The community of support that surrounds those facing cancer

Mary Lou Mohlman has made a quilt for PALS for life for the past seven years and donated each to be raffled off for the annual fundraiser. Mohlman is dedicated to making quilts and pillows each year despite her struggles with ongoing cancer treatments. CONTRIBUTED

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Mary Lou Mohlman has made a quilt for PALS for life for the past seven years and donated each to be raffled off for the annual fundraiser. Mohlman is dedicated to making quilts and pillows each year despite her struggles with ongoing cancer treatments. CONTRIBUTED

This year, an estimated 252, 710 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the United States, with about one in every eight women developing breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

Once diagnosed, a woman is often confused about not only treatment options but also about where to get emotional and other support. Hospitals and treatment centers, along with several local organizations, collectively offer a wealth of support options for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and can help them navigate the world of treatment and working their way back to wellness.


Premier Health's cancer supportive services involve everything from support groups to nutrition counseling, exercise classes and clinical trials, said Wendy Parks, spokeswoman for the network.

“We match newly diagnosed breast cancer patients with oncology nurse navigators,” Parks said. “This really helps patients move through their cancer journeys. We know cancer is not a ‘one and done’ treatment and you go. It impacts your life and those around you.”

Parks said Premier offers services for both patients and their families tailored specifically for each individual and their needs.

At Miami Valley Comprehensive Cancer Center South, Jeanne Ponziani, director of clinical operations, has been working with cancer patients for many years.

“Our nurse navigators are available to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients at all hospitals,” Ponziani said. “They serve as educators and let patients know about support services, financial services and connect them with dieticians that help teach them how to eat right and stay healthy.”

Ponziani also said Premier offers some services that are not typical, like a specialized cancer exercise program, geared toward people who may have never exercised before. The program begins with an initial assessment and encourages focus upon health and strength during cancer treatment.

“We work to help patients stay positive during treatment,” Ponziani said. “We connect them with other people so they know they are not alone. We also have yoga, water aerobics, massage and therapeutic art.”

And to help ease the stress during chemotherapy treatments, Premier’s cancer program provides massage, therapy dogs, and the very popular snack cart.

“I will tell you that sometimes those therapies are the only reason the patients come to treatments,” Ponziani said. “The volunteers connect with the patients and find out what they need, and it’s different for everyone.”

Another program unique to the Miami Valley Cancer Center South is the “Tours of Hope,” a program designed to educate children about what their family members in treatment for cancer are going through.

“Every quarter we do a tour,” Ponziani said. “The kids take a tour of all the treatment areas and we end with a snack from the cart and an art project. It’s a nice way for them to connect and understand what’s really happening. It’s a family affair when a person is diagnosed, and it’s about everyone that interacts with you.”

Other services offered by the Miami Valley Comprehensive Cancer Center include Expressions of Hope boutique, which provides trained fitters to assist patients with the purchase of wigs, hats, head scarves, mastectomy bras and other apparel and a pastoral care staff to offer prayer and support to patients and families.

For more information about services, visit

At Kettering Health Network (KHN), Rae Norrod, currently the manager of cancer support services has been working in the oncology department for the past 32 years and has seen the way breast cancer is treated change significantly in that time.

“We embrace ladies facing breast cancer by putting them in touch with nurse navigators,” Norrod said. “We immediately start identifying what her needs are and how to understand things like a pathology report and treatment options.”

KHN immediately puts newly diagnosed patients in touch with trained breast cancer survivors, a program they have dubbed “Moving Forward Hand in Hand,” and pair a patient one on one with someone who has gone through treatment and is now well.

“A new patient may have more questions or feel anxious. It’s very common,” Norrod said. “We have social workers who work only with cancer patients to help them find what they need from financial assistance to other sources of help.”

KHN offers a variety of support groups, from faith-based to yoga to caregivers.

“We have powerful tools for caregivers,” Norrod said. “Because those who support cancer patients may also feel stress and may need to find other ways to help their loved ones.”

KHN partners with the American Cancer Society on their “Look Good Feel Better” program, which teaches people in active cancer treatment techniques to help them combat appearance related side-effects of their treatment.

“This is one of the most uplifting classes we have,” Norrod said. “Cosmetologists come in and work with ladies on skin care and how to draw on eyebrows that look real and how to select a wig or tie on a scarf. Almost everyone leaves with a smile on their faces.”

Also offered are services of a registered dietician since nutrition is known to be vital to cancer recovery. Patients may also speak to pharmacists one on one to discuss medications and staff chaplains for spiritual support at any time.

“There is a lot of information out there on the Internet that may or may not be accurate,” Norrod said. “Sitting down with an expert can be very helpful.”

The KHN Cancer Center also offers services for patients who need reconstructive surgery and prostheses after surgery. The Renew Boutique and Spa offers specialty products and personalized services just for cancer patients.

“We have certified fitters on site,” Norrod said. “We have wigs and scarves to help ladies undergoing hair loss and we help file insurance if needed.” For more information, visit


Some organizations offer support for women diagnosed with breast cancer but who cannot afford to maintain their breast health or pay for the services needed to get well.

PALS for Life, funded by the Dayton Foundation and a breast cancer support group was founded in 1992 by the then St. Elizabeth Breast Cancer Support Group.

Lois Keil has been on the board of PALS (Positive Attitude Love Support) for the past six years and developed breast cancer herself at the age of 37.

“I went to a support group when I was first diagnosed and it literally died out,” Keil said. “The main people involved passed away and the group dissolved.”

Nine years later, Keil’s cancer returned and she met a woman who told her about PALS and she decided to join the support group.

“We have various stages of breast cancer survivors in the group,” Keil said. “Protocols have changed over the years and in some instances, you have surgery later and treatment first.

Women find it encouraging to see women who have had many years pass and are still vibrant and working in the community and sharing their experiences.”

Keil said PALS has worked with other groups to make comfort items to donate to local hospitals to help women after surgery. Handmade quilts and pillows often provide physical and emotional comfort to patients.

And over the years, the focus of the group has changed somewhat.

“Years ago, it seemed that most women needed help paying for mammograms,” Keil said. “But now they seem to need more help with wigs, scarves and prosthetic devices and things that insurance doesn’t pay for or when they don’t have insurance.”

The PALS support groups raise money and the women who are part of the groups also donate money to help others. It’s all part of the mission of providing Positive Attitude Love and Support to others. Qualifying patients can request grants to cover expenses for counseling, wigs, mammograms, prosthesis and other special services.

Support groups are offered once a month at Christ United Methodist Church on Shroyer Road in Kettering. Monthly topics range from latest cancer breakthroughs to yoga and Reiki to other educational programs.

For information about PALS for Life and the upcoming fundraiser, call Keil at 937-299-0257.

The Pink Ribbon Girls was founded by breast cancer survivors who had a passion to support other women with breast cancer.

According to Sarah Gillenwater, director of marketing for the organization, newly diagnosed breast cancer patients generally are referred to the organization if they feel they need additional support.

“Once patients contact us, they will then choose to get free meals, find out how to get free transportation to treatments and peer support as well as house cleanings,” Gillenwater said.

Pink Ribbon Girls has recently started offering services to women with other reproductive cancers and patients may stop and start services at any time. Pink Ribbon Girls serve in the greater Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus areas.

“Most patients receive two months of services that include meals delivered to their homes that are prepared from scratch and frozen for them and all their family members,” Gillenwater said. “They also get peer support and exercise classes and we’ll put them in touch with people that have gone through the same thing they have.”

Patients can personalize the services for what they feel they need at the time. Gillenwater said some may just need meals alone or others, just house cleaning while someone else may just need rides to treatment.

Last year alone, Pink Ribbon Girls delivered 61,000 meals to families and this year Gillenwater said they are on target to deliver 71,000 meals. She said most people were surprised at how helpful the meals were to their families.

“The peer support is also extremely helpful to people because women say being around others who know exactly how they feel empowers them,” Gillenwater said. “They say they need people around who understand them.”

Peer support is regional and promoted through social media and email. There are groups in both Dayton and in Cincinnati.

Pink Ribbon Girls is funded by both corporate and individual donations as well as third-party fundraisers. They also have 40 co-branded trucks wrapped in pink, including fire engines.

“The fundraisers are really helpful because one meal alone costs $8,” Gillenwater said. “We don’t look at any donation as too small in that one meal can change a life.”

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