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Breast cancer survivors part of large family motivated to help newly diagnosed

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The paths of Betsy Helber and Lola Speer had never crossed. The two were connected only through breast cancer — paying forward support they’d received during treatment, actually.

“For me, personally, being a breast cancer survivor, having people to support me along the way made my journey much easier,” Helber said. “The hope is that any help I can give to someone makes their journey easier.”

Helber, who lives in Center Grove, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2007. A strong group of family and friends stood by her side through eight rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

She couldn’t help noticing that not all of the women receiving treatment around her had the same kind of support.

So when an acquaintance found out she had breast cancer in late 2008, Helber jumped in. She texted messages of support, went along for doctor visits, gave gifts on chemotherapy treatment days and gave the woman a crown when her hair began to fall out. It was the first of about 20 times Helber has mentored breast cancer patients.

One of those women was Columbus North High School choir director Janie Gordon, who was diagnosed in June 2009. The women’s husbands work together, but they were little more than acquaintances before cancer.

Helber was there for Gordon’s first day of chemo. She sent prayer books, pink M&Ms and was there to cheer her on for her last day of treatment. Most importantly, Helber was there to field 3 a.m. phone calls, and she could answer questions too personal to ask doctors.

“Not only are you dealing with a potentially terminal illness, you’re dealing with a total image change as a woman,” Gordon said.

“I don’t think we know who else to go to than other women who know what we’re going through.”

Gordon became the support system when

Columbus North teaching assistant Linda Mustard learned that she had breast cancer in March 2010. Gordon joined her in wearing pink bracelets, loaned her wigs and led more than a few prayers. What Mustard remembers most is the day she met Gordon at Bob Evans for lunch, and Gordon taught her how to turn a T-shirt into a head scarf in the restaurant’s bathroom.

“Just knowing that somebody else could make it through it helped,” Mustard said. “It’s a club you never want to be a part of, but once you’re in, it’s nice to know that you’re not alone.”

Gordon also is helping Sandy Cantrell, who attends church with Gordon’s parents, through her battle against breast cancer. Cantrell was awaiting biopsy results that would determine whether or not she had cancer this spring when she attended the Courage to Climb concert, raising funds for all kinds of cancer and organized by Gordon.

Cantrell said hearing Gordon tell her story on stage and hearing the uplifting music gave her hope.

The support she received from Gordon throughout her cancer treatments helped Cantrell switch roles into mentor and advocate when her mother, Lola Speer, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August.

Speer, 87, said she was scared upon learning of the diagnosis, but her daughter’s support and personal experience with the disease provided comfort.

“She knows what I am going through and knows what we’re going to do next all the time,” Speer said. “Anytime you hear the word ‘cancer,’ it makes you scared.

“It really does help when people are there who understand.”

Want to talk?

Here are some of the local ways to connect with other breast cancer patients and survivors:

  • Columbus Regional Hospital’s Breast Health Center connects individuals at any stage in their battle against breast cancer with survivors upon request. Information, 376-5064.
  • Community Breast Care South, 533 East County Line Road Suite 101 in Greenwood, hosts a breast cancer support group from 6 to 8 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month.
  • Information, Sharon Bronnenberg, 317-887-7332 or Amanda Wood, 317-497-6939.
  • Schneck Medical Center in Seymour operates a breast cancer support group called Reach to Recovery, an American Cancer Society Program, which is open to anyone with breast cancer and their families and friends.  The group’s next meeting is planned from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Schneck Cancer Center’s conference room, 411 W. Tipton St. Information, Sally Acton, 522-0480.
  • St. Vincent Jennings Hospital connects breast cancer patients with a support group at St. Vincent Breast Cancer Center in Indianapolis. Information, 352-4200. Decatur County Memorial Hospital connects breast cancer patients with local volunteers through American Cancer Society programs, such as Reach to Recovery. Information: 663-1301.


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