BY JANIE GOULD
Lin Reading, a 20-year survivor of breast cancer and melanoma, co-founded a cancer support organization in Indian River County called Friends After Diagnosis that, among other things, offers survivors an introduction to the sport of crew rowing to help women with cancer regain their strength.
Reading is an avid cyclist and water enthusiast who swims a mile twice per week in the Leisure Square public pool in Vero Beach. She cites research showing the importance of exercise to anyone recovering from cancer.
A 10-year survey of cancer survivors by the American Association for Cancer Research found that regular exercise after a cancer diagnosis can reduce fatigue, depression, pain and weight gain. Quality of life can be improved even in patients who were inactive before their diagnosis, the study found.
Reading was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 while still living in her hometown, Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee. She had recently remarried and was raising her 10-year-old son while working as human resources director at a nearby women’s school, Alverno College.
“At the same time, my mother was living with cancer, and also my sister was living with cancer,” she says. “We were all diagnosed at the same time.”
Reading opted to have chemotherapy.
“Going through chemotherapy was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through, emotionally, physically and spiritually,” she says. “I had a brand new marriage and a little boy and I was working full time. It was a difficult time in my life, and I didn’t respond well to chemotherapies.”
Halfway through her regimen, she decided to stop the treatments and had a bilateral mastectomy that included lymph node removal.
“I made the decision with no regrets,” she says. “It wasn’t a difficult choice for me. I knew right away that’s what I wanted to do. I just didn’t have the time to put into worrying about cancer.”
Although she wasn’t involved in a support group at the time, she received plenty of encouragement through her connections at Alverno College.
“A couple of us were going through breast cancer at the same time,” she says. “It was a very supportive environment.”
Reading’s connection to Vero Beach goes back to the 1970s, when her parents became snowbirds. Twelve years ago, Reading and her husband, Larry Macke, moved to Vero. Her mother, Kathy, had just had a recurrence of breast cancer for the third time.
Lin soon learned there was no local support group for breast cancer survivors. She and her mother decided to volunteer at the local office of the American Cancer Society to help others who were in the same boat.
“I thought maybe the two of us could sit at the front desk one afternoon a week and could spend some time together giving back,” Reading says.
At the time, another cancer survivor, Fran Basso, was volunteering in a similar capacity at Indian River Medical Center. She met Reading and the two decided to combine their efforts into the group now known as Friends After Diagnosis. It merged with the Treasure Coast Ovarian Cancer Alliance two years ago, and last year it expanded again to begin serving all women with cancer and their loved ones.
In late 2018, after years of hosting support meetings in donated and rented spaces, Friends After Diagnosis opened at 3404 Aviation Blvd., Vero Beach. It has space for one-on-one meetings and group sessions. All meetings are open to patients, survivors and their loved ones and caregivers.
In partnership with other groups, the organization also encourages wellness by offering Pilates training, dance fitness, horseback riding and crew rowing programs free of charge.
With the help of Vero Beach Rowing coaches and volunteers, including the Vero Beach High School rowing team, participants learn the fundamentals of rowing. The sport boosts upper and lower body strength and, for many women with cancer who spend most of their time indoors, it’s a chance to connect with others while enjoying the Indian River Lagoon.
“It truly is a life-changing program for these women,” Reading says.
The sessions begin with stretching and other warm-up exercises near the city’s boat launch just north of the marina. The program’s spring session concluded in February, with the next session due to begin in October. Graduates wishing to continue can take the Learn to Row program offered by Vero Beach Rowing, with financial assistance from Friends After Diagnosis.
Reading enjoyed canoeing and kayaking on Wisconsin lakes when she was growing up but says rowing is different.
“Everybody has to be in unison,” she says. “I tell people anyone can do it. The name of our little team is Friends in Harmony. We’ve had women come and row with us who brought their caregiver with them! Maybe they don’t feel safe unless their partner is with them, their sister, whoever it is, but we do whatever we can to make it work for you.”
Suzy Stoeckel, a 13-year survivor of ovarian cancer, has become an avid rower, thanks to her involvement in Friends After Diagnosis.
“When you’re with a group that’s strong and supportive, and you’re out on the water, you are able to leave real life behind and just enjoy it,” she says.
To learn more about Friends After Diagnosis, visit FriendsAfterDiagnosis.com.
Donations to the Row Beyond Diagnosis scholarship fund are welcome.
Lives in: Vero Beach
Occupation: Co-founder/facilitator of Friends After Diagnosis
Family: Husband, Larry Macke, and son, Terry Reading
Education: Bachelor of science in psychology, certified cancer navigator
Hobbies: Cycling, swimming, walking
What inspires me: Mother Nature
Something most people don’t know about me: “I was born on April Fools’ Day.”