Better than flowers better than sympathy, better than before

Recuperating from breast cancer surgery in 1994, Jill Forrest and her husband, Ed, looked for ways to help her recover from the invasive surgery.

The couple decided to work with sports management specialist and certified trainer Lauren Antorino Griffin and board certified and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Peter Neumann. The resulting work was a program called “Better Than Before,” a fitness video designed for women following breast cancer surgery.

“She responded so well that she had her full range of motion back in less than two weeks after surgery and that is what she wanted women across the country to know about this program,” Forrest said, regarding the program designed specifically for his wife’s recovery. “When Jill was diagnosed with breast cancer and after she had a mastectomy and while she was in the hospital, American Cancer Society volunteers brought in a little pink bag with a few drawings, a ball to squeeze and some string. She said there has to be something better.”

Jill called Griffin, who told Jill she would make her better than before, and she would like the two of them to consult with Neumann. Neumann studied the muscle groups and presented a few exercises to work the muscles.

Jill Forrest, Griffin and Neumann then interviewed 25 women who had some form of breast cancer surgery along with few others — the result of their work was a series of exercise videos for women who were diagnosed with and recovering from breast cancer.

The videos are available for purchase for $19.99, but Forrest is quick to point out they do not have to purchase anything and can follow exercises on the website at He noted part of proceeds from the purchase of the video go to a breast cancer organization to continue efforts to find a cure.

“Doing these exercises are also helpful for self-esteem,” Forrest said,  “because besides the physical, the mental things the women go through include they feel they are not the same, why did this happen to me, etc.

“As a matter of fact, one time when we were going through chemotherapy one of the nurses came over and gave me a hug and said, ‘You’re the best,’ and I said, ‘Why am I the best,’ ” he said. “They said, ‘You won’t believe how many husbands walk away from this because their wife had breast cancer surgery.’ ”

Forrest did not have to think about his answer.

“I told them that never even occurred to me,” Forrest said. “She is my best friend. I wrote an article for the web page that told men to ‘Man up’ because your wife or your friend is still as funny as ever, still as smart as ever, still as lovely as ever because nothing really has changed.”

He said his love for his wife, a vibrant, active New York reading teacher, changed through the years — growing with each passing year from the time they first met.

Forrest jokes “he came with a summer home” on Long Island regarding how they were first introduced. Her grandmother encouraged Jill’s parents to invite Forrest to their summer home and for her to go out on a date with him. The couple met in 1964 and were married in 1965. They were married 35 years before her death in 2000.

He said he was attracted to Jill because of her sense of humor and “she was extremely bright and intelligent and a woman of great courage. She was a very private person and then all of the sudden.”

“She was my first love and my best friend,” Forrest said, his voice trailing off as he remembered moments with his wife who died at 57. “She was also a wonderful mother to our children.”

The couple had a daughter, Courtney, and a son, Jonathan.

Forrest did not walk away from his wife through her ordeal or her recovery — a recovery aided by the work of Griffin and Neumann.The video is divided into phases and focuses on improving the range of motion and areas which need to be strengthened through resistance bands and hand-held weights.

Neumann said the biggest problem is fear after surgery and recovering from surgery. Griffin echoed the comments, but she said other women are eager to get back to their more active lives and the exercises help.

After his wife’s death, Forrest decided to spread the news of the program based on his wife’s desires. He said he called the Wapakoneta Daily News to help anyone in the area suffering from breast cancer and to maintain his wife’s legacy of wanting to tell everybody.

“As a matter of fact, one morning at 2 o’clock in the morning after surgery Jill woke up and came up with this phrase — because a lot of people, husbands, significant others, family members don’t know what to give a person or what to say after a person has breast cancer surgery — ‘better than sympathy, better than flowers, give her better than before,’ ” Forrest said. “Flowers wilt, sympathy is not what the woman really needs at this point — she need encouragement, love and support.

“One thing is this is a legacy to my wife so I feel fabulous,” Forrest said. “She was my best friend and she wanted this to be done and I am so happy to be able to carry on this program for her.”