'Sisters' help women with breast cancer

Group pairs women facing a diagnosis with those who can share experiences and support

By Sandy Illian Bosch

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Before August 2021, Barb Thayer assumed that a diagnosis of breast cancer was like a diagnosis of any other disease - you either had it or you didn't. She soon learned how far from the truth that assumption was, and how truly unique each woman's diagnosis, treatment and reaction to the disease can be.

"Everybody's journey and diagnosis is so different," said Thayer, whose own cancer journey began with an August 2021 diagnosis that was soon followed with a call to a friend who also had heard the dreaded words, "You have breast cancer."

That friend was with her every step of the way, Thayer said of her friend, which made her realize and appreciate just how important it can be to have someone to talk to throughout the breast cancer experience. With help from another friend, Sara Joyce, My Breast Cancer Sisters was born in March 2023.

Today, My Breast Cancer Sisters includes Thayer, Joyce and nine other Hinsdale women with varying forms of breast cancer and treatment experiences, all acting as advocates, confidants, and sources of information and support for other women embarking on what Cristen Orput referred to as a sorority no woman wants to join.

Orput said she was eager, however, to become a member of Thayer's group and honored to share her experience to help other women.

"I tend to speak to other women who are interested in cold capping," said Orput, speaking of a technique she used to help preserve her hair during chemotherapy.

Hair loss is a hard part of the experience for many women, but Orput said waiting for answers following an initial diagnosis can be the worst part of all. She said she's grateful for the women, like Thayer, who were there to help her at every stage, and she's happy to return the favor.

"It's my way of giving back and feeling like I can make a little bit of a difference during a very scary time," she said.

Thayer said finding women like Orput who are eager to help has proven much easier than finding women in need of support.

"We've had six total now," she said, adding that many more could benefit from My Breast Cancer Sisters.

One of those six women is Cathie Callen. She said she had no idea where to turn when she received her diagnosis near the end of last year. She learned about My Breast Cancer Sisters through a friend, who put her in touch with Thayer.

Callen was paired with Breast Cancer Sister Lisa Henige, who had a diagnosis and treatment plan similar to Callen's.

Callen said she had lots of questions, including what to expect and how to find the right doctors.

"She patiently answered all of those questions," Callen said of Henige.

Some calls with Henige were rather clinical, Callen said, while others were more emotional. Whatever Callen needs, she said her "sister" was and is always there to offer help or just to listen.

Callen said it also helped to see how well all of the members of My Breast Cancer Sisters were doing after treatment. It gave her hope and confidence, she said, as she embarked on her own journey and as she continues through treatment.

"I thought, 'Look at her now,'" Callen said. "It's so comforting."

Medical professionals don't always have a lot of time for hand-holding, Thayer said, but the sisters have time, knowledge and experience to share.

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean