Breast Connect: You’ve got a friend

Beth KinnaneGet Up & Go, Inside 640

This plea appeared on Facebook in early July: “Local breast cancer patient needs a translator. She is from Guatemala and speaks Q’anjob’al. Can anyone help?” The post originated from a member of Knoxville Breast Connect. And, yes, though it was a longshot, a translator was found.


“This woman was alone and frightened with a scary diagnosis,” said Breast Connect co-founder Nina Reineri. “But we were able to get someone to help her.”

Nina Reineri

Which is the whole point of Breast Connect, finding help, common ground and shared experiences for the newly diagnosed in the Knoxville area.

“It’s about advocacy, it’s not about funding research. We’re here to help with what women have to go through with a super complicated diagnosis,” Reineri said, pointing out the hundreds of variables amongst breast cancer patients and the difficulty in one patient finding another with a diagnosis and treatment protocol that matches their own.

Reineri started the organization following her own diagnosis in 2011 along with Allen Pannell in 2014, receiving non-profit status in 2015. One of the most active elements of the organization is its private Facebook group, which now has over 850 members. It’s an online community where current patients and survivors can post needs, wants, questions about their treatment, recommendations for oncologists, whatever they might be feeling.

“Sometimes, a patient may want a second opinion,” Reineri said. “This is a place to help women understand they need to speak their minds. And always, always, to know they have the right to take a step back and make another choice. We’re a resource for that.”

Breast Connect has partnered with Courage to Conquer Cancer to create the Connect to Conquer initiative, offering post-surgical supplies, patient education and flowers for patients in Tennessee who require breast surgery. The cost of these mastectomy care kits runs about $100 each, so the organization could use some donations to help with funding them.

As with all things right now, the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting fund-raising efforts for non-profits, including Breast Connect. “There is certainly a sensitivity issue to asking for money in these times,” Reineri said, adding that it’s also not a time for cancer survivors to be trying to fundraise in face-to-face encounters. “We are trying to build some non-medical corporate sponsorships as well, but that’s hard to do in a Zoom meeting.”

Over and above fundraising concerns are the added stresses that Covid restrictions have placed on mastectomy patients. “When you think about it, this is a very personal surgery these women are facing, and they are having to face it alone,” Reineri said, ‘because they can’t have anybody with them. The rug was pulled out from under them in a minute. We can’t make the cancer go away, but we can make the journey through it easier.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Beth Kinnane is a freelance writer and thoroughbred bloodstock agent.

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