KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — An East Tennessee breast cancer advocacy nonprofit organization is providing information and support for those who have the disease.

The nonprofit, Breast Connect, started with a few friends who had battled breast cancer. The president of the organization, Nina Reineri, was diagnosed in 2011.

“A couple of years later, I had a few friends that were diagnosed all around the same time, and a friend of mine’s wife had breast cancer and hers came back as metastatic, which meant it spread, and she passed away. And I think it was just the impetus of all of these things at the same time that made me think that maybe we could … maybe we could all get together for happy hour and have something where we could all talk about our cancer,” Reineri said.

The group started with 14 women in 2014 and quickly grew to 40 people. However, after one of the younger members died when her cancer came back as metastatic, the group realized getting together for a glass of wine was not enough.

As the group received more members between 2014-2015, they continued meeting and began creating a website with information for people who were newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

“We asked the women who had been diagnosed, ‘What do you wish you knew that you didn’t know at the time?’ And they helped by giving us their answers, I mean, it is a website and an organization that was built by survivors, so we use our hashtag #ForSurvivorsBySurvivors.”

Some of the resources on the website include:

  • Information for those who are newly diagnosed
  • Questions to ask different doctors
  • What to take to the hospital
  • Accessible resources for the hospital, recovery, mental health and much more
  • A glossary of breast cancer terms, including stages, types, receptors, and abbreviations
  • Information for families, friends, and caregivers

The nonprofit also has a private Facebook group for anyone affected by breast cancer to share their experiences and tips. The group is open for anyone to join across the country, and currently has over 1,600 people as of October 2022.

The group also has a sisterhood program for survivors to share their diagnoses under the umbrella of breast cancer.

“The more we learned about breast cancer because we were all new at it, the more we learned it’s a pretty complicated disease,” Reineri said. “So, at the beginning when you’re diagnosed, they test that tumor for the receptors. There are three receptors, which are estrogen, progesterone and the HER2/neu protein. Any one of those three can be positive or negative and depending on all of those results, each treatment is different.”

Reineri added the additional factors decide the different treatment options for breast cancer.

“You can meet people that have breast cancer, and we can all be friends, but we can’t really counsel each other unless we’ve had the same diagnosis,” she said.

In the sisterhood program, women are matched with someone who has the same diagnosis to help them through the process. The women can select the option to be a sister and pay it forward as a survivor or request a sister on the website. The database will match people based on the diagnoses.

Breast Connect also gives flowers to women when they have surgery through a partnership with Random Acts of Flowers in Knox County and free mastectomy kits. Donations and merchandise sales also go toward funding these kits and flowers

“We are eight years in, next year will be nine years, and we’re getting big. Susan G. Komen has closed in a lot of markets, including here, and the American Cancer Society closed here, so we are, pretty much where breast cancer is concerned, the only organization here in Knoxville that really advocates and helps women through their journey of breast cancer,” Reineri said.

The World Cancer Research Fund International said that breast cancer was the most common cancer in women worldwide, with over 2.26 million new cases in 2020.

Every day in the state of Tennessee, 14 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and three die from it according to 2014-2018 data from the Tennessee Department of Health. While this disease mainly affects women, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 2,710 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in men, and 530 men will die from breast cancer.

This organization is important to those diagnosed with breast cancer, especially in the 16 county service area in Tennessee, as well as those who joined from more distant areas.

Breast Connect is hosting a holiday Friendsgiving dinner on Dec. 4. Sign up for the email list by visiting breastconnect.org and filling out a form on the top right-hand side of the page.

For more information about Breast Connect, visit their website or Facebook page.

EDITORS NOTE: This story has been updated.