National Cancer Survivors Day, Support Groups Offered by Cancer Program

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The Cancer Program at University of Maryland Shore Regional Health is gearing up for its annual event in observance of National Cancer Survivors Day, held the first Sunday in June, to celebrate those who have recovered from and survived a cancer diagnosis.

“A patient is considered a cancer survivor from the moment of initial diagnosis until the end of life,” comments Jeanie Scott, CTR, cancer registry coordinator. “National Cancer Survivors Day is an event where survivors feel supported and honored by their family members, their local communities and the health care professionals who helped them achieve their survivorship goals, whether they have been living with cancer for a day, a week, a month or years.”

The Cancer Survivors Day event, which will be held this year on Sunday, June 4, is just one of the opportunities for current and past cancer patients to support and celebrate one another.

“Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming,” says Patricia Plaskon, PhD, LCSW-C, OSW-C, coordinator of oncology social work at UM Shore Regional Health. “Aside from the medical and emotional challenges one faces when embarking on the cancer journey, dealing with inevitable changes in daily routines, relationships, work, and plans for the future, can leave a newly diagnosed cancer patient searching for assistance in navigating his or her way along the path to their ‘new normal.’”

UM Shore Regional Health’s Cancer Center and Clark Comprehensive Breast Center.

Cancer support comes in many different forms.  Just as cancer treatments are tailored to individual diagnoses and needs, the support services offered as part of the Cancer Program at UM Shore Regional Health can be personalized according to each individual patient’s medical and emotional needs, as well as his or her lifestyle and survivorship goals.

According to Plaskon, because cancer patients and their family members can experience different needs for guidance, information and support during the phases of diagnosis, active treatment and recovery, social workers and survivorship navigators are available to assist patients in finding the support services that best fit their situations.

“The menu of services available to patients of the Cancer Program is extensive and includes such key components as mentoring, educational programs and classes, traditional support groups, and online and phone support,” she adds.

The ultimate goal of providing support services is cancer recovery and support, which has been coined as CARES.  The CARES program is a multidisciplinary program coordinated by Margot Spies, BSN, RN, OCN, CARES oncology nurse navigator. “Because we operate under the philosophy that cancer survivorship begins the day of a person’s diagnosis, we have a process in place where patients are screened and referred to our social workers on admission or as early in their journey as possible,” says Spies.

When patients enter Shore Regional Health’s Cancer Program, they receive extensive instruction with an oncology nurse from radiation, chemotherapy or the Clark Comprehensive Breast Center. At this time they also meet with a social worker, nurse navigator and financial counselor. Through the CARES process, all patients receive education about the support available to them.  “Patients are bombarded with information when they enter our program, but the nurses and social workers are highly skilled at deciding the appropriate support services and timing that would be most meaningful to the patient,” Spies explains.

There are a number of support group opportunities available at UM Shore Regional Health where participants can share common concerns and find emotional support. Group leaders also assist in providing comfort, presenting information, teaching coping skills and helping to reduce anxiety surrounding diagnosis, treatment and survivorship.

According to Plaskon, “Our support group facilitators are clinical social workers, certified oncology social workers and oncology nurses, whose group training and experience ensure that we offer a quality service to our patients and our communities.  Patients participate in support groups for many reasons, but overwhelmingly, they agree that hearing other patients share their experiences and being able to communicate their own worries with others who share common concerns are vital aspects of each group.”

Sharon Loving, LCSW-C, facilitates the Cancer Patient Support Group, which is open to people with any form of cancer, at any stage of the cancer journey, including those people who have been cancer free for years. “The camaraderie and bonding that develops in the group is an amazing thing to witness and is almost instant,” comments Loving. “Not only do members focus on the stresses related to diagnosis, treatment and post-treatment, but also on life stresses like financial concerns, relationships, children or employment.”

According to Loving, everyone has something to offer the group because they come with different life experiences. “Many people have come to the group just to help others, even when they were going through rough times themselves,” Loving says. “Although members are diverse, differences evaporate and trust builds quickly. Even though they have different cancers, their fears and anxieties are often the same.”

The Breast Cancer Support Group, facilitated by Plaskon, helps breast cancer patients at all stages of the disease. Meetings are educational and interactive. Whether a patient is newly diagnosed, in treatment or in survivorship, the group listens and encourages him or her through the journey. Each meeting features a topic of interest or research about breast cancer; some meetings highlight quality of life issues that can present the patient with overwhelming emotional and physical challenges.

