By Carla Caldwell
The day Cookie Aftergut was told she needed chemotherapy, she took a walk with her husband after dinner.
The rain that fell earlier in the day had tapered off to a mist, providing the opportunity to get out and clear her head, if just a little. As they walked, she looked up and saw a rainbow.
It was a sign that everything would be OK, she decided that day in 2002.
Today, Aftergut is OK. She’s better than OK, really. She’s a dynamo who survived Stage 2 breast cancer that required a lumpectomy, eight rounds of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments. The Dunwoody resident is driven to help other women who must go through chemotherapy.
During her treatment she had many questions about what was going on with her body, and what to expect. As she got answers, she figured that other women could use them, too.
So in 2003 she started ChemoChic, a support group for women.
The organization was eventually absorbed by a nonprofit and she was no longer the primary decision-maker. But after being honored in 2006 as one of 25 national Yoplait Champions, she decided to start her own foundation – Chemoflage, Inc.
The award, given by Yoplait, the Susan G. Komen Breast cancer foundation and SELF magazine, recognizes women who are working in their communities to help women with breast cancer. Each winner receives $1,000.
Chemoflage provides help and information to women who are about to start chemotherapy, or who are in the early stages of the treatment.
Aftergut hosts lively, free educational luncheons with speakers including dieticians, oncologists and social workers who work with cancer patients. All participants have cancer, and about 80 percent have breast cancer. About 10 to 15 women attend each luncheon.
More than 600 have attended so far. They share personal stories and offer support. They also receive nutritional guides, relaxation techniques, and suggestions for how to wear their clothing and makeup during, and directly after, treatment.
The goal, Aftergut said, is that the women leave feeling that they can live a happier life despite their diagnosis.
Many participants come by referral from three large oncology practices in north Atlanta, and from “A Woman’s Place” at Northside Hospital, a boutique that caters to women with cancer; but they can come from anywhere.
The programs are always free. Reservations are required. Everyone receives a goodie bag that Aftergut assembles. Inside each bag are items including chemocaps (soft caps made by knitters for participants who lose their hair during treatment), cotton turbans, gentle hand sanitizers and anti-nausea lollipops.
Money to support the organization comes from donations made by program participants, as well as other individuals, and organizations.
Aftergut hosts two monthly meetings in Atlanta — -one at Nordstrom at Perimeter Mall and another Piedmont West on Howell Mill Road in Buckhead. She is starting a monthly meeting at Piedmont Fayette Hospital, and she hosts meetings four times a year at a Nordstrom store in Houston.
Aftergut said she hosts the programs at Nordstrom, which has a long history of supporting community programs that help women with breast cancer, and at Piedmont West’s Wellness Center, because she wanted to get the luncheons out of a clinical setting.
In addition to the meetings, she will in April release a book for women going through chemotherapy. A title has not yet been selected.
Aftergut said she was motivated to write the book and to expand the Chemoflage program to more locations, in part due to comments and letters she receives from program participants.
In one letter, a woman who attended a Chemoflage luncheon and was undergoing chemo wrote to Aftergut – “You are the big sister I didn’t have.”
For more information, please go to www.chemoflage.com. To make reservations, call 770-394-6090.