Finding Local Resources: You Are Not Alone

Phyllis Johnson Health Guide
  • Are you feeling isolated as a woman in her twenties with breast cancer?  Is trying to cope alone as your dying mother’s caretaker overwhelming you?  Every day people write HealthCentral looking for help.  Every day we provide a place to connect online, provide education, and offer links to other resources for our readers.


    However, you may be overlooking a valuable resource right in your neighborhood—your local hospital.  Here is a sampling of what my hospital offers cancer patients.


    Every week patients can attend a class that explains breast surgery.  Women who hate to take up the doctor’s time may find that an hour-long class is the perfect opportunity to ask questions.  It is so much easier when surrounded by others who will have the same procedure.

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    A monthly breast cancer support group offers topics such as exercise, nutrition, and intimacy as well as opportunities to chat and compare notes with other breast cancer survivors.  I participated in a group like this in the hospital where I was treated in the Midwest, and it not only taught me valuable cancer facts, but it gave me insights into my community resources in a way that an online community cannot.  But sometimes I felt out of place in my breast cancer support group because I was younger than most of the members and my cancer was more advanced.


    My hospital offers two different types of support for young cancer survivors.  One is a monthly social gathering at a nearby coffeehouse; the other is a “lunch and learn” at the food court in the mall next to the hospital.  Both get young survivors out of the hospital setting and out of the “I’m the only one” mind set.


    Sometimes the relentlessly positive attitude of the women in my support group actually made me more depressed because my prognosis was so much worse than theirs.  People with advanced cancer usually are looking at being on cancer treatments the rest of their lives.  They have their own realities to face, and a woman with advanced breast cancer may find that she has more in common with people with advanced thyroid and prostate cancer than Stage I breast cancer survivors.  This group offers topics like nutrition, but it also deals with advanced care planning, coping with cancer during the holidays and other topics with special relevance for this group.


    Kids and teens have their own day camp this coming August when a trained social worker will help them learn facts about cancer and coping strategies for dealing with it in their family.


    Not all the groups are informational in nature.  For caregivers, who are probably already feeling overworked, there is a monthly time set aside for coffee and connection.


    The waiting room in the oncology center also has brochures to community resources beyond what the hospital offers—everything from fertility information for breast cancer patients to brochures for hospice organizations.


    My hospital is a large regional hospital, but it is not a comprehensive cancer center, or a huge national research facility.  All of the services I mentioned are in our town with no need to drive to the large city twenty miles away.  Your doctor’s office and/or hospital almost certainly has brochures and information about the services offered near you.  There may be more or fewer, but even small towns will have some.


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    One of the most valuable local resources is the nurse navigator or oncology director at your hospital.  Each facility may have a different name for this person, but these people will help you untangle the complex web of doctors and services to find what is best for you.  Get to know your nurse navigator. 


    When we are exhausted and scared, the very thought of adding one more thing to our calendars can be intimidating.  So start by looking at the brochures while you are waiting to see the doctor.  You may find out that you can get a free wig; you may find a group that is perfect for you.  Ask the nurse about the best local resources.  You do not have to do cancer alone.

Published On: June 22, 2012