Written By Josh Fernandez, Digital Media Specialist
In 1999, five women approached Lorraine Nagy, BSN, MPH, of World Bank’s Health Services Department. After participating in a survey for Lorraine’s master’s thesis on promoters and barriers to mammography screening among World Bank employees, the women were eager to start a breast cancer support group in the Washington, D.C., office where they worked.
The women—hailing from Canada, England, Nicaragua and Senegal—had completed active treatment for breast cancer. They wanted to offer support to the newly diagnosed, especially those who, like them, were dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis in a foreign country, under a foreign healthcare system and separated from family and friends by thousands of miles.
“It was difficult for them to be in support groups with an American population. They felt adrift because of cultural barriers and needed to talk to one another,” Lorraine says.
Lorraine approached nurse practitioner and World Bank employee Bonnie Chisholm, who had been treated for breast cancer nine years ago, to help create the group. By June 2000, World Bank’s Breast Cancer Support Group had conducted its first meeting, with Lorraine and Bonnie serving as co-chairs.
Through health fairs, in-house promotion to overseas offices and word of mouth, the group has grown from seven to between 12 and 20 women who attend monthly meetings and has developed a worldwide membership of 139 World Bank employees.
Developing Healthcare Expertise
Lorraine’s healthcare training began long before she became co-founder of the World Bank’s Breast Cancer Support Group.
After she graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, Lorraine worked as a staff nurse on the hematology and oncology floor at Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. In 1982, after shifting her focus to maternal and pediatric health, Lorraine became a health specialist at the World Bank. Feeling a desire to “participate in her first love,” health education, she returned to school 15 years later to study public health at George Washington University.
Her background and expertise comes in handy for members of the support group, who routinely ask technical questions.
“This is a highly educated group that reads the clinical studies and reviews things very carefully, so they rely upon me to stay current,” Lorraine says.
Facilitating A Support Group
To distribute information among group members, Lorraine forwards meeting minutes and e-news from Living Beyond Breast Cancer, participates in LBBC teleconferences and goes to national conferences like the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium and LBBC’s 2009 Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference, which both she and Bonnie attended.
When women newly diagnosed with breast cancer approach Lorraine, she hands them an information packet including LBBC literature, offers transportation to treatment centers and discusses initial concerns and fears.
Lorraine also connects group members with each other so that each member receives support and guidance from someone they can relate to.
“There is a hunger and a passion [from group members] to reach out to those who are newly diagnosed, take them under their wing and help them,” Lorraine says.
Losing a Friend and Colleague
In June 2010, Lorraine received an email that Bonnie was in hospice with metastatic breast cancer. Lorraine was on a mission for the World Bank in Cairo at the time and had to visit other locations in the Middle East before returning home.
“I hoped and prayed I would make it back in time, because I was only two days into the mission and had to continue,” she recalls.
In July 2010, Bonnie passed away. Group members who knew Bonnie remember her as “a loving, engaging and caring role model,” Lorraine says.
“She was the perfect person to lead a support group. People would look at her and think, ‘I can be that, too. I can be strong and vibrant, get back to my life and help others,’” Lorraine says.
Approaching the End of Her Healthcare Provider Journey
Lorraine is now retired and preparing nurse practitioner Ann Boley to take over as the group’s chair beginning in September, 2012.. However, she plans to remain involved in the group and take part in breast cancer-related events—she and two group members will participate in LBBC’s Yoga on the Steps: Washington, D.C., at Freedom Plaza on Oct. 14.
“I am a yoga practitioner, so I know the benefits of yoga, especially for some of the new survivors who have anxieties or different musculoskeletal issues,” she says.
Lorraine feels blessed to have worked with the group and watched it flourish.
“I think I’ve learned far more from the support group members than I am able to convey,” Lorraine says. “Through their experience, our members help and encourage each other in hope and resiliency.”