When Laurie Dzivasen discovered in 2008 that she had breast cancer, she felt scared and alone.
“When I was diagnosed at age 42, I didn’t know anyone else who had had breast cancer,” she said in a recent conversation. “When you’re faced with this diagnosis there are so many decisions that you have to make, and make quickly.”
Luckily, she discovered the MV Breast Cancer Support Group and was able to not only discuss her situation with an empathetic group, but also get information about all kinds of available resources.
Kathy Stinson, co-founder of the support group, says, “You don’t realize all that’s out there. You’re busy just getting through your day – treatment, arranging rides. There are a lot of resources – financial emotional, etc.”
Last year, Ms. Stinson, who ran the group for seven years, never missing a meeting, turned over facilitating duties to Ms. Dzivasen and Hannah Beecher – both breast caner survivors. The group meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 6 pm in the Southside Conference room at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. (The group meetings are listed in The Times calendar) Survivors and those currently undergoing treatment, as well as caregivers, are welcome to attend.
For October, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the group has decided to host an event in lieu of this month’s meeting. Get Your Pink On will take place at Isabelle’s Beach House in Oak Bluffs.
“We wanted to do something to celebrate ourselves and other women with breast cancer,” Ms. Beecher explains, “especially the people who are still undergoing treatment.”
The event was modeled, in part, on a national program called Look Good/Feel Better. The organizers decided to host something independently since the national program requires that attendees be within a year of diagnosis and the MV Support Group wanted to hold a more all inclusive event.
“The American Cancer Society has sent wigs and scarves and caps,” Ms. Beecher says. “We’ll have someone doing Mary Kay makeup to make them feel better about themselves.”
Kathy Stinson and mini-massages by Purdy Magee and Alison Thornton will offer Reiki.
The evening will also include information and advice from professionals. Dr. Terry Kriedman a gynecologist, and occupational therapist Jill Belcher will be there, and there will be information on lymph edema, a common side effect of cancer treatments.
Ms. Stinson and Ellie Beth founded the MV Breast Cancer Support Group in 2004.
Although there was a cancer support group on the Island, Ms. Stinson says, “I started our group because I wanted women to feel comfortable talking about any physical issues that they had.” She notes that women sometimes show their scars and discuss reconstruction options
At first, the meetings were held at the Vineyard Haven Library, where Ms. Stinson worked at the time and were attended only by the two founders.
“We advertised but nobody came.” says Ms. Stinson, “We joked that we felt like the Maytag repairman.”
Eventually, however, the group took off, and Ms. Stinson estimates that about 75 women have participated at one time or another. The current group numbers about 10 regulars – both survivors and patients, with new people stopping in every month. Ms. Stinson notes that a lot of women only join the group during the duration of their treatment, but others, like her, have continued going for years to support newcomers. Ms Stinson says, “I loved being the go to person. I love helping and reaching out to people. I know what it’s like. It’s overwhelming.” She still attends regularly and is responsible for picking up and distributing free boat tickets.
The group maintains a binder with information. Says Ms. Dzivasen, “We’re trying to get the word out that we do have a group out there as a resource. We have our special challenges here, having to travel off island for treatments.” Among other things, the group can refer members to people and organizations who provide help with transportation and financial assistance.
And the group itself often helps out with basic needs. Says Ms. Beecher, “Some people feel very depressed. Our members can provide meals and help with things around their houses if they need.”
Emotional support is often what’s most needed. Says Ms. Beecher; “Talking to other people who have been through the same experience is extremely helpful because you feel very isolated when you’re going through the treatments. It’s really nice to talk to someone else who can say ‘This is what I did. This is what my doctor recommended.'”
Ms. Stinson notes that everyone’s story is different so that newcomers will always find someone they can relate to. She says, “Everybody who comes is always glad they’ve come. They always leave with some additional information and support. When they first come they are in pieces, but I’ve noticed that when they leave they always make the comment ‘I am so lucky.’ There’s always someone who’s had a worse experience.”
Get Your Pink On will be held on Wed., Oct. 19 from 6 to 8 pm at Isabelle’s Beach House, 83 Seaview Ave. Oak Bluffs. The event is free. Refreshments will be provided.
Other ways to help
MV Goes Pink sponsors a breast cancer awareness and fundraiser walk annually on Mother’s Day weekend. Planning begins in the fall. Volunteers can go to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-645-5099.
Curves is selling pink butterfly logo items and breast self-exam kits. All proceeds go towards the American Cancer Society. Also, for the month of October, Curves will waive its $99 member services fee for women who have had a mammogram in the last year or make a $25 donation to the American Cancer Society. For more information call 508-696-3030.
The MV Cancer Support Group provides temporary and emergency financial assistance for related health care needs not covered by insurance, such as food, child care and travel expenses. To make a donation, send a check to P.O. Box 2214, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.
For the month of October, Seniel’s Circuit Ave Salon in Oak Bluffs will donate a percentage of profits for pink streaks or pink hair extensions. Call 508-693-7542 for more information.
This story includes a correction to information regarding Curves fundraisers.