by Christine Fisher
A diagnosis of breast cancer can immediately cause an avalanche of emotions. Feelings of fear, uncertainty and most of all, isolation. Heather LaBauve, RN, BSN, OCN, nurse navigator with West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital’s (WCCH) breast health program, says support is crucial. “A woman who has just received a breast cancer diagnosis understandably has many questions, it takes a while for it to sink in and then process the information. I’m here with them throughout the entire process, from diagnosis, to a treatment plan and beyond.”
LaBauve is an oncology nurse of14 years, and has been focused on breast health navigation care the last three years. Her experience in oncology gives her the technical insight for diagnostics and treatment, but her current role as navigator brings to light the support that is needed once a diagnosis is given. “Part of what I do is letting them know that I am a constant support through this very uncertain time. I provide education at the time of diagnosis and help the patient and their families understand what to expect going forward,” she explains.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in US women, according to the American Cancer Society. The good news is that thanks to increased awareness, screening and better treatments, deaths due to breast cancer have continued to decrease in older women since 2007.
“This is a major step forward in the breast cancer journey. More women are getting mammograms regularly, which means more women who have breast cancer are getting diagnosed at an early stage, which increases the chances for being cured,” LaBauve says.
Among her other tasks, LaBauve coordinates the Pink Crusade WCCH breast cancer support group. This is a free service to the community. It meets monthly and often includes a guest speaker as well as time for the attendees to visit and support each other. It is open to anyone with breast cancer as well as their family and friends.
Nancy Trammel was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 and is currently cancer free. She began attending the support group almost immediately upon her diagnosis and continues to attend to provide support to the other women. “All of the women there are either going through the same thing or have gone through it already. We have a camaraderie. These women know what’s happening and can give their perspective on what to expect and how they handled it,” Trammel explains. “We give each other strength.”
Clinical studies underscore the importance of support during a cancer journey. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the findings shows that social support can help increase breast cancer survival rates by up to 64% and decrease recurrence rates by up to 48%. Spouses, family, friends, and social support can all help to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Trammel says the guest speakers at the support group are helpful because they range from healthcare experts to self-help experts, so the attendees get a wide variety of information.
Her advice to anyone with cancer is, “Keep your faith. Keep fighting. Stay positive and stay busy.”
Support groups bring people together and provide a safe forum for exchanging perspectives, sharing concerns, and gaining confidence. Peer support lets a person vent their frustrations, learn about new treatments, and exchange information. This can lead to better preparation for cancer treatment and empowerment. It reminds people that they are not alone.
“As women share their experiences in the support group, those who are currently undergoing treatment can benefit, since among the women, someone has likely had the same chemo, the same side effects, etc.” explains LaBauve.
During COVID, the support group was suspended, but resumed meeting in March of this year. “We have a great group of ladies, many of whom are survivors and lend their experience to those who are currently undergoing treatment. Those who are in the battle now face anxiety about the treatments, the fear of recurrence, what the future will look like, and the survivors can give them a lifeline of hope and reassurance,” LaBauve says.
Pink Crusade Breast Cancer Support Group of West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital
For details, call (337) 528-7320