Photos courtesy of Unite for HER
Founded by a West Chester native, Unite for HER helps empower cancer patients at a time when they feel most vulnerable.
For Sue Weldon, it was all about control. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, the West Chester native felt hemmed in by the parameters of conventional care. So she sought out other options for mitigating her symptoms, finding relief in things like acupuncture, nutrition, meditation and massage. “The more I was able to gain access to, the more I found myself finding control in a disease I had no control over,” she says. A year after Weldon finished her treatment and was deemed cancer-free, she met a patient battling the disease and felt compelled to pass along the tools she’d acquired during her journey. With tears in her eyes, the woman explained that she couldn’t afford any extra care. Inspiration struck. “I went home and told my husband I wanted to start a nonprofit,” Weldon says.
“You’re a shell of yourself, trying to get your emotional and physical well-being back. That’s where Unite for HER comes in, giving you the tools to regain control and confidence one step at a time.”
—Founder Sue Weldon
Initially founded to serve the Philadelphia region, Unite for HER quickly gained traction across Pennsylvania and the tri-state area. Weldon’s program is now nationwide, bridging the gap between the medical and wellness communities by providing integrative care to those living with breast and ovarian cancers. Those involved in Unite for HER’s wellness program receive a care package worth over $200 that includes organic bath and beauty products, a cancer-friendly cookbook, healing tea, and other curated resources. Everything is designed to help manage the side effects and symptoms that come with treatment. A wellness passport offers integrative therapies and services, with all bills covered by Unite for HER.
For those fortunate enough to undergo successful treatment, the journey doesn’t end with their last appointment. “You’re a shell of yourself, trying to get your emotional and physical well-being back,” says Weldon. “That’s where Unite for HER comes in, giving you the tools to regain control and confidence one step at a time.”
Almost half of those in the Unite for HER community are women of color and/or underserved. “Having access to valuable resources is life-changing for them,” says Weldon, whose program includes six weeks of fresh vegetables delivered to a patient’s doorstep.
The fresh veggies and live cooking classes were a favorite for Tiffany Reed. In the midst of studying for her master’s degree in healthcare administration, the Philadelphia resident was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer at age 47. Though she’s no longer in the wellness program, she still follows along with the cooking classes. “They’re not just teaching you a new recipe, they’re educating you on what specific foods can do for your body,” she says.
Weldon equates successfully completing her own cancer treatment to being “set free.” She was excited to get her life back, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
Unite for HER did more than help Reed deal with the side effects from her treatment—it kickstarted her self-confidence at a crucial time. She went on to graduate from her master’s program with a 4.0 GPA and currently sits on an advisory committee for Independence Blue Cross. She’s also part of Unite for HER’s women of color task force.
Phoenixville’s Brooke Schneider was 31 and five months pregnant when she received her breast cancer diagnosis. After joining Unite for HER, Schneider embraced the acupuncture services. She’s had three surgeries at Paoli Hospital, with one more to go. “Having this network during this awful time was a big relief,” she says.
Weldon equates completing her own treatment to being “set free.” She was excited to get her life back, but it wasn’t going to be easy. Separated from the medical team she saw every week for six months, she felt distanced from a group she’d grown close with.
Improving quality of life and contributing to an increased survival rate are what it’s about for Weldon.
And though her breast cancer was gone, she still had side effects and symptoms to manage. Building Unite for HER was a big part of her healing process. The program currently serves over 5,000 patients who are newly diagnosed or living with metastatic breast cancer.
Improving their quality of life and contributing to an increased survival rate are what it’s about for Weldon. “We can help you get whole again,” she says.
3 Crucial Factors for Breast Health
1. Know Your Risk.
“Talk to your primary care provider or gynecologist about your family history of cancer,” says Dr. Alina Mateo, director of the Integrated Breast Center at Pennsylvania Hospital. “Mammogram screening should begin no later than 40 years old, but it can be earlier given your risk factors.”
2. Breast Health is Tied to Overall Health.
“Smoking, obesity, diet and a sedentary lifestyle can significantly increase your chance of a breast cancer diagnosis,” Mateo says. “A healthy lifestyle can reduce the overall risk of many cancers.”
3. You Know Your Breasts Best.
“Many cancers are found during the interval between mammogram screenings. If something feels off on your self-breast exam, bring it to your physician’s attention,” says Mateo. “This is especially important for younger women who haven’t reached the age of screening.”