A friend was tugging at the back of her dress. She exhaled and asked, “Will you please just pull that part up over my scar?” I hadn’t noticed anything, but I reached over and pulled where the dress crossed over her left shoulder blade. She had had reconstructive surgery after being treated for breast cancer, and the tissue had been taken from her back. I realized that every day she still thinks about cancer and feels self-conscious.
Also recently I was visiting another friend being treated for lung cancer. Her fiancé was holding her hands and asking her not to cry. She quietly pleaded, “I’m not depressed. Sometimes I just have to cry.” We encouraged her to do just that.
Both of these women were able to tell those who care about them what they needed. That’s invaluable. The new Connecticut Challenge Center, located in the heart of Southport, focuses on survivors’ needs in a survivor-sensitive environment. They know what survivors need. It’s the brainchild of Jeff Keith, a dynamic Fairfielder who went through cancer treatment as a teen. He’s had to live with the ramifications ever since. It’s why the center is flooded with natural light and the interior is painted in crisp white and cool gray tones—the minimalist equivalent of a big, cleansing breath. It has showers big enough to change in, something body-conscious survivors might appreciate; offices with glass walls, which contribute to the open feel while shades drop for counseling; and a kitchen for cooking demonstrations.
While Keith is the heart of the place, good luck getting him to talk about himself. He adeptly shifts the conversation to the goals of his latest endeavor. His story, however much he chooses not to verbalize it, infuses everything here, from the Zen garden created out of neglected land to a tricked-out spinning room open to all.
It brings to mind the extraordinary Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center, also in Fairfield. It, too, serves cancer patients, those in treatment and those in post-op. The offices are incredibly warm and considerate—a deep caring permeates the space. The center recently widened the scope of its programs by developing wellness classes—like yoga and acupuncture—which are open to the community. They’ve long hosted amazing events that have become part of the fabric of life in our town, to those who have had cancer and those who love them. (See People+Places, page 23).
Change is taking place. These two amazing organizations, along with the major area hospitals, like Yale–New Haven, are pushing treatments, care, and support forward and in the many ways survivors say they need it.