I was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2001. Fortunately, I received excellent care from talented medical professionals.
But, at age 40, I was going through chemotherapy, I was bald, bloated, and scared when I saw a sign for the Breast Cancer Resource Center’s support group for women under 45. I received some of the same chemotherapy as many breast cancer patients at that time. We shared many of the same side effects, concerns and fears. The BCRC told me that I could not join the group because I did not have breast cancer. I felt rejected, but with more treatments to face, I moved on. Next, I had radiation to the chest, similar to breast cancer patients. I met many wonderful women during this time and we did our best to support one another. A fellow patient never excluded me because we suffered from different cancers.
Last year I was having back problems and restorative yoga was recommended to me. I saw a sign in my oncologist’s office for a yoga class given by the BCRC for cancer survivors. I hoped that in the years since my initial phone call that things had changed, so I called. Yet again, I was told no. I felt defeated to again be turned down by a support agency.
I understand some funding makes these classes free for only breast cancer patients. I offered to pay, but was still denied access. From my perspective, there is no difference between my cancer journey and that of breast cancer patients who have not had major surgery. The YWCA prides itself in including all people, regardless of race, age, religion, etc. Why then is an entity of the YWCA discriminating based on in which particular body part cancer is diagnosed? I can understand a breast cancer group wanting to provide funding for research and information for that specific cancer. What I cannot understand is denying support services for a person with a different type of cancer.
The BCRC, under the auspices of the YWCA, has a more complete program of classes and support than any other cancer group that I have found in the Princeton area. Excluding survivors of other cancers seems cruel to me. To have that done under the umbrella of the YWCA seems contradictory to the goals and mission of the YWCA. If the BCRC were a separate, freestanding entity, I would be disappointed by their exclusions, but I could understand it. However, as part of the YWCA, I think it is not fair to exclude people with other cancer histories. While the Princeton Y has said it is trying to fund wellness programs for all women, none have started. Regardless of which side people take, I feel that it is important for people to realize the policies of the BCRC and the YWCA before they decide to financially support their programs.
The BCRC Responds
We at the YWCA Princeton appreciate Lisa Schmid’s situation, her quest to find support, and her desire to move beyond her cancer diagnosis. We understand her concerns and dilemmas, and know that facing cancer of any kind can leave one scared, confused, angry, and looking for answers.
We have spoken with Ms. Schmid several times over the past year, and have invited her to share not only her concerns but also her ideas for future programs that might meet her needs. Our Breast Cancer Resource Center (BCRC) has provided her with referrals to organizations from whose programs she might benefit, as is done with any patient or survivor of another cancer who contacts BCRC.
We feel it is important for the community at large to be reminded that the YWCA and its Breast Cancer Resource Center are both long-standing and well-respected members of the Princeton community. The Breast Cancer Resource Center was founded under the name ENCORE right here at the YWCA Princeton more than 35 years ago. It was developed by breast cancer survivors as an exercise program for breast cancer survivors. The program was so successful that it later was adopted by the YWCA of the USA as one of their national programs, and ENCORE is offered today by a great percentage of YWs across the nation.
In Princeton, the focus gradually broadened beyond a single exercise program to a more inclusive breast health wellness model, and progressed to the Breast Cancer Resource Center we know today. BCRC’s wide range of programs and services is free and includes support groups, private counseling, a peer support network, a mind/body wellness program, a prosthesis and wig bank, guest speaker and teleconference series, a lending library, and education activities. Each year BCRC positively impacts the lives of more than 5,000 women and their families.
We well know that cancer comes in all forms, and believe that all cancer patients should have access to not only top quality medical care but also information and support throughout their journey. Fortunately, there are many medical centers and community organizations including the American Cancer Society, CancerCare, The Wellness Community, and CancerHope Network that offer wonderful services and programs for women diagnosed with all types of cancer.
There are also many other organizations that, like BCRC, focus specifically on breast cancer, including Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Sisters Network, and the South Jersey Breast Cancer Coalition. We believe strongly in providing breast cancer patients and survivors a place they can gather, bond, and share experiences in order to better live with, through, and beyond breast cancer. BCRC’s supporters also believe in this mission, and most of the funding received by BCRC is restricted by the donors themselves to serve breast cancer patients and survivors only.
We are proud that YWCA programming has evolved to meet the changing needs of the community. Ms. Schmid’s concerns underline the importance of plans already underway to explore the feasibility of designing and funding a general wellness program for women struggling with a range of diseases including cancer, heart disease, obesity, and more. This is on the agenda of our new director of mission advancement, Marialanna Lee.
For now, the YWCA Princeton and its Breast Cancer Resource Center remain dedicated to serving our mission by helping women and families affected by the most common cancer in women, breast cancer, through their journey.
CEO, YWCA Princeton
Breast Cancer Resource Center