To breast cancer patients, she gives hope

Hope Nemiroff- Founder of Breast Cancer Options

Author: By Anita Manley
Posted: Friday, September 25, 2009

Those who have survived cancer know the shock and the devastation that comes with the diagnosis. They know the fear of the unknown that comes with surgery, pathology reports, chemotherapy and radiation. They also know that Hope Nemiroff is in their corner. Nemiroff is a woman with a mission.

Breast cancer survivors who know her call her an angel, an advocate and a force to be reckoned with. They have joined a club that they didn’t want to become members of, but Nemiroff, cofounder and executive director of Breast Cancer Options (BCO), is the go-to person, the one who shows them how to navigate the frightening world of cancer treatment and beyond. “Hope is an angel,” says Lydia Binotto of Millbrook.

“She saved my life. She introduced me to Barbara Sarah, the head of oncology at Benedictine Hospital and to Sheldon Feldman, the most amazing doctor on the planet. When I was diagnosed a second time, she did tons of research for me.” “She just does wonderful things,” says Binotto. “You can’t compare this organization to anything else. Hope is one of those people who would talk to me as long as she had to.

She always had an answer for me. I admire her ability to do that all the time. She always encouraged me.” She knows how they feel Nemiroff was raised in New York City and is a classical pianist who traveled and performed. In 1971, she moved to Woodstock after performing and met her husband Ken. In 1995, the course of her life was steered in a whole new direction – she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

“I was 51 and very scared,” she recalls. “I composed music, I had a record deal and was travelling a lot, but after I was diagnosed I knew it was time to take care of myself. I played less and less and realized I couldn’t keep up the pace.” Nemiroff says that she was determined to obtain all the information she could on her disease.

During her own journey, she realized that many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are also so intimidated and frightened that they don’t know where to turn. “There needed to be a resource in the community where breast cancer patients and survivors could get counseling, support and information on treatments,” she says. While doing her research, Nemiroff discovered the National Breast Cancer Coalition, a grassroots membership organization dedicated to ending breast cancer through the power of action and advocacy.

She attended a meeting in Washington DC and met other women from New York State involved in the movement. Together they started the New York State Breast Cancer Network, statewide network of community-based breast cancer organizations in New York. Thanks to their efforts, there is now a network of 25 organizations. “It’s an amazing organization,” says Nemiroff, “the only one like it in the country.

We are community-based cancer organizations that share programs and ideas and work on legislation in New York.” Nemiroff then founded the Hudson Valley chapter, Breast Cancer Options (BCO), a non-profit that became official in 2000. BCO offers a number of services, all of which Nemiroff sees as pieces of the puzzle of healing and support for breast cancer patients.

Their determination to help clients has encouraged the support of local service providers. Acupuncture clinics in Woodstock and Kingston offer five free sessions to patients who are in treatment. BCO also offers a breast cancer resource guide, referrals for legal and financial problems; a discount vitamin club, contact with trained survivors who provide support and comfort, and support groups held throughout the Hudson Valley.

Helping cancer patients
Barbara Pokras of Saugerties was diagnosed with cancer in December, 2005. “I was very frightened,” she says. “Surgery was scheduled for January, 2006, and I found that so many women reached out to me. A number of these women had gone to Breast Cancer Options so I called them. The support I received was amazing. I can’t tell you how on target they were. They were so supportive as far as my decisions.” Pokras says she was eager to give back and volunteered to be a facilitator for a support group and trained to be a patient advocate. “Hope is a tremendous resource for many women faced with a diagnosis,” she explains. “They were just tremendously helpful and supportive.” Pokras’ advice to anyone diagnosed with breast cancer is to first contact Breast Cancer Options.

“Breast cancer is not something we wish for,” she says, “but it’s something that’s more manageable than people think. BCO gave me guidance the whole way through.” Each year, the BCO holds a complementary medical conference – a free event for those diagnosed with cancer and cancer survivors. This year, the event included workshops on treatment, spirituality and healing, cancer and the environment, hormone use, nutrition, testing, detection and follow-up, toxins and breast wellness. In its first year, BCO was the recipient of a $100,000 grant for its Companion-Advocates program, which provided a trained advocate to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients.

This year, BCO was the recognized by the Department of Health’s Breast Cancer Detection and Education Advisory Council. Nemiroff calls it “an incredible honor,” since only one award is given to non-profit organizations in the state each year. Nemiroff’s goal for BCO has been to win the support of the medical community. “We want them to refer patients to us,” she says. “That came after they got to know who we were and what we did.” “We never give medical advice,” she emphasizes. “We give up-to-date information from credible medical websites.”

Camp Lightheart
One of BCO’s most unique projects – and Nemiroff’s pride and joy – is Camp Lightheart, a free four-day, three-night summer vacation for children of breast cancer patients. She launched it three years ago after she talked to a post office employee who had lost her hair because of cancer treatment. “Her daughter was upset and we didn’t have any existing services for kids,” says Nemiroff.

She got on the phone, called the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck and within three weeks the camp was born. “They loved the idea and always have been very welcoming.” Youngsters attend the camp and spend four days in August doing things that kids love to do, such as sports, games, crafts and, if they so desire, speaking about their own family situation and fears among other children who have the same experiences. Sixteen children attended this summer.

Inspiring others to help
For Justina Colon of Napanoch, Breast Cancer Options and Camp Lightheart were lifesavers. Diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in 2002 when she was only 28 years old, Colon underwent a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Three years later, her cancer returned. “I went through a difficult period,” she says.

“I divorced my husband and had financial difficulties. I was trying to make ends meet and while I was researching resources, I discovered Breast Cancer Options. I poured my heart out to Hope. She gave me contacts, told me what was available. She’s helped me with fundraising and sent my daughter to Camp Lightheart.” “It’s good that the organization recognizes that our kids need sup port too,” she says. “My ten-year-old daughter is aware of the cancer history in the family.

This gives her a chance to meet other kids who have been in the same boat. The older kids have more understanding so they’re a good shoulder for her. She’s able to confide in them. Everyone is so supportive of each other. It lifts her up. It’s a godsend!” Today, Colon says she’s the healthiest she’s been in five years. “I try to instill that you have to live your life for today,” she says. She now reaches out to other patients and her website gives personal history and information on other organizations that offer financial assistance (justyshope.org).

When Nemiroff was diagnosed with breast cancer, she realized that women weren’t getting the information they needed. “I had absolutely no idea when I started this organization that this would happen – I didn’t expect the need,” she says. “We incorporated and started because we got so many questions. It was obvious that women needed support. We pretty much stepped in and supplied this information. Some hospitals have the information available but women don’t want to travel. Our idea was always to provide information in the community where they live.” Breast Cancer Options is located in Kingston at 101 Hurley Ave.. The phone number is 845-339-HOPE.

Anita Manley is a breast cancer survivor and volunteers for the American Cancer Society as a patient navigator.

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