- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - Breast cancer is hard.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer at 30 might be even harder.

For Katie Parker, it helped quite a bit to know she wasn’t the only one.

Parker was diagnosed in the summer of 2012. She was single and living alone in Chicago.

After having surgery in Peoria - Parker’s family lives in Chillicothe - she began searching for a support group in Chicago.

The first group she found was filled with older women.

“I was the youngest person by 20 to 30 years, and I didn’t relate to what they were talking about,” said Parker during a recent telephone interview.

“I don’t want to discredit the older ladies and what they go through - they were lovely - but I still felt alone.”

Then Parker discovered the Young Survival Coalition, a support group for breast cancer patients diagnosed under the age of 40.

“It was kind of like ‘Wow! I’m not the only young person going through this,’” recalled Parker. “I felt like I had instant friends. I had this group of gals that I could go out with - we could talk about things if we wanted to or shelf the cancer and just have a good time.”

Young women with breast cancer often face a different set of problems than older women. Fertility preservation is one issue, as are concerns about talking to young children about the disease. Treatment plans for young women are often different as well, said Parker.

“They tend to be more aggressive with treatment in young women,” said Parker. “Cancer in young women isn’t as predictable as cancers in older women.”

Parker found YSC to be so helpful that she decided to start a chapter in Peoria even before she moved home last summer. She connected with people at Komen who were very encouraging. Parker also began training to be a group facilitator for YSC.

“You learn how to make sure everything is flowing smoothly during meetings and to make sure all the resources are available to group members,” said Parker.

To get the word out, Parker took promotional materials to her doctors and other area agencies who work with breast cancer patients. At the first meeting on Dec. 9, Parker was thrilled when nine women showed up.

“In Chicago, the average group size was five or six,” she said. “I was going to be ecstatic if three people showed up.”

In addition to the monthly support group, the Peoria YSC has a Facebook page called Peoria Young Survivors. It’s a way for women who can’t get to the meeting to connect. The page is private so members feel comfortable talking about personal things.

“Our Facebook page is much like an open discussion board where the women can continue to connect, ask questions, post comments, and suggest activities for us to do,” said Parker.

Members of Peoria YSC range in age from 29 to 41 - though the upper age of what is considered a young breast cancer patient is 39 at diagnosis, Parker doesn’t exclude anyone who wants to join.

Topics are anything members want to discuss, said Parker. Medical issues are interspersed with topics that may be a bit more poignant for a young woman - How do I dress if I no longer have breasts? How do I pencil in an authentic-looking eyebrow after I’ve lost my hair? Fear of recurrence is also a common topic.

“I’m 30 years old, what are my chances I’m really gonna beat this?” said Parker.

Other often-discussed issues are career and finance-related.

“So many young women are not stable financially or in their career yet,” said Parker. “So many have serious issues with their employers in just making sure they get the time off they need.”

Not every discussion is serious, however.

“We laugh and joke,” said Parker “When I draw eyebrows on someone we all giggle. We have fun.”

For Parker, who has been cancer-free since her double mastectomy in July 2012, starting the support group in Peoria has helped her make new friends who share a common bond.

“It’s an instant friendship because of a nasty thing we’ve gone through, like a sorority because we’re bound by this common thread,” she said.

But starting the group also has been a way for her to pass on all the help she has received since her diagnosis.

“I feel like I’ll never be able to repay the things people have done for me,” she said. “It’s important for me to give back.”


Source: (Peoria) Journal Star, https://bit.ly/1EIWqv9


Information from: Journal Star, https://pjstar.com



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