“We’re glad to see you, but we’re sorry that you are here” was the greeting offered by Karen Klein to each new breast cancer patient who chose to seek comfort by attending the breast cancer support group in DeKalb County she and a few others started in 1993.
Monday night will be the last time that greeting will be heard as the group – renamed the Karen Klein Breast Cancer Survivors Support Group after her death in 2006 – is disbanding. A dwindling membership and expanding resources for breast cancer patients online and through medical facilities is the reason, according to longtime member Floann Hamilton. She said nearly 100 women have attended their informal meetings over the years, many after having surgery to eliminate the cancer. But after a while they went on their way, returning to a normal life with their families and friends.
During the nearly two decades of getting together to offer one another support and share their life experiences, always in confidence, many survivors found solace and hope talking to other women who had fought the same fight and came through it, willing to help others do the same.
Karen had surgery some 35 years ago to remove the cancerous tissue from her body and went into remission, but then in 2006 she contracted the esophageal cancer that took her life. One of her support group co-founders, Penny Rosenow, spoke of the compassion, the concern and the care that Karen expressed to others during the most difficult time in their lives.
“Back when Karen had breast cancer, people didn’t talk much about it, so many women went through the fear and neuroses that accompany a breast cancer diagnosis alone,” she said. Karen heard about a support group of women in New Jersey, Rosenow said, and called to get details how one could be formed here. The first gathering was in Karen’s home, then as the group grew, they moved to the First Congregational United Church of Christ on North First Street in DeKalb. It has continued at that location to this day. Other early members, such as Isabel Cash and Sue Rozycki, remained involved for many years and others, like Floann, Penny and Ellyn Jacobsen, continued to provide the leadership to keep it going.
Floann said it was a group decision to disband and a letter to former participants is being sent out this month informing them of the final meeting.
This weekend, Friday and Saturday, the American Cancer Society Relay for Life event will be held in Sycamore, something many of the breast cancer survivors take part in each year.
It has a very personal meaning for me and my wife, Kay, who are both cancer survivors. When in California each June, we take part in the Livermore Relay’s Survivors’ Lap around the football field track, along with a hundred or more friends and fellow cancer fighters, who share a common thread in our lives.
• Barry Schrader was editor of the Daily Chronicle from 1969-1972 and later worked at newspapers in San Francisco’s East Bay. He and his wife are retired and live in DeKalb. Visit his Web site, www.dekalbcountylife.com, for an archive of columns. Reach Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115.