ALBUQUERQUE — Breast Cancer Awareness Month ends in six days, but breast cancer awareness goes on year ’round.
The American Cancer Society noted that breast cancer death rates declined 40 percent from 1989 to 2016 among women. That progress is attributed to early detection. But one in eight women will be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime.
Pink Warrior House fonder Allison Hendricks-Smith is one of the one-in-eight.
An East Coast girl, she came to New Mexico in 1996 for college in Santa Fe. In March 2018, while working as executive director of Christina Kent Early Childhood Center in Albuquerque, she was diagnosed with postpartum breast cancer.
“I had three tumors, one very large one in my left breast,” she recalled. “… I had a 2-year-old and there’s a lot to fight for. … It was a pretty intensive (regimen of treatment).”
“I never questioned that I was getting the best medical care, but I just really longed for the support of a community that understood what this felt like, right?” she said. “My sympathetic support network was so strong, but to find that empathetic-group network, that group of people that factually knew what it felt like and could answer questions for me that I had along the way. Or could relate to what that felt like. It just wasn’t there, and specifically breast cancer. … Cancer is cancer, but there are nuances to breast cancer.”
She started Pink Warrior House, what she termed the “center of a wheel … where people could just make one call (577-5264) and say, ‘This is what I need.'”
It’s a nonprofit in Albuquerque, just off 12th Street and south of I-40, that serves as a centralized resource to help women and men with every aspect of their breast cancer journey. (About 1 percent of breast cancer happens in men, mainly between ages 60-70.)
PWH began in January 2019, received non-profit status four months later and launched to the public that October.
“We want to bring together the services that do exist, and add so many more options for mental, emotional and social supports,” Hendricks-Smith wrote on the non-profit’s Facebook page.
“Once I got through my treatment, I made it my mission to find a way to offer a comprehensive resource that addresses the needs and questions that patients have — that I had.”
Pink Warrior House offers resources like support groups for “warriors” and caregivers, yoga and meditation classes and beauty classes.
Warrior Bags are given to newly diagnosed women while they are still at the hospital. The bags are full of items and discounts meant to be useful and encouraging to women as they go through treatment and deal with the mental and physical reality of their diagnosis.
Included are blankets from Crafting for a Cause in Rio Rancho, a group of about a dozen women using their skills to help others.
“They are amazing,” Hendricks-Smith said.
In the Battle Buddy program, each warrior who contacts Pink Warrior House is matched with a woman — their Battle Buddy — who was previously diagnosed. Their Battle Buddy is a mentor, friend and listening ear, providing insight about what to expect.
“Just because treatment stops doesn’t mean cancer stops affecting your life,” Hendricks-Smith said. “We have women of all ages — newly diagnosed, some starting treatment, to those on the other side of treatment. It’s been amazing to see these women come together and rally for each other.”
Clients also in Rio Rancho
Azella Humetewa of Rio Rancho, a satisfied benefactor of PWH, said she was in that “critical time of need” last January.
Diagnosed at Presbyterian Rust Medical Center with stage 1 breast cancer, she happened upon a Pink Warrior House flyers there.
“I decided to see what they did,” Humetewa, 48, said. “I found myself in their first support group — (it was) virtual — a community of strong warriors, and it’s about support.
“Going through this cancer is very emotional, very physical — as is any kind of cancer,” she said, “(and) being in a room with support is very satisfying. Nobody really knows what you’re going through, and Pink Warrior House, to me, is an amazing community: support, strength and love…
“You walk in and it’s a powerful feeling; we were able to do the support groups, and after that, we did a wonderful yoga event, with our masks … it was amazing,” she said, noting social-distancing is mandatory. “Pink Warrior House is a blessing to everyone, mainly for the support they provide for us battling cancer, especially in this time of COVID, when many of us are working at home with not many social interactions.”
When salon Blo Blow Dry Bar owner Jessica Carothers learned about Pink Warrior House, she wanted to help.
“At Blo, we help women look and feel good by providing self-care in the form of hair-styling and make-up application,” Carothers said. “We have clients who are going through breast cancer treatment, and our hearts are always with them. So when we heard about what Pink Warrior House does, we wanted to support their important work.”
Through mid-November, 10 percent of the proceeds from every installation of new Glam Seamless hair extensions will go to PWH to provide more Warrior Bags in the metro area. Blo Blow Dry Bar is at 6400 Holly Ave. NE in Albuquerque.
The PWH website is pinkwarriorhouse.org.