TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — A heart-shaped pillow and a chat may seem like small gestures but for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients at DCH Health Systems, it could be just the kind of support they need as they begin treatment.
Behind the Ribbon is an outreach program at DCH Health Systems that has been providing peer-to-peer support and educational resources since 2014.
“Our biggest concern, at that time, (was) a lot of women were having surgery done first as their treatment. And sometimes it’s the only treatment they may need. We really wanted women to know that they are not alone and there’s support,” said registered nurse and patient navigator Katrina Lewis.
A major part of this support comes from DCH volunteers who have been through breast cancer treatment themselves. They spend time talking with newly diagnosed patients. It could be a one-time chat or many conversations, said Jana Smith, Lewis and Faye Manderson Cancer Center outreach coordinator.
“There’s something powerful in those conversations between women when one has been there and conquered it and been victorious and be able to tell someone else who is on the front end of that battle that ‘You can do it,’ ” Smith said.
Normally, these conversations would be held in-person and the patient would choose when and where they would meet on the health system’s campus. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, these in-person chats were modified to phone call sessions as a precaution. The in-person visits currently are being transitioned back as an available option.
Another part of the Behind the Ribbon program is that patients are provided a kit of supplies they may need after surgery. This kit includes a breast cancer treatment handbook, a heart-shaped pillow, a post-surgical bra that is designed for the first six weeks after surgery, and a tote bag.
“It may not sound like much but I get a lot of calls saying that’s the biggest, best thing they’ve ever gotten,” Lewis said of the pillow.
The pillow helps protect the patient’s surgery site from their seatbelt when traveling. It also can be used when the patient is lying down, to reduce pressure from the arm.
Smith said the breast cancer treatment handbook is a “phenomenal resource,” and that it addresses questions and fears the patient may have. The book also has places to take notes should they have questions to ask their doctors later.
The kits are funded through the DCH Foundation’s Breast Cancer Fund. This fund also helps provide free breast screenings.
The Lewis and Faye Manderson Cancer Center will be hosting two free breast screenings this month.
The first will be held on Oct. 19 and is for the general population. The deadline to register for this date is Oct. 14.
The second screening will be on Oct. 26 and designed for the Latina community. The deadline to register for this date is Oct. 21.
The screenings will be held from 5-7 p.m. for both dates at the cancer center.
Registration is required. No walk-ins will be accepted. To register, call 205-343-8493.
Other criteria to participate in the screenings include:
— Women must be 40 years of age or older
— Have no personal history of breast cancer
— At least 12 months since their last mammogram
— Little or no health insurance
— Must live in the 11 county DCH service area
Because of COVID-19, only those who are preregistered, fever-free and are wearing a mask will be allowed in for the screenings.