Health & Medicine

New breast cancer support group focuses on those diagnosed before 35

Tammy Crouch, left, Bobbie Niehaus and Lorraine Le Stephens met in the Education Center at Baptist Health Lexington. They formed Strength of Survivorship for young women with cancer.
Tammy Crouch, left, Bobbie Niehaus and Lorraine Le Stephens met in the Education Center at Baptist Health Lexington. They formed Strength of Survivorship for young women with cancer. Herald-Leader

The three friends tear up easily and often when talking about how breast cancer came into their lives, and how they live with it.

Lorraine Le Stephens, Tammy Crouch and Bobbie Niehaus were all diagnosed before the age of 35 and they found themselves as young women feeling isolated in a pink world that skewed much older.

According to the National Cancer Institute the median age for breast cancer diagnosis is 61. Less than 2 percent of women are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 34.

It's not that the older women they came in contact with weren't kind. It's not that they didn't have wisdom to share. Crouch belongs to a breast cancer support group in Jessamine County where she's the youngest member.

"I love my cancer support group," said Crouch, diagnosed at age 32 in 2000. But as the group's youngest member she finds most other members "don't have the same issues that I have."

"There is a void for having a group for young women," she said, adding the three friends are trying to fill it by creating S.O.S. Strength of Survivorship.

The group will be organized through a free series of nine monthly programs offered by Baptist Health Lexington. The program, which begins Oct. 8, is targeted specifically at young women who are breast cancer survivors to help them deal with issues of fertility, child care, sexuality and body image.

The group also deals with coping with the aggressive care that usually comes with early breast cancer diagnosis which often involves fast-spreading forms of the disease.

Le Stephens was diagnosed at 34 in 2011. She had noticed a lump and reported it to her doctor. Initially her doctor said she just had a lumpy breast. But the lump didn't go away and she went back. This time there was a diagnosis. She was breast feeding her third daughter at the time.

"When the surgeon told me I needed to stop breast feeding I cried and cried," she said. She felt that she had failed on some level, that she couldn't provide the nourishment for her child a healthy body should provide. She gets misty-eyed for a moment recalling that time but soon puts a positive spin on it. That baby, she said, "she's my biggest and toughest."

An oncology nurse at Baptist Health, Le Stephens said she soon noticed other young women going through the same kind of challenges that she was having. How do you talk to your children about cancer? How do you find child care when you have chemo?

She knew Crouch, who also works at Baptist Health, and they instantly bonded after Le Stephens' diagnosis. Around the same time, Niehaus, 31, was actively trying to grapple with her diagnosis. A frequent volunteer with cancer charities, she was thrilled to learn Crouch and Le Stephens were thinking of forming a support group.

The three got together and brain-stormed topics that spoke to them. Those include "juggling life and treatment," "managing stress through yoga, exercise and nutrition" and "girls' night out."

Le Stephens said a lot of the topics she suggested came from her own experiences. She's grateful for the chance to have some good come out of a difficult time in her life.

"It is a blessing to be here and be able to help someone else who is going through what we went through," she said.

Dealing with the potential loss of fertility is a key issue for young women. Niehaus, who is married but doesn't have children, gets emotional when talking about the topic. She was diagnosed in December 2012. She has finished chemotherapy, she is still in the process of reconstructive surgery on her breast.

Breast cancer treatment can result in infertility, she said, and her doctor has suggested she take a preventative drug that can't be taken while pregnant for at least two years.

Le Stephens and Crouch, who has adopted a child since her diagnosis, gaze at Niehaus intently as she talks about the fear and sorrow she feels knowing that she might not have biological children. They nod their heads.

They've been there.

When are women diagnosed withbreast cancer, by age

Between 20 and 34 - 1.8 percent

Between 35 and 44 - 9.6 percent

Between 45 and 54 - 22.2 percent

Between 55 and 64 - 25.2 percent

Between 65 and 74 - 20.7 percent

Between 75 and 84 - 14.8 percent

85+ years of age - 5.7 percent

Source: National Institutes of Health


A series of forums for young women who have survived breast cancer will be held at Central Baptist Church, 110 Wilson Downing Road, on the following dates. All sessions begin with a free dinner at 6 p.m. with the program at 6:30.

Oct. 8: Your maiden voyage — Breast cancer, now what?

Nov. 12: T.L.C. — Talking, listening and communicating

Dec. 10: Spirituality in your cancer journey

Jan. 14: Juggling life and treatment

Feb. 11: Peace, love and healing

March 11: Managing stress through yoga, exercise and nutrition

April 8: Girls' night out

May 13: Lions, tigers and bears — Facing your fears

June 3: Bon voyage — Places to go, people to see, things to do.

To learn more or to register to attend, call (859) 260-4357 or go to