ENCINITAS — It wasn’t July 21, 2010, when she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, a very aggressive form of the disease.
It wasn’t March 17, 2011, her last radiation treatment, which culminated nine months of pain, surgery, chemotherapy and, finally, radiation, to rid her body of the cancer.
It was June 1, 2011, the day Rosalie Huntley met Bunny Nedry and attended her first Breast Cancer Support Group meeting at Scripps Encinitas.
“I was sitting in my oncologist office, and they had a flier taped to one of the cupboards, so I wrote down the information, and I believe I contacted Bunny soon after that,” Huntley said. “Then one day I was feeling kind of mopey at home, and my husband suggested that I go out and do something. It was one of the evenings the group was going to meet, so I went.
“And I’ve been going ever since,” she said.
Cancer support groups are an important arm of the recovery process, said Nedry, who in addition to her role at the hospital of cancer nurse navigator, has facilitated the semi-monthly meetings since 1998. Nedry, who along with Huntley will speak on June 23 at Scripps Encinitas Cancer Survivors Day celebration, is slated to retire in September.
While most treatments focus on physical symptoms and recovery, the support group allows its membership to heal the emotional scars that cancer causes.
“Dealing with the emotional aspect can help immensely with dealing with the medical aspect,” Nedry said. “In groups like this, you can say what you want without judgement. You can cry, you can pound the table or you can laugh, and it is just a relief to be accepted. You don’t get an answer, you don’t get a cure, but you do get relief.”
At the meetings, the members sit in a circle and in the course of the meeting, each member is given the opportunity to speak without pressure. A lending library, informational material, guest speakers and videos provide group members with cancer-related information that is informative and practical. Members are encouraged to bring and share information that they have available.
The group, Nedry said, is built on three pillars: sharing, listening, and acceptance.
Huntley said one of the things she has learned through the group, and espouses to new members, is accepting their “new normal.”
“Women want to be normal again, and they expect to be in the exact same place before their diagnosis,” Huntley said. “I tell them, ‘this is your new normal.’ The song is over; you are on a new track. You might not be able to dance three hours a night or hike the highest mountain, but you can still have a great life. This is the new normal.”
Nedry said that over the course of their time together, she has seen Huntley go through the many stages of emotions associated with cancer recovery. Today, she said, Huntley provides an invaluable ingredient to the support meetings: humor.
“Rosalie is one of those people who brings laughter and chuckling, and she’s not laughing at somebody, she’s laughing with them,” Nedry said. “She will bring up something she went through, put a little spin on it, and will bring a smile to everyone. Laughter truly is one of the best medicines, and Rosalie is masterful at doing that.
“She has not only gone on and accepted the new normal, she contributes to the group by bringing brevity and lightness,” she said. “She has embraced that new normal.”
As nurse cancer navigator, Nedry assists cancer patients navigate the web of doctors, services and processes they will encounter during their treatment. The hospital system, as part of the creation of its new cancer program, will have a navigator assigned to each patient.
But Nedry said that after 20 years and 400 members, the support group has been “her most worthwhile” responsibility she’s had with the hospital.
“Working with these women and seeing the strength they have and seeing what some of them have gone through … to come out stronger and going on with their lives, in my mind, they are all heroines,” Nedry said. “I feel the work has been worthwhile, and I think the women think it is worthwhile, too.”
Huntley said she couldn’t agree more.
“I don’t know where I would be,” Huntley said. “She (Nedry) has saved me more than once.”
For more information about the breast cancer support group call (760) 633-7551.
Scripps Cancer Survivors Day brunch will be held at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas from 10 a.m. to noon June 23 at the Scripps Encinitas Conference Center, 354 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas, California 92024. There will be a musical performance by The Rose Three.
Register by calling 1-800-SCRIPPS (1-800-727-4777)