The phone rings at Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center. On the other end of the line is an individual recently diagnosed with breast cancer who, for the first time in her life, is unsure of what to do. Overwhelmed is the word she uses multiple times throughout the conversation with Forge staff; not certain who to talk to and feeling completely alone since she heard the word cancer.
For breast cancer survivors in Central Alabama, that’s where Forge steps in filling a crucial void in navigating treatment and beyond by providing personalized services, support, and resources to breast cancer survivors, their loved ones, and the healthcare professionals that serve them. Today, with early detection and improved treatment options, the number of breast cancer survivors continues to increase, says Caroline McClain, Director of Forge.
“Forge has seen tremendous growth over the past few years as more people move beyond treatment and yearn for opportunities to thrive beyond the word cancer,” says McClain. “We want to empower individuals to find a voice that is louder than cancer and take back their lives.”
Connecting With Community
Forge provides an avenue for individuals to live their best quality of life, connecting survivors with one another. “We are proud to encourage a community of survivors and co-survivors who understand what you are going through,” says McClain.
“A survivor may reach out to Forge saying they already have a support system of family and friends in place, but not someone that has been on this journey that they can call and not be embarrassed to sit and cry with.” For this reason, among others, Forge puts a great deal of thought into its mentorship and advocacy programs. McClain shares, “We are able to align clients with people who can relate to them in ways that even their most-loved ones cannot.”
When you speak with a Forge team member for the first time, you’ll find that, depending on your needs, they will schedule time to look at the big picture idea of what is going on, as well as your primary needs and concerns. “All of our clients receive individualized attention that meets, and often exceeds, their needs,” says McClain.
From there, Forge works with the survivor to connect them with a Forge Volunteer or Advocate and help to navigate them through the hundreds of resources available in our community.
“I have connected with many beautiful people on this journey with Forge. Forge has allotted me the opportunity to meet, serve, share, and care for beautiful people in need outside of my normal circle and culture. Prayerfully, the experience has been as enriching for those I have thus far served as it has been for me,” shares a Forge Volunteer and Lifestyle Class Participant.
Forge never wants a survivor to feel alone.
As part of that community-centered effort, you can find Forge staff in the community throughout the month helping lead various lifestyle programming that encourages survivors to connect with one another through topics such as art, gardening, and movement.
Held the first Thursday of each month, Forge’s “Survive Strong” movement and wellness class gets survivors up and moving in a forum that is designed to inspire and empower survivors to reach their full potential. Conceived in partnership with Dr. Amanda Peterson of Benchmark Physical Therapy in Homewood, participants may find themselves practicing yoga one month, line dancing the next, and Taekwondo or even Zumba later in the year.
Having been involved with Forge since its inception, Peterson shares “I wanted to serve the breast cancer community in Birmingham as I saw family and friends go through breast cancer and not have the resources I’d hope they would have.”
And just as important as the movement itself, is the community aspect of each class. “We have a great time and the sound of laughter often fills the room!” says Forge’s McClain.
More recently, Forge hosted art therapy for young breast cancer survivors. This hands-on class gave breast cancer survivors and their loved ones a chance to spend a few hours
together expressing their thoughts through paint and a canvas.
“It was truly a beautiful class as survivors and co-survivors of all ages and backgrounds came together to create and share,” says McClain. To see a blank canvas come to life with vibrant colors was exciting for everyone in the room.
Throughout the year, Forge encourages survivors to dig deeper into their journey by hosting retreats. McClain shares, “While we want people to have fun and build community through our lifestyle classes and in connecting with one another, we also recognize that there is a flood of emotion that comes with fighting cancer and claiming survivorship. We want to give voice to that pain while also helping find the joy and hope in life.”
This month, Forge will again host its annual Restorative and Relaxing Retreat for Survivors. With yoga, guided meditation, and a nature walk, survivors will be able to come together to share their experience, fears, hope, and find understanding.
“Our retreats provide an opportunity for survivors to take time to reflect upon their survivorship journey, set goals, and find strength,” says McClain. After a retreat for Metastatic survivors, many of the women left feeling that they had gained a sense of “hope.” So often, when someone receives a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s easy to lose hope, but Forge empowers each individual to take an active role in their survivorship journey to, “Forge a new Future.”
As Carla Youngblood, Forge volunteer and breast cancer survivor shares, “When I think of Forge, the first word that comes to mind is ‘Hope!’ because Forge offers support to survivors in endless ways and indefinitely.”