,” Berdeaux added.

Suzanne Vanvalkenburg, Patty Piccinino and Carol Cobb say the group has provided a safe space for them to talk about their fears.

“Don’t have to be brave and strong like you do for your family. You just feel so welcomed and loved,” Cobb said.

They can also learn from and strengthen one another.

“I ended up with mouth sores after my first chemo, which was awful. Somebody in the Breast Cancer Support Group was able to say ‘hey chew ice while you get your chemo, it will slow it down and I bet you you won’t get mouth sores again’ and I never got mouth sores again for the rest of my chemo treatment. I was very thankful for that,” Vanvalkenburg explained.

“You are with a group of women who understand that. People can be sympathetic and can be helpful but no one can completely understand what that feels like,” Piccinino said.

Their diagnosis doesn’t keep them from having a little fun.

“We have been to Williamsburg and we have done line dancing. We have made Christmas cards and have had Christmas parties at a nursing home,” Cobb said.

The group has found ways to continue meeting through the pandemic, whether it’s online or in a park. They encourage anyone interested to reach out.

“You are not alone, there are people in your community that are here to support you and understand what you are going through,” Vanvalkenburg said.

“You are stronger than you think you are because initially it feels so overwhelming and it is really difficult. You will be surprised at how strong you really are,” Piccinino added.

Highlighting one of their recent projects, the group has painted inspirational messages on rocks for the community. They provide support and bring awareness to the disease.

Breast cancer survivors or patients interested in joining the group can reach out to Donna Berdeaux at Augusta Health for more information.

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