Resources, services in county give women with breast cancer support when they need it most

North Bay women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have a wealth of resources available to access information about the latest diagnostic tests, traditional and complementary treatments, and opportunities for emotional support.

Regardless of insurance coverage and medical plans, women can readily get mammograms, arrange for treatment with a breast cancer medical team and find other services they will need as they grapple with their "new normal," a term Lydia Zipp of Petaluma uses to describe the reality that hits a woman who just received a cancer diagnosis.

Her organization, the Women's Cancer Awareness Group, has a goal of "raising awareness, one conversation at a time," and operates with the philosophy that "we consider everyone a survivor from date of diagnosis."

Zipp's group has compiled a free, comprehensive Resource Guide, specifically for North Bay women with all types of cancer, and the latest edition was revised earlier this year. The 34-page booklet lists resources that have been recommended by women who attended the programs described. It includes organizations that provide sliding-scale counseling, education, meal preparation, lymphedema resources, insurance assistance, nutrition information, and fitness centers offering free memberships for cancer patients.

In addition, the Resource Guide has information about drop-in support groups for caregivers, a support group for women without partners, a popular "What's Next" creativity group, and even a place for equine therapy.

Various organizations and health care providers offer educational speaker series, and on Wednesday, as part of its Education and Empowerment sessions, the Women's Cancer Awareness Group will feature Dr. Amy Shaw of Redwood Regional Medical Group. She will speak about "Chemo Brain," describing the phenomenon of chemotherapy's impact on mental function.

On Oct. 14, the Ceres Project will hold its second annual Cancer Journey conference at the Finley Center in Santa Rosa, and many speakers will be addressing topics of interest to men and women with cancer. The conference is designed for patients and their families, and Cynthia Wilcox-Rittgers, a cancer survivor and Petaluma-based psychologist who runs a cancer support group, said last year's conference offered outstanding education and support.

While she acknowledges that the North Bay offers considerable mental health and medical services for breast cancer patients, including an impressive array of alternative treatments, such as massage, acupuncture, qigong, meditation and yoga, Wilcox-Rittgers noted there is a dearth of financial services available in the area for patients who are unable to work because of their illness, and also a deficit of support and counseling opportunities for women with metastatic or incurable breast cancer.

Major medical providers in the area, such as Sutter North Bay, Kaiser Permanente, St. Joseph Health, and Redwood Regional Medical Group offer services to their patients, and women affiliated with community health centers also have a variety of resources available to them.

The Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation operates the Women's Health Resource Center on Steele Lane in Santa Rosa, offering diagnostic procedures and access to oncologists, breast surgeons and genetic counseling services.

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