Comfort of Bosom Pals
Andrea McKenzie is a breast cancer survivor. Having kicked the fatal disease six years ago, she knows what it is to feel lost, to feel despondent, to feel trapped as if the world is closing in around her.
Sitting in the patio of her Christ Church home surrounded by her three Labradors who are very protective toward her, McKenzie said she is a retired nurse and sometimes knowing what happens along the way is not necessarily a good thing as you anticipate things, as opposed to letting them take their natural course.
As coordinator and facilitator of Bosom Pals, a subcommittee of the Little Pink Gift Foundation, McKenzie said their first meeting was held in July 2011 at her home with about 14 ladies after Dr Shirley Jhagroo and Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand asked those who were present at a previous meeting to take up the challenge to run the meetings.
McKenzie said she volunteered her home, and now, four years later, they boast a membership of 170 ladies, who meet at St Dominic’s Church in Maxwell, Christ Church.
“I encourage my ladies to have a plan. Do you have a plan to continue on despite having been diagnosed with cancer? Once you have a plan you calm down. You deal with it as it comes.
“One good thing I did when I was diagnosed was to start a journal about everything: who I met, what went on, everybody I came into contact with. Years later I read it, so having a plan is the best thing that kept me through the first time, and if it happened again I would try and use the same method and hope that that suffices,” she added.
“We have a monthly meeting and we get referrals from the Cancer Support Society or the surgeons. There are those who can’t make the meetings but we still call and offer support. We usually have 40 or more women meet. We mix what’s going on with funny stories; we share, we cry, we laugh.
“And then in the second half of the meeting we have a speaker who may be any one of all the ‘ologists’.
“Bosom Pals is where we pair two people – one survivour and one recently diagnosed lady – who have never met before based on their circumstances.
“You don’t have to meet each other, you don’t have to come to the meeting if you don’t want to, but we are there as a means of support. If there is someone hard to fit with someone else, then I take them on myself, accompany them to chemotherapy, go for walks, have a glass of wine . . . because we still need to live . . . . Life doesn’t just stop,” she added.
Little Pink Foundation, headed by Linda Lewis, who is also a breast cancer survivour, pays for treatment of those who cannot afford it.
“A lot of the ladies don’t have health insurance or are on a very meagre pension, so we help where we can. And the generosity of the public and the people is truly amazing.
“The donations we get from the pink ribbon drive help us to keep the cost of mammograms at $80. Plus the machinery that we have cost $80 000 to maintain yearly. Additionally, there is a Trinidadian surgeon who is offering to do free reconstructive surgery for breast cancer survivors here, but we as a community would have to fund the operating theatre and whatever else he needs to work,” she said.
When asked how many people are diagnosed with breast cancer yearly, McKenzie cried, “Too many! The numbers don’t mean anything, however, because cancer is still the leading cause of death among women in this country.
“We have lost about four ladies for the year thus far. We need to work on a cure for this disease. I don’t have statistics, but I do know that despite having more women being diagnosed, the mortality rate is less than 10 per cent.”
Adding that the family members of those who have fallen victim to this dreaded disease are called caregivers, the mother and wife said they, too, are a very important part of the plan. One thing McKenzie needs, however, is help as she cannot continue to run the show alone.
“First of all I have to find someone who is as passionate as I am and with the time because it is going to grow and I cannot manage the whole thing myself. I cannot ask people to do it, if they are not . . . they have to want to do it.
“I need to find support so I can expand the way I want to. The caregivers need help as well. In addition, I would like to go all over and have meetings as I don’t think it’s fair to have someone travel so far to me just because this is where I am.
McKenzie is optimistic that someday a cure for this disease which has claimed the lives of some of her friends would be found. Until then, Bosom Pals will continue to support and push forward.
“We just need to find a cure. And if we can’t, we need to have a plan and make the best of it.”