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Bosom Buddies: We are the bright side of cancer

United they stand in times of adversity. A small group of cancer-stricken women have come together to lift each other's spirits by forming a support group called the Bosom Buddies.

Gulf News

United they stand in times of adversity.

A small group of cancer-stricken women have come together to lift each other's spirits by forming a support group called the Bosom Buddies.

They do not donate money to help cancer patients, they have not uncovered a revolutionary medicine to cure cancer and they do not have a website … but they have done something that was never done before in the UAE: Bosom Buddies formed a support group to make patients feel they are not alone.

For them it is not the end of the world.

The power of a support group and its effect on an individual is undeniable when watching these women laugh about the most traumatic experience of a lifetime.

Bosom Buddies are living proof that cancer is not all doom and gloom.

These women come together once a month and pour their hearts out.

They talk about the difficulties of going through cancer treatment or how unattractive they feel when their hair starts to fall or how heart wrenching it is to tell your child that you have cancer.

It is also clear to these women that cancer is a disease which few people sympathise with, unless they or somebody close to them has it, which is why they formed this group to be supportive and understanding to one another because "there are things that you can't talk to your spouse, children or cancer-free friends".

Geehan Wheeler, from United States, said she cannot show her true feeling to the people closest to her.

Putting on a strong face

"I have to put on a strong face for my children. I can't burden a young child with such a huge thing as telling them that their mother has cancer and is in pain because of the treatment. I usually walk in, looking all happy and strong but I'd break down crying once I am alone in my room."

Noreen Kemp, from Scotland, said friends are the most difficult people to talk to.

"Friends will walk up to me with this look of utter sympathy on their faces and tell me they are so sorry I have cancer. That isn't what I want to hear. Although I appreciate their concern, their sympathy doesn't make me feel better."

The Bosom Buddies hope that more women will reach out to them and join their support group.

"It is sad to see that families here consider cancer to be a taboo. They never talk about it or come forward and say that they have the disease. A family member with cancer is usually locked away and not talked about. You shouldn't be suffering alone," Wheeler said.

Kemp said it is such a help to know what to expect.

"To know that someone else has gone through it and if they can do it, so can you. It is comforting to know that someone has really felt your pain and genuinely feels what you are talking about."

The untold story

Wheeler said the Bosom Buddies will tell you what the hospital will not tell you. "Doctors will tell you what medication to take and will briefly tell you what to expect but they don't have the time for you."

Ose Ostmoe, from Norway, said the Bosom Buddies is also an opportunity to show women that there are cancer survivors.

"It is amazing to hear the amount of cancer horror stories or the number of people who have died because of it. Well, we are the bright side of cancer.

"We are proof that you do not die of cancer and you can have cancer and still be happy and look good," she said with a big smile.

Christi Dekker, from Scotland, was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago, she hoped it would not return but it did.

"I was so scared at first but after meeting these women, I feel wonderful. I know I will get through it day by day and I have the support of the Bosom Buddies to get me through my bad and good days. Just looking at how they survived through it makes me feel hopeful."

Interestingly, the women agree: "Cancer can change your life to the better."

Living to the fullest

Kemp said, "With cancer you live your life to the fullest. You savour each moment and make the most with what you have."

Wheeler said: "Little things don't annoy you anymore. You realise that there arer bigger and more important things in life to care about.

"You stop worrying about yourself with childish things and concentrate on more meaningful things."

Professor Pentti Grohen, Consultant Oncologist at Al Noor Hospital in Abu Dhabi, who is treating most of these women, said: "It is very important to have this sort of activity not only for patients but for family members too.

"As doctors we don't have the time to discuss every single detail with the patient. Some side effects of the treatment don't come to mind and the patients might feel embarrassed to discuss intimate details of their experience during treatment.

"These things can be discussed in support groups and will help boost the morale of patients which affects the progress of the disease."

A piece of advice

In Western countries, patients suffering from any disease are contacted by a support group as soon as they leave the hospital, he said.

The group participates in most charity events and visits universities in the UAE to talk to students.

Kemp has a piece of advice to cancer patients: "Don't go through it alone. It will destroy your spirit. You will have bad days but you will get through it bit by bit. It is very important for people with cancer to listen to their body.

"If you are tired then don't go out. Stay home and rest. It is not a bad thing to say that you are tired and need time off."

And the light of hope burns bright as companionship and inner strength keep the insurmountable spirit alive for Bosom Buddies.