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Survivor helps ease others’ cancer journeys

Cheryl Schaefer is leader of the Butler Breast Cancer and Women's Cancer Support Group. Submitted file photo

Cheryl Schaefer knows what it’s like to navigate through breast cancer treatment firsthand. She’s a three-time cancer survivor who jokes that she keeps trying to get someone to buy what she’s growing, but so far, no luck.

It’s that sense of humor and empathy for others that drives Schaefer to volunteer countless hours each week helping other women battling cancer. “When I went through it, I struggled,” she said. “I swore if I made it through it, I would never let anyone else go through it again.”

Schaefer leads the Butler Breast Cancer and Women’s Cancer Support Group, a nonprofit organization that provides financial and emotional support for Butler County women with any type of cancer. While it mostly consists of women, it’s not exclusive to them.

“Men have come to our group more than once,” she said. “Men get breast cancer, too. Others have come with their wives to offer their support.” Schaefer said her only requirement for helping anyone in the group is that they be Butler County residents.

Lending support

There are two components to the organization. The first is a support group that meets on the first Tuesday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church, 120 Sunset Drive. Schaefer said all that’s required to join the group is to show up for a meeting. She also invited newly-diagnosed cancer patients to reach out to her at any time with any questions they have about the group or its services.

Those who choose to participate in the group can find a wealth of knowledge about everything from the best treatment options to tricks and tips about how to deal with common side effects of cancer medications.

“There’s more than one type of breast cancer and cancer treatment,” Schaefer said. “Chances are, whatever type of cancer you have or treatment you’re considering, someone in our group has already been through it and can provide advice and support.”

Cancer treatments have changed over the years and can be less stressful on your body, Schaefer said. Group members share information about what to expect during treatment and what things you should avoid during treatment, and they answer any other questions of first-timers. “It’s about making a connection with others who understand what they’re going through who offer support and let them know they can make it through this,” said Schaefer.

Financial help, other resources

The second component of the nonprofit includes help with financial and other resources needed when going through cancer treatment. One thing cancer patients discover in a hurry is how much insurance doesn’t pay for when they need chemotherapy and other cancer treatments, said Schaefer.

“Insurances have co-pays for everything. You have co-pays for medications. You have co-pays for hospital visits. You have co-pays for treatments. It can be a lot if you have health insurance with a high deductible or one that doesn’t cover most cancer treatments.”

Her organization can help by negotiating reduced fees for some services and providing financial assistance to pay for others. She and other group members also make grocery runs and arrange for transportation during treatment when it’s needed.

One area where she frequently helps is with durable medical supplies. Oncologists often prescribe prosthetics for breast cancer patients who have undergone mastectomies. What most people don’t realize is insurance companies have separate deductibles for durable medical supplies. “So even if you’ve met your regular deductible, you find out it doesn’t apply and you have to start over again,” said Schaefer. “Some of these items are expensive, and we don’t want to see women go without them, so we’ll cover the cost of the deductible or the product itself so they can get it right away.”

An example of a durable medical product she said cancer patients never should go without is compression garments. “These are specialty items, and if a doctor says they need it, it’s because they have fluid retention that can cause tremendous pain,” said Schaefer. “No one should be in pain because they can’t afford it, or their insurance won’t cover it.”

Fundraising efforts

The nonprofit organization holds fundraisers throughout the year to help pay for the services it provides. Since COVID-19, the group has struggled a bit with in-person fundraisers, said Schaefer. However, members raised $15,000 in 2021, which she called generous considering the circumstances.

One of their biggest fundraisers each year is the Boscov’s Friends Helping Friends event, held this year from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Boscov’s in Clearview Mall. Volunteers with the Butler Breast Cancer and Women’s Cancer Support Group hand out $5 shopping passes for the store for a donation. “The entire $5 stays with our organization, so you can donate with confidence knowing 100 percent of it is helping,” said Schaefer.

The other major fundraiser is the Pink Out Night at the Butler Moose. The sixth annual event is happening Nov. 5 this year, starting at 4 p.m. Donors enjoy a catered meal of their choice, an auction with more than 100 gift baskets, a 50-50 raffle and dancing to a DJ to cap off the evening. Tickets for the event cost $12 and are available in advance only, said Schaefer. Tickets are available by stopping by the bar at the Moose or calling Schaefer at 724-282-4421. The cutoff date for presale tickets is Oct. 28.

Schaefer said her organization also accepts donations collected by other local organizations to benefit their cause. Athletic organizations, clubs and other groups have all donated money to the Butler Breast Cancer and Women’s Cancer Support Group. Schaefer said she welcomes the support.

Donations outside of regular fundraisers also are accepted. Checks can be made payable to the Butler Breast Cancer and Women’s Cancer Support Group and mailed to Cheryl Schaefer, 166 Jamisonville Road, Butler, PA 16001. All donations are tax-deductible. Donors receive a donation receipt from the organization for their tax records, Schaefer said.

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