1 year ago

Alabama’s Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center brings hope, wholeness in recovery

Being diagnosed with breast cancer is like being a member of an exclusive club you never wanted to be in.

That’s how Linda Brady described the feeling when, talking with her doctor after a couple of mammograms, she heard the words, “You have breast cancer.”

Hearing the dreaded ‘cancer’ word

“He diagnosed me with ductal invasive carcinoma on Feb. 16, 2016. I kind of blacked out,” said Brady, who was two years into retirement from Vestavia Hills City Schools, where she had served as the director of the Exceptional Children’s Department.

About 80 percent of all breast cancers are invasive ductal carcinomas – invasive indicates that the cancer has spread to surrounding breast tissues. Brady said that the situation was confusing, forcing her to make huge decisions in a short time frame.

“I was seeing three separate doctors at that point in time: my breast surgeon, my reconstructive surgeon and my medical oncologist,” said Brady, whose energy and vibrant personality belie her 62 years – and her battle with breast cancer. “So I was making decisions the best way I could, but the people I really wanted to talk to were breast cancer survivors.”

She immediately contacted two friends – teachers she had worked with – who were breast cancer survivors.

Three weeks after diagnosis, Brady had a double mastectomy, during which the surgeon also removed four lymph nodes.

“That was the beginning of my survivorship and my cancer journey,” Brady said.

Facing the realities – but not alone

Laying in a recliner and receiving chemo can be the loneliest time in the world, even though 10 other people may be present.

“The people you really want to talk to are the people who have been through breast cancer, and survived it,” Brady said.

Two childhood friends and her husband supported Brady through her surgery and recovery. She received special solace from Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center, where she found a community that understood and could relate to her battle.

Brady said she has read studies showing that people diagnosed with cancer absorb only 30 percent of the information their doctor tells them. Her experiences made Brady want to help others by serving as a peer mentor at Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center.

“Being with other breast cancer survivors and seeing how well they’ve done is a very positive thing when you’ve been diagnosed,” Brady said. “One of the things that Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center does very well is, if you want to attend a support group, want a mentor or an advocate, Forge can put you in contact with trained volunteers who have been trained to do those jobs.”

Forging new hope for survivors, families

Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center is a collaboration between Brookwood Baptist Health, Grandview Medical Center, St. Vincent’s Health System, UAB Medicine, the Women’s Breast Health Fund, the Community Foundation of Greater Birminghamand community partners.

Dr. Caroline McClain, manager of Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center, is devoted to making sure clients receive the best care. A clinician and co-survivor who has been involved in healthcare and nonprofit work throughout her career, McClain said that Forge is designed to both fill gaps and erase barriers to care. Her responsibilities run the gamut, from managing the phone line and assisting clients with situations to ensuring the center delivers on its mission and looks strategically at offerings for the community.

“We were created to serve breast cancer survivors,” said McClain, who manages a staff of five, including community outreach members and 50 volunteers. “The goal isn’t to duplicate healthcare resources but to bolster the services of medical providers and others.”

Forge provides clients with tip sheets ranging from nutrition to information on managing side-effects during treatment, to peer mentorship services and a phone support line. When survivors or co-survivors call, a caring staff member talks through their questions and needs. Together, they create an individualized plan to address each need. Clients are provided with resource lists, as well.

Forge provides a monthly gardening class at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. From 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 23, attendees will learn about composting and survivorship topics while creating a compost bin to take home.

“These monthly classes are designed for anyone who has ever been diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as their loved ones and the health professionals who serve them,” McClain said.

Recently, Forge provided a weekend of free massages, meditative yoga, humor discussion and time to walk the labyrinth at the Benedictine Retreat Center in Cullman. Forge started a breast cancer support group in Blount County, which has transitioned back to the community while providing logistical support. Forge holds quarterly support group meetings for metastatic survivors at partner locations for patients and their caregivers.

“Our mentorship and advocacy program are most important,” McClain said. “We can help align clients with a peer mentor if they desire. Patients can be on the phone and get the support they need.” Volunteer training for peer mentors and advocates is provided up to four times a year.

The center assists co-survivors as well. Families can experience many pressures as a result of the illness.

“We have spouses and siblings who call for advice, asking how to handle health issues,” McClain said. “We help them with practical, important things like having a living will and counseling services. Play therapy is important for kids who have a parent with the illness.”

She said doctor’s offices call Forge as soon as a patient receives a cancer diagnosis, and patient navigators call when the patient has given permission.

“We can call the patient, or they can call us when they’re ready,” McClain said. “Even if families have the money to deal with such an illness, they need as much support as possible, for budgeting, medicines, scholarships, handling paperwork for insurance. We help them navigate the healthcare system and their diagnosis.

“It’s all flexible,” she said. “It’s ultimately about what’s beneficial for them.”

Forge staff assess patient needs, set goals and provide information to help achieve the objectives and continue to follow up with the patient throughout the process. McClain said patients and their families sometimes have questions about genetic testing, as well as signs to be aware of for a potential recurrence of illness.

