‘Every little touch got rid of that negative energy’
Pat Ryan-Blanchard, MS, RNC, NP speaks at this year’s Women’s Health Initiative
Women of various ages from around the Cape gathered at Cuda Women’s Health Center in Hyannis last Tuesday evening to share the common thread that binds them so closely together – they have all had breast cancer. This sisterhood is what comprises the recently formed, Evening Breast Cancer Support Group.
Some wore pink, but all wore smiles, as well as apparent love and adoration for each other. The room was filled with a constant friendly chatter and the not-so-random bursts of uncontrollable laughter.
“This spa and healing night was arranged as part of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month and was designed to help our breast cancer survivors enjoy the benefits of integrative therapies,” said Pat Ryan-Blanchard, MS, RNC, NP. “Over the past year we’ve really expanded group participation, opening it up to all patients and survivors and new members are always welcome. The friendships and bonds that have developed make one of the most difficult times so much easier.”
Group members were able to experience this firsthand at last week’s event, coined “Celebrating, Surviving and Thriving.” In partnership with the Cape Wellness Collaborative (CWC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving access to integrative therapies to those facing cancer on Cape Cod, patients and survivors were treated to their choice of therapy sessions, performed by 11 different practitioners. Many opted for massage or reflexology, while others also benefited from energy healing and cranial sacral therapy. Their reaction was nearly all the same – a deep, relaxed sigh of relief.
“I feel incredible,” said Patty Bakunas after her reiki therapy. “I had a really tough few weeks, feeling so trapped in my body. Every little touch got rid of that negative energy, I feel like I can breathe right now.”
The support group, which meets on the third Monday of each month (except for holidays) from 5:30 to 7 pm, provides its members with the emotional support needed to cope and deal with any stage of their breast cancer journey. Many attendees also bring their loved ones, all of whom also tout the benefits of the group.
“What Pat has put together is a heaven-send,” said Carol Pementel, wife of patient Patty Bakunas. “This group has been especially great for me as a caregiver. Nobody lets you fall; you have a whole network of supporters ready to scoop you right back up.”
“It’s a good place to ask tough questions and be comfortable doing so,” added group member, Monica Frenza. “You get honest, full answers from people who ‘get it’. Even though you have your family and friends at home, who try to understand, they often don’t.”
Along with the emotional support, the group is a knowledge powerhouse acting as a supportive and safe place to bring questions, concerns and to learn about available resources – including alternative, integrated therapies.
There are many reasons why Ryan-Blanchard and other local experts have embraced integrative therapies. It helps patients better manage their anxiety and fear, as well as reduce physical symptoms associated with treatment. Integrative therapies such as massage, reiki, nutrition counseling and energy work also help to improve patient stamina and combat the fatigue often felt from surgery or chemotherapy, she said. Most importantly, these therapies have proven to have a strong emotional benefit as well.
On a local level, there is neither a shortage of practitioners nor therapies, but there can be a challenge in making the connection. The goal of the CWC is to connect those across the Cape who are facing cancer with free-of-charge integrative therapies. All practitioners are vetted by the Collaborative to ensure they understand the specific needs of cancer patients.
“Cape Cod Healthcare’s Cuda Women’s Health Center diagnoses approximately 300 patients per year; most with early stage cancer,” said Ryan-Blanchard. “We have an incredible multi-disciplinary breast care team, each dedicated to their role in helping women through this process.
“As a cancer survivor myself, I know what it is like to go through this journey. Once you have a diagnosis your life has changed, it’s a new normal. This is our chance to do everything we can to help our patients and survivors, from diagnosis and treatment to post-treatment.”
Alongside the flowers, refreshments and relaxation, each attendee was also gifted a bag full to the brim with accessories and supplies, courtesy of the Cape Cod Healthcare Foundation. The appreciation, love and support radiated throughout the lobby.
“This group is special,” said Jessica Martin, wife of patient Marcia Martin. “After you sit through one of these meetings, you’re automatically part of sorority. It’s like a family.”
In addition to the Cuda Women’s Support Group, patients can get more information about the various support groups and services available, by visiting the Breast Health section on the Cape Cod Healthcare website.
[Featured Image: L-R Jess Martin, Marcia Martin, Jan Nelson, Carol Pementel, Patty Bakunas and Carol McSweeney.]