Marci Werner was 40 years old when she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. “Being told you have cancer at any age is hard,” said Werner. “But being young and having a 9-year-old child that depends on you and receiving a cancer diagnosis is absolutely terrifying.”

About a month after she was diagnosed, Werner called Support Connection to find the help and support she needed.

“I never needed a one-on-one or group support system before, so reaching out was very hard for me,” Werner reflected. “Calling Support Connection was one of the most important things I did in those weeks after my diagnosis. I can’t tell you how comforting it was to be able to speak with someone in a similar situation, to ask her all the questions and discuss my fears. When I hung up the phone, my shoulders were a bit lighter and my anxiety level a bit less.”

Founded in 1996 in Yorktown Heights, Support Connection, Inc. serves anyone affected by breast or ovarian cancer. All services are free and confidential. The organization’s professional peer counselors, cancer survivors themselves, provide individualized one-on-one support. Peer counselors speak to women in person and by phone. A toll-free number makes the service available nationwide. Peer counselors offer information, resources and an opportunity for women to talk about their cancer and concerns. They listen without judgment every step of the way, from diagnosis and treatment, to recovery and beyond.

Each person’s journey is different, making this personalized approach critical. “Every day we speak with incredible women who’ve just had the rug pulled out from under them and have been placed in a totally uncontrollable situation,” says a peer counselor. “They feel powerless, uninformed and call our office looking for answers. We guide them to find their own answers, and encourage them to see the strength they truly have.”

Support Connection offers a vast array of additional year-round programs. Wellness classes empower women to better cope with recovery and treatment while continuing their day-to-day lives. Educational forums inform the public about breast and ovarian cancer. Monthly support groups, led by trained facilitators who are all survivors, bring women together to share their experiences and help one another. Programs and groups meet across Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess Counties. Two groups occur via a toll-free teleconference, enabling women to participate from across the country.

Anyone impacted by breast or ovarian cancer can get help from Support Connection. One husband offered thanks for the help his wife and whole family received: “I was scared and didn’t understand all she was going through. You did.”

As a nonprofit organization, Support Connection could not carry out its mission without assistance from the community. The generosity of local businesses is one way Support Connection’s services are sustained. THE GYM in Armonk hosted a series of events throughout October 2010 for breast cancer awareness month. The programming culminated with Taste of the Towns, a festive evening featuring food and merchandise from the area’s finest restaurants, bakeries and boutiques. THE GYM donated all of the proceeds from such events to Support Connection.

With a small staff of eight individuals, Support Connection also relies on volunteer support. The best example of this is the annual Support-A-Walk for Breast and Ovarian Cancer Awareness, when at least 200 volunteers pitch in. In 2010, nearly 10,000 walk participants donated funds, time, talent and product, making the fundraising and educational event a great success.

Werner participated in the Support-A-Walk for the first time last year. “When I saw the number of people there from my own community, I was overwhelmed,” she said. “So many people came to show their support for women living with breast and ovarian cancer, and to remember those who are no longer with us. It was a powerful, inspirational day.”

Werner credits the walk for inspiring her son too. “The walk was also important to my son who has felt extremely helpless since he was told about my breast cancer diagnosis,” she said. “I will never forget the fear in his voice when he asked the big question, ‘Are you going to die?’ After he saw a commercial about a breast cancer walk, he asked if he could walk, to show he could do something to help me. The Support-A-Walk enabled my son to feel like he was a part of what was happening with his family.”

Hopefully one day there will finally be a cure for breast and ovarian cancer. Until then, Support Connection will be there to help women like Werner. “I still have so many fears about what the future holds,” Werner said. “The counselors at Support Connection are always e-mailing me to find out how I am, ask what they can do to help, and offer a supportive ear whenever I need to talk. They are a fountain of information and are so willing, if they don’t know something, to find out. I am grateful for their kindness and happy there is a place like Support Connection in this community.”

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