Supporting Cancer Patients

Last month, the Southeast Georgia Health System (SGHS) in Brunswick, Ga., launched Hope and Healing (H&H), a bi-weekly cancer support group for current patients, caregivers, and survivors. The group is led by Karen Crosby, BSN, RN, nurse navigator, Breast Care Center, and Heather Lambert, LMSW, social worker, Cancer Care Center.

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GUIDING LIGHT: Karen Crosby, BSN, RN, (left) and Heather Lambert, LMSW, help patients with cancer and their families navigate treatment. (Photo courtesy Southeast Georgia Health System)

SGHS had led support groups for breast cancer in the past, which started strong, but fizzled out. Crosby explained, “We thought the area could benefit from a more general support group. Families go through the same issues.” The rural areas surrounding the hospital did not provide many resources, so SGHS had to take up the charge.

Tools for Patients 
The first meeting of each month will be an open discussion, and the second meeting will be an educational session featuring a guest speaker. Topics will be determined by the participants. “I think it’s an informative tool for patients to learn how other people are feeling,” Crosby explained. Popular points of discussion will include side effects of cancer treatments, coping skills, and healthy lifestyle tips.

“We think finances are bothering our patients,” Crosby noted. One patient wanted to learn how to read hospital statements and insurance statements. Since she’s likely not the only patient worried about finances, the support group arranged for an expert to review that topic in March. Experts will come from both the health system itself and the local community.

One unique aspect of the support group is that it’s trying to help people in varying stages of their cancer journey. “Patients, family members, and survivors each have their own needs,” said Crosby. Making patients feel they are not alone is an important goal of H&H. Current patients will learn how accept their new identity as a cancer patient, but not let it define them.

Expert Knowledge
Facing a loved one’s cancer can be overwhelming for family members because they don’t know what to say or how to help. Caregivers in the group will get perspectives on what it’s like to be a patient, so they can better understand the best way to help. Family members experience their own confusing emotions; speaking with others facing the same challenges is beneficial.

Survivors will bring their own brand of expert knowledge. Crosby remarked, “It’s so helpful for cancer patients to see someone who has survived.” Added Lambert, “They can show what it’s like to come out on the other side.” Survivors will share what helped them while they were in active treatment. She continued, “They want to help others and provide emotional support.”

Survivors also benefit from attending the group. Having a safe space to talk about fears of recurrence and anxiety surrounding follow-up scans and tests can ease their fears.

SEE ALSO: Evaluating Cancer Risk

Skilled Leaders
“Family and support systems are beneficial to a patient’s care,” Crosby remarked. That line of thinking makes a nurse the ideal clinician to co-lead the support group, because nurses are used to including caregivers in their plans.

From a clinical aspect, most patients experience side effects from treatments and frequently have medication questions, two issues nurses are well-equipped to handle. Eventually, nurses guide patients to take charge of their own care.

Early participants in H&H were excited about the group, and Crosby and Lambert would like to include more community involvement. “We hope it gets bigger and better,” said Crosby.

Danielle Bullen is on staff at ADVANCE. Contact: dbullen@advanceweb.com.

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