Breast cancer survivors set up helpline

People with breast cancer can now seek help, advice and support from a new helpline manned by survivors of the disease.

The volunteers, set up by the Breast Cancer Foundation, will answer questions and lend a sympathetic ear to women and men who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer or who have been battling it for some time. They will also give advice to callers on what financial help may be available to them in the Cayman Islands.

One of the helpline volunteers, former nurse Louiza Slocock, 44, was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2011.

When she first felt a lump on her breast, her reaction was fairly typical, she said. “Like a lot of people, I didn’t want to believe it for a few days. Even though I’m a nurse, you feel a lump and you think ‘no, it can’t be’. It took me three or four days and then I went to 
my GP,” she said.

A mammogram and ultrasound confirmed that there was a growth in her breast, so she underwent a biopsy that confirmed the 
lump was cancerous.

“I had some decisions to make as to whether I stayed on island or went off island. I have good insurance, so I decided to go off island and quickly went overseas and was seen by a surgeon and oncologist and within two weeks, I’d started chemotherapy. They decided for me it was important to have chemotherapy first to shrink it and have surgery afterwards.

“I had six rounds of chemotherapy and then had surgery, and then a few weeks later started radiation,” she said.

After the surgery, the doctors found no cancer left.

“It was very frightening, it was a fast moving cancer. In the beginning, the scenario was not very good. I asked lots of questions and my husband researched it on the Internet – I found it too upsetting to research on the Internet. I let him look and we found that this seemed to be the best course of action for my type of cancer,” she said.

Ms Slocock is one of five volunteers, along with Heather McLaughlin, Liz Smith, Veronica Ebanks and Marcia Turner, who will be on the other end of the line when callers phone in. Volunteers hail from Cayman, Jamaica and the UK.

“Why we’re doing this helpline is all our stories are different,” said Ms McLaughlin, who had breast cancer 11 years ago and now works with the Breast Cancer Foundation. “They’re different based on us and they’re different based on the doctors we went to and the knowledge they have and the approach they take. They all have different ideas,” she said.

Treatments for breast cancer vary widely, depending on the type of cancer and how advanced it is.

“We thought by doing this, because somebody who is newly diagnosed is instantly confused, they can get some sort of perspective on it and know there are a lot of available treatments out there and this helpline is also for people worried about the financial aspect of it.

“It’s overwhelming to have to deal with this disease and have to think about finances, too. There are people in Cayman who are not pursuing taking care of themselves because they’re worried about insurance cover, they’re worried about what people might say, they’re worried about the stigma – and there still is a stigma about this,” Ms McLaughlin said.

Because they’ve been through it themselves, the helpline volunteers can fill callers in on what treatments they can get in Cayman and what treatments – like radiation, which is not available in Cayman – they will need to go overseas to get and what to expect when they undergo these treatments.

They hope to become a support system for breast cancer patients who are struggling to come to grips with the disease, as sometimes patients find it hard to connect with others who have not been through similar circumstances. Ms Slocock, who said she got great support from family and friends, as well as acquaintances and even strangers, connected with another breast cancer sufferer soon after her diagnosis.

“When I was diagnosed, I was very fortunate to meet a lady – in the wig shop when I went to buy my wig – and the pair of us have been through everything together and supported each other. We became BlackBerry friends and that was a big support to me and it was really beneficial for me to able to talk to someone who has some idea what it’s like to go through this,” she said, adding that she hopes callers will start to consider the voices at the end of the helpline to be support buddies.

“There are some things you can say to someone who has had breast cancer that you wouldn’t say to someone who hasn’t had it,” Ms Slocock said.

Ms McLaughlin assured that the helpline is confidential and callers will not be required to identify themselves.

LIME donated the phone the volunteers will be using.

The new breast cancer helpline may be reached at 923-1135.

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