Nancy Burnell

Nancy Burnell of Steel Magnolias.

The members of Calhoun County’s Steel Magnolias breast cancer support group are here to help those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

They have a “sister” group in Men of Steel, for men with breast cancer as well as friends and family members of breast cancer patients and survivors.

Lenora Johnson founded the 501(c)3 organization in 2001, following her mastectomy in 1999. She thought there were support groups for breast cancer patients and survivors in bigger cities, but she could not find one in Anniston.

“After her mastectomy, she experienced some problems, and she needed support and encouragement,” said Nancy Cotton Burnell, executive director of Steel Magnolias.

“She talked with Chaplain Jim Wilson at Regional Medical Center, and the two of them together with five other ladies started Steel Magnolias.”

The support group now meets the fourth Tuesday of each month at RMC. “We usually average around 40-45 people at our meetings,” Burnell said.

One of the outreaches provided by Steel Magnolias is care packages for breast cancer patients. The care packages are filled with things like the book “Jesus Calling,” caps, scarves and other helpful materials.

“One of the most helpful items in those packages are the aprons,” Burnell said. “When you come home from the hospital after a mastectomy, you are coming home with tubes. Fifteen years ago, when I had my mastectomy, I had to use a large safety pin to hold them up; now, they have little aprons you can wear that will hold them and are much more comfortable.”

In the past year, Steel Magnolias provided 40 care packages to breast cancer patients.

Steel Magnolias also runs the PINKS boutique, located in the Physicians Center across from the Steel Magnolias office. It provides items such as breast prostheses, hats, mastectomy bras, scarves and wigs to cancer patients for free.

“Several years ago, a group from Oxford, the Knitted Knockers, joined with us. They got a breast form and pattern, and they knit these different prostheses which are much more lightweight than the regular prostheses,” says Burnell.

In the past year, Steel Magnolias assisted 102 women through the PINKS boutique.

In addition, the group has given out 179 meal vouchers to family members of those having cancer treatment at RMC.

In one of Steel Magnolias’ most significant accomplishments to date, the organization worked with a state representative to create legislation to close a loophole that denied some people the treatment they needed.

“Several years ago, if someone found a lump and was uninsured or could not afford the surgery, they would go to the health department after they went to the doctor. If they had already seen a doctor, nothing could be done,” Burnell said.

“Steel Magnolias worked with Lea Fite, and after a lot of hard work, a bill was passed in 2009, HB 147: The Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act.

“Since that was passed, uninsured women can get help, just by going to the health department,” Burnell explained.

“Every year, we have a golf tournament fundraiser named after Lea Fite.”

Faith Dorn is a freelance writer in Anniston. Contact her at