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Stepping up for support and healing from TNBC

Building bonds one step at a time: The power of walking with fellow breast cancer thrivers

Angel Rinker

A few months later, a woman she knew from a local mothers’ group was starting chemo for breast cancer in the same hospital where Angel was having radiation therapy. They agreed to walk together after their sessions and found those meet-ups eased more than their physical side effects from treatment.

“We were walking, but we were also talking,” Angel says. “It was helpful to be able to say things we weren’t able to say to other people who hadn’t been diagnosed with breast cancer, because they might not get it.”

The benefits of those walks reminded Angel of a fitness program for beginner walkers and runners she had joined before being diagnosed in 2022. The program included walks with other women, training, and speakers on health – including a young mother like Angel, who shared her story about doing a breast self-exam and finding a lump that was breast cancer.

The speaker’s story motivated Angel to check her own breasts for the first time. That was when she discovered the lump that led to her breast cancer diagnosis. Angel was then 34, with five children ages three to 15. She left the fitness program to start breast cancer treatment but remembered the group’s impact on her life with gratitude.

As Angel and her friend, Charlotte Safrit, walked and talked during treatment, they reflected on the physical and emotional benefits they gained from those regular walks. “We thought, ‘Okay, this is helpful. Let’s see if anyone else wants to come and walk with us,’” Angel says.

Support through walking group

In early 2023, Angel and Charlotte created the Brightside Walking Club, a walking support group for breast cancer patients and thrivers in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, area. The two women co-coordinate the group and its twice-weekly walks. Sharing scheduling and other tasks helps them manage time. The group communicates through a private Facebook group. Walks take place in local parks. Parents can bring their children, which eases worries about arranging and paying for child care.

As the walking group grew, members shared information and tips on breast cancer care and services. They asked about others’ experiences with everything from reconstruction options to recommendations for doctors. A second Facebook group developed to preserve the information, called Breast Cancer Support Lehigh Valley. “There was a need for it,” Angel says. “We wanted to collect all these resources.”

About two dozen women now participate in the walking support group and more than 40 take part in the informational support group.

The walking group has added other activities as well. They’ve held a few Zoom meetings and have conducted coffee-and-swap meet-ups in person to exchange items they no longer need, such as mastectomy pillows or port shirts. Some of the women will also be participating in a walk/run in the fall that benefits research and care for local breast and ovarian cancer programs.

A closeup of a woman's legs in sneakers as she walks a paved path near a natural setting

“Exercise helped with the bone pain and nausea. It helped with me feeling better faster in-between treatments. But being able to walk and talk with other people helps with the mental aspect where you’re not so alone. You’re with people going through the same thing.”

Angel Rinker


Widening support networks

Soon after it began, the walking group became one of Angel’s several sources of support. Others include family and friends who provided much-needed help, especially early on.

Angel’s husband was particularly supportive. He urged her to see a doctor right away and took off from work to go to her appointments with her. Once, when she forgot her insurance card, he reassured her to keep the appointment. Together, they juggled time to cover school, sports, and other activities for their five children, along with their own work schedules, the walking group meetings, and more.

Her sister, a pathologist, helped her understand information in her electronic medical record and talk through any concerns. Her parents and mother-in-law drove from two hours away to provide child care during treatment. Similarly, friends made long trips to lend a hand. Angel’s childhood “church family” collected funds and sent gifts for the children.

Online, Angel searched for information about her TNBC diagnosis and breast cancer in general. She found the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation and virtual groups of people with TNBC who shared experiences and advice.

“Support was different when it came from other survivors,” Angel says. “Other supports helped, but not in the same ways. The people around me were helping with babysitting or fundraising, but as far as the emotional part, I still was really, really lonely.”

“With the support groups, it was incredibly helpful to talk to other people who were going through the same thing or who had been there,” she says. “It’s still where I get a lot of my support.”

Similarly, the walking group provided much more than physical activity. “Exercise helped with the bone pain and nausea. It helped with me feeling better faster in-between treatments,” says Angel. “But being able to walk and talk with other people helps with the mental aspect where you’re not so alone. You’re with people going through the same thing.”

She also looked for guidance on parenting after diagnosis, which led her to LBBC and its Facebook groups. Support geared for each child was important because they were different ages, had different personalities, and different ways of processing information, Angel says. The family found help through children’s books in LBBC’s Reading for Reassurance program, Bright Spot Network, discussions in online groups, and therapy.

Angel Rinker stands smiling brightly behind a flower-filled glass table
Angel Rinker wears pink athletic top at a breast cancer event

Research role

A TNBC diagnosis means there are fewer treatments available due to a lack of hormonal targets. Angel has taken part in clinical trials that could improve treatment options for people with TNBC.

She’s now a participant in TNBC research that focuses on DNA monitoring. “That’s something I was looking for,” she says, because TNBC rates are higher in Black and Hispanic women but research has not determined why. Angel is both Black and Hispanic.

“I’m also adopted, so I did not know my health history. It was important to me to do all the genetic testing, especially because I have kids,” she says.

Angel is now an LBBC Young Advocate, adding another source of support to her networks. She plans to continue learning about current research on breast cancer and TNBC, taking part in studies, and sharing information with others.

Medical science is “always looking for more research and information to further things along,” Angel says. “I just want to be able to help down the line.”



The views and opinions of our bloggers represent the views and opinions of the bloggers alone and not those of Living Beyond Breast Cancer. Also understand that Living Beyond Breast Cancer does not medically review any information or content contained on, or distributed through, its blog and therefore does not endorse the accuracy or reliability of any such information or content. Through our blog, we merely seek to give individuals creative freedom to tell their stories. It is not a substitute for professional counseling or medical advice.

This article was supported by the Grant or Cooperative Agreement Number 1 U58DP006672, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services.


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