Giving back: Mentees become DBCC Peer Mentors

“Only people who have walked the walk can tell you what it is like,” says Barbara Nolan, breast cancer survivor and DBCC peer mentor.  Barbara, who resides in Bear, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2009.  “When I first found out I had breast cancer, I was panicked.”

In search of a local support group, Barbara came across DBCC’s website and called DBCC Program Director, Cathy Holloway.  “She soothed a lot of my fears before my surgery,” Barbara said.  Cathy then matched her with a peer mentor, a breast cancer survivor who is trained to provide support to those newly diagnosed.

“It’s rare to have an instant bond with someone you don’t know but my mentor and I became good friends.”    

Program Manager Connie Holdridge mentoring.

Diane Duncker feels the same way.  Diane was diagnosed with breast cancer while moving from York, Pa. to Lewes.  “I was diagnosed around the holidays and had no family or support down here.  And I didn’t really know anyone who had been through it at that time,” she said.  Diane was put in touch with DBCC and was matched with a mentor.  “My mentor was great with calling and helping me through my journey.”

After being diagnosed in December 2008, Gail Lanouette of Dover was referred to DBCC by her surgeon.  “Within 10 days of my diagnosis I had an entire package of information from DBCC and a card from Lois [DBCC Program Manager],” she said.  “I called Lois and she was so supportive and calmed my fears.”  Gail was matched with a peer mentor who had a similar surgery and treatment plan.

Gail was told by her doctors that she qualified for a clinical trial.  “I had so many questions so I called Lois and she was great at guiding me through the questions.”  Gail chose to enroll in the clinical trial.  “I knew the medicine that was helping me was made possible by other woman who enrolled in a clinical trial so I had to do it.”

Gail Lanouette (right) with Program Manager Lois Wilkinson

After Barbara, Diane and Gail went through surgery and treatment, they decided to become Peer Mentors themselves.  “Once I felt strong enough to help someone else, I signed up for the training,” Barbara said.  DBCC hosts quarterly Peer Mentor training sessions in all three counties and at Union Hospital in Cecil County, Md.  The Peer Mentor Support Program provides one-on-one support for a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient from a trained breast cancer survivor.

“I knew when I finished chemo that I wanted to give back and help other women through their journey,” Gail said.

“Because if I didn’t have a mentor, I don’t think I would have been able to figure it all out.”

Gail has mentored a few women and says the peer mentor training has also helped her mentor some friends through their breast cancer journeys.  “My husband was my best supporter but it is so important to have other women.  Other ladies told me it was okay to feel tired and sick and shared tips with me to keep me more comfortable through my treatment,” she said.  Gail explained that small pieces of wisdom like where to get lymphedema sleeves or to use cooling gel after radiation made all the difference.

Because Gail went through a clinical trial, she also participated in the DBCC Clinical Trial Peer Mentor Training program.  The program is for survivors who have participated in clinical trials and want to help those newly diagnosed make educated decisions about clinical trials and dispel some of the myths about trials and research.  For more information, click here.

“DBCC is phenomenal,” Gail says.  “They do so much for so many people.  DBCC helps those newly diagnosed through the journey – emotionally and physically.  And this program is important because those newly diagnosed look at all the survivors who have been there and then they know they will be there too,” Gail said.

“When you are a peer mentor you form warm relationships and such a great camaraderie with the women you mentor,” Barbara said.  The Peer Mentor Support Program is available to those newly diagnosed at no charge.  “When I meet people in the community who receive a breast cancer diagnosis, I always recommend they call DBCC and get a peer mentor,” Diane said.

To learn more about the Peer Mentor Support Program, click here or call 1-866-312-DBCC.

Volunteer Spotlight: Michele Hogsett

Michele (center) at the 2011 Save the Breast Fest.

Three years ago, breast cancer survivor Michele Hogsett created an event, Save the Breast Fest, to raise money for breast cancer. Hogsett was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2008 and was connected with Screening for Life, a state program that provides payment for cancer screening tests to qualified Delaware adults, to get a mammogram and biopsy. The Women’s Mobile Health Screening (WMHS) Van Staff introduced Michele to the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s peer mentor program where she met program managers Lois Wilkinson and Cheryl Doucette.

Michele is the lead singer of popular cover band, Semiblind, and decided to use her talent and resources to create the Save the Breast Fest event. The event features live music from local bands along with raffles and contests. The event has been held at different locations each year. This past year, the event featured 8 bands and was held at Oasis Bar & Grill in Whaleyville, Maryland during Delmarva’s Bike Week.

Michele performing at a DBCC event in December 2010.

Michele explains the goal for the event is to raise awareness. She wants to spread the message of breast self exams and early detection, especially to a younger demographic of women. Michele says she chose to give the proceeds to DBCC because she was looking for an organization that helped local women.  “DBCC is a priceless resource for women of the Eastern Shore,” Michele said.  “I appreciate all of the support that DBCC has given me.”

