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Breast cancer support groups help survivors cope with disease

CONYERS — Gayle Kelly volunteers to run the monthly breast cancer support group at Rockdale Medical Center and she encourages anyone fighting the disease to come by for a meeting. They might be surprised at what they find.

“I think that people have a preconceived idea of what the support groups are all about, that they are all gloom and doom,” said Kelly. “We shed a few tears but we also share a lot of laughter and hugs.”

The group meets every second Thursday of the month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the East Tower classroom of Rockdale Medical Center, 1412 Milstead Ave. in Conyers.

Kelly said the group welcomes women coping with breast cancer at all stages. While there is no doctor attending the meetings, women introduce themselves and talk about their personal experiences with breast cancer, though sharing is optional, said Kelly.

“It’s a very informative meeting but we just don’t have anyone from the medical field,” said Kelly.

Women may discuss their treatment and how it affects their health.

“Some people get burned from the radiation, others don’t. Some people get nauseated from the chemotherapy, others don’t,” she said.

Kelly said the support group began in 1999 when a nurse in the office of a local oncologist, Dr. Richard Carter, headed it up. When she left, Kelly learned the group wouldn’t continue unless she led it.

“I’m real shy, but I knew if somebody didn’t take over the group, it would disband and I didn’t want that to happen,” said Kelly. “I wish that group had been there when I had cancer back in 1996.”

Kelly underwent a mastectomy and survived her breast cancer and then decided to return to school. She earned a certification as a patient care technician (“A fancy name for a nurses’ aide,” joked Kelly) and has worked at Rockdale Medical Center for 16 years.

She currently works the night shift on the surgical floor, and when she meets breast cancer patients she tells them about the group.

Kelly said she believes it’s important to have a support group specifically for breast cancer because the disease can be so personal.

“With us sharing our stories and all what we went through, hopefully new members will understand better that this is what they might have to go through, and be able to cope better,” she said.

Breast cancer survivor Lynda Reid of Covington joined the Rockdale Medical Center breast cancer support group in 2012, and is also a member of the support group at Newton Medical Center, which meets the last Monday of each month at noon in the hospital’s auditorium, 5126 Hospital Drive in Covington.

Reid, who underwent a double mastectomy, said her doctor recommended she join a support group before she even had surgery.

She said she shared with the group how sometimes she just felt like crying, even if there wasn’t a reason. The group provided her with the emotional outlet she needed.

“They said, ‘Yes, you’re going through these moments, but it just takes time,’” said Reid.

Reid said when she learns of someone who is dealing with breast cancer, she tells them about the groups. Recently, she encouraged a cashier at the grocery store, whom she learned had breast cancer, to join.

“It does more than they realize,” said Reid. “Some of them don’t want to take the time to do it, but they would feel better if they would.”

Breast cancer survivor Patricia Steele of Covington is a new member of the Rockdale support group. She received a diagnosis in 2010 and had a right breast mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy to treat the cancer.

Steele said in her first meeting she and other group member cried together and shared stories. The experience is helping her cope.

“I’m surviving this every day and literally battling for my life every day. It’s important to have a good circle of friends,” said Steele.

To learn more about the Rockdale Medical Center breast cancer support group, call Gayle Kelly at 770-022-8060. To learn more about the Newton Medical Center breast cancer support group, call Shona Fincher at 770-385-4169.