When battling breast cancer, it helps to have an army of well-wishers on your side. And there are plenty, including dozens of groups designed to make the journey smoother, if not a bit brighter. Some clean patients' homes; others send customized scarves, or hats, or pillows. All are free.
"Cancer is a shocking experience. You don't expect to get it, and you don't know what's going to happen to you," says Ann Silberman, 52, of Sacramento, Calif., who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. "Knowing different groups are there for you in a real, personal way has been one of the more meaningful parts of my whole cancer experience."
Here's a sampling of the available services that cater to cancer patients nationwide.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis Guide iPhone application. Breastcancer.org, a nonprofit that promotes disease awareness, released its mobile app in late September. Two weeks later, it had been downloaded more than 1,600 times. Patients plug in details about their condition—cancer type, tumor size, and grade, for instance—and they'll receive an extensive lesson, including illustrations and definitions. The app also features a glossary of terms commonly spouted by oncologists and surgeons. "Getting results back from the doctor is very overwhelming," says Jamie DePolo, a breastcancer.org senior writer who spearheaded the app's development. "If you're unfamiliar with some of the medical terms, you can look them up right away with just a click." Women also receive personalized breast cancer news, including the latest studies on treatment options. "The research is relevant for each individual, so you don't have to wonder whether the information should matter to you," DePolo says.
Look Good…Feel Better workshops. More than 700,000 women have attended this free program since its inception in 1989, and it's now offered at 2,500 locations across the country—mainly, cancer centers and hospitals. Beauty professionals teach cancer patients how to apply makeup to conceal changes caused by chemotherapy (making eyelashes and brows look fuller, for example) and how to fit wigs and wrap head scarves. Participants also receive fully-loaded makeup kits. Those gifts are particularly valuable because previously-used makeup carries bacteria, which could spark infections in cancer patients, whose immune systems are weakened. Silberman attended one of the workshops just before starting chemo because, she says: "I wanted to be one-up when I did lose my hair, and my eyelashes, and my eyebrows."
The Finest Accessories Good Wishes scarf. This hair accessories company sends customized scarves and head wraps to women who have lost their hair due to illness of any kind. Each silk scarf—in a pattern and color chosen by the patient—is adorned with Swarovski crystals in the shape of a fairy. The company's 30 employees all sign a card delivered with the package. "A dear customer wrote to us and said, 'I've lost all my hair because of chemo. What do you have for people without hair?' It really stunned me," says CEO Laurie Erickson, who realized she had nothing that would fit the customer's needs at the time. Since launching the Good Wishes program in 2008, the company has sent scarves to nearly 5,000 women. Erickson says she's received countless letters from those touched by the gift. One woman recently wrote to say she would be keeping her recently-deceased mother's Good Wishes scarf because she would never forget the smile it brought to her mom's face.
Heavenly Hats. Anthony Leanna, 19, of Suamico, Wisc., was 10 years old when he launched this volunteer group in 2001. His inspiration? Spending time at the hospital as his grandmother battled breast cancer, watching as she and other patients lost their hair. More than 1 million hats have since been delivered. Patients can specify what type they'd like—turban, scarf, or lightweight spring hat, for instance. All hats are brand new, donated by businesses and individuals (the National Football League has given hundreds).