“You have cancer” – three words you never want to hear, and yet are ones that people unfortunately hear far too often.
This year, nearly 2 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States alone. It can be a devastating diagnosis, and leading-edge treatment strategies are important. However, it’s sometimes just a simple touch that gives patients what they really need – an opportunity to experience the power of hope.
“From the caregiver side, we do this every day, but our patients are walking into something unknown and scary,” Jennifer Ashley, a nurse practitioner who focuses on providing palliative care at Bon Secours St. Francis Cancer Center, shares. “I think that’s something we must be careful not to overlook. Instead, it’s really important to acknowledge that, to help them mark their accomplishments and to give them hope.”
Recently, Jennifer has helped several patients do just that with the Strands of Strength program. Stations are now located throughout the St. Francis Cancer Center, each set up with beads and chains.
“My very first appointment, I walked into the office and saw these jars. I thought they were jellybeans,” Dana Lynn, a patient who is currently battling breast cancer, recalls. “One of the lovely receptionists there explained it to me, though. You don’t think about chronicling something like ‘oh, I’m going to scrapbook my breast cancer journey,’ but I think it’s really neat, because when you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you’re scared, you’re angry, you’re sad.”
Dana was diagnosed with her breast cancer earlier this year, after finding a lump on her breast. Knowing she had a family history of the disease, she knew to get it checked out right away. After receiving the bad news, Dana chose to have a full mastectomy. However, the cancer had spread into her lymph nodes, so she’s currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. That means lots of trips to the cancer center and lots of beads for her strand of strength.
“There are beads for lab draws, beads for doctor visits as well as things like hospitalizations and chemo. Every time you walk through these doors, you get a bead for something. It can be an emotional thing – the act of putting it together and acknowledging all those visits, pokes and everything you’ve gotten done. I hope it makes them feel seen and heard,” Jennifer explains.
Though she was only diagnosed a few months ago, Dana’s strand of strength already has about 50 beads. She says it’s made all the difference during her journey so far.
“Every single time I put one of those beads on my chain, it’s one more step in my journey to my recovery. For me, it’s a fantastic reminder when I don’t have a good day – to pull out that necklace and look at it and say ‘Wow. Look how far I’ve come. I’m going to make it,’” Dana shares.
While her strands of strength are far from being completed, Dana already has plans for when her cancer journey is over.
“I have a neighbor who makes her own jewelry. I’m not sure yet if I’m going to have her make these beads into an actual necklace or if I’m going to have her make a replica and put the original in a shadow box with the prayer Bon Secours gave me when I was diagnosed. But it’s extremely important to me just to be able to look at how far I’ve come.”
All our Greenville, SC-area cancer patients are welcome to start their own Strands of Strength, regardless of what type of cancer they’re facing or how far along in their journey they happen to be. You can find out more by asking a cancer care team member, looking for information in your waiting area or simply by finding a Strands of Strength station in our facilities.