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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Breast Cancer Journaling Workshop

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, September 13, 2005

North Adams- Those who live with a breast cancer diagnosis know the feelings well: fear, hope, physical pain and emotional turmoil. Each day may deliver a fresh round of doubt or optimism, or the emotions may battle each other hour by hour.

And while support from family and friends may be total and complete, only those facing the battle live with the impacts.

It’s a private and powerful experience.

Journaling Sessions Led By Michelle Gillett

Inkberry and the REACH for Breast Health program are again collaborating to offer a creative outlet to those battling breast cancer. A second “Stories of Strength” workshop series is scheduled to begin on Sept. 22 at the 116 Ashland St. Spitzer Center. The 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. sessions are slated to occur every other Thursday through Nov. 3, and will be led by Michelle Gillett, a Berkshire region poet, teacher, Berkshire Eagle columnist and the former editor of the Women’s Times publication. Gillett’s “Blinding the Goldfinches” poetry collection was awarded The Backwaters Poetry Prize selected by renowned poet Hayden Carruth.

The workshop will focus on journaling, according to information provided by the REACH foundation. Sessions are designed to permit women develop some structure for personal writing about thoughts, feelings, memories, and more, said Carol Guernsey, the REACH manager.

“We look for ways to offer support,” Guernsey said during a Sept. 13 interview. “Many people in a crisis situation find that writing about their experiences can be very helpful. The workshop is being done as a way to help people do some personal writing, to give some structure and help people get started.”

The first Inkberry/REACH for Breast Health collaboration involved taped interviews with breast cancer patients, Guernsey said. The tapes were complied into a personal book and the books were given to participants. Gillett was involved with the oral history project.

The taped interviews, subsequent books, and the upcoming workshop are not meant for the public eye, Guernsey said. The tapes and the writings are considered deeply personal and private, she said.

“This is all very, very private and no one is asked to share it,” she said.

Finding the Words

When faced with health issues such as breast cancer, people often feel a renewed sense of creativity and a desire to paint, write, or otherwise express their feelings through an artistic outlet, Guernsey said.

“People can get very creative when something like this comes into their lives,” she noted.

And people facing serious illness must face all possible outcomes.

“While the number of breast cancer survivors is growing, largely because more women over 40 are getting regular mammograms and early diagnosis, people face the possibility that they might die,” she said. “They want to record things, document things, write personal thoughts, and write letters to family and friends. These situations can also make people reevaluate their lives, the direction they want to take, and writing is a way to help people explore their lives.”

In The Pink

October is designated by the American Cancer Society as Breast Cancer Awareness month, and for the second consecutive year, people are being invited to join a REACH for Breast Health contingent that will march in the Oct. 2 Fall Foliage Day Parade. In 2004, about 100 pink-clad participants marched the route and Guernsey said that she expects at least that many marchers this year.

Those wishing to march for the first time will be able to purchase pink t-shirts to wear while marching for $5. Those who marched last year may wear shirts bought at that time, Guernsey said. Pink is the color that represents breast cancer awareness, and pink ribbons are one example of items designed to raise awareness of breast cancer.

Several cosmetics companies have, in past years, created special pink products, such as lipstick, that are promoted during Breast Cancer Awareness month, and in most cases, profits from the sale of the items are donated to breast cancer research.

Shirts may carry an appropriate personal message of the wearer’s choice; for example, someone may wish to dedicate their individual participation to a specific person, or may wish to express a sentiment such as support for breast cancer research.

And the wearin’ o’ the pink shouldn’t be limited to pink shirts, Guernsey said.

“We’d like to see pink scarves, pink shoes; just get decked out in pink,” she said.

Members of the region’s Red Hat Society chapter have been invited to march with the group with their bright red hats in place, Guernsey said.

Additional information about the breast cancer awareness parade contingent will be announced very soon, Guernsey said.

Mammograms, Early Diagnosis Save Lives

In the United States, about 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer yearly and the number of diagnoses is rising, Guernsey said.

The disease claims about 20,000 lives in the U.S. each year.

“But that number is going down, and it’s going down because more women over age 40 are getting mammograms and early diagnosis,” she said. “The survival rate for people who get an early diagnosis is at about 95 percent.”

Most breast cancer deaths can be linked to a late diagnosis, she said.

In the Northern Berkshires, about 40 new breast cancers are diagnosed each year, Guernsey said. Two to five breast cancer deaths occur yearly in the Northern Berkshires, but the deaths are not necessarily related to new diagnoses, she said.

“Often, deaths are the result of a cancer that was detected and treated some years ago, and then returned as a cancer that has spread to another part of the body,” she said.

Guernsey stressed that mammograms and early diagnosis increase survival rates dramatically.

“Having mammograms and getting an early diagnosis make a difference,” she said. “More women survive.”

Those interested in the journaling workshop may contact Inkberry at 413-664-0775 or Guernsey at 413-664-5170.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net or at 802-823-9367.

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