“We’re here to support survivors and their families, every step of the way,” McClain said.

Comic’s ‘merry heart’ helps her beat illness

Birmingham comedienne Carla “The Truth” Youngblood can find humor in almost any life situation, but a cancer diagnosis was no laughing matter.

About three years ago, Youngblood began experiencing occasional pain in her chest. She circumvented her fears by telling herself it was indigestion.

“I knew that something felt ‘off.’ I’d get a hardening sensation,” Youngblood said.

She went to her doctor and received a diagnosis on Nov. 3, 2015.

“I had cancer in my right breast, but after discovery, I said that I wanted to do a double mastectomy,” said Youngblood, who didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

She underwent successful surgery and treatment at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham. Youngblood made sure to take the time to heal, getting plenty of rest.

“I wanted my best outcome,” Youngblood said. “I followed my doctor’s instructions to the letter.”

Deciding against reconstruction, Youngblood began the first of her 28 radiation treatments just eight weeks after surgery. She endured 16 rounds of chemotherapy.

“I was doing shows during my chemo,” she said, “mostly early on in the chemotherapy. Later, I opted to not do as many shows.”

‘The truth about breast cancer’

Despite the difficulties of treatment, Youngblood said that she always tells people that life is good. As Youngblood talks, a smile often lights up her face.

“I’m enjoying my journey in a comical perspective to let people know it’s all in how you look at it,” she said, with a smile. “You can come out on this, on the positive end.”

She enjoys serving as a peer volunteer for Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center. Youngblood said it helps to shift the focus away from herself and onto the other person. Indeed, her goal as a peer is to “listen to the patient and encourage her to get positive.”

“There is life after cancer,” Youngblood said.

Through peer-to-peer counseling, she is assigned to a patient and stays in direct contact, whether by phone to provide advice or to serve as a sounding board, and in-person meetings.

“I was determined to get to the other side and be a testament to someone else,” Youngblood said. “I have two options: I can laugh, or I can cry. My goal was to get to the other end, alive and well. I want other people to have that positive mindset. A positive attitude was a big plus for me.”

In her professional life as a successful comedienne, Youngblood serves her audience an upbeat message. When she performs on Oct. 11 at Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham at 6 p.m., Youngblood’s show will include her history as a cancer survivor. Tickets to the “Ain’t no looking back” comedy tour are $20.

“It’s the same thing that I try to get across serving as a peer advocate,” Youngblood said. “When I’m working with these other survivors, knowing I’m making a difference and filling a void that could possibly be there, if I wasn’t there, that means the world to me. In the peer advocate world, you can find people that patients can talk to, but often, those people haven’t been there.

“At Forge, it makes a difference to talk with someone who’s been down that road before,” Youngblood said. “I love it when a patient says, ‘You always know the right time to call me. I needed someone right now.’

“To encourage others and find your place in society where you can give back means a lot,” she said.

For more information, call Forge Breast Cancer Center at 1-800-811-8925 or 205-838-6159, or email McClain at Caroline@Forgeon.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

22 mins ago

Montgomery launches ‘Feed the Meter for the Homeless’ project

Under the leadership of Mayor Steven L. Reed, new specialized parking meters were installed last week in downtown Montgomery to provide a quick, convenient way to support locals affected by homelessness.

Reed announced the meters were on the way during a recent city council meeting. Called the “Feed the Meter for the Homeless” project, the City’s new initiative is made possible through a partnership with the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless (MACH).

The special parking meters are green and offer residents a way to donate directly to support MACH and central Alabama agencies working with those experiencing homelessness in Alabama’s capital city. Donations will be accepted in the forms of coins or cash at each specialized meter and by card through the ParkMobile app (zone 36999) or online payment.

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“The Feed the Meter for the Homeless initiative connects compassion with convenience by allowing Montgomery residents and visitors to support our neighbors affected by homelessness and its devastating ramifications,” Reed said in a statement. “Each donation is a hand-up to help those in need and an investment in building a better future for Montgomery and the River Region.”

For more information on Feed the Meter for the Homeless MGM, please click here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

58 mins ago

Cathy Randall now serving on board of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham

Dr. Cathy J. Randall, chairman of the board of Pettus Randall Holdings, LLC, is now serving as a board member for The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham.

The Women’s Fund made the announcement in a recent release, detailing that Randall term’s officially began on January 1. A Birmingham native and Tuscaloosa resident, she is a longtime, prominent civic and corporate leader, as well as the legendary former director of the University Honors Programs at the University of Alabama.

Tracey Morant Adams, board chair for The Women’s Fund, said in a statement, “The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham strives to elevate and amplify women’s voices, and we are incredibly fortunate to welcome Dr. Randall to our board as she is a well-established voice in the state.”

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“Cathy’s passion for community service and her experience in building a better Alabama will be a tremendous asset for the organization,” Adams added.

Randall’s service to the state includes being immediate past chairman of the Alabama Academy of Honor and former president of the boards of directors of the American Village, the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame and the David Mathews Center of Civic Life, as well as former director of Alabama Girls State.

