Breast of friends

Girlfriends unite against breast cancer


What: Third annual Bust of Steamboat fund-raiser for the Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project When: 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 22 Where: Depot Art Center, 1001 13th St. Tickets: $5 available at All That Jazz; bring $1 bills to place votes for "Bust of Show" Call: 871-7907 Note: Bras are on display this week at Vectra Bank, 2155 Resort Drive

They still call themselves the Playgroup Moms even though it's been more than a decade since any of their children were crawling.

"Our husbands don't understand Playgroup," Karen Bomberg said.

"No one understands Playgroup," Karin Comeau said.

The group formed years ago, when four mothers started getting together to talk while their babies played. Now, those "babies" are in high school and college. Most of them are seniors this year.

The original group included Comeau, Marilyn McCaulley, Susan Solomon and Carolyn Arithson. As women moved to town with children or became pregnant, the group expanded to include Lauren Hamil, Bomberg, Teri Helm and Tibby Speare.

For all these years, the Playgroup Moms have met once a week, rotating from house to house.

Throughout the years, they've been through a lot together. They were together when the Good News Building exploded. They have helped each other through broken backs, torn ACLs, hysterectomies, divorces and weddings. And during all those years, they have helped each other through five diagnoses of breast cancer.

According to statistics published by the National Cancer Institute, one in eight women will develop breast cancer. Of the eight moms in Playgroup, four have had breast cancer. One was diagnosed with the disease twice.

Arithson received the first diagnosis seven years ago. She found out during an exam at a doctor's office in Denver.

"We made ice cream sundaes at my house," Helm said. "We all sat around and wondered, 'Where do we go from here?'"

Seven years later, the Playgroup Moms know exactly what to do when someone gets diagnosed with breast cancer. They prepare for months of making meals and doing laundry. They prepare for the hours of phone calls and the drives to Denver. They pull out the little cotton skullcap that gets passed around.

"But for (Arithson) we had to invent the wheel," Helm said. Arithson went to the doctor because she had found a lump. Her cancer was diagnosed in Stage 3. (There are four stages of breast cancer. One is early diagnosis. Four requires a mastectomy.)

Although Arithson traveled to Denver for chemotherapy, Yampa Valley Medical Center offers chemotherapy to cancer patients.

In recent years, YVMC also has added the Computer Assisted Detection system to its mammography equipment. The hospital staff also can perform stereotactic breast biopsies.

"There is no longer a need to have surgical biopsies in most cases," YVMC spokeswoman Christine McKelvie said. "We've really built our detection equipment and services over the past several years."

The one service not offered in the Yampa Valley is radiation.

The hardest part of cancer treatment, Hamil said, was spending so much time away from family in Denver. Radiation treatments last five days a week for six weeks.

The second time Arithson was diagnosed, years after her original cancer had been eradicated, there was no lump, and her cancer was found early during a routine mammogram.

"The second time around was a lot harder," Arithson said.

Solomon remembers finding out about the second diagnosis. Arithson called McCaulley with the news, and McCaulley ("our caretaker") called the rest of the group.

Arithson learned she would need a mastectomy on one of her breasts.

"When I found out that breast had to go, I decided both could go," she said.

Arithson's experience paved the way for the rest of the women when they were diagnosed.

Solomon didn't have a lump, and the mammogram that found her breast cancer was the first one of her life. She was 37 years old.

Solomon called McCaulley with the news.

"She's our alpha female. She can deal with the bad news," Solomon said. "She just says, 'Alright. What do we do next?'"

It has been five years since Comeau ended her treatments, which means her risk levels have returned to normal.

"(When I was going through treatment,) it was all about these ladies," she said. "They brought in food and took care of the kids, and every weekend when I came back from radiation, we would have a dinner party. That's what gets you through."

Hamil was brought into Playgroup after her diagnosis. She has lived in Steamboat Springs for 25 years. She knew the Playgroup Moms but had never been a regular part of the group. When they found out Hamil had breast cancer, they stepped in.

"We didn't want her to be out there by herself," Comeau said.

The women called her regularly during radiation and when she got back to Steamboat, the Playgroup put her on the regular rotation of hostesses for the weekly meetings. That was three years ago.

Of the four women who survived breast cancer in the Playgroup, all said the secret to making it through is "your girlfriends."

"Your husband isn't always the best help," Solomon said. "The girls come over and throw in a load of laundry or they throw you in the shower."

A collage of photos of the group wraps around the framed words, "Friendship, said Christopher Robin, is a very comforting thing to have."

Because four women from the group have survived breast cancer, the group has adopted it as a cause.

The women travel to Denver to participate in the Race for the Cure. Between them, they bring along seven daughters.

And three years ago, when the Bust of Steamboat fund-raiser began locally, the group knew it was something they wanted to add to their efforts.

Last year and this year, they have contributed to the Bust of Steamboat fund-raiser.

"We started with the Race for the Cure, but this has been really great to have something in Steamboat. We can put our energy into that," Helm said.

Last year, Bust of Steamboat raised $21,000, funds that are available for anything from mammograms to help getting to Denver for treatments.

This year, 25 bras decorated by local artists will be up for auction. In 2003, bras sold for prices from $25 to $1,200.

On Monday, a day before the bra was due, the Playgroup Moms gathered at Bomberg's house with needles and thread and put the finishing touches on their bra.

"What time is this due tomorrow?" someone asked.

The Western-themed bra, decorated with leather and a lasso, is titled "BRAnd New Day."

"For each of these women, they had to rally and find a way to get through each day," Bomberg said. "And every day (since their diagnosis) is a brand new day."


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