Michele is excited that Save the Breast Fest has support from the community.  “This year’s event was great. We had people volunteer and offer raffle prizes without being asked. We were also approached about making it an official event of Delmarva Bike Week next year which is exciting!”

Visit the Save the Breast Fest Facebook page to learn more and see event photos.

Great Stuff: Celebrating One-Year in Business!

Some of the Great Stuff volunteers

A year and a half ago, an old lighting shop sat vacant in the Talleyville Center on Route 202.  Today, an upscale resale boutique, Great Stuff, is decorated with pink stripes and attracts customers who like to “shop for a cause.”  On October 20, 2011, Great Stuff celebrated its one-year anniversary!  The shop, which carries women’s clothing, accessories, and home furnishings, had a very successful first year in business.

Great Stuff store manager, Dale Maahs, says that the shop has exceeded everyone’s expectations.  Dale explains that there were some concerns with the shop, especially with recruiting enough volunteers and donations to keep the shop going strong.  “That has not been a problem,” Dale explains.  “The donations have been rolling in every day and we have a great core of over 30 wonderful volunteers.” 

Dale with a happy customer

Unlike your average consignment shop, Great Stuff thrives solely on donated items and is staffed by Maahs, an assistant manager, and trained volunteers.  “The volunteers are fabulous.  Many were customers first and saw how much fun the volunteers were having and wanted to join them.  Others have a connection to breast cancer and want to give back.”  Dale explains that many survivors on her volunteer staff are able to share their stories with each other and build camaraderie.  A group of volunteers from Great Stuff recently got together and created a team for the Inaugural Race for the Pink Ribbon 5K which benefited DBCC.

Great Stuff volunteers at the Race for the Pink Ribbon

The volunteers help with taking in donations and pricing them, working on the sales floor and helping in the backroom.  “The quality of donations that we get is amazing.  So many are in pristine condition, some with the tags still on, and we get a wide range of brands and designers,” Dale said. “We are so thankful for the support of the community with donations and volunteers.  We even have support from other local retailers for in-kind services and some donated items.”

The shop has been a great fundraising arm for DBCC, but has also provided a great source of outreach to the community.  “The visibility that the shop has given DBCC in the community has been wonderful,” DBCC Executive Director Vicky Cooke said.  “It is a place where survivors can volunteer and talk with other survivors and those newly diagnosed in the community.”  Maahs agrees, “We have such a great family here.  Customers always say ‘Wow!’ when they learn that the proceeds from the shop benefit DBCC.  People come in and thank us all the time and tell us that we are so needed in the community. Customers want to help and be a part of it. They become regular shoppers and donors, and refer their friends to the shop.”

Visit Great Stuff’s website or check out their Facebook and Twitter pages!

Read this article in the Dover Post about the Great Stuff and their anniversary.

Breast Cancer & Breast Health iPhone App Review

Photo by

By Vicky Tosh-Morelli, DBCC Director of Information Services

How often have you  heard “There’s an App for that?” referring to the ubiquitous nature of the small applications built for smart phones?  It didn’t take long for several breast cancer and breast health related apps to appear on the iPhone App Store.  Here’s a review of a few we checked out.

One caveat, we didn’t download any apps that weren’t free.  If the information you are providing about breast cancer isn’t freely available, one has to question your motives and the validity of your information.  There were enough free, quality apps out there that spending even 99 cents seemed a waste.

**Click each App name in bold to be brought to the Apple App Store for a description. Some apps are designed for the iPhone and iPad.**

1. Breast Cancer Diagnosis Guide –
This rather utilitarian app allows you to enter responses relevant to your breast cancer diagnosis and then provides you with a customized set of relevant articles.  It’s a lot of information to get through but the explanations that accompany each question or group of questions are very good.  The app also includes a comprehensive word list to help explain some of the medical terminology.  The app may be handy for tracking the specific characteristics of your breast cancer but the website is much easier to navigate for the information provided.

2. Breast Cancer Beyond the Shock – National Breast Cancer Foundation
Described as a “comprehensive online guide to understanding breast cancer,” Beyond the Shock provides a series of animated short videos organized into seven chapters.  Each chapter may have one to 10 segments, none longer than 3 minutes.  The information is very good and easily understandable.  The app also provides links to videos of real breast cancer survivors talking about their experiences and a discussion board where you can post questions.  It’s an excellent package with one drawback – the discussion board doesn’t seem to be well moderated so some questions and some answers may not be the most helpful and could even be upsetting.

