ASHEBORO — Mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, aunts, nieces, girlfriends. One-in-eight of these women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and while there are many stories about diagnoses and women battling this disease, there are some untold tales about the support these patients and their families are getting.
One such patient is Beth Robbins, who earlier this year received a diagnosis every woman fears hearing: “You have breast cancer.”
Robbins lives in Asheboro with her two young boys, ages 4 and 9, and her husband, Neal, who is the publisher of the North State Journal.
“I was completely shocked,” said Robbins. “It was literally the shock of my life, and to fast forward a week later after mammograms and biopsies, I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.”
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), sometimes called infiltrative ductal carcinoma, is when abnormal cancer cells that have formed in the milk ducts of the breast spread into other parts of the breast tissue. These are invasive cancer cells that can also spread to other parts of the body.
DC is the most common type of breast cancer at around 70-80% of all breast cancer diagnoses and can also affect men.
Robbins opted for a double mastectomy in May, and after healing from that surgery, she began rounds of chemotherapy in July, August and September. She’s now waiting for her body to “rebound” from the chemotherapy so that she can have reconstructive breast surgery in October.
During the course of her therapy through Duke Cancer Centers, Robbins became well-acquainted with the staff and the support services Duke had to offer both patients and their families. A part of those support services is the Belk Boutique, which offers certain “no-charge” items to patients, such as scarves, wigs, makeup, clothing, hair care and skin care products and other self-image related services and products.
“Every patient received five free items from one of the sections of the Belk Boutique,” said Robbins, adding that she had received a free wig, scarf and hat.
The Belk Boutique relies on donations and outside support in order to help patients and their families with the services and items they need.
Gina McKee and her mother Donna Allen own and operate the Nella Boutique in Asheboro and are friends of Robbins. They knew about her cancer treatments and the support she received at Duke.
Each year for the last three years Nella Boutique has held a “Shop for a Cause” fashion show event. All proceeds from the event go to a chosen charity or cause.
Last year, the boutique raised money for hurricane relief. This year, they chose to honor their friend Beth during Breast Cancer Awareness Month by donating the proceeds of the fashion show to the Belk Boutique at Duke.
“I remembered how Beth said she had been directly impacted by the Belk Boutique,” said McKee. “And what a blessing it was to receive these free items like wigs, scarves, hats, and how she had said what a neat idea that place was.”
McKee said that she and her mother considered ideas like the Susan G. Komen fund, but kept coming back to the Belk Boutique because of how impactful it had been for Beth.
“We wanted to give directly to the Belk Boutique so that she would know that boutique was going to be well-funded and would help other women in the process after her chemo treatments were over,” McKee said.
“The people in our community…we’re just doers and helpers,” said McKee. “When one of our own is suffering or in need, this community rallies around them.”
The community most certainly rallied around Robbins with Nella Boutique’s event. McKee said the suggested door donation was $10 a seat, and while they had officially sold out their 40 available seats, their community went above and beyond, bringing in $1,000 for the Belk Boutique.
That money will go a long way to helping other patients, according to Kristy Sartin, director of external relations at the Supportive Care and Survivorship Center at the Duke Cancer Institute.
“We serve about 5,000 per year just with our no-charge section alone,” said Sartin.
Sartin said that the Belk Boutique’s self-image services cover a wide array of services and products like those Robbins had received as well as orthotics, prosthetics and a sexual health service line.
Self-image services also include volunteers who come in to do haircuts, salon services and makeup services.
“The idea here is that we offer items at a very cost-effective avenue,” Sartin said. “We are just above wholesale value when it comes to our products because we want everyone to be able to access this regardless of any financial disparity.”
Support services for patients and their families also include pastoral services, recreation therapy, concierge services, pet therapy and a growing Teen and Young Adult Oncology Program.
Sartin said their self-image consultants help patients “feel comfortable in their own skin.”
In the Durham location, Sartin told NSJ that they had given away 5,903 no-charge items, and Duke’s two Wake County locations added another 4,632 items. She said some items were not logged in the system, so the total no-charge items for fiscal year 2019 were roughly 11,000.
The Belk Boutique first opened in February of 2012, and the number of patients and their families utilizing its services has continuously increased year over year.
The Duke Cancer Patient Support Programs (DCPSP) origins go back to 1987 when a woman named Rachel Schanberg saw the need for self-image and counseling resources after her college-aged daughter went through cancer treatment.
There are multiple ways to support the DCPSP like the Nella Boutique fundraiser or becoming a corporate sponsor, however, Sartin indicated that most of their support was “gift in kind” donations.
“People are donating their hats, their scarves, their wigs, turbans,” said Sartin, adding that a laundering process is done on each item before offering them back to patients.
“We are always looking for corporate sponsorships,” Sartin said. “Belk, at one time, was a corporate sponsorship, but it is mostly the people who experience our services — the grateful patients — are the ones who give back to the program.”