Hope Nemiroff is a 23-year breast cancer survivor whose experience as a patient spurred her into action to do something for other patients with cancer. Diagnosed in 1995 with stage I infiltrating-ductal breast cancer, she and her surgeon decided to forego other treatment and that surgery was the best treatment for her. This decision was not made lightly, but was the result of her general health and her cancer’s characteristics, as well as the knowledge at the time.
Avoiding Environmental Toxins
Because Hope believed that her cancer might have been triggered by environmental exposure to the toxic pesticide DDT, she became proactive about her lifestyle choices, including starting an immune-boosting diet and avoiding exposure to cancer-causing environmental agents. These cancer-causing agents include pesticides, cigarette smoke, asbestos, and other potentially toxic compounds. She remained on a strict organic plant-based diet for 6 years; after that she relaxed a bit, but she still eats only organic food.
“I found out that the tea I was drinking had DDT in it. The tea was made in China. After I stopped drinking the tea, my blood levels of DDT went down. Now I won’t consume any food products made in China,” she said in an interview with CONQUER magazine.
Joining Forces with Researchers
After her diagnosis and treatment, Hope connected with researchers studying exposure to environmental toxins and breast cancer, and with several of the people she met at the time, she spearheaded the launch in 2000 of Breast Cancer Options, a nonprofit organization serving patients with breast cancer in the Hudson Valley of New York State. Breast Cancer Options offers free services and education for patients.
“I started Breast Cancer Options, because I couldn’t find the services and information that I thought were important for anyone diagnosed with this disease; 18 years later, we are still providing services that are somewhat unique,” she said. “Our services are needed now more than ever,” Hope said.
“Women diagnosed with breast cancer need services and information. I believe that knowledge is power. Women who are knowledgeable have a sense of control over their lives,” she added.
Breast Cancer Options Services
Breast Cancer Options offers free services, education, and advocacy to all women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
One of the first services this organization provided was training for survivors to become “companion advocates” who accompany newly diagnosed women to their medical appointments. The companion advocate provides another set of eyes and ears to help the patient take in the information the doctor gives her.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a patient advocate. When I was diagnosed, my husband came with me, and he couldn’t remember one thing the doctor said, but then neither could I,” she said.
Breast Cancer Options offers educational seminars for women and their spouses or caregivers, held at local libraries. These seminars are offered by state legislators in 6 counties in New York State and are publicized through the legislators’ offices. The seminars teach women how to ask their healthcare providers the right questions, how to make medical decisions, what healthy behaviors are, and how to lower their risk of disease recurrence (returning), including exposure to environmental toxins.
Camp and Retreat Activities
Each summer since 2007, Breast Cancer Options has hosted Camp Lightheart at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. This 3-day experience allows 16 children ages 8 to 14 whose mothers have breast cancer or have died from the disease to attend this camp. The Omega Institute provides free room and board for the children and staff during the camp.
“Having a mother with breast cancer is a scary experience for children. We’ve had children who sleep on the floor near their mother, because they are so afraid. At Camp Lightheart, we have groups and activities that help allay their fears and give them some tools to cope with their situation. The children make friends with each other,” Hope said.
Recently, one of the alumni of Camp Lightheart whose mother died of breast cancer raised $3,000 for Breast Cancer Options from a walk-a-thon at her high school.
In 2012, Breast Cancer Options inaugurated 5-day Metastatic Breast Cancer Retreats, also at the Omega Institute, with free room and board for women and staff. This event is open to 26 women with stage IV (advanced) breast cancer who get together to share their experiences, unwind, and have professional massages, acupuncture, Reiki sessions, mindfulness meditation, and chair yoga.
“We have some long-term survivors who come to this retreat. One woman is a 26-year survivor, and another is a 12-year survivor,” Hope said. In addition, Breast Cancer Options offers support groups in the Hudson Valley. Massage clinics are offered during support groups to alleviate stress and teach self-massage for stress reduction and pain relief. The massage clinics are supported by the Miles of Hope Foundation.
Healthy Lifestyles Calendar
Breast Cancer Options offers a Healthy Lifestyles Calendar that is full of information about topics related to health, well-being, and breast cancer prevention. Each monthly calendar offers information on topics such as environmental toxins; the Oncotype DX test (a test that helps to determine if a patient with breast cancer needs chemotherapy); stress and breast cancer; supplements—what to avoid and what to use; lifestyle issues, including diet recommendations and exercise; new treatments for breast cancer; breast cancer screening recommendations; information on personal care products; and food as medicine.
The calendar, as well as much information on many other programs, are available on the organization’s website at www.breastcanceroptions.org.
Other Services for Patients
Other services offered include peer-to-peer mentoring that offers people information on local resources and support for women and their families or caregivers.
Telephone and e-mail consultations with breast cancer survivors provide referrals to financial, legal, insurance, and drug-assistance programs. For more information on all these programs, visit the organization’s website.
“Women diagnosed with breast cancer and their families need the services we provide, as well as up-to-date information to empower them in their struggle,” said Hope. “We cover all the issues that usually fall through the cracks.”