3. iBreastCheck – Breakthrough Breast Cancer
Developed by a UK breast cancer charity, iBreastCheck is one of the best breast health apps we found.  It features a video that demonstrates the TLC (Touch, Look, Check) breast health message and emphasizes that knowing your own body is one of the best methods of early detection.  There is also an illustrated guide that takes you through the steps and it allows you to set up monthly reminders.  The “Risk” section asks a series of questions and provides you with a “Risk Report” and advice on what you can do to reduce your breast cancer risk.  The app also provides links to the Breakthrough Breast Cancer website, donation page and newsletter signup.

4. Breast Cancer Awareness – Health Authority Abu Dhabi
This app is part of a public education campaign in the Middle East and provides information in English and Arabic.  It presents a nice overview of breast health information, risk factors, and screening guidelines.  You can also set reminders for monthly self checks.  There is a nice section called “Men and Breast Cancer” that talks about the supportive role men can play for the women in their lives and gives information about male breast cancer as well.

5. Dr. K’s Breast Checker –
A rather simple app to help you become more aware of your breasts through self-exam.  The app lets you mark areas of concern on an image of a breast and then takes you through a series of questions about other changes to your breasts.  The app stores the information by date and lets you compare answers from month to month.  If you indicate a change, “Dr. K” will recommend you see a health care provider.

6. Breast Health and Healing –  the Breast Health & Healing Foundation

Unfortunately, not a very well designed app with an unclear purpose.  The text is rather small to read on a smart phone.  The app mostly provides links to the website and ways to follow Dr. Ruddy on social media.  The most useful part of the app is the Mammogram Facility finder.  The app uses your current location to produce a Google Map of facilities in your vicinity but I couldn’t get it to find by zip code and the information may be out of date.

7. Chemo Calendar – Health Monitor
A nice utility that lets you track appointments, medications, and health information during treatment.  It has built in protection to keep your data safe and allows you to email some of the information to you medical providers.

8. CURE – CURE Magazine
A nice app for taking CURE Magazine with you on your iPhone.  You can read articles from current issues in text format or as the full layout from the magazine.  Links in articles are “live” so they will take you to the website for more information.

No smart phone? No problem! There are a ton of great resources on the web that anyone with internet access can use. Here are just a few:
And of course, don’t forget Delaware resources:

Ask the Doctor: Breast Cancer Myths with Dr. Jon Strasser

Dr. Jon Strasser, DBCC Board Member

There are a lot of common myths about breast cancer and we want everyone to know the facts.  We talked with Dr. Jon Strasser and he cleared up some common myths about breast cancer.  Dr. Strasser is a DBCC Board Member and a radiation oncologist at Radiation Oncologists, PA and an attending physician for the Christiana Care Health System.  To read his full bio, click here. Thanks Dr. Strasser for clearing up these myths.

Myth: Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family so I don’t have to get a mammogram every year.
While some forms of breast cancer are due to genetic mutations, the vast majority of breast cancers are not related to mutations.  The average woman has a 1 in 8 lifetime chance of getting breast cancer.  Mammograms are the most effective screening test to detect breast cancer.  Annual mammograms over the age of 40 can help catch many breast cancers in their early, most treatable form, leading to a better chance of beating the disease, and reduced mortality.  Women who skip annual mammograms tend to have cancers detected at later stages of disease.

Myth: Your father’s family history of breast cancer doesn’t affect your risk as much as your mother’s.
The two main mutations that cause breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2, can be inherited from either your mother or your father.  If either parent harbors either of these mutations and passes it on to their children, they will be at a high risk of developing a breast cancer.  Hence it is important when looking at family history to not only look at the mother’s family history, but also the father’s family history to see if there is any indication that there is a higher prevalence of breast cancer, suggesting a mutation.  In addition, you need to look primarily at the women on your father’s side; while men do get breast cancer, women are more vulnerable to it.   

Myth: Annual mammograms expose you to so much radiation that they increase your risk of cancer.

Mammography is a special type of x-ray imaging that uses low dose x-rays, high contrast, high-resolution film, and an x-ray system designed specifically for getting detailed images of the breast.  Mammograms have been performed since the 1920s and modern mammography in use since the 1970s uses extremely low doses of radiation to get a good image of the breast.  Since the early 2000s, with the advent of digital mammograms, the dose has been even further reduced.

To put this in comparison, the dose received by one CT scan of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis is equivalent to about fifty mammograms.  In addition, the dose from one mammogram is equivalent to 7 weeks of normal background radiation that we receive daily from natural sources.

The benefits of mammography far exceed the extremely low risk of radiation.

Myth: Knowing you have changes in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene can help you prevent breast cancer.
While only 5-10% of all breast cancers are associated with known genetic mutations, both BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are associated with a greater than 80% lifetime risk of breast cancer, and possibly other malignancies, such as ovarian cancer.  Approximately 30% of women also inherit other familial causes of breast cancer potentially putting them at a higher lifetime risk of breast cancer as well.  Women who have the mutation are recommended to have more aggressive screening from an earlier age, and are also candidates for chemoprevention strategies or bilateral prophylactic mastectomies, and sometimes oophorectomy (ovary removal).  These can help to minimize the risk of developing breast cancer in known carriers of the gene mutation.

