AUSTRALIAN women have a one in eight risk of developing breast cancer at some stage in their lifetime, according to the Breast Cancer Support Network Australia.
The risk increases with age. The average age of first diagnosis of breast cancer in women is 60 years and 75% of new cases of breast cancer develop in women over the age of 50.
If you or a female relative has breast cancer, a local support group can provide a vital link to others who have also been through it.
"It can offer encouragement support and information that people may otherwise not find," says Byron Breast Cancer Support Group co-ordinator Barbara Pinter.
"The groups provide an opportunity for people to connect with each other and share information, link up with local services and relax in a safe supportive environment where they can feel understood and accepted as they are.
"It's about connection too. And it's about getting people practical help for example, where possible, meal drops are arranged through the group for those who need a hand.
"Women have said to me that even if they can't get to the group, just knowing it is there is important for them."
Barbara was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 after she noticed a lump, a rash that wouldn't heal and an unusual discharge from the nipple.
She had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, then eight years later had a second diagnosis after a routine annual mammogram.
A second mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation followed.
"I did whatever else I could to find my way forward to wellness both times with acupuncture, hands on healing, massage, bodywork, dietary changes, supplements, tai chi and qi gong, dragon boating, swimming, laughter and art therapy," she says.
"I also found meditation and the work of Petrea King to be cornerstones for healing and recovery."
Barbara says being able to talk to others who have been through breast cancer and treatment is a huge relief to most who attend the group and it is an opportunity not only to learn so much from each other but to take time out from the business of treatment and all that goes with it.
Most recently the Byron group held an eight-week Breast Cancer Yoga and Feldenkrais Mindful Movement Wellbeing Program that was funded by a Cancer Council grant and on the last day the women attended an afternoon tea and meditation put on by the Crystal Castle in Mullumbimby.
"It was lovely to be so nurtured and the program was a great success."
While this kind of group activity as well as regular meetings can make women feel more positive and supported, Barbara believes that to provide vital services to women, local breast cancer support group facilitators need basic training and regular updates, debriefing sessions, supervision and support with meeting the budget and administration.
"We are self-funded with our work so also need support with raising enough funds for us to be sustainable and to be there for those who come after us."
Breast cancer facts
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women.
In 2013, it is estimated that 14,940 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
It is important to remember that most women survive breast cancer.
The latest statistics (2010) show that the 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer is more than 89%.
Of course, many women live long and healthy lives well beyond this period.
Breast cancer in men is rare. The latest statistics show that 113 men in Australia were diagnosed in 2008.
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