Joan Fell - "...we want to help."

Executive Director - BCA-Cumberland Valley

Executive Director - BCA-Cumberland Valley

October 15, 2007|By MARIE GILBERT

Joan Fell can weave a tapestry of inspirational stories about the women who have walked through her door.

She has witnessed their courage in the face of fear, their strength in overcoming weakness.

The lessons they have learned come together in creating a powerful story of love and hope.

They are breast cancer survivors.

And as executive director of Breast Cancer Awareness - Cumberland Valley, Fell is one of their biggest supporters.

"Our organization exists because we believe that no one should face breast cancer alone," she says. "We understand the many questions people have after they've been diagnosed with this disease, as well as the emotions they are experiencing, and we want to help."

While Fell is not a breast cancer survivor, there is a history of the disease on both sides of her family.


"That was one of the reasons I wanted to interview for this job," she says. "This was something I wanted to do."

That was in 1992. Since that time, Fell has seen many changes in the organization, including its name, which was originally Y-Me of Cumberland Valley.

She also opened the group's first office. Before that, she says, "we operated out of people's homes."

But, most importantly, Fell has seen the organization grow, offering support and guidance to breast cancer patients and their loved ones through a wide range of programs and services.

"We offer hope," Fell says. "When a person is diagnosed, they hear 'breast cancer.' They don't hear anything after that."

But after the words sink in, Fell hopes that patients will turn to Breast Cancer Awareness.

"We have so many programs that can help," she says, many of which are headed by breast cancer survivors.

"People feel a need to talk to someone who has gone through the same experience, someone who has been there," Fell says. "Our survivor volunteers can answer their questions, calm their fears and show them that they've made it to the other side and they're doing fine."

"Our support is uplifting," she says. "We have volunteers who are 10, 12, 15 years from breast cancer - women who are proof that there is life after the diagnosis and surgery."

Fell says that a sisterhood has developed over the years among breast cancer survivors.

"When they come through this ordeal," she says, "so many women are thankful to the volunteers who were by their sides. They then return the favor and become part of our organization, too."

Fell says she is proud of the many services offered by Breast Cancer Awareness - from mammograms for those who can't afford to pay or have limited health insurance to its Hopeline, a toll-free number manned by trained breast cancer survivors who listen, support, encourage and provide information through all stages of the disease.

BCA-CV also offers a lending library with books and pamphlets on breast cancer issues, support groups which allow patients and their families to share concerns and questions; and a wig, hat and prosthesis shop for post-radiation or chemotherapy.

There is a Moving Forward After Surgery program, which provides information to patients in their surgeons' office; Camp Hope, which is a day of fun, relaxation and friendship for survivors; and Dinner's Ready!, which provides a meal for chemotherapy and radiation patients through restaurant gift certificates.

BCA-CV also promotes early detection of breast cancer through workshops on breast health and how to do breast self-examinations.

Fell says breast cancer doesn't discriminate and touches the lives of young and old, rich and poor and all races.

"But the wonderful thing is that we are seeing more and more survivors," she says. "Now, with computers, women have access to so much information about health issues and know the importance of mammograms and yearly exams."

And women are helping women, she says.

"Women are more open today about discussing breast cancer, and they have their own network. So many people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer know someone else who has had the same diagnosis. They want to talk about it and support each other."

That is evident, she says, with the survivors page, published each year in The Herald-Mail newspapers.

"When we started that page, we had 40 signatures," Fell recalls. "Now we have about 550. Each one of those individuals is saying 'I'm proud that I'm a survivor or thriver. I fought the battle and I'm still here.' That's a powerful statement."

More information about Breast Cancer Awareness - Cumberland Valley is available by contacting the office at 322 East Antietam St., Suite 101, Hagerstown; telephone 301-791-5843. You can also visit the organization's Web site at

Marie Gilbert is a feature writer for The Herald-Mail Company. She can be reached at

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