Myth: I was called back for “extra views” after my mammogram. That must mean I have cancer.
Mammograms can often detect architectural changes in the breast that may or may not be real (for example a fold of the breast tissue).  Extra views, such as compression views or magnification views, may be needed to help determine if these areas are real or not.  The majority of call backs actually prove that there is not a concerning finding on the imaging.

Myth: Mammograms are painful.
In order to get the best image quality from a mammogram, the breast needs to be compressed, to flatten out folds of tissue to prevent a false reading.  The majority of mammograms are not painful, however, there can be some occasional discomfort that only lasts a short time during the examination.  A small amount of discomfort is worth the benefit of a mammogram.

Myth: Radiation therapy is dangerous and will affect other parts of my body.
Radiation is indeed a scary word to people and has many connotations of danger – most people always equate radiation to a nuclear power plant.

However, modern radiation therapy is a widely used modality in all cancers, is an effective tool in fighting cancer, and extremely safe.  In this day and age, radiation therapy is planned 3-Dimensionally to carefully identify the area of the cancer and also the normal adjacent tissues that need to be spared.  Radiation can then be delivered with very precise shaping to confine the radiation to the area that needs to be treated, with minimal dose to the adjacent tissues.  It is a safe modality and the long term risks are very low.

Myth: Participating in a clinical trial is good for others but not for me.
Clinical trials are an important tool to allow us to learn how we can improve our treatments to be less toxic and to improve on outcomes with newer medicines or treatment.  The goal of a clinical trial is to test whether a new treatment is better than the current standard of care.  As a worst case scenario, a patient would receive a standard treatment, and maybe even a newer treatment that could be more beneficial than the standard treatment.  While an individual may not directly benefit from a clinical trial, they will likely help the countless number of women who will get cancer in the future.  As a patient, this is your way to help future women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Myth: If I don’t feel a lump, I don’t need to go for my mammogram.
While some cancers can be present with a breast lump, the majority of breast cancers are detected before a lump is felt due to the use of mammograms.  Annual mammograms allow doctors to detect changes in the breast architecture that may be associated with breast cancer, thereby allowing the cancer to be diagnosed early, where it can be successfully treated.  In addition, lumps are often not associated with breast cancer – roughly 80% of breast lumps are caused by benign changes (cysts, fibroadenomas).  If you feel a lump you should see your primary care provider or gynecologist to determine if further evaluation is warranted.

Myth: Birth control pills cause breast cancer.
The effect of oral contraceptives pills (OCPs) on breast cancer is an area of controversy, but probably not associated with a significant risk of breast cancer.  While one large analysis in 1996 from the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer demonstrated a slight elevation of developing breast cancer after the use of OCPs, the Women’s Contraceptive and Reproductive Experiences study published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine did not show any increase in risk in breast cancer in those women who have used oral contraceptives.

Young women with BRCA1 or BRCA 2 mutations, or who have a strong family history of breast cancer who have used oral contraceptives may have an increased risk of breast cancer.  This may or may not actually be caused by the oral contraceptive given these patients high lifetime risk of breast cancer.

I would recommend talking to your gynecologist to further discuss your particular situation.

Myth: Drinking from a plastic water bottle causes cancer.

There is no evidence that plastic bottled water causes breast cancer.  This is purely a theoretical concern, as BPA (the plastic material in bottles) is a synthetic estrogen and breast cancer can be stimulated by estrogen.  However, there has never been any study that has conclusively shown a risk.

Myth: There is nothing you can do to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer. If it is going to happen, it will happen.
A woman’s chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 8 by the time she reaches 85.   While there are some known causes of breast cancer (such as known genetics mutations, prior chest radiation for Hodgkin’s disease), the majority of breast cancers are sporadic without a known cause.

There is a lot that average risk women can do to lower their risk of breast cancer, including losing weight if they are obese, getting regular exercise, lowering alcohol consumption and having regular clinical breast examinations and annual mammograms.  Smoking cessation is also a good strategy (and also reduces your chance of lung cancer).

There is active research on prevention strategies, and for some women at extremely high risk, there is data on anti-estrogen drugs such as raloxifene or tamoxifen that show a preventive benefit.  For very high risk women, the option of prophylactic mastectomy can reduce their risk by 90%.

If you feel you may be at high risk, I would recommend talking with an expert who can evaluate your situation and discuss your options.

For more information from DBCC about breast cancer, click here
Read 31 Breast Cancer Myths from the National Breast Cancer Coalition.