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BY KAT RUSSELL krussell@paducahsun.com

Women cope with breast cancer in many different ways. Some join support groups, while others rely on family or friends for support. Others still choose a more creative route to process and express what they're going through.

For Keri Crawford, 41, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2015, it was important for her to find a way to include her loved ones as she went through the treatment process.

As a patient, Crawford explained her mind and time were often occupied with the next step in her course of treatment. But for her family, there weren't many opportunities for them to be involved.

"My youngest daughter was â ¦ 15 when I was diagnosed, and she needed something that helped her feel included and that we could do together."

That's when Crawford learned about the Beads of Courage program at Lourdes hospital.

"I thought, well this seems kind of hokey, and kind of childish," she said. "It seemed like something a young girl might like, so I figured it was something we could do together, and she could have a way to interact and experience this with me."

Initially created in 2003 for children with serious illnesses, including cancer, the Beads of Courage program was designed as a colorful and creative way for children to record every step of their illness by stringing colorful beads.

"I heard about Beads of Courage in 2010 through a friend who worked for them," said Leneave.

At that time, Leneave said, she and Amy Manley, a fellow nurse navigator, were looking for a way to better get to know their breast cancer patients.

"I approached my friend and asked her if they had ever considered doing a program for adults," Leneave said. "Basically, we just wanted to test the waters and see how adults responded to Beads of Courage."

Leneave said the program quickly proved to be a huge success.

"Our women loved it because it gave them an opportunity to come in a sit down with one of us, and it was one-on-one time that we could spend with them," she said. "We learned more about them during that time, we could get to know them and their situation and what their needs were, all while we helped them string their beads."

The program is simple: participants journal about the steps they go through during their treatment, from blood draws, to surgeries, to chemo or radiation treatments and everything in between. Then, they meet with the nurse navigators and collect beads representing each of those steps -- black beads are for needle pokes, blue beads are for office visits, star-shaped beads are for surgeries, white beads are for chemo treatments, and so on.

In addition to those beads are one-of-a-kind, hand-made beads made by artists from all over the world and donated to the program. Participants can choose from these beads to represent personal experiences, special people, milestones and life events.

For Crawford, what started as a bonding exercise with her daughter, quickly became a way for her to map her experiences with cancer.

Among the beads on her approximately 10-foot strand are beads that map out her cancer journey -- the double mastectomy, hundreds of doctors visits and blood draws, chemo treatments and the removal of lymph nodes, to name a few.

But there are also beads that represent special moments and significant life events, like the bead that represents an impromptu trip with her daughter to Nashville to attend the CMA Fest. Another bead represents attending her first baseball game, and another represents her and her daughter's trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, the first time either of them had ever been to a beach.

"It's not just a map of cancer," she said. "This is my life starting with my diagnosis, and it just chronicles my whole life since then -- the good, the bad and the boobless.

"It is definitely a way to own the experience and show people who have never had cancer or had cancer your journey," she said. "They look at this (strand) and go, 'Wow that's a lot of stuff,' and I say, 'Yeah but it's not all bad.' And I can show them that there were good days and fun stuff that happened too. It's a good reminder that life goes on, even with cancer."

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