When Signal Mountain resident Elaine Hill was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, she said no support services existed for women with breast cancer in the Chattanooga area.
"It was support that I really needed at that time," said Hill, who set out to organize a local group offering support services for women in her same situation. "People who haven't been diagnosed really can't fill those shoes."
Along with friend Martha Lee, Hill formed a group that became the local affiliate of the national breast cancer organization Y-ME. The local organization offers support groups at two locations, including the Downtown YMCA and Battlefield Imaging. Both groups meet the fourth Monday of each month from 6-7 p.m.
"For a number of years we were the only ones [local] who offered support groups dedicated to breast cancer survivors," said Hill, who for more than a decade continued to attend the support groups, was president of the organization for 12 years and still serves on its board. "They gave me other ears for information and the sharing of experiences that no one else can really know unless they've walked in these shoes."
As the group has expanded, services have also increased, including the addition of a support group specifically for women diagnosed with stage three and four breast cancer.
"There are different needs for women with advanced breast cancer than with women with their first diagnosis," said Hill. "I hope that the support services can continue and we can have more support groups available for women in different geographic areas."
Hill said she would also like to form a separate group for younger women, who have a different set of problems and deal with unique situations, often involving children.
When Y-ME shifted its focus to its national support hotline and ceased to have local affiliates, starting in November the organization became Breast Cancer Support Services, a local independent 501(c)3. Signal Mountain resident Lisa Shivers, also a breast cancer survivor, was named director of the organization in January.
"Everyone has a different reaction," said Shivers, of receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer. She was diagnosed in September 2010. "Some people want to immerse themselves and learn as much as they can; I didn't want to concentrate on it too much."
Formerly a marketing executive, she said she was lucky she had her husband's income to rely on when she got sick.
"It leveled me," Shivers said of her chemotherapy treatment. "There was no way I could have worked."
She now regularly works with women who aren't so fortunate. A decade ago the organization set up its Emergency Fund to assist low-income women in their first year of diagnosis while undergoing treatment. Women meeting the qualifications are eligible to receive up to $850 a month to help with rent and utilities during treatment while they are unable to work, Shivers said.
Last year the organization served around 50 low-income women across 19 counties in the Chattanooga region through its Emergency Fund, said Hill.
Women never actually see the money they receive through the Emergency Fund, said Shivers. The organization gives the funds directly to the utility company or landlord the client is unable to pay, she said.
Breast Cancer Support Services also offers a wig and prosthesis bank for breast cancer survivors. Contact the BCSS office to browse the selection of donated items.