Shared from the 10/1/2017 San Antonio Express eEdition

SURVIVOR

HELPING OTHERS ON SAME PATH

Pink Warrior Angels offers guidance

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Now in remission after breast cancer treatment, Reynolds, along with her husband, is ticking off items on her bucket list. Here, she poses while on a trip to Ireland. Courtesy Jennifer Reynolds

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John Davenport / San Antonio Express-News

Breast cancer survivor Jennifer Reynolds helped launch a nonprofit for women undergoing treatment.

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John Davenport / San Antonio Express-News

Alicia Gutierrez had Reynolds at her side during eight chemotherapy sessions.

After Jennifer Reynolds’ doctor told her she had breast cancer, he continued to discuss her medical options, referrals to other physicians and timetables for treatment.

“But all I heard after he said ‘breast cancer’ was, “You’re gonna die,’ ” said Reynolds, who was 33 at the time.

After the 2013 diagnosis, Reynolds did all the things people do when they get a cancer diagnosis. For a while she was in shock. She cried. She asked, “Why me?” But then she bucked up and, with support from husband Kyle and mother Charlene Doll, who moved in with them temporarily, she underwent seven chemotherapy sessions and a double mastectomy.

Because breast and ovarian cancers are related, when she turns 40 in a few years, she’ll have a prophylactic oophorectomy, or ovary removal.

But even as her cancer went into remission and she slowly started putting her life back together, the memory of feeling lost and almost insignificant while caught in the large cancer industrial complex left her wanting to do more so that other women wouldn’t have to go through what she experienced.

“When you’re getting treatment for cancer, you’re stripped of everything, from your personal dignity to your face as your eyebrows and eyelashes fall out,” she said. “And no one tells you what to expect, or whether what is happening or how you feel is normal.”

To help fill this void, Reynolds, along with Julie Moser, a friend she met online after she began writing a blog, decided in 2015 to launch a nonprofit designed to support women undergoing breast cancer treatment.

Pink Warrior Angels is a kind of Alcoholics Anonymous for women with breast cancer. Women who are referred to the group or contact it directly (called “warriors” in PWA lingo) are matched with another woman (an “angel”), typically a cancer survivor who, like an AA sponsor, provides physical and emotional support.

“There are a lot of charities that raise funds for research, but Julie and I thought there weren’t enough that help with the emotional turmoil of going through cancer treatment and what that does to you.”

Together, warrior and angel decide the level of support that’s needed, but often it involves the warrior simply answering questions, recounting her own experiences or offering a shoulder to cry on.

Many angels accompany their warrior to chemotherapy sessions.

Reynolds did just that during Alicia Gutierrez’s eight rounds.

“I was new to the New Braunfels area and I didn’t know anyone,” Gutierrez said when the two met for coffee just off the city’s main square recently. “It meant so much that she would come and sit with me.”

If you didn’t know their back stories, you would have thought the two women were just a couple of friends having coffee. And they were, except they passed the time talking about how Gutierrez’s hair was growing back following chemo, her newly reconstructed breasts and whether the surgeon took her nipples during her mastectomy (they did).

“I told my doctor, ‘Take everything you need to so I don’t have to worry about getting cancer again,’ ” she said.

At one point, Gutierrez enthusiastically recalled how a woman in a store told her how much she loved her hair.

“That was the first time someone said something nice to me like that, and I decided I wasn’t going to play cancer girl and explain the whole chemo thing,” she said. “I just took the compliment and said, ‘Thank you.’ ”

Pink Warrior Angels also provides grants to women in financial need, which, Reynolds said, they’re able to do quickly because of their small size.

Recently, for example, they heard from a woman who needed surgery but couldn’t afford the co-pay, which was less than $1,000.

“She contacted us on a Thursday and we were able to get a check to her surgeon so she could have surgery the next Monday,” Reynolds said.

She admits she still has occasional attacks of depression and anxiety. But she finds a way to get through every day.

“I wake up each morning and tell myself, ‘You’re not going to find out you have cancer today, so live your life,’ ” she explained. rmarini@express-news.net Twitter: @RichardMarini

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