October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's the same month back in 2012 that Annie Karjala-Dobbins experienced a series of three strange dreams.
"I woke up in the middle of the night with this terrible nightmare that I had breast cancer, " she explained. "I did a breast self exam and there was a lump."
Annie struggled to tell her children and husband that she had the fast growing, triple positive type of breast cancer.
"We are generally cast in the role of caretakers and nurturers, and something like this diagnosis very suddenly changes us from being one who gives to others to the one who needs to be given to.
Annie had a lumpectomy. Chemotherapy and radiation left her sick and losing her hair.
"I can remember her asking, 'Well what support do you have here at Aurora BayCare?' I had to timidly respond, 'Well, we do our best to provide support and we have a social worker," said Dr. William Owens, Director of the Comprehensive Breast Care Center at Aurora BayCare Medical Center.
Annie said, "Everyone took such good care of me, but the only thing I was missing was the ability to really connect with other people going through what I was going through."
So, together with her provider, Dr. Owens, they created a small support group. With Annie's masters degree in counseling and her personal experience overcoming breast cancer, she was the perfect leader for it.
"One of the things that we offer in support group setting that women can't get other places is it's OK if it's not OK. You can sit in that room and you can complain about your spouse, your kids, your caregivers, whatever it might be," she explained.
It's a safe place for women to be honest about their feelings. Ginger Gobel has incurable metastatic breast cancer.
"Initially I was like, 'Oh, I don't I want to go. I don't want to talk,' and it's like now you can't shut me up. It's like blah," she laughed. "It just comes out, and it's great to be able to do that.
"Patients can share what they've been through and what their fears are , and others can provide advice or at least a sensitive and sympathetic ear to what they're going through," said Dr. Owens.
The group members also share tips.
"When I was really nauseated, I drank ginger ale or whatever it might be," explained Annie.
Gobel encourages both patients and survivors to join them.
"Come. You don't have to talk. You can just sit there and be that fly on the wall, and you don't have to talk. It's just nice to listen to other people who are going through this. It's not just me."
Instead of leaving her cancer journey in the past, Annie attacks every session to help others. She has one goal in mind.
"That we can really draw strength and courage and hope from each other."
The breast cancer support group meets every other week. Click here for more on Aurora BayCare Medical Center's patient and family resources.
Dr. Owens stresses the importance of early detection. He suggests starting mammograms at age 45 unless you're at a higher risk for breast cancer. Also, look for changes in your breasts. If you have a lump, dimpling of the skin or discharge, see a doctor right away.