They already had a bond.
The five women are breast cancer survivors. But their relationship took another turn while attending meetings at a Tampa Bay Breast Cancer Support Group some 7 years ago at St. Joseph's Hospital.
“I noticed that some of us had the same ZIP code and were living in the same area,” said Liz Price, a nearly 9-year breast cancer survivor.
At one of those meetings, it was suggested that since they all lived in Westchase, the women should get together and start walking.
Price along with Diane McMillen, Ann Boytim, Dawn Juliano and Mona Greenbaum started meeting 9 a.m. Sunday mornings at West Park Village. They walk a 4-mile loop to the 7 Eleven convenience store at the corner of Linebaugh Avenue and Countryway Boulevard and back. Once they are done, they grab coffee and maybe a bagel.
During the walk, they talk. They laugh. They bond. They now call themselves Breast Friends Forever.
“This is a bigger support for me than my support group,” said Greenbaum, 64, who is a 12-year breast cancer survivor. With a laugh, Greenbaum said she’s the lone outsider because she lives in Northdale. The other women all live in Westchase.
The first walk occurred Jan. 11, 2004. They are still walking and very seldom miss a Sunday. Rain, cold, the extreme heat, doesn’t alter the stride. Sometimes all the women show for the walk, sometimes two, but the walk goes on.
“It’s unbelievable,” Price said. “It’s not about talking about breast cancer. We know one another’s families. There are the victories, the teenage daughters, the sleepless nights. We are family.”
The Breast Friends say there is comfort in knowing that they are walking with women who have walked in their shoes.
Like when Juliano, 40, was diagnosed for the second time with breast cancer 2 ½ years ago. Like a family, they were there to help her through the treatments. Or, when Greenbaum’s husband unexpectedly died, they were there.
The Breast Friends have always invited other people. But they are the five who have consistently continued the walk. They all walk and participate in other events that focus on raising money and awareness for cancer, but nothing is like the walk they have every Sunday morning in Westchase.
“Life goes on and you don’t just think about cancer,” said Boytim, 67, a 15-year breast cancer survivor. “Sure at the beginning you are afraid and scared. But as you can see, life does go on.”
Price concurred. “It’s a bump in the road.”
The Breast Friends' bond is made even stronger with the practical jokes. There are 4-foot stuffed bunnies that magically pop up in one another’s backyards without a trace of who put them there. There is the time when Price discovered her front door decorated in hearts after returning from a vacation. No one discloses the prankster.
“What I have learned about healing is how powerful it is to be with others that have walked in your shoes and can bring support and laughter to your life,” said McMillen, 56, an 8-year breast cancer survivor. “What a blessing to have the gift of friendship, laughter and health all in one Sunday tradition.”
The Tampa Bay Breast Cancer Support Group is a peer support group for women and men, and their families and caregivers in the Tampa Bay area who have been touched by breast cancer in their lives. The group meets the second Thursday of each month at the St. Joseph’s Hospital Medical Arts Building. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.