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The Cause: Breast Cancer Survivor Amy Dressler

Amy Dressler of Sunapee in her backyard with a view of Mount Sunapee on November 27, 2012. Dressler, who now leads monthly meetings of the breast cancer support group "TGIF," began at the group as a member. 
Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Amy Dressler of Sunapee in her backyard with a view of Mount Sunapee on November 27, 2012. Dressler, who now leads monthly meetings of the breast cancer support group "TGIF," began at the group as a member. Valley News - Sarah Priestap

The Woman: Amy Dressler, 43, of Sunapee.

The Cause: Supporting breast cancer survivors and those being treated for it.

The Means: TGIF, a support group that meets from 4:30- 6 p.m. on the first Friday of each month at Molly’s in Hanover for drinks and to talk about everything — cancer and non-cancer related. In between meetings, the women support one another through emails, and visit those in their group going through surgeries or treatment.

The Impetus: In October of 2005, Dressler, who then lived in Woodstock, where she worked as a teacher, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She began 15 months of treatment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where her care coordinator suggested she attend TGIF, which was founded and run at the time by PJ Hamel. Even after she was declared “cancer-free,” Dressler continued to attend the group, and when Hamel moved away and the future of the group was in jeopardy, Dressler stepped up and has been leading TGIF for about a year.

Six months into my treatment, in April of 2006, my breast care coordinator Laurel Ludy came to see me, and said, ‘I know you are not a support group person, but there’s this group, I think this would be a great group for you. They’re not really an official support group so I can’t officially refer you, but I can get you in touch with these ladies via email and what they do is they go to happy hour once a month . . . There’s no psychologist, no sociologist, nothing like that going on. It’s just women who are survivors who want to go out for a drink together.’

So I emailed PJ Hamel, and June of 2006 was the first time I went to TGIF, which stands for Thank God It’s Friday. But PJ always says, ‘Thank God it’s Friday or any day. I’m so glad we’re all here.’ So I went and met a bunch of ladies. A few weeks later, in July, I had my surgery at DHMC. I had only gone to TGIF once and met these women once. So I went in for my surgery and over the course of the week that I was in the hospital, three different people from TGIF came and visited me. I barely knew these people, but there they were, showing their support.

So that’s how I found them, and I kept going every month, because it was a lovely way to get together with people, and we just talk about whatever. We don’t just talk about breast cancer — there’s no agenda. People show up and you complain about your boss and whatever is going on at work, and your kids are making you crazy. We brag about good things that are happening, too ... .But we are happy to talk about cancer whenever that comes up too, and there are new people that show up pretty much every month. It got to the point where (DHMC) started seeing people feeling better and having more success who were a part of our group, and now DHMC is officially able to refer people to our group.

Generally, we have about 10 different women who will show up, sometimes it’s 12 to 14; we meet and talk about what’s going on. The rest of the group, and I would say it’s around 50 to 60 women who are going through treatment and people who have been survivors for some time, will communicate through email. You could be six months, two years, even five years out, and go to your doctor and when they check your levels they might see something they don’t like and maybe order some extra tests or make a change in your medication, and when they do that, you go “Ahhhhh.” All of the sudden you are afraid. Because (breast cancer) can come back ... . If something comes up, any issues, you just put it out to the group over email, and tell them your issues and ask them if they’ve had similar experiences. Or if they’re recommending surgery for someone who is newly diagnosed and they are having a mastectomy, and they’re wondering, “Should I have reconstruction?” or, “Which plastic surgeon would you recommend?” ... So you get all of this information, from people who have faces. It’s not like talking on a forum online, it’s people you’ve met.

There’s a lot of friends in the group that I wouldn’t have made if I hadn’t had cancer. It’s a crappy way to meet new friends. But you gotta take some good out of the situation you are in.

Photograph and interview by Sarah Priestap

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