When Kara Herron, Bethanie Newby and Colette Harris were each diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago, they all survived. But surviving isn’t the same as recovery.
Each of these three Utah County women had been through the trauma of a cancer diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and reconstruction, with each stage filled with challenge, pain, comfort and hope. At the time of their cancer journey, there were no breast cancer survivor support groups to help with the aftermath of cancer, Herron said. So they decided to create their own.
“The only way to fully heal is to look outside ourselves,” Herron said. “That is what we teach our survivors.”
Their group is called Lifting Hearts, and it has been going strong since 2010. But it is so much more than a support group that meets in a room once a month to chat. Lifting Hearts has that component, but these three ladies have also formed a large and strong community of breast cancer survivors through family picnics, weekend retreats, gorgeously decorated celebrations of life and a private online Facebook group.
Looking back on the past eight years, Herron listed it as such: 64 monthly support meetings, seven celebrations of life, 10 retreats, eight family picnics, two 5K benefit runs and at least 16 other events. And all of it has been 100 percent accomplished through volunteers.
“They have touched over 1,000 lives,” said Ginger Johnson, chief miracle chaser of Survivor Soul Project, and breast cancer survivor herself. “Some of the hardest battles happen after the battle has been won. Family and friends move on, but the cancer survivor is still struggling to define their new normal. Because it’s not normal.”
Johnson’s group annually holds a Survivor Soul Conference, which helps all cancer survivors survivors move forward in life after a cancer diagnosis. During the conference held April 27 and 28, Johnson’s group honored Herron, Newby and Harris with the Survivor Soul Project’s first Kristy Award for their service over the years.
“They’ve dedicated their lives and a lot of time to their efforts. It’s a big sacrifice,” Johnson said.
Such a big sacrifice that the Lifting Hearts trio is ending all their events except their Facebook page. Herron, Newbry and Harris have devoted their lives to this group over the years, but they cannot do so any longer. As Herron explained, they are each being pulled in different directions — one’s business is growing, another is a caregiver to her parents, and another has children she needs to focus on.
“It’s hard for us to do this because we don’t want to let anyone down. But it’s too big for us to run on a volunteer basis anymore,” Herron said.
The trio held their last Celebration of Life for 200 breast cancer survivors Wednesday night at the Provo City Library Ballroom. They transformed the ballroom into a Parisian café for the evening, complete with beach cruiser bicycles and café sitting areas. It was a bittersweet send-off for the group, but one highlight of the evening was when Newby asked attendees to stand as she listed different ways survivors have served the group over the years. By the end of her list, almost every woman was on her feet. For Newby, this was a testament of Lifting Hearts’ success.
“Helping survivors heal, it’s been so healing for me — to help other women on their cancer journey and see women change, to see the light come back in their eyes,” Newby said.
“When you serve others, you actually begin to heal and move forward. Service is healing,” Harris added.
The group will continue its private Facebook group, which only allows female breast cancer survivors. Herron said it is a safe place for women to gain support for what their body and life looks like after the cancer is gone. Herron feels the Facebook group is the most effective part of the group’s support efforts at this time, and reaches women even outside of Utah. For the past year, she’s stepped back from administering the group, and been delighted to see how much the other members there have stepped up.
“They really are taking care of each other in there, so we can step back. It’s a magical place. This is the most upbeat, happy group,” Herron said.
The private Facebook group will still accept new breast cancer survivors, but there is a screening process. To learn more, visit the Lifting Hearts Breast Cancer Support Group.