by Bonnie Rennie

Step into a bright cozy kitchen during the holidays, toasty warm against the cold outside. It radiates the tantalizing aroma of Christmas cookies, and uproarious laughter. See women of many generations bonded in baking together. Many eager hands make the work lighter. Lessons of all sorts are learned. Hearts are joined together. The cookies taste sensational!

Throughout history, women have banded together for their common benefit, in extended families and in communities. They have linked arms to face common threats and disasters and to celebrate happy events. They have gathered in knitting and quilting circles. The driving agenda was to share their stories, their hopes, joys and sorrows in a sisterhood of caring.

In the same tradition, the ACB Women's Concerns Committee has organized a support group by phone for those living with the dual experience of vision loss and breast cancer. Group members provide an empathetic listening ear, practical coping tips from their own experience, and some humor. Having already held our first four sessions with women calling in from all over the country, it can be rightly said that this is truly a community of strength and of grace under pressure.

Groups are facilitated by three social workers who are also ACB members, including one who is a breast cancer survivor. As facilitators, our role is to promote an environment of comfort and encouragement. The selection of topics for discussion is driven by what the participants want to talk about.

In our attempt to make this group a safe and supportive place, we offer some guidelines, standard to such groups. We ask and expect members to honor these. Briefly, they include absolute confidentiality; what happens in the group stays there. We do not engage in medical advice or comparisons of treatments. Each woman's case is unique to her and should ultimately be resolved between her and her treatment team. For those wishing or needing psychotherapy, this group is not the place to receive it. Giving everyone an opportunity who wants one to share at her own comfort level and respect for the feelings expressed are two more items. In this way, even though some painful things may be discussed from time to time, the group can retain a positive tone.

But rest assured, there is still plenty left to talk about. Interaction can range from cultivating a support system, ways to give back and to have fun, dealing with the responses of one's family and friends to one's illness. There is much focus on the endless variety of ways to take good care of oneself. As the group members are getting to know each other better, there is more and more laughter.

If you are a woman who feels you would benefit from this group, via conference call, here's what you need to know. We meet on the first Tuesday evening of each month, beginning at 8:30 p.m. and running to 10:30 p.m. Eastern time. (That's 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Pacific). To attend, call (605) 475-4850 and use meeting ID 727660#. You will then be asked to state your name and city location, so the group knows who is attending and exiting the session. This also promotes confidentiality.

You are welcome to join us in this wonderful telephone support group. As for those luscious frosted cookies mentioned earlier, if only we could share those with you!

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