Breast cancer support groups play a vital role

Trish Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 37.

"I knew it was cancer," she said. "My distrust of my body was so strong so I decided on a double mastectomy."

The surgery was followed by two months of chemotherapy and two dozen rounds of radiation.

Trish has been in remission for the past five years but she'll be fighting forever to help other people going through similar situations.

"I'm going to make the best of it, I'm going to connect with people and impart everything I've learned because I feel like it's my duty," she said. 

While she puts in the time during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it's a year-round commitment. Trish, who is a nurse by trade, found her community through the computer where strangers became friends through social media.

"November 1, we still have cancer, we still have to go to chemo, we still have radiation and it's like where's the attention, support for the breast cancer community," Michelle said. 

About 1 in 8 women in the United States develops breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.

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The Adelphi New York Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline and Support Program offers bilingual support including services for the newly diagnosed and survivors.

"We touch thousands of lives throughout New York State and beyond," assistant director Angela Papalia said. "Oftentimes those going through breast cancer don't have an outlet to be honest about what's going on because they try to protect their loved ones."

Support groups are still meeting virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some call it a silver lining as it gives even more people a chance to participate.

"It affords people the opportunity who perhaps couldn't come into a session or support group because they were immunocompromised or transportation was difficult," Papalia said. 

As for Trish, she currently serves as an ambassador for the New York chapter of The Breasties and also volunteers with the Hewlett House. She said while doctors saved her life, so did her support team.

"I found my people and now I'm the people," Michelle said. "It's the best gift I received and now I can give it to others."