Breast cancer patients looking for healing emotional support and information often find it outside the hospitals where they get their clinical treatment.
Hundreds of local women turned to the organization To Life! last year for mentoring, educational seminars, wig or prosthesis fitting or support groups.
Being informed about breast cancer helps patients get better treatment, said Eileen Howe Bird, the executive director of To Life!, which is based in Delmar and has an office in Saratoga Springs.
“That really is the essence of our organization and why we feel so passionately,” she said.
Albany lawyer Mara Ginsberg started To Life! in 1998 as a response to her own breast cancer diagnosis at age 36. She serves as the president of the board.
Fifteen years later, patients are referred to To Life! by their doctors’ offices or word of mouth. Many seek information, with 700 people last year attending the nine or so free education programs the organization holds annually.
The organization’s main event is the full-day Women’s Health and Wellness Conference slated for Dec. 3 at the New York State Nurses Association, 11 Cornell Road, Latham. It will include discussions on plastic surgery and clinical trials, among other topics.
A “Beat the Odds” program held in August in Saratoga Springs attracts both current patients and breast cancer survivors who completed their treatment years ago.
“People who have breast cancer, they’re educated coming in the door for treatment. That group, when they’re finished with their treatment, they want to continue to keep up on things,” Bird said. “Once you’ve had a serious disease like breast cancer, you’re on edge and you want to do what you can to maintain your good health.”
In addition to education programs, To Life!’s boutique services, one-on-one mentoring opportunities and support groups also make dealing with breast cancer a little easier.
To Life! offers fittings for mastectomy bras, prostheses and wigs at its two boutiques, at 110 Spring St. in Saratoga Springs and at 410 Kenwood Ave. in Delmar. About 600 women visited the boutiques last year, Bird said, and health insurance covers many of the items sold.
Patients who want to talk to another woman who has been through breast cancer treatment can get matched with a mentor through To Life!
“For some people, one conversation is all that they want. For other people, it may go on for a long time,” Bird said.
For support in a group setting, the organization holds monthly group meetings at its Delmar office and at Saratoga Hospital. Visit www.tolife.org for more information.
With its educational programs and support groups offered free of charge, To Life! exists solely on private donations this year after losing a grant that it used to get through the state Department of Health, Bird said.
Most of its three full-time workers and five part-timers previously served as To Life! volunteers, and most have been touched by cancer in some way, such as having a close friend, spouse or relative battle the disease.
“We’re one of those very passionate, very committed groups of people,” Bird said.