Cayman's breast cancer survivors form support group

Twenty-five women and men attend the launch of the group at Government House

A breast cancer diagnosis can be terrifying and isolating, survivors of the disease say. That is why a group of survivors, with the support of Governor Helen Kilpatrick, has formed a support group so that women and men can come together to share their experiences, and let others know they are not alone. 

On Wednesday evening, the first meeting of a new support group for breast cancer survivors was held at the governor’s residence on Seven Mile Beach. 

Twenty-five women and men whose lives have been directly affected by the disease, shared their stories during what some described as an emotional, but uplifting, evening. 

“No friends, no husband, no one knows what you’re going through like another survivor,” Irma Arch said. 

Ms. Arch and a group of her friends who had also been diagnosed with breast cancer formed a small support group in 1996, but as members succumbed to the disease over the years, she said, “we kind of lost focus.” 

“However, with everything that is going on now … it’s become obvious it’s a real need among the people, and so I’m coming back now to start the support group,” she said. 

Ms. Arch will lead the support group, which she expects to meet monthly, and she hopes that more men and women who have been affected by the disease will attend future meetings. 

The idea to form the new support group came from conversations held at an event hosted by Dart for breast cancer survivors in September. 

“We realized that people, people need this,” Breast Cancer Foundation Chief Administrator Heather McLaughlin said. “More and more people in Cayman are talking about their experience, they’re not as confidential as they used to be.” 

Governor Kilpatrick, who attended the September event, suggested that the first meeting be held at Government House. 

“I thought it would be a good opportunity for people to have their first meeting here, and maybe having it at the governor’s house would encourage them to come along,” Governor Kilpatrick said. “I think that once people make the connection and get to know each other, they’ll want to carry on with the group.” 

Governor Kilpatrick said that she tries to do what she can to support cancer survivors. 

“I think we all know somebody who has had breast cancer,” she said. “It’s a disease that touches every family, really.” 

Facing same struggles  

Breast Cancer Foundation Director Kim Lund said that the governor’s support has made a “huge difference” to all those grappling with breast cancer. He said it is important to have a support group, because it helps people realize that many people have the same struggles. 

“By talking about it and learning that you’re not alone in this battle, it gives you strength, and it gives you solace in the fact that there are others around you … there to help you,” Mr. Lund said. “They know what you’re going through, because they’re going through it themselves.” 

Some who attended the support group won their battle with cancer many years ago, while some were only recently diagnosed. 

“We have on young lady here now, who was only diagnosed a few weeks OK … we thought it might be too early, but she said she is so happy she came,” Ms. McLaughlin said. “She finds it wonderful, because she sees that we’re all happy and healthy and getting on with life. It’s brilliant.” 

Uplifting  

Janette Fitzgerald, who works for the Breast Cancer Foundation, said everyone in the support group was very open, and that there was no shortage of survivors offering to help others. 

“It’s a terrifying diagnosis, but it’s so uplifting here,” Ms. Fitzgerald said.

* Editor’s note: The original version of this story erroneously described Ms. Fitzgerald as a breast cancer survivor. Ms. Fitzgerald has not had cancer.

Governor Helen Kilpatrick, front, second from left, with members of the newly formed breast cancer support group at Government House on Wednesday evening. - PHOTO: KELSEY JUKAM

Governor Helen Kilpatrick, front, second from left, with members of the newly formed breast cancer support group at Government House on Wednesday evening. – Photo: Kelsey Jukam

Janette Fitzgerald, James Bovell, Irma Arch, Heather McLaughlin and Kim Lund of the Breast Cancer Foundation at the governor

Janette Fitzgerald, James Bovell, Irma Arch, Heather McLaughlin and Kim Lund of the Breast Cancer Foundation at the governor’s residence Wednesday evening. – Photo: Kelsey Jukam
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