Cancer Survivors Give Back

breast cancer survivor stories

When Terry Prag was undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer two years ago, she couldn’t bear the smells of cooking. “But I had to eat. And having [food] brought into the house and not prepared in the house actually helped me with the nausea.”

She was deeply moved when volunteers from the local nonprofits Lend A Helping Hand and the Babylon Breast Cancer Coalition prepared and delivered hot, cooked meals for her and her family. They also provided her with housecleaning services so that her husband and children wouldn’t feel burdened. And when she and her husband lost their jobs and, as a result, their health insurance, the BBCC stepped in to help cover expenses.

The organizations—established in the mid-90s to provide education, resources, services and support to women undergoing or recovering from breast and gynecological cancers—also offer transportation to medical appointments, childcare, dog walking, snow shoveling, massage therapy and financial assistance. “I don’t know what I would have done without them,” said Prag, who now serves as a coordinator and media liaison for the BBCC.

Since coming on board, Prag has helped set up two monthly LAHH programs in which volunteers lead cancer-stricken women in meditation, yoga and Reiki healing circles. “These outings have proven to be very supportive for our ladies,” Prag said, noting that the restorative sessions can alleviate anxiety and side effects resulting from chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

There’s no doubt clean houses, home-cooked meals, wellness programs and support are of critical importance to women who survived or currently have cancer. But so is feeling beautiful and feminine, according to Olga Lucia. In the last 22 years, the Manhasset-based esthetician, formerly an optometrist, has worked with more than 1,500 patients affected by cancer in some way.

She specializes in micropigmentation, the application of permanent makeup to various parts of the body. For those who’ve lost hair due to chemotherapy, Lucia tattoos eyebrows. Those who’ve lost sight due to cancers of the eye get permanent eyeliner. And women whose breasts were reconstructed following mastectomies experience Lucia’s specialty: the illusion of a real three-dimensional areola. “I can draw and design. I have a gift. If I can give back to the community, I think it’s a beautiful thing,” Lucia said.

For the last three years, Lucia has set aside one day in October to offer free services to women undergoing or recovering from treatment and surgery. This year, it’s October 22.

Lucia has found that when her clients feel they’ve retained their femininity—and even just their eyebrows, which can make the difference between looking sick and healthy—they can endure treatment better. “It returns their self-esteem. Cancer is very traumatic. Just hearing the word brings you down completely. This can help people feel better emotionally and physically.”

Many times, giving back to their communities and to other women in need also helps cancer patients and survivors physically feel better, according to Prag. “It’s a way of healing,” she said, noting that almost all of the BBCC’s volunteers are either survivors themselves or relatives of survivors or those lost to cancer.

“For women battling cancer alone, Prag offered a kind word of advice: “Remember that it’s not a handout, it’s a hand up.”