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Andrea and her bosom buddies

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Andrea and her bosom buddies

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Women who have just been diagnosed with breast cancer and women who have defeated the disease can rely on each other for support.
This is all done in part by Andrea McKenzie, facilitator for the Support Circle, a sub-committee of the Little Pink Gift Foundation and Bosom Pals programme.
Bosom Pals creatively got its name from women who were familiar with the emotional and physical demands of breast cancer.
“We are part of a support circle for ladies who have just been diagnosed with the disease,” Andrea said.
“We started back in July after Dr Shirley Jhagroo and Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand asked us to take up the challenge. I stuck up my hand and two weeks later, I had a large group of women.”
These survivors meet and share their experiences to help give comfort and a listening ear to women who are going through it. At times speakers are invited to speak to the women, helping to give them knowledge and keep them empowered and better able to cope with their diagnosis.
Breast cancer remains the commonest cause of death from cancer among women in Barbados. Statistics have shown that there has been an increase in the number of younger women, age 45 to 55, being diagnosed with the disease.
“With Bosom Pals, we meet every third Saturday  of every month,” Andrea said, “and it’s almost sad every time we meet to see these young women.”
According to information from the Barbados Cancer Society Breast Screening Programme, an increasing number of new cases is being diagnosed yearly. In 2008 there were 146 cases, in 2009 there were 150, and in 2010 there were 213 cases.
Andrea has taken a personal interest in Bosom Pals and Support Circle, because she too, is a breast cancer survivor.
“I was diagnosed in 2009, and I am now cancer-free,” she said. “It’s maybe the worst experience but sometimes it’s the most incredible in terms of the camaraderie that you get among women you meet along the way.”
Andrea has also noticed the increase in the number of young women being diagnosed.
“I was diagnosed at 57 and that’s when you think of it,” she said. “Even though there was no family history of breast cancer with me. But the organization is making strides, trying to make a difference in the lives of women and learning as we go.”
With Bosom Pals, a survivor is paired with someone newly diagnosed to help them cope, if only by a conversation over the phone, as they go through the stages of the treatment process.
“When we meet, there are a lot of smiles, tears and laughter,” Andrea said. “But at least these women know there is someplace to turn and they are not alone on their journey.”