Olga Cosburn knows the role of the teachers at a local breast cancer support group is two-fold.
And one of those roles is as tough as you can find.
“All of us have great teachers, role models that teach us how to live,” says Cosburn, 69, co-founder of the Scarborough Breast Cancer Support Group. “But how many people do you know that have given you lessons on how to die.
“That’s what these ladies do, they teach us how to die and die well.”
Cosburn was one of four women who decided to create a place where people suffering from breast cancer could share their experiences and provide emotional support for each other.
“There were four of us 14 years ago that started a … group, prior to that there was only one in Burlington, and I decided there should be one [here],” said Cosburn, who survived her own battle with the disease 19 years ago.
“When I was going through my treatments, I had all the state of the art care,” she says.
“I was so well looked after physically, but there was nothing available to deal with the emotional side of things.”
Cosburn has been sharing her experience with women like Guild resident Rosemary Ford, 55, who is learning to cope with the disease.
“I think it would have been a lot harder without the support group. I’m a single parent, my daughter was only 13 at the time,” Ford says. “The first chemo treatment I had I was quite sick after, and it frightened her.
“Without the support of the ladies, I don’t know quite what I would have done.”
Although Ford says she has met friends in the group she knows she could count on, she prefers to take it in small doses because of the circumstances under which they met. She says she does not want to constantly relive the cancer everyday.
According to Cosburn, there are several rules that must be followed by each and every member in the group.
First, no medical advice should be given. Second, you do not “doctor-bash.” Third, anything said in the meeting remains confidential.
Cosburn believes women often find the support group on their own, and that most doctors do not refer their patients along.
“I wish more doctors would refer,” Cosburn says. “Doctors are fearful of support groups because they think we do all the things I said we don’t do.
“We don’t discuss them or what they do or say, we do not give medical advice.”
Cosburn had been facilitating the group for 14 years until she decided to give up her position several months ago to spend more time traveling. And that wasn’t easy.
“You develop a close relationship with [the members] because they’re going through what you went through over and over again,” she says. “And you rejoice with their remissions and you despair when the situation gets out of hand again.”
Besides the emotional turmoil women go through in their struggle with breast cancer, there is also the physical pain of the treatments.
Ford says she suffered from hair-loss and nausea from chemotherapy. When she started taking an anti-cancer drug after her treatments she began to get hot flashes, one of the side effects of the drug.
“I went to a naturopath who did acupuncture to help reduce symptoms of hot flashes and it works very well,” Ford says. “You have to do it again periodically, but it really did help.”
To contact the Scarborough Breast Cancer Support Group, please call 416-431-1800.