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Relationship With Nurses Vital to Success of Growing Nonprofit

When Becky Olson was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was surrounded by friends and family. But she sometimes couldn’t shake the fear, which led to feelings of isolation.

Then one day the phone rang; it was a close relative, asking whether Olson would be home in an hour. She said yes, somewhat confused, but glad to have the company. The relative stopped over with a pair of rubber gloves and cleaning supplies, and said, “I’m here to clean your house. You can take a nap or whatever will make you happy. But I’m not leaving until I do this for you.”

Becky Olson, president

This small act of kindness inspired a big movement. Olson continues to share this story as president of Breast Friends — a nonprofit organization devoted to meeting the survival needs of a woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

How it Began

Breast Friends was founded in August 2000 by Olson and Sharon Henifin — two Portland, Ore., women who started out as coworkers and evolved into good friends. “For the last almost 10 years, we’ve been pretty much connected at the hip,” Henifin said.

Henifin was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993, and Olson’s diagnosis followed in 1996. Through their experiences, they say, friends often don’t know how to help and women end up fighting the disease alone and afraid. Thus began Breast Friends, which comforts breast cancer patients by teaching their friends and family members how to provide appropriate help.

“We try to encourage people to not just offer help, but actually help,” Olson said as she recalled the story about her relative showing up to clean her house. “If she would have called and asked, ‘Can I come by and help clean your house?’ Olson said, “I would have answered “Oh, no thank you.’ And I would have kicked myself for saying no.”

Melissa Hopkins, RN

Friends of the Friends

Olson and Henifin praise many affiliates for their contributions, including the Susan G. Komen Foundation — from which they received grants for five years.

Nurses also are important in this equation. “They are part of the patient support,” Olson says. Facilities that are affiliated with the organization receive packets called First I Cry, to be given to the patient at the time of diagnosis. Nurses don’t just hand over the packet; they go through it with them. Among the items inside are a handkerchief — which symbolizes that it’s OK to cry — and a list of area support groups. Also inside is a sealed envelope that says “Give this to someone who cares about you.” It contains a letter addressed to the patient’s loved one, offering words of encouragement and a list of “22 Tips to Show You Care.”

Melissa Hopkins, RN, BA, CBPN-IC, CBEC, is an RN navigator and manager for the Breast Cancer Consultation Service at Northwest Cancer Specialists in Portland. She has worked with Olson and Henifin for about three years. Hopkins says she became an instant believer in what they had to offer patients.

Sharon Henifin, executive director

“I have the great honor of introducing patients and their families to Breast Friends as a way to significantly support them through this journey as an adjunct to their medical care,” she said. “Any patient newly diagnosed with a life-threatening condition has trouble hearing any words past ‘cancer,’” Hopkins said. “I want to support that patient, and recognize that it is not only the patient we serve but the family and patient’s choice of support people.”

Future Plans

Breast Friends is undergoing a significant amount of growth. “Washington and Oregon have the highest incidence of breast cancer in the nation,” according to Henifin, but Breast Friends plans to go national with their efforts and increase its number of affiliates. They hope to reach out to women with other types of cancer as well. “We have big dreams,” Olson said. For more information, visit

By | 2020-04-15T14:11:50-04:00 April 5th, 2010|Categories: Regional, West|0 Comments

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