When Bobbie Chinsky first noticed a lump in her breast, she did her best to ignore it. But when she felt it again a month later, she quickly scheduled a mammogram. That mammogram led to an ultrasound, the ultrasound to a biopsy, and the biopsy to a startling diagnosis: At 62, Bobbie had stage II breast cancer.
“I was working at the time” she says. “I had an active social life, was mother to an adult daughter and a community volunteer.” Faced with many options and a small window of time to decide, Bobbie ultimately opted for the removal of both of her breasts followed by reconstructive surgery and treatment with oral medication. Decisions were made quickly to remove the cancer. After the surgery, Bobbie knew that she needed to seek help to manage the many emotions that she was feeling. Given her background (she holds a Masters degree in Psychology), Bobbie’s original thought was to find a therapist to talk with – but she quickly realized that wasn't what she needed. She then set out to join a support group for breast cancer survivors, but was told that the group in her area didn’t meet during the summer months.
Finally, Bobbie remembered that a friend had recommended The Wellness Community in Phoenix, AZ as an outlet for support. “I couldn’t drive after my surgery, so a friend took me to an orientation meeting for newcomers” she recounts. “The group leader was so effective – I knew immediately that this was what I needed.” And so, Bobbie quickly became involved in a weekly support group at The Wellness Community (TWC) Arizona. “In group, we shared our stories, the lessons we learned, we shared the pain … but we also laughed. After each group, I left with renewed courage. People with cancer have incredible courage. Our interaction gave me a weekly dose to make it through the week until the next group.” When talking about her cancer experience, Bobbie is quick to acknowledge the incredible support provided by her daughter Shana, her large family, friends, and colleagues. “But,” she says, “There was still a piece that was missing. I needed to connect with people who had walked that same walk. That aspect of support is so important and that’s what I found at TWC.”
Years later, in 2009, Bobbie was asked to join TWC360
, an ‘alumni group’ of sorts for long-term survivors and participants at TWC – Arizona. Their goal is to promote an enduring and caring community by fostering continued connections among TWC participants.” The '360' signifies that group members have come full circle in their cancer journeys and have moved from being recipients of support to contributors of support. Bobbie immediately latched onto the idea and became co-chair of the group’s steering committee. Today, TWC360
is 30 members strong, and organizes TWC – Arizona’s annual Cancer Connections Walk and Hope Café, as well as educational and social events throughout the year.
Just recently, Bobbie also became involved with The Breast Cancer M.A.P. (Mind Affects the Physical) Project
, when she joined a registry of breast cancer survivors online. She answered some questions about her experience with cancer, and hopes that others will follow her lead. “The M.A.P. Project is a means for me to give back and share what I learned. If I can ease another person’s burden in their cancer journey just by getting online once a year and answering a few questions, I am right
there.” Studies have shown that social and emotional support, like the support provided at TWC-Arizona, may improve health outcomes for women with breast cancer – but research is needed to better understand the role that this support plays and the resources needed to make a difference. Information collected through the survivor registry will help us to identify resources that will support the critical needs of breast cancer survivors.
Now cancer-free, Bobbie continues to embrace the perspective that having cancer has given her. “When you go through a catastrophic illness, like cancer, you learn a lot of things. You examine your priorities. I remember talking to a friend of mine, who is also a cancer survivor, about the things that I had learned and how my priorities had changed after my diagnosis. He said, ‘Bobbie, you will start to lose that perspective after a while.’ And that really struck me, because I liked these new priorities and I wanted to keep them! My involvement with TWC-Arizona and The Breast Cancer M.A.P. Project has allowed me to retain this new perspective and remains a source of energy for me.”
We thank you, Bobbie, for the beautiful example of strength and commitment that you model for others facing a cancer diagnosis, and for your continued support of the Cancer Support Community and our affiliate in Arizona.
To find a Cancer Support Community Affiliate, like The Wellness Community – Arizona, near you visit: http://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/FindaCommunity.aspx
To join the Cancer Survivor Registry of The Breast Cancer M.A.P. Project, visit: http://www.breastcancerregistry.org/