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Area support group raises cancer awareness

By Staff | Oct 18, 2019

Sue Sitter/PCT Artwork created by members of The Journey cancer support group decorates the wall near the Heart of America Medical Center infusion suite.

The Journey cancer support group marked National Breast Cancer Awareness Month at their regular meeting Wednesday in the Heart of America Medical Clinic Fox Auditorium with pink tablecloths, pink-wrapped candy bars and useful information.

Group organizer Jody Tuchscherer added green to the color scheme, too. October is National Liver Cancer Awareness Month.

HAMC Occupational Therapy Director Ali Rognlien and physical therapist Jen Brossart presented information on lymphedema and post-mastectomy care.

Wednesday’s meeting began with a presentation by Tuchscherer, a retired nurse with more than 40 years in the field. Tuchscherer shared with the group some surprising information about breast cancer in men.

“Men account for 1 percent or less of all breast cancer diagnoses in the United States, yet breast cancer patients who are men have a 19 percent higher mortality rate than females. That’s because by the time men check themselves and find even pea-sized lumps they go to the doctor embarrassed. They think maybe it’s an ingrown hair or a cyst and it will go away,” Tuchscherer noted.

“By that time,” it’s become invasive and it’s very hard at that time to cure” she added. “In 2019, it’s estimated there will be at least 2,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer in men, and 500 of those men will die because it will be too late by the time they get in for detection.”

“Early detection is a cure,” Tuchscherer told the group. “The one thing I heard today that struck me is a history of a mom having breast cancer raises the chance of a breast cancer mutation in a male.”

“Guys, when you’re in the shower, check yourselves. If you find something, come in (for a medical appointment).”

The Journey support group grew from Tucscherer’s own battle with breast cancer.

Tuchscherer talked to the Tribune before the meeting, describing her “new normal” after a mammogram came back positive for breast cancer in November 2013.

Tuchscherer referred to cancer as “a chronic disease.”

I’m about five and a half years out from my breast cancer diagnosis, so I’ve just gotten off the chemotherapy pills this spring,” she said.

Although her medication is sometimes recommended as a follow-up treatment for more than 10 years after a diagnosis, Tuchscherer said her doctors recommended she discontinue taking it due to bone loss.

“I don’t need to continue it. It’s done its job,” Tuchscherer said. “I’m really happy with that but your journey never stops when you have any kind of cancer.”

Tuchscherer said after her breast cancer diagnosis, “there was a lot of stuff that followed. Everybody’s journey is not the same but I kind of already knew in my heart. It wasn’t a lump; it was just a thickness. This is why you need mammograms. This is why you need to check yourself.”

“When my mammogram came back, it was positive. So I told my family I don’t plan on going anywhere, you can go ahead and cry for me today. But tomorrow, you need to roll your sleeves up because I am, too. As much as I love you, there’s never enough extra energy. I expected everyone around me to be positive. So, I had treatments, I lost my hair, I did the radiation, I did the whole spiel. My hair’s back; it’s just hair,” Tuchscherer shrugged.

A cancer diagnosis may spur people to pause and take an inventory of their lives, however, Tuchscherer noted with a smile, “I had a stroke at 23, so my inventory’s already been taken.”

Tuchscherer said her own experience with cancer and experience in nursing at HAMC opened her eyes to a need for support for local cancer patients.

Tuchscherer called her idea to form The Journey a “pipe dream”.

“When I first moved to Rugby 37 years ago, I saw a need for this group,” the Bismarck area native said.

“I worked (at HAMC) for more than 25 years, and I saw a need, but the timing wasn’t right,” Tuchscherer said. “People will listen to a nurse or doctor, but they’ll listen more to someone who was diagnosed with cancer. I shared my dream with a gal who works with the American Cancer Society here in North Dakota and she arranged a meeting, and I went to find out what they expected of me. I get there and they said, ‘We want to hear your idea.’ “

Tuchscherer said The Journey began soon after the meeting. group is now four years old.

The Journey’s logo is printed in ink spanning all colors of the rainbow and surrounded by ribbons across the color spectrum, each representing a different type of cancer.

Tuchscherer used one example to describe the group’s purpose.

“The Journey’s about education, resources; hooking people up with where they need to go. We have a member who has multiple myeloma. It’s a rare cancer, but in our area, there are four cases. I knew people who knew people who hooked me up to a support group for her and she and her husband travel down to Bismarck every month for a support group. It’s the only one in North Dakota.”

“I say to people, ‘If there’s something you want to know, or something you need to know, we’ll find somebody to talk to, Tuchscherer added. “This group is a good resource for people. If you don’t know something, we’ll find it out for you.”

Tuchscherer said networking plays a large role in The Journey.

“I work with Minot Cancer Center,” she noted. “They’re a very good resource for us, and also the American Cancer Society’s been good with information. We have a wealth of information in our town that people don’t know. “

“We have our new chemo infusion suite (at HAMC),” Tuchscherer noted. “So we get the word out about that. We have people using it instead of going all the way to Fargo to get it, or to Minot and get it.”

This month, the wall near the infusion suite features a circle of paintings created by members of The Journey. The Rugby Lions and the Northern Lights Lions chapter donated art supplies.

Tuchscherer said the group provides emotional support and more.

“Each month we raise awareness for particular types of cancer and sometimes we have a speaker; sometimes we have different activities. Diagnosis is a very personal journey. No two people journey the same and no two people have the same disease.”

“Sometimes, we just visit,” Tuchscherer added. “And when we lose one of ours, or we learn one of ours is struggling with medical problems, we come together and we are there for them.”

“Things have changed so much,” Tuchscherer noted. “Going through my journey I learned a lot. Even though I’m in the medical field, it was an eye-opener for all the things that are out there. It’s not a death sentence anymore.”

The Journey cancer support group meets in the Fox Auditorium at the Heart of America Medical Center the third Wednesday of each month except during winter and summer breaks. For more information, contact Tuchscherer at 776-2296.

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