20 February 2024

Survivors who 'get it' become Bosom Buddies for Canberra breast cancer patients

| Katrina Condie
Start the conversation
Three ladies in pink

Bosom Buddies executive officer Catherine Rider-Aichholzer with Gunning and District Community & Health Service general manager Katie Yeo and Goulburn McGrath Breast Care nurse Christine Walterlin. Photos: Bosom Buddies.

The ACT’s only local breast cancer support charity, Bosom Buddies, will hand out around 900 ‘buddy bags’ to patients who have undergone surgery in Canberra hospitals this year.

The buddy bags, made and filled by volunteers and given to patients post-surgery, contain helpful items such as drainage bags and seatbelt pillows, as well as information on post-surgery care and breast cancer services available in the region.

Bosom Buddies executive officer Catherine Rider-Aichholzer said the bags were just one of the services provided by the volunteer-based charity that has supported thousands of breast cancer patients for almost 30 years.

“As well as practical items – like the buddy bags and information packs – we have a team of breast cancer survivors of different ages that provide one-on-one peer support to anyone diagnosed with breast cancer and their loved ones,” she said.

“We also facilitate support groups at seven venues in and around Canberra for those going through their cancer journeys.

“Held in a safe and supportive setting, the support groups allow participants to share how they are feeling, ask questions and connect with people who get it who are going through or have gone through a breast cancer diagnosis themselves.”

Catherine said Bosom Buddies’ life-changing programs could not continue without the support of Canberra businesses such as the Canberra Southern Cross Club.

“We are a small, independent charity and don’t get any funding from other cancer organisations. To continue to be able to do what we do, we rely on the generosity of the Canberra and surrounding NSW communities,” she said.

“We do receive grants for specific needs, but we need donations to buy items for our oncology packs and buddy bags and to help people who are financially struggling and can’t afford $100 for a post-surgery garment such as a mastectomy bra.”

READ ALSO Community group input a key ingredient in shaping ground-breaking Canberra Food Strategy

Bosom Buddies is a local charity, and every dollar raised stays in the Canberra community and doesn’t get absorbed in administration costs or passed on to a big charity.

“If we didn’t have Bosom Buddies, where would people go for local, specialised support?”

The Canberra Southern Cross Club’s recent YES-Vember fundraiser supported Bosom Buddies and other Canberra charities by donating 15 cents for every dollar spent by members at the club during November.

Catherine said the funds would help purchase around 900 post-operative buddy bags this year and oncology packs for about 10 patients per week who were having pre-surgery treatment such as chemotherapy.

“We need ongoing funding for buddy bags, which are pretty bags that hold the rubber bladder that drains fluids from the wound following a mastectomy. Hiding the bladder gives many patients the confidence to venture out without feeling conspicuous,” she said.

“The money also helps fund seatbelt pillows that our volunteers make to cushion the wound when people are driving, and stress ball lemons which are used to strengthen the arm after surgery.”

She said the materials for one buddy bag cost the organisation $15; if volunteers didn’t make them, they could cost around $45 each.

The buddy bags, oncology packs, seat belt pillows and other items offer practical help; however, Catherine said they were also a reminder for breast cancer patients that they were supported and loved.

She said one lady, who had no family, was “so traumatised and so alone” that she didn’t know where to turn after her diagnosis.

“That lady said she held her buddy bag to her chest and felt that someone cares,” Catherine explained.

She still has it on her kitchen table as a reminder of all the loving things our volunteers had put in it.

“We do want people to know that they are cared about and supported during this often distressing period in their life.”

READ ALSO How one Dot can connect the community

Volunteers also make wraps in different fabrics and knitted shawls to give patients “a warm hug” when they’re sitting in a cold room having chemotherapy, and beanies for when they experience hair loss. A pouch containing make-up brushes allows patients to take part in the online Look Good, Feel Better program.

“We desperately need funds to help us continue with our support groups, including our group for people younger than 45, and also for our breast cancer awareness and early detection campaigns,” Catherine said.

“We’re covering all the bases, but it all costs money.”

The Bosom Buddies volunteer their time and talents because, as survivors, they are passionate about helping others.

“Our volunteers are various ages and are at different stages in their lives, but they have one thing in common – they are all survivors who understand what it is like to have breast cancer,” Catherine said.

“The charity supports everyone and is aware that breast cancer can affect anyone at any age – the youngest breast cancer survivor in Canberra was diagnosed at 16, and we are aware that the oldest was diagnosed at the age of 92.”

The Bosom Buddies programs are open to everyone, including those in the LGBTQIA+ community because, Catherine said, “we want everyone impacted by breast cancer to know that we are here to support them”.

The Community Rewards Program is a Canberra Southern Cross Club initiative that empowers members to help community groups that matter most to them.


Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.