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Cancer Survivor Benefits from Support Group and Tour de Art

By Kathryn Caggianelli, originally published in the Troy Record

ALBANY – Marie Graham, 68, of Loudonville was diagnosed with breast cancer more than two decades ago when treatment options were less sophisticated than what they currently are and mastectomies were an accepted way to deal with the disease.

A native of North Redding, Mass., she moved to the Capital District in 1978 and began a career in retail sales that would span more than 20 years.

Graham doesn't recall at what stage her cancer was discovered but was told by doctors after testing that she had a "good size lump" and was given the option of a mastectomy followed up by six months of chemotherapy.

"Back then, that's how they treated my kind of breast cancer. I decided to have a mastectomy and after surgery was told the cancer hadn't spread," she said.

But the radical surgery also included removal of all of the lymph nodes in her arms, as a precaution. Years later, Graham occasionally suffers from side effects of the procedure, such as severe swelling of her arms and cellulitis.

Still, she considers that a small price to pay for surviving a formidable disease that in the U.S. is diagnosed in approximately 229,000 women and 2,200 men every year and is the second largest cancer killer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Graham's friend Sandra Wood, also a Bay State transplant who resided in Watervliet and was her neighbor for a time, wasn't so lucky. Wood lost her battle with cancer last year after eight years in remission.

"Her breast cancer returned and then she was diagnosed with another cancer she didn't survive," Graham said.

Both women fought their battles with breast cancer with the support of their families and friends. And they were among the first members to join Circle of Hope, a non-profit organization in Albany founded to offer support and assistance to women who are diagnosed with breast cancer or in remission. Last year, after losing her friend, Graham was asked to become a board member of Circle of Hope.

"I was so honored to be asked," she said. "Circle of Hope has been a wonderful help to me and I know how much it can help other women."

Circle of Hope was founded in 2004 to bring breast cancer survivors together so they can gain confidence and strength by sharing their experience with others who are going through the same thing, according to information found at www.crcircleofhope.org.

Graham has counseled a number of women through the years, simply by sharing her own story. One of the most frequently asked questions she answers is how she handled the side effects of her treatment, she said.

"When women come to this group for the first time they are full of fear about their cancer," Graham said. "But after we all talk about what we've been through, and I am called upon a lot because I've been surviving for 20 years now, they start to feel more confident about handling it."

Graham in November will celebrate her 50th wedding Donald.

"When I first found out I had breast cancer I never imagined I would be around to see my 50th wedding anniversary. But I couldn't have done it without the support of my husband, my daughter, the rest of my family and friends. A support group of any kind is so important."

Plastic Surgeon Steven Lynch, a Troy native, has discovered breast cancer in about a dozen of his breast reduction patients. For the 4,000 breast reductions he's performed that number is still staggering.

"Breast cancer can strike a young woman of 20 as well as a woman who's 90 years old," said Lynch, whose practice is with The Plastic Surgery Group at 455 Patroon Creek Blvd #101 in Albany. "You want to catch it at Stage 1, before it has a chance to spread anywhere and there is the best possible chance of treating it."

"Don't ever ignore a lump of any size, no matter how small," he added.

As of now, there really is no cure for breast cancer, Lynch said. Therefore early detection remains the best weapon in combatting the disease.

"It's so important for every woman to do self exams. She really needs to get to know her breast so that when and if a change occurs, she will be aware of it right away," he said.

Remaining vigilant includes scheduling and keeping annual physicals, gynecological exams and mammograms.

In between annual check-ups, potential signs of trouble to look out for include; nipple discharge of any kind, crusting lesions in the nipple, breast changing color, dimpling of the breast, according to Lynch.

Lynch and his colleagues recently kicked off their grand opening event for Art de Cure, featuring work from local artists to be sold as a partial fundraiser for Circle of Hope.

More than a dozen local artists contributed to Art de Cure, a local non-profit that unites art and medicine for the benefit of charities throughout the Capital Region.

This year, Graham and the other members of that breast cancer support group will receive 40 percent of proceeds from the sale of works of art.

The funds will pay for outings, meetings and myriad activities scheduled by Circle of Hope designed to empower its members and help them deal with their journey with cancer.

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