If you woke up tomorrow with a kink in your neck, you’d probably assume you slept on it wrong.
That is, if you’re not a breast cancer survivor.
Survivors often struggle brushing off minor aches and pains because they have something the rest of us don’t: the fear of recurrence.
That fear is often so overwhelming it greatly affects a survivor’s quality of life. Knowing that, in December 2015, the American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology developed new guidelines on breast cancer survivorship care.
Locally, three women are doing the same.
In 2010, Kara Herron, Colette Harris and Bethanie Newby came together to form what is now Utah’s largest group of its kind — a breast cancer survivor support group made up of warrior women.
Lifting Hearts hosts monthly support meetings, quarterly events and activities, and biannual healing retreats. For women who aren’t ready for such social interactions, or for those who live far away, mentorship programs are available, which offer love and support on the other side of a phone call.
“One thing I love about Lifting Hearts is that it reaches everyone no matter where they are at,” said Harris, who manages the nonprofit’s membership, service and mentoring programs. “To us, Lifting Hearts is very much a soft place to land, wherever you are at to help you feel whole and move forward with healing.
"It’s been privilege and pleasure to have those sweet connections with women no one ever sees at support groups or activities.”
Sitting in Harris’s Orem home, the three women — each survivors who have endured chemotherapy and countless surgeries — chat about their daily struggles, the small but meaningful victories, and the journey that led them to forming Lifting Hearts.
“It’s not that the doctors don't’ want to help,” said Herron, who oversees the nonprofit’s marketing and fundraising sectors. “I think all of us remember the last time we went to the doctor and they said ‘OK you’re good.’ They’re on to the next person they are going to help.
"And I understand that, but there’s got to be something for survivors afterward. And that’s where we step in.”
In both Utah and Salt Lake counties, support meetings are held on the second Thursday of the month, where topics like “Loving Yourself and Others,” “Communication and Building Relationships” and “Healthy Habits” are discussed. The group also hosts an annual family picnic, Girls Night Out, Christmas party and service project.
Biannually, survivors are treated to a completely free mountain getaway, where they bond with other survivors and focus on the trip’s motto: “Release. Breathe. Renew.”
In the future, the nonprofit hopes to open a cancer healing house and expand its retreats to host couples, families and Spanish speakers. But for now, the group will continue to grow by delivering care packages — including handmade blankets, rice bags, therapeutic heart pillows and resources — to local cancer clinics.
The three survivors want women to know they aren’t alone. The group is open to women of all ages, faith groups and ethnicities who were recently diagnosed, who are in recovery and those who are dealing with recurrence.
As a nonprofit, the volunteer, survivor-run group continually seeks financial support and in-kind, donations. Much of the contents of the care packages come from donations made possible by local businesses, church groups and Eagle Scout projects.
“Lifting Hearts isn’t just about survivors, it’s about the community,” Harris said. “With all the craziness going on with the government and the economy, there is still so much goodwill and wholesome things going on. Utah Valley is alive and well with good stuff.”
According to Newby, the nonprofit’s director of development and community outreach, healing is a community effort.
“It isn’t a journey you go on alone,” she said. “Cancer is just one thing they are surviving. We’ve learned so much just through association from these warrior women.”
For more information about Lifting Hearts, call (801) 360-4666, visit www.lifting-hearts.com or find the support group on social media.