Beverly Raudabaugh and Sue Barkhausen met in church and became friends through their children.
But they bonded over something decidedly unpleasant: breast cancer.
The two local women were diagnosed with breast cancer 18 months apart. They grew close as they helped each other cope with the aftereffects of the disease, which last year struck an estimated 288,000 women, according to breastcancer.org.
After months of chemotherapy and other treatments, the two survivors appear healthy and optimistic and are dedicating themselves to helping others through Pink for Tomorrow, a growing support group they founded for local women battling breast cancer.
"Pink is the color of breast cancer," Raudabaugh, who lives in Lake Forest, said. "And we talked about using 'tomorrow' as a connotation of hope. And that's what we are all about. We are all hoping to be here tomorrow."
The group came together in January of 2011 after a party marking the end of Sue's treatments.
New Web Site Reaches Out
Thirteen survivors attended; now the group has grown to 45 and the two women are reaching out for new members with a web site.
"There were 13 of us there, all survivors" Barkhausen, a local teacher from Lake Bluff, said. "And I threw the party to thank everyone for helping me go through the journey. At the end of dinner, we all shared our story and someone said 'Why don't we turn this into a support group.' "
The idea behind the group is to provide members with information about cancer develop a network of local survivors and, if needed, provide a shoulder on which to cry. "When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I didn't know anybody," Raudabaugh said. "I didn't have anybody I could call.
"The group can be helpful to others. If the next person could not be alone in that journey it would be much easier. The road is hard and if you could walk it with someone else, it’s not as hard."
Plans call for the web site to include billboards where visitors can ask questions, tips on coping with the disease and treatments, and information on nutrition. In the group, no subject is out of bounds, they said.
"We talk about everything" Raudabaugh said, "Hot flashes, sex, eating troubles. We are very open."
Growing the Group Becomes Easy
Growing the group has been easy because both women have friends who are going through the disease, they said. "It’s astounding to us how many people have it," Barkhausen said. "As Women mature, the chances go up. The average age is 61."
Raudabaugh said her cancer was discovered during a routine mammogram; she had a biopsy confirming the disease the same day her daughter was accepted to Colgate University. "I was completely devastated," she said.
A registered nurse by training, Raudabaugh, got second opinions, which all confirmed the original diagnosis. "I knew I was in for a really rough time," she said. "I knew what was coming down the pipe."
A year of chemotherapy along with its usual side effects of hair loss and sicknesses followed, but now that treatments are over, she's a new woman.
"I'm enjoying living, Raudabaugh said. “I'm a lot more spiritual than I was. I came to a place that I realized that I can't do this by myself. I need Jesus to help me. "I was 52 (when diagnosed) and I thought I was life to live forever. Now, it’s like 'Gee, I may not live forever. Today is nice."
Barkhausen's cancer didn't show up during a routine physical. "I was told I was cancer free," she said. "Then I went to my gynecologist and I was told 'this doesn't feel right.' "
More Testing Before Diagnosis
More tests were next and then her gynecologist—himself a cancer survivor—called with the dreaded news. "He never used the 'Big C' word," Barkhausen said. "He just said 'You've joined my club.' "You feel as though your heart has dropped. I remember feeling numb."
The doctor laid out the treatments and what would come next. "He was right on every count," Barkhauasen said. Surgeries and chemotherapy treatments followed.
Now recovered and looking—like Beverly—fit and happy, she said that cancer has changed her life forever. "It’s caused me to get out of the box and do different thinks I’ve never done before," she said
That includes travel, exercising more and going on a trip with her church to rehabilitate housing in Michigan. "It makes you go out and experience life," Barkhausen said.
Although both women are obviously changed by their cancers, their main goal remains unchanged: To help other women through Pink for Tomorrow to navigate the same road they traveled.
"I would like to be there for next person who is diagnosed," said Raudabaugh. "To hold her hand and tell her 'it’s not the end of the world. It’s a new chapter."
Pink for Tomorrow next meets in September. For information call Beverly at (847) 814-7423 or Sue at (847) 234-5925.