Victoria woman builds on experience with breast cancer

Jessica  Rodrigo By Jessica Rodrigo

Sept. 26, 2012 at 4:26 a.m.

As a result of one woman's fight with breast cancer, Victoria has two things to offer - a support group for cancer patients and survivors, and a liaison for victims of violent crimes.

Wendi DuVall, breast cancer survivor and crime victim liaison for the Victoria Police Department, said cancer changed her into a different person.

"I love to tell people who are battling cancer right now, that cancer changed me in beautiful ways," the 41-year-old said.

In August 2006, DuVall was diagnosed with an intraductal carcinoma.

Keeping a positive attitude about what happened, she jokes that her twin towers fell on Sept. 11, 2006. That is when she underwent surgery at Citizens Medical Center and completed a successful double mastectomy.

"We have an amazing cancer team here in Victoria," she said. "You don't have to travel to Austin or Houston for great cancer treatment."

It wasn't until after four months of chemotherapy that DuVall felt herself change emotionally. A panic spread through her just as the cancer treatment ran through her veins.

Worries of remission started to fill her mind. She felt vulnerable and in need of support from others who had gone through the same experience as her.

"I needed a bosom buddy," she said.

Find those in need

After doing some research, she learned about a support group that met during the day. The only problem was she worked during the day and couldn't make the meetings. She wasn't getting the support she wanted.

Taking control of her predicament, she looked into starting her own support group. With help from her doctor, Dr. Craig Chang, she met with Connie Murray at Citizens Women's Diagnostic Center.

Together, the two met with other interested women to form a committee that would approach Citizens about building a support group.

"There just needs to be more options," DuVall said.

Murray, who had breast cancer in 1995, said there wasn't a support group to help her through the transformation.

"Not one that I would have been comfortable with," 64-year-old Murray added. "I thought (Breast Friends) was a very good idea."

In April 2007, Breast Friends was formed. It made its home at Citizens HealthPlex and has continued to grow.

DuVall said the meetings average about 10-12 people with close to 50 people in the entire support group. Even if the diagnosis is different, she said the emotion is the same for people with cancer.

Though the group may initially attract women, men need the support, too.

These people would have never crossed paths, had it not been for this common denominator of cancer, Duvall said.

Murray agreed the members of the group come from all walks of life, including attorneys and nurses. With such a diverse group of members, she said they are able to share their personal experiences of treatments and results with each other.

As part of educating the group, DuVall invites guest speakers from the community to cover different topics that relate to cancer. They have a variety of surgeons, nurses and therapists who discuss breakthroughs in cancer treatments or methods of prevention.

At one time, DuVall said, she had yoga and Zumba instructors teach the group there are more options than just jogging to stay in shape.

After five years of being a part of the group, DuVall may have missed two or three meetings while she was out of town or feeling sick, but otherwise, she is always prepared to share her experiences with strangers or lend an ear to others.

"Wendi was the one that really wanted to get it started and get it going. She does everything for it," Murray said.

Murray serves as a contact person for the Breast Friends and often describes the group as meeting in a relaxing setting where people can learn things about cancer and treatments from real people who have experienced it.

DuVall hopes to celebrate her sixth "cancer-versary" in March. She believes, had she not had her experience with cancer, she wouldn't have been able to work with the Breast Friends support group, becasue she developed a gift for working with people in the midst of the grieving process.

"When you have a terminal, or potentially terminal illness like cancer, when you lose a body part like a breast, you grieve over it and you go through stages," she said.

Grieving is an important step in the process to recovery, whether it be a life-changing event with cancer or as a victim of a traumatic experience. DuVall said speaking about or even just listening to someone else talk about it can be the biggest help.

"The beautiful thing about Breast Friends is that it's a safe place to cry. It's a safe place to be angry. It's a safe place to talk about what we're afraid of," she said.



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