For those living with prostate cancer, the US TOO Prostate Cancer Support Group, led by Sharon Richter, BSN, RN, CCRC, OCN, is also available. The group includes men ages 40 to 80 who have undergone various treatments for prostate cancer. Urologists often refer patients that are early in their diagnosis to the group. Participants have the opportunity to share details about diagnosis, treatment and progress in coping with prostate cancer.  “This process is really helpful to someone who is deciding what treatment to have – and is worried about it,” comments Richter.

“Some men require more emotional support than others,” she says, in which case she may meet with those patients separately. Some participants may only attend support group meetings prior to and for a short time after their treatment; others may build strong relationships with other participants and may attend for many years, even if their cancer never returns.

Richter continues, “Our support group mostly is about providing information. We have speakers who address various aspects of prostate cancer treatment and recovery. At whatever stage a patient enters the group we try to answer questions and help.”

In addition to traditional support group opportunities, one-to-one mentoring is available for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients through Survivors Offering Support (SOS). Based at the Clark Comprehensive Breast Center at UM Shore Regional Health, SOS provides breast cancer patients with trained mentors – peer survivors who understand the experiences, emotions and challenges associated with a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“Mentoring support reduces patient anxiety and lessens fear of the unknown,” comments Edla Coleman, SOS program coordinator at the Clark Comprehensive Breast Center. “In addition to the knowledge and comfort the program offers our patients, volunteer mentors themselves report that they benefit in ways far greater than they imagined. It brings the breast cancer experience full circle and turns a hard experience into something very positive.”

Besides mentoring, the SOS program offers Transition to Wellness workshops, which provide guidance and information for breast cancer patients who have completed treatment and are beginning life as breast cancer survivors.

“While cancer is something that we all hope to never face, residents of our five- county region, who are in need of cancer care, either for themselves or a loved one, have access to the full gamut of diagnostic, treatment and support services, all of which meet the highest standards of health care,” comments Brian Leutner, MBA, executive director, Oncology Services, UM Shore Regional Health. “The comprehensive support services available through the Cancer Program help patients keep their lives in balance as they navigate through diagnosis and treatment, all while helping them to achieve the ultimate goal of recovery and survivorship.”

Throughout the month of June, the Cancer Program will be hosting a number of events in addition to the National Cancer Survivors Day celebration, which is expected to celebrate 100 local cancer survivors. They include:

Sexual Health for Women after Cancer – Tuesday, June 6, 5pm, Cancer Center, 509 Idlewild Avenue, Easton. Guest speaker: Robin Ford, certified oncology nurse. Discussion: Changes in sexual function and lifestyle as a result of cancer and its related treatments.
The Cancer Moonshot: How to Follow Research and Clinical Trials – Tuesday, June 13, 5pm, Cancer Center, 509 Idlewild Avenue, Easton. Guest speakers: Nina Weisenborn, clinical trials nurse, and Bill Shrieves, pancreatic cancer survivor and member of the Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Network. Discussion: Types of cancer research and funding, how research results become standardized treatment and the benefits of clinical trials. Patients who have participated in clinical trials will be on hand to share their own experiences.
Chemo Brain: The Latest Science – Tuesday, June 20, 5pm, Cancer Center, 509 Idlewild Avenue, Easton. Guest speakers: Amy Beth Hellman, speech therapist, and Christine Allen, certified oncology dietician. Discussion: Signs of chemo brain, what to discuss with your provider, coping at work, the importance of lifestyle change, benefits of speech therapy and tips for cognition and recall, and nutritional tips to boost cognitive function.
Bras, Bathing Suits and Fashion for Women After Breast Surgery – Tuesday, June 27, 5pm, Clark Comprehensive Breast Center, 10 Martin Court, Easton.

To register for one of the June events or to obtain information about support services available throughout the region, call the Cancer Center at 410-820-6800, or visit UMShoreRegional.org/cancer_program for the latest issue of their monthly newsletter, Thriving and Surviving, containing a full listing of program offerings.

As part of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), University of Maryland Shore Regional Health is the principal provider of comprehensive health care services for more than 170,000 residents of Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. UM Shore Regional Health’s team of employees, medical staff, board members and volunteers works with various community partners to fulfill the organization’s mission of Creating Healthier Communities Together.

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