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Healing Together

General

Did you know that there is a Women’s Cancer Support Group in Tillamook? The group has been meeting since 1998 under the leadership of Jan Bartlett. In the past 15 years, 120 local women have participated in the monthly group with the aim of supporting each other through their battles with cancer.

The group began at the request of a woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, who wanted to be able to talk with other women who were going through the same thing. Jan Bartlett, a licensed clinical social worker and a breast cancer survivor herself, now 29 years cancer-free, volunteered to donate her time and office space to facilitate the group, little imagining that it would grow into a 15-year commitment.

“I saw the need,” said Bartlett, “I understood what they were going through. I knew how helpful it is to be in a group of other women who get it.”

The women who attend the group tell one another their stories, describe what is happening to them, how they feel, what they fear. There is incredible power in stories; in the telling and in the hearing, people recognize that they are not alone. They share their experiences with treatments and drugs and side effects, so that the women coming along behind them will know what to expect. They talk frankly about the things that would be embarrassing to say to family and friends who weren’t going through the same things. They celebrate each other’s milestones and successes, laugh together at things only other cancer survivors would find funny and prop each other up when needed. In the process, they become lifelong friends. They also grieve together when someone doesn’t make it; but Bartlett said that her group has had an impressive survival rate: in 15 years and 120 members, they have lost only six to cancer: one ovarian, two lung and three breast cancer deaths.

Over the years women of all ages and types of cancer have joined the group, but the highest numbers by far have been breast cancers. Last year, Sherah Berthelsen (pictured at right), a Tillamook Regional Medical Center oncology nurse, asked if she could attend the group, so that she could better understand what her cancer patients were going through, and gain new insight into how to support them. The group welcomed Sherah and embraced her. When Jan Bartlett decided to retire, Sherah stepped up and offered to facilitate the group so that it will continue. Tillamook Regional Medical Center offered the use of the Medical Plaza conference room, so that the group will have a permanent home. They meet every first Wednesday of the month from 10:30 a.m. to noon. You do not have to apply to join, you can just show up, and there is no charge.

This is what some of the women’s cancer support group’s long time members have to say:

“When I first heard about it I thought I didn’t want to go, I was afraid it would be too sad, all mourning and gloom. But I went anyway, and I was surprised to find that it is very upbeat and uplifting. People leave here feeling better. I would encourage any woman experiencing cancer to join us.”  ~ Joanne Beyer, cancer-free for nine years

“There are so many things related to having cancer that you don’t want to talk about in normal conversation, because it’s embarrassing. Our group is a safe place to talk about things with no fear at all. No question is a stupid question. People are so willing to share about their experiences and we learn from each other. When I was going through my treatment, three of us in the group were having drug side effects, and together we were able to address them, whereas, if something is happening to you alone, you’re more likely to feel powerless.”  ~ Cecilia Dwigans, cancer-free for seven years

“The Women’s Cancer Support Group saved my life. When you’re told you have cancer, you think it’s over. It is a lifesaver to talk about it and listen to other people’s stories and realize you’re not alone. We draw strength from each other, we help each other, we’re like family. I’m so thankful, I can’t say enough about the whole group.”  ~ Kay Winfrey – cancer-free for four years