By Shelley Grieshop
Two days after Karen Hart underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer, she was visited in the hospital by a friend.
Her visitor, Dolores Cron, is a cancer survivor herself who came to calm Hart's fears.
"She is such a classy lady," Hart, 56, says of Cron. "Just the way she looked and how confident she was, made me feel good."
Cron of Coldwater is a 30-year certified volunteer with Reach to Recovery, a peer program that offers support to women and men with breast cancer. Cron is one of seven active volunteers in Mercer County who are based out of Mercer Health.
The volunteers, who are recertified every two years, offer up-to-date information on issues like suspicious mammograms, diagnosis and pre- or post-surgery, but do not give advice. Their service is free of charge; the program is funded through the American Cancer Society. Carol Muhlenkamp, a registered nurse at Mercer County Community Hospital, Coldwater, has been program coordinator the last five years. She works in the pre-admission department at the hospital, which provides her the unique opportunity of offering the program to patients prior to cancer-related surgery.
"We've had about 20 Reach to Recovery clients each year for the last five years," says Muhlenkamp.
Statistically, Mercer County has about 30 new breast cancer diagnosis per year, she says. Her frustration is that some area residents are treated elsewhere and don't know the program exists in the county.
Cron, 69, was one of the first Reach to Recovery clients in the area after being diagnosed with the illness in October 1975. Following a mastectomy, she was approached by Coldwater resident and cancer survivor, Jane Hammond, a program volunteer.
"Jane had a mastectomy a year earlier and was very supportive," Cron says.
Later, Hammond asked Cron to join the Reach to Recovery team and she willingly accepted.
Hart, a mother of three adult children who has five grandchildren, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February. After experiencing cystic (non-cancerous) lumps in her breast for several years, the cancer diagnosis came as an unwelcome shock, the Celina woman says.
The lumps she noticed a year ago appeared to be the familiar cysts she'd experienced before. But by January something had changed.
"The lumps were bigger and firmer and something just didn't seem right," she says.
Tests eventually revealed cancer cells and she underwent a mastectomy several weeks later. She completed chemotherapy treatments in July and her hair -- which had fallen out by the handfuls -- has begun to grow back.
"I just put my wig away this week," Hart says with an upbeat smile.
A librarian at the Mercer County Library in Celina for 35 years, she is back on the job and taking medication to help keep the cancer at bay. No longer do doctors declare patients to be survivors after five years, she adds.
Early on, Cron showed Hart how to do exercises to keep her muscles loose and gave her booklets to answer questions she might think of later. But the most important thing Cron offered her that winter day in February was inspiration, Hart says.
"Just seeing her and realizing there are survivors out there who go on with their lives, gave me hope," she says.