Breast Cancer Advocacy

Support and Service

Y-ME/Breast Cancer Network of Strength celebrates 30 years of empowering breast cancer survivors.

By Kenneth D. Miller, MD

Director, Connecticut Challenge Cancer Survivorship Clinic

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine

Donna Pelletier felt really lucky despite the fact that she had just been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. The reason? The 46-year-old mother of three from Warrenville, Illinois, was aware, from the moment of her diagnosis, of the incredibly valuable support she had in her wide circle of loving family and friends. Married for 25 years at that point, with a busy social life and active in her children’s lives, Donna was immediately conscious of the fact that her journey could be very different—and very difficult—without the support she enjoyed. “Once diagnosed and having such a wonderful support system of my own,” Donna says, “I couldn’t imagine women facing this alone. I was determined to reach out to others to help and give hope.”

Ready to help ensure that other breast cancer survivors would have someone to turn to in their time of need, Donna sought out opportunities to offer support. In fact, she was so anxious to help—reaching out almost immediately after her own treatment—that her first efforts were initially turned down. “I applied for a volunteer position as a peer counselor for Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization, but my application was declined because I had not been out of treatment for a full year”—a guideline, Donna says, that she knows now is an important one. In fact, Donna has come to know a lot about Y-ME—renamed Breast Cancer Network of Strength this May—because she now works as the hotline’s quality assurance manager. In her current position, Donna says, she has found an ideal outlet for her passion to support other survivors, within an organization that makes a difference every day.

Originally founded in 1978 by Mimi Kaplan and Anne Marcou, two women diagnosed with breast cancer at a time when few people even discussed their diagnosis or any of the related issues openly, Breast Cancer Network of Strength has now supported people diagnosed with breast cancer for 30 years. With a mission to “ensure, through information, empowerment and peer support, that no one faces breast cancer alone,” the organization has continued to evolve as attitudes surrounding the disease have changed. The recent name change, from Y-ME to Breast Cancer Network of Strength, says Chief Executive Officer Margaret C. Kirk, was a decision that the organization made to better reflect “the determination, courage, and community of support essential to battling this life-altering disease.”

The idea of the essential nature of support following a breast cancer diagnosis drives the services and the programs that Breast Cancer Network of Strength provides. The organization does not fund research, focusing instead on “being here today for those who can’t wait for tomorrow’s cure.” And with the only 24/7 breast cancer hotline staffed entirely by breast cancer survivors, Breast Cancer Network of Strength is committed to ensuring that they can in fact be there for everyone who calls, whenever they might need the support. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the hotline—which receives more than 42,000 calls a year—is toll-free and has interpreters available in 150 languages.

For survivor Meredith Cobb, who often called the hotline at night after her diagnosis at age 26 of extensive ductal carcinoma in situ, the fact that someone was out there to listen no matter what hour she needed the help was especially important, as was the fact that the person on the other end of the line was also a survivor. “The night is when the worry set in. I found Y-ME very comforting. I loved the fact that they had been in my shoes.” Now Meredith herself has stepped into the shoes of the hotline volunteer, working full-time on the other end of the line as a peer counselor for the Breast Cancer Network of Strength and also in its peer match program.

The match program, which links survivors who call for support with another survivor who has a similar experience or diagnosis, is another way the organization works to offer the most meaningful support to those who need it. Donna Pelletier, who also participates in the match program, knows the value of the service it provides. “I enjoy being part of this program not only because I can offer other Stage IV patients hope but because each time I speak to someone it validates my decision to be part of such a wonderful organization. Women and men turn to us, and we can make a difference.”

In addition to the match program and the hotline, the organization’s Web site (www.networkofstrength.org) serves survivors by offering active message boards, information about breast cancer, links to local Breast Cancer Network of Strength affiliates, and advocacy and event information. The organization’s signature event—held each year on Mother’s Day in 15 cities across the country—is the annual Walk to Empower, a 1- or 3-mile walk or a 5K run, which raises funds to support all the programs and services Breast Cancer Network of Strength provides. This year, for the first time, there are plans under way for the first Ride to Empower—a four-day cycling event through wine country of Solvang, California.

Consistent in the descriptions of anyone involved in the events, programs, and services that Breast Cancer Network of Strength provides is a combined sense of gratitude and service. Fueled by the spirit of survivors who are committed to the idea that no one else touched by breast cancer should be without support, and inspired by the positive impact they are able to have on so many lives, the organization’s members move forward toward the next 30 years committed to continuing to empower and educate survivors.

For more information about Breast Cancer Network of Strength, visit www.networkofstrength.org.

Call the 24-hour hotline at (800) 221-2141 (English)* or (800) 986-9505 (español).

*Interpreters are available in 150 languages.