Sarah Appel was just like any other young mother. At 28 years old, she was raising 2-year-old Makaelyn and 4-month-old Brooklyn. But something wasn’t right, and the lump in her breast wasn’t going away.
In May 2012, after being misdiagnosed three times, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through a double mastectomy, 20 weeks of chemotherapy, 28 treatments of radiation therapy, and a lengthy reconstruction process. Through it all, Appel participated in the Ribbon Chicks Young Survivors Support Group, which consists of women who were diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 45.
“These are women who have been through it,” says Appel. “They know what it is like to go through what you are getting ready to go through. They help you keep a positive outlook. And if you need anything, they will be there for you.”
Stephanie Retter didn’t have that kind of support when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 42. So when Michelle Rudolph, Stephanie Cain, and Kari Wilkey Claybourn, of Evansville, started the Ribbon Chicks group in 2009, Retter was there for the second meeting. She was six months out of treatment at the time.
“There were support groups out there and they are wonderful, but when you’re diagnosed young, there are specific things that you have to deal with,” says Retter. “You have young children, or maybe you’re not even married yet.”
The meetings, held the third Monday of each month, give the women a chance to tell stories, ask questions, and share experiences. Retter has facilitated the group for the last couple of years, though she relinquished that role in June when the meetings moved to Gilda’s Club.
Retter says that the Ribbon Chicks help support breast cancer patients and help them keep a positive outlook. But the most important role of the group, she says, is to provide a time and place to let everything out.
“When you are in that group, you can be real. You can be authentic,” says Retter. “You can say what you really, really think. You don’t have to cover up how you feel. Yes, being positive is so important. But being authentic is what really makes a difference in this group.”
Appel agreed, saying even when family and friends are there to help, they can’t fully understand all the emotions a cancer patient goes through.
“People can be there for you, but if they haven’t had breast cancer, they don’t really know how you feel,” she says.
Appel is doing much better now, though she says she’ll never be the person she was before. She says the experience will be worth it if she can use it to help somebody else. That’s why she plans on staying involved with the Ribbon Chicks.
“There are times I don’t go if things come up or I get in a mood where I want to kind of back away,” says Appel. “I don’t want to be defined by cancer; I am more than that. But my husband always tells me ‘Sarah, there might be someone who walks in that room who is just as scared as you were, and you want to be there for them.’ So that’s why I continue to go.”
For more information about the Ribbon Chicks or other local Susan G. Komen support groups, visit komenevansville.org. This year’s Komen Evansville Tri-State Race for the Cure will be held Sept. 28 at Eastland Mall.