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‘Sister Survivors’ offers support, friendships for those touched by cancer

By Staff | Apr 6, 2016

A group of women have formed a forever bond during a monthly dinner here on the island with others who have fought similar battles while overcoming cancer.

“It’s the kind of group you hope you never have to join,” Sanibel resident Moni Arnowitz said about Sister Survivors. “It’s a wonderful group of ladies, especially Carol (Strange). She holds this group together. She is about one of the most caring individuals I have ever met in my life. That Carol is one incredible human being. I am really grateful that I met her.”

Sister Survivors is a support group that meets once a month at Trader’s to provide an opportunity for individuals to share their journey, while creating friendships in an understanding environment.

“I joined the group about a year after I went through cancer,” Arnowitz said. “I have been with them since 2005.”

The breast cancer survivor heard about Sister Survivors through a friend of hers that encouraged her to attend one of the monthly gatherings.

“At first I didn’t want to go. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about cancer,” she said. “The main thing is you know if you needed help, or just a shoulder to cry on, those women would drop everything and be there for one another. It makes these ladies so special. It sure makes the road to travel on a lot smoother just knowing there are all these wonderful people in the background that are there for you.”

The journey of first learning she had breast cancer, through fighting the disease and becoming cancer free, Arnowitz formed a new appreciation for life.

“You don’t know why it’s this person and not you, but all you know is you become truly grateful for every day. You appreciate your health. You appreciate just the simple fact that you wake up, see the sun and you can get out of bed. You don’t take all of this for granted anymore. That is the other silver lining in the cloud. You become more aware. You become softer. You become more compassionate. All in all, that dreaded ‘c’ also gives you some gifts. It gives you a lot of positive things you just don’t see it when you first feel it,” she said.

Last year, Joan Brusch, also a Sanibel resident, heard about Sister Survivors while registering for the Relay for Life of Sanibel and Captiva event. She said she was invited to become a member of Strange’s team.

“When I showed up I didn’t know anyone. They took me under their wing and I spent the day with them and then started joining them for dinner and meetings. They were all very gracious and receptive and very welcoming,” Brusch said.

She said she is thankful for her friends and family and the support and love she has received from them.

Another member of the group, Pat Boris, a Captiva resident, joined almost from the beginning of when she was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago after she heard about Sister Survivors through a friend.

“We used to meet in people’s homes, (but now) we meet usually at Trader’s. We celebrate each other’s happy days, sad days, birthdays and anniversaries,” Boris said. “Personally I would say since everyone has been through breast cancer, or some other kind, they have been through every imaginable up and down – surgeries, relapses, testing their children for the BROCA gene. When people’s hair fall out we celebrate it and lend some hats and scarves and take pictures. It’s a very light group. Even if there is something sad in their life going on. It has really been helpful to know that someone has been there before and give some perspective to come out on the other side.”

These women, among others, last year had the opportunity to further celebrate surviving cancer during the Relay for Life of Sanibel and Captiva event, which is coming back to the island again this year.

Brusch, who is nearing her 10 year anniversary of being breast cancer free on April 20, has a special way to celebrate the milestone this year during the Relay for Life of Sanibel and Captiva event scheduled for Friday, April 15.

“It’s a time to give back and try to get funding for research,” she said. “It’s a time that people need support. We are there to give them support also.”

Brusch really enjoys the luminary ceremony during the Relay for Life event.

“It’s a beautiful sight, but it’s also very difficult because most of the luminaries are in memory of loved ones. That usually stands out to me,” she said. “I have had many relatives to pass from cancer and I do a luminary for them.”

Boris said last year’s event was great and she thoroughly enjoyed attending because it brings people from the islands and beyond together, always in good spirits. Although she will not be able to attend this year, she said the event sometimes provides the opportunity to help someone that is just beginning their journey.

Arnowitz, who will also be out of town this year during the Relay for Life event, said last year’s event provided a nice atmosphere of being around others who have been faced with cancer.

“You look around you and you see people and say ‘oh my gosh, I didn’t know he or she had cancer.’ It’s such a wake up call because you see people that you had no clue that they went through this,” she said.

Arnowitz also enjoyed the luminary ceremony, especially since all of them were lit as it started to get dark. She said when writing down a loved ones name who lost the battle to cancer, dealt with cancer, or are currently dealing with cancer it gives you goosebumps.

“That was so moving and touching,” Arnowitz said.

Last year one of her friends painted a number of the plain white luminary bags with her art group, which she saved.

“That was quite special,” Arnowitz said.

For more information about this year’s Relay for Life event visit www.relayforlife.org/sanibelcaptivafl.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.