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Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center aims to provide support for healing, thriving after cancer

The Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center is housed in the Southside area of Birmingham. (contributed)

By Joseph D. Bryant

Lauren Roberts was surrounded by a seemingly endless supply of pink bags as she stood in the back office of a 134-year-old Victorian mansion in Birmingham’s Southside. The gifts were soon set for delivery. For most of the people receiving them, it would be their first introduction to the Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center.

Lauren Roberts, executive director of Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center. (contributed)

The Birmingham-based agency was founded in 2015 to serve Jefferson, Shelby, Walker, Blount and St. Clair counties. Word about Forge has since traveled far beyond its initial coverage area.“These are the bags that we give to all the doctors’ offices,” said Roberts, Forge’s executive director. “We are here from Day One of a breast cancer diagnosis through the rest of their lives, and for their caregivers, family and loved ones, too.”

The organization provides opportunities for breast cancer patients and survivors to connect and learn from experts and each other. Activity abounds in each corner of the Forge headquarters, which offers intimate spaces for conversation, games and lifestyle classes.

“A lot of our lifestyle classes are taught by volunteers and former clients,” Roberts said. “It feels like a home, hopefully. That is our goal.”

Additional activities include a support group for young breast cancer survivors that began in January and a metastatic breast cancer support group that launched in September.

Forge aims to assist breast cancer patients with a variety of issues that arise as a result of their diagnosis. The list varies from free mental health and financial counseling to gift cards for groceries and transportation to appointments.

“We find we are most needed after active treatment is over,” Roberts said. “Our goal is to solve any obstacle that gets in the way of healing and living a long, great, wonderful life. If we don’t provide it, we will connect you with someone who does. Whatever your issue is, we can help resolve it so you can concentrate on healing.”

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Forge’s relationship with UAB runs deep. David Randall, UAB Health System senior vice president of Strategic Planning and Business Development, is a member of the Forge leadership team. Six current and former UAB experts are members of the Forge clinical advisory committee: Dr. Katia Khoury, Dr. Rachael Lancaster, Nicholas Dionne-Odom, Dr. John Carpenter, R.N. Madeline Harris and Jennifer Hicks, MSHA.

“The connections that UAB has really are a tremendous benefit to us,” said Roberts, who is on the Community Advisory Board for the Office of Community Outreach & Engagement at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center. “UAB has been wonderful about connecting us to others in our community whose goal is to support and serve breast cancer patients.”

Nearly a third of Forge’s clients are treated at the O’Neal Cancer Center.

The pandemic has not slowed activity at Forge but, rather, has led to greater creativity. There has been a 121% increase in virtual, in-person and hybrid programs offered so far in 2021 and a 52% increase in active clients since the start of the year, Roberts said.

On Oct. 14, Forge will present Haute Pink, its first benefit event. The fashion show is designed to inspire, honor and remember those affected by breast cancer. The event will feature 10 of Forge’s clients and supporters who will model customized fashions created by Birmingham designers. Learn more at hautepink.swell.gives.

This story originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Community Connections, the monthly newsletter of the Office of Community Outreach & Engagement at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB.