Breast Cancer Network Links Peers for Support

The group reaches hundreds of patients and survivors each year

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

In the early 1990s, a few Buffalo-area breast cancer survivors began meeting to share support. 

From those initial, informal meetings grew a group that now reaches hundreds of breast cancer patients and survivors annually. 

Breast Cancer Network of Western New York in Depew was formally established as a 501(c)(3) organization in 1994 and is currently led by Rob Jones, executive director.

Its mission is “to support, educate and advocate for individuals with breast cancer, breast cancer survivors and family and friend co-survivors. We are dedicated to ending breast cancer and the deaths it causes.”

A volunteer-based organization, Breast Cancer Network provides educational programming for people newly diagnosed, hosted by survivor volunteers. The group also assembles and distributes “goody bags” through its TLC Tote Program. The totes include comfort items, resource materials and information on treatment options and what patients can expect in the next several months. Reading materials may include Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book and Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor’s Soul. Comfort items could include a meditation CD, journal, socks, note cards and more.

Windsong Radiology and Breast Care sponsors the program.

“When someone receives a tote, they come to our facility and it’s presented by a survivor who can offer a little counseling session between the two of them,” Jones said.

The organization hands out 200 totes annually.

“My problem with that is it’s not enough,” Jones said. “We know there are lot more people in Western New York who are diagnosed annually. There are about 900 a year in Erie County. We are not reaching everyone we need to reach.”

Breast Cancer Network hosts a book club and monthly educational programs involving wellness, self-care or research, led by local experts. The organization also hosts support groups and restorative health classes, including semiweekly yoga, tai chi, meditation, Zuma and painting.

Because cancer causes a financial burden for many people, Breast Cancer Network provides a financial aid program available for medical needs of patients and survivors up to $500 per award.

About 50 people volunteer with Breast Cancer Network and 120 participate in their programming. Although since March 2020, the group has suspended in-person services, it has offered virtual programming in every area possible. Jones hopes to reopen in-person services Sept. 1.

Each year, the organization typically hosts a Craft Beer Golf Tournament. This year, it was July 19, presented by Keith Morgan with Tavern at Windsor Park and Drew Brown with Murphy Brown’s Beer Emporium at Diamond Hawk Golf Course in Cheektowaga.

Its other major fundraiser is at a restaurant to support its efforts. A small state grant also helps, along with donations.

“Breast cancer touches people in many ways,” Jones said. “We’re very fortunate to receive gifts like that.”

Breast Cancer Network has donated more than $55,000 over the past four years to The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester for research, among other organizations.

“Fundraising has been challenging,” Jones said. “We’ve lost several fundraising opportunities that have been quite helpful to us.”

For example, its traditional Wine, Cheese and Chocolate event held every spring was scaled down compared with other years. In addition to hurting the organization financially, eliminating or curtailing events reduces opportunities for volunteers, patients and donors to mingle. Changing programming to virtual has also been tough on the organization.

“The socialization is a big part of that,” Jones said. “With all of our programming, they love to be with other people and be with people who have been through the same thing. These are all a good opportunity, whether a class or fundraiser.”

Photo: Parade sponsored by the Breast Cancer Network of WNY in 2019. The group uses the event to raise awareness of breast cancer and funds for the organization.