Dr. Eugene Thiessen: The Breast Specialist Who Helped Found SHARE

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What brought you to the place where it was possible to start SHARE?

In 1976, I had a 21-year-old patient who had a small lump in her breast that turned out to be malignant. After she was given her diagnosis, she didn't show up for her next appointment. I didn't see her until three months later. She started crying and said that when she had told her friends in college that she had a serious problem, the first thing that came to their minds was that she was pregnant.

That patient made it clear to me that younger women (under age 35) with breast cancer did not have a peer group who could relate to their experience of having a serious disease. When I had an opportunity to speak on a radio program about breast cancer, I offered to hold an open meeting for women to come and share about their experience with this issue. The night of the meeting, 12 women came. Interestingly enough, none of them were under 35. When we got to talking, they discussed instead that they all had the same problems of communication and confusion and didn't feel they got much information or help from their physicians.

At that time, the only established cancer support group program that was in existence was a program called Reach to Recovery by the American Cancer Society; that involved only one visit in the hospital. There were no follow-up support groups. So these 12 women and I started having monthly meetings, and that was the start of SHARE.

My wife came up with the name SHARE; she sat in on the meetings and helped out as secretary. Eventually, we did more than just meet. We went to a bra manufacturer to talk about  prosthetics. We got involved with the discriminatory insurance practices that women face upon diagnosis; we even picketed on 5th Ave because a woman at Saks was going to be fired as a result of her diagnosis. We had some educational programs. In the early 80's, I left SHARE for other work, but Lee Miller got in touch with me for the 10th anniversary of the meeting. By then, they had developed a more formal structure for the organization.

How did you remain involved throughout the years?

I stayed involved with SHARE through Lee Miller. I have great admiration and love for her, and gratefulness for her friendship to me and to SHARE through the years she was active. For a while I also sat on the board, and I've attended A Second Helping of Life in recent years.

How has SHARE helped you?

Through SHARE, I met a bunch of wonderful women for whom I have the greatest affection and whose work I so admire. I've seen firsthand the volunteers' dedication, and it renews my belief that the greatest thing people can do is help each other.

What is your 40th anniversary wish for SHARE?

When SHARE first started, we never got involved with the idea of working for a cure. We were focused on helping people cope with and understand the life they had as survivors of the disease. My hope is that the message of improved quality of life now gets spread to an even wider audience.