Never Strangers for Long

Locals Thrive Through the Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center

When challenging things happen in life, we turn to our loved ones for support and camaraderie — and in some cases, we might also turn to strangers. They don’t stay strangers for long, of course; with fellowship and shared experiences, these new people become part of our journey. Such is the case with local survivors of breast cancer who have shared their time through the Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center. 

In Birmingham since 2016, the Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center was founded as an initiative of the Women’s Breast Health Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, according to Claire Gray, Manager of Community Outreach. “Results of a community-wide assessment revealed gaps and barriers from point of diagnosis throughout the balance of life,” Gray noted. Four Alabama health care systems are involved: Ascension St. Vincent’s, UAB Health, Brookwood Baptist Health and Grandview Medical Center, and members from each contribute to Forge leadership. An official nonprofit as of 2020, Forge offers a number of invaluable programs, from support groups and creative workshops to mental health counseling. 

Dondra Goldsby’s Story

In November 2020, Dondra Goldsby’s annual mammogram was flagged as needing a closer look. A couple of weeks later, she received the phone call with the news that she’d tested positive for breast cancer. Her husband, children and extended family “quickly got into support mode,” and Dondra found her way to Forge thanks to a friend in remission who’d had a great experience with the organization. Dondra’s medical team had also suggested Forge as part of her total care plan, and with two votes for reaching out, she decided to speak with Janet Dees, Forge’s client services coordinator. 

Since that day, Dondra has found Forge’s “vast supportive services” rewarding and helpful. She enjoys participating in virtual support groups and in creative workshops such as the “Beautiful Lettering” session — her own embellished word, Hope, is now displayed prominently in her office. She recently spoke in one of Forge’s “Coffee and Conversation” sessions about her own new topic, Setting Boundaries with a Breast Cancer Diagnosis, and is looking forward to the opportunity to speak again. 

Dondra, a licensed counselor and marriage/family therapist, said she feels “wonderful about her future” and sees many opportunities to offer support and guidance to other survivors through her profession as well as through Forge. “I couldn’t ask for a better medical team or support circle with family and friends,” she beamed. “I chose to share my story with Forge because of their values and their work within the community. My intention is to instill hope in breast cancer patients and their loved ones. There are resources available, and there are reasons to be optimistic.”

Camille DeSantis’ Story 

Just before her 39th birthday in November 2019, Camille DeSantis located a lump in her breast. After the requisite doctor visits and ultrasounds, she received the phone call with her diagnosis on December 9 and immediately called her husband, sobbing. By the time he arrived home, however, Camille was “making lists and taking action.” “I felt like, now that I know, I can make plans,” she said. 

Camille was living in her native city of Durham, North Carolina at the time of her diagnosis, and by the end of her treatment, she and her husband and sons had relocated to Birmingham. A licensed massage therapist, Camille said her community supported her during treatment while she couldn’t work, and she felt called to pay it forward in her new city. She decided to start an online support group, having found solace in the Young Survival Coalition back in Durham. Soon after she’d formed Breasties of Birmingham and Beyond, Janet Dees reached out and offered to speak to the group about what Forge offered, connecting Camille with other local survivors as potential speakers for the Breasties. A solid partnership formed, and now, Camille enjoys mentoring survivors through her own group as well as Forge. In 2021, she returned to work as a massage therapist and shares her philosophy of total wellness with survivors, lauding nutrition, acupuncture, massage and spiritual growth as important facets of successful treatment. 

“I’ve talked to Janet about expanding the way I support Forge; we are talking about me volunteering my hands and giving massages to survivors and including more holistic offerings,” Camille shared. “I think there is room for us as a culture to grow and recognize the ancient wisdom of healing arts. We need to engage in greater self-care, and I am hoping I can do my own small part to be part of that change.”



  • img-7686%201-300?v=1
  • image0-300?v=1
  • img_3871-300?v=1

Related Businesses

Related Articles

See More