June 29, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Pink Ribbon Canaries help others face cancer

“No one should go through this by herself.”

This sincere sentiment felt by four friends gradually grew stronger until, in 2006, they knew they had to do something positive with their shared experience: living with breast cancer.
The women — Mary Beth Esterburg, Pat Doner, Cheryl Sturgess and Marita Leachko — all are survivors of anywhere from two to 10 years. Initially, they got together “loosely but frequently” to offer each other support, but they needed more. They began asking “Now what do I do?” and before long, found themselves actively reaching out to others with similar needs for physical and emotional support as they endured their own treatments.

As the group’s resolve to help others strengthened, the four founding mothers needed a better name than Boobie Buddies, humorous as it was. After seriously considering their goals, they chose to be called Pink Ribbon Canaries, based on the story of miners sending canaries into the mines to check the air. If the birds returned, the miners knew they could safely enter. These four survivors are canaries who came back out of the mine, and their mission is to help others get through, too.

The group as such has not grown, but its networking efforts have expanded greatly. On the first Saturday of each month they gather at 9 a.m. at Panera Bread for a Pink Power Breakfast. Anyone whose life has been touched in any way by breast cancer is welcome to join them.

Esterburg emphasized, “We don’t judge what anyone else decides to do — go through chemo or not, have a single or double mastectomy, or none at all. Each of us experienced the disease differently, but we can share practical tips, if someone wants them, on what to expect when during the various procedures, on those little unexpected, unknown things that arise. Simple things. We let you know you should expect your head to feel tingly as your hair starts falling out. We’ve figured ways to shower with all those tubes stuck everywhere and not get them wet.”

Doner added, “And how all those tubes feel inside as you heal.”

Leachko said, “You can ask any questions you might be uncomfortable about asking anywhere else without feeling foolish.”

Sturgess stressed, “Respecting privacy is very important. The outreach is what’s key.”
All agreed, “We are simply a support group.”

However, this group of survivors constantly extends little offerings of thoughtfulness to diagnosed individuals: pink tulips they can plant during therapy (“physically digging in the dirt is good”), then again enjoy their blooms when therapy is done; pink-wrapped Hershey’s Kisses, pink Beanie Bears, a cross, a pink blanket — this effort has become their personal outreach, and the Pink Ribbon Canaries have a remarkable ability to realistically be helpful and still remain cheerful and uplifting — no pun intended.

The Pink Ribbon Canaries offer physical and emotional support through tough times and celebrate even the smallest victories on the path to recovery.

They cry when necessary. Sometimes they just listen. They can laugh together at some ridiculous scenarios, but above all else, they help each other and anyone else maintain a sense of humor as they strive to capitalize on survivorship.

In the process, however, the friendships being formed with each other as well as newcomers have gone beyond the cancer that brought them together.

For additional information about the Pink Ribbon Canaries, contact Sturgess at 330-723-2059 or Esterburg at 330-722-2957.

Huston may be reached at areanews@ohio.net.