Monday, August 23, 2010

The Breast Friends Connection: Linda and Kelley Launch a New Group to Meet the Needs of Cancer Survivors.

Breast Cancer. Linda Halloran and Kelley Balkus, shown here at their first fund-raiser at  Crystal Caves Mini Golf in Auburn, Mass, have been there. They have lived with breast cancer and are living with it every single day.

Linda was 34 in 1999 when she was diagnosed with Stage 2 Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma. Kelley was 36 in 2006 when she was told that she had breast cancer, Stage 1 DCIS. Since then, both have endured aggressive treatment.  Linda went through a lumpectomy, four rounds of chemo, and 30 radiation sessions. Kelley had a lumpectomy, sentinal node biopsy, radiation, tamoxifen, and had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.

Linda and Kelley were diagnosed with two very different breast cancers. Yet when the two met at a breast cancer support group in 2006, they quickly connected. Both felt that they were not getting the support they wanted and needed. Something vital, they told each other, was missing.

"I didn't feel a connection," Linda said.  Kelley felt the same way.  They finally decided that what was missing  was an emotional connection with the depth and understanding that they had developed for each other as breast cancer survivors and "breast friends."

Kelley confided in Linda that she would tell her two boys that she was upset and had to go into her room for a while. Then, behind closed doors,  she had an all-out cry at the cancer's  unfairness and deadly threat.  Linda, with a son and daughter of her own, understood.

Linda would speak from the heart to Kelley.  She would tell her that the cancer was too much to bear; and that, with a hair salon to run, she had no time for cancer. She would tell her that faith and family were not enough. With a career (preschool teacher, massage therapist), faith, and family of her own, Kelly understood.

For Linda and Kelley, a desire to be there for other breast cancer survivors as they have been for each other, came about almost as a natural next step. Though neither had ever done anything like it before, they decided to create a non-profit organization called "The Breast Friends Connection."

They began with monthly wellness meetings at Girls, Inc. in Worcester, Mass. The meetings are held the first Monday of the month from 6:00 P.M. to 8 P.M. Women are at various stages of their breast cancer journey. Some have recently received the crushing diagnosis. Some are midway in the journey. Some have lived with the cancer for some time, but still struggle to cope with it.

As women share experiences and feelings, as they ask questions and get answers about resources and coping ideas, they learn to trust and care for each other. No longer feeling isolated and at the mercy of the cancer, gaining fresh new hope for a healthy and happy life, the woman become "breast friends" as Linda and Kelley have. The meetings also include activities such as stretching, yoga, meditation, pilates, and other means of therapeutic relaxation. Activities vary each month.

Linda and Kelley paid out-of-pocket for meetings at Girls, Inc. and for developing a professional brochure, which has been distributed to area health facilities.  On August 21, a Saturday, they held their first fund-raiser at Crystal Caves Mini Golf.  The owners donated half the proceeds to "The Breast Friends Connection."

There were free coffee and donuts, courtesy of Dunkin Donuts. Volunteers offered the coffee and donuts and sold golf and raffle tickets for the many donated prizes. In the photo, Sue sells  tickets.  That's a "Breast Friends" T-shirt behind her.

Prizes included a Kindle electronic reader worth nearly $200.  Eleven key sponsors, all local businesses, donated $100 each.

As late as the day before the fund-raiser, Linda  had only eight people confirmed coming.  She and Kelley fretted that the fund-raiser would be a bust and that they would end up playing miniature golf with a few family and friends.

They needn't have worried. Eighty-three people showed up, exceeding all expectations.  The event raised enough money to cover out-of-pocket start-up expenses, with a little leftover to pay for the next few meetings.

"The Breast Friends Connection" was on its way!

Even the weather cooperated.  After days of sticky heat, this was a perfect summer day, just right for miniature golf  and having some fun.  Here is a panoramic scene of what the day looked like.

As breast cancer is very much a family affair, so was this event. Many young people attending were from families living with a mother's breast cancer. This photo shows a group of teens on the mini golf course.

Here are a couple of other young people, both from families dealing with breast cancer.  Linda's niece Julianna shows off the breast cancer symbol on her cheek, a raffle ticket, and a golf ball.

Kelley's son Nick pauses to pose. He knows why he is there. He understands why his Mom sometimes needs to go to her room. Breast cancer is something he lives with every day.

Believe it or not, there were some serious golfers out there -- and  competitive juices flowed. Here Ron gets a little carried away after making a good shot.

In the photo below, Barbie, left in festive dress, celebrates with the other girls Rose's hole-in-one. Rose is the littlest one. Whether Rose actually accomplished the feat or not, she got credit for it anyway.

In the other photo, Barbie's glasses may seem, well, at bit over the top.  But here, on this beautiful day, on this successful fund-raising debut of "The Best Friends Connection," her outsized glasses fit the expansive mood.

The day was capped off by the awarding of prizes to lucky ticket-holders, below. Kelley reached in the upraised basket for the winning tickets and called out the numbers. Linda gave the prizes to the happy winners.
After weeks of organizing with non-stop  phone calls and e-mails, the first fund-raiser was a success and "The Best Friends Connection" was a reality. Linda and Kelley decided that they deserved a little break.  Along with family and friends, they went to a lakeside cottage in Oxford, Mass. to catch a breath.  A photographer caught them sipping a couple of cold ones, below:

NOTE: If you know someone touched by breast cancer, "Breast Friends" can help. Or if you know someone looking to make a tax-deductible donation to a worthy cause, "Best Friends" might just be right for them. Linda and Kelley ask that you have people e-mail them at:

So long and keep moving.

NOTE: George Pollock's novel,  State Kid: Hero of Literacy is now available as an E-book on Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble ( Nook).

Billy Stone was a foster child.

He ran away from abuse.

He went to juvenile prison.

He went up from there.

And he did it his way.

Through the power of the written word. 

Amazon E-Books by George Pollock

 "State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his  real-life experiences  growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison;  "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life;  "A Long, Happy, Healthy Life,"  is about how to live the title every day; and "Unlove Story," Writing anonymously as "Elvis," a husband, dumped after 38 years of marriage, lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.
   For the Nook:

A Beautiful Story
A Long, Happy, Healthy Life
I, Cadaver
State Kid
Unlove Story

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At August 25, 2010 2:14 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

What a great story..... It's a blessing to have these women giving so much for others.... amazing!


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