Additionally, she currently serves on the board of Alabama Power Company and is a former board member of Mercedes Benz USI. Randall was the co-chair of Governor Kay Ivey’s inaugural committee and was named as a Woman of Impact by Yellowhammer Multimedia in 2018.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Sessions responds to ‘desperate and afraid’ Byrne and Tuberville — ‘Sad to see them both descend to such a sleazy low point’

With Alabama’s U.S. Senate Republican primary headed into the home stretch, the field’s three front-runners are beginning to mix it up among one another.

The first significant shot came from U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), who on Saturday went up on air with an ad attacking both his leading opponents: former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville has thrown a few barbs as well while on the stump, including one at Sessions that accused him of having “turned on” President Donald Trump.

In a statement given to Yellowhammer News, Sessions condemned the tone of both Byrne and Tuberville, noting their positions in recent polling and describing their tacks as “sleazy.”

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“It is unfortunate that both Tommy Tuberville and Bradley Byrne have abandoned any pretense of running a positive campaign. But it is not surprising: both candidates are trailing in the polls, and when politicians like Tuberville and Byrne are losing, they become desperate and afraid,” Sessions stated. “Both Tuberville and Byrne have quit on themselves and their campaigns. Neither can connect with voters on the merits of their ideas. It is sad to see them both descend to such a sleazy low point.”

Sessions warned there would be a response if this activity persisted.

“If their baseless, desperate attacks continue, they will be forcefully answered,” he continued.

The former U.S. Senator maintained that Alabamians in this primary will be focused on substantive issues.

“The key issue for Alabamians is who will most effectively and forcefully fight for their conservative values and interests, such as ending illegal immigration, protecting our jobs from unfair foreign competition, defending religious freedom, and further advancing our strong Trump economy.”

Alabama Republican voters on March 3 will cast a ballot for their preference to represent them on the general election ballot in November.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.

15 hours ago

Leaders, educators and students gather for Alabama’s 2nd Annual HBCU Summit

Alabama’s 2nd Annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Summit celebrated the state’s 14 HBCUs and the value they bring to higher education across our state and country. Saturday’s event, moderated by Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, was held at Miles College in Fairfield.

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The event kicked off with a panel discussion titled “Women in the Lead: How Six Alabama HBCU Presidents Are Raising the Bar.” The session included comments from:

“Extraordinary panel of women in leadership positions,” Jones said afterwards. “I think they provide unique insights to this. Just an amazing group of women that come from varied backgrounds — they came from academics, but also from business, so it’s a unique perspective that is what is going on with HBCUs but also with higher education in general.”

The panelists touched on a number of topics, including ways to help more high school students and nontraditional students get enrolled, making the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) simpler to fill out, partnering with businesses to offer degrees and curriculum the businesses need and working together to elevate the communities they serve.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on is that the benefit of being an HBCU is that … you may not have these large classrooms like you have (elsewhere), but you have teachers that know your name, teachers that care,” Archie said. “We’re going to give you that pep talk when you need that pep talk and we’re going to help you achieve.”

It is that level of concern for students that stood out to Jones.

“These female leaders are so dynamic and so passionate about what they do,” Jones said. “They care so much about their students and their communities. They really represent the best of all HBCUs. HBCUs are the fabric of the communities and I think you saw that reflected here today.”

The summit also featured a career fair and an afternoon panel discussion titled “Student Voices: How Alabama HBCU Student-Leaders Are Lifting Up Their Campuses.” The panel, moderated by Jones, featured students from Miles College, Alabama A&M University, Shelton State Community College, Talladega College and Trenholm State Community College.

“Trying to educate and train the workforce of the 21st century is going to be a challenge,” Jones said. “We’re changing technologically, we’re changing demographically, we’re online — everything is moving in a different direction. Education has got to keep up with that, but also so do businesses. They’ve also got to start reaching out and develop those partnerships to not only train, but to mentor. I think you heard that today.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

15 hours ago

VIDEO: Trust in government was lost long ago, Jeff Sessions leads GOP field while Jones trails all, Birmingham’s battle over monuments and more on Alabama Politics This Week

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Is President Donald Trump causing mistrust in government or is he exploiting that lack of trust?

— With new polls out, does Jeff Sessions have the GOP race locked up and does Doug Jones even have a chance?

— Is Birmingham’s mayor boosting his profile while continuing the fight over a Confederate monument?

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Jackson and Handback are joined by Secretary of State John Merrill to discuss the latest report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that claims Alabama is suppressing voters and Merrill’s willingness to take on more responsibility at the Secretary of State’s office.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at the waste of millions of dollars Alabama municipalities spend on “public notices” because of a series of outdated laws requiring publication of voter rolls and public notices in local newspapers.

Alabama Politics This Week – 2/16/20

VIDEO: Trust in government was lost long ago, Jeff Sessions leads GOP fields while Jones trails all, Birmingham's battle over monuments has no real purpose and more on Alabama Politics This Week

Posted by Yellowhammer News on Friday, February 14, 2020

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.