An Essential Part of Care

Photography by Tony Tribble

When a person or family is affected by cancer, the impact of the diagnosis can be difficult to quantify. Cancer is often hard to understand, hard to treat, and hard to accept. But at the Cancer Support Community, all of those things become a little bit easier.

Cancer Support Community (CSC) provides support, education and hope for people with cancer and their loved ones through and beyond the journey. This year, CSC is proudly celebrating its 25th Anniversary of serving as a community of hope for the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. Originally established in 1990 as the Wellness Community, CSC operates two facilities in Blue Ash and Fort Wright. In 2009, the community joined forces with Gilda’s Club Worldwide to further its reach and support services. 

As cancer research continues to further incorporate the patient perspective, several studies have found that the best or most impactful cancer care includes emotional and psychosocial support in alignment with medical treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, says Michelle Johnson, executive director of the organization.

CSC’s programs and services are designed to augment conventional medical care, enhance quality of life, improve recovery, strengthen survivor care and facilitate better communication with medical teams. The CSC philosophy couples the will of the patient with the skill of the physician – a powerful combination. 

“Our goal is that anyone – men, women, children of all age and families – affected by cancer have the opportunity to use our programs,” says Johnson. The community offers hundreds of free programs to all people who are impacted by cancer, from patients to friends and children to seniors. 

The organization offers a variety of support services – from social activities to healthy lifestyle classes to support groups for patients and families – designed to strengthen participants’ emotional and psychological wellbeing.

The Institute of Medicine issued a ground-breaking report in 2007 that declared psychosocial support an essential part of cancer treatment, and that local organizations like the Cancer Support Community play a critical role in delivering that support. 

Since that time, research has proven the positive effects of psychosocial support through and beyond cancer. For instance, according to the study Reducing the Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence Through Psychological Interventions, patients participating in psychological intervention had a 56 percent lower risk of breast-cancer death as well as a 45 percent lower risk of recurrence.

Cancer Support Community participants regularly report that the services they receive through the center help them feel more in control of their lives, more empowered and more hopeful, Johnson says. Support groups give participants a place to vent, to find inspiration, to cry and even to laugh with people who are in the same boat, she says. Exercise strengthens the body, mind and spirit. And education – whether it’s a class on vegan cooking or a book from the community’s resource library on treatment options – helps patients feel more empowered – and more hopeful – about the fight they’re in.

That empowerment and hope is evident in the personal experiences individuals share about their time at CSC, and the data prove the growing need for CSC’s services within the community. According to the Institute of Medicine in a 2013 report, the overall number of cancer survivors is projected to increase by 30 percent by 2022 and there will be a 45 percent increase in cancer diagnoses by 2030. This research reinforces the crucial importance of making psychosocial support and education better incorporated into the continuum of care.

Here in Cincinnati, CSC is experiencing record-breaking numbers, too. In 2014, CSC in Blue Ash served more than 3,000 individuals, resulting in approximately 18,528 individual visits, a 4 percent increase from 2013. From August through September 2014, CSC experienced record attendance levels, with September seeing the highest numbers of new participants of any month in its history. So far this year, programming is up 15 percent, showcasing the increased need for CSC services and programming. With the increase in visits comes an increase in number of individuals whose lives were enhanced by the powerful free programming CSC provides.

The organization “gave me a place to feel welcome with all my thoughts, feelings, worries and insights regarding my cancer journey, and cancer, in general,” says Susanne Lieberman of Anderson Township. “If a person is diagnosed with cancer, it is so overwhelming … the most devastating part is that you feel betrayed by your body and you think you may die. CSC gives you a boost, a real big comfort.”

“I’m not lonely anymore,” says Karol Kennedy of Milford. “I have a very full life, and it’s all thanks to CSC. I cannot imagine a more useful place for anyone who is going on a cancer journey. Probably what has been the most supportive of me as a cancer survivor is the weekly support group called Living with Cancer. That is a support group of people of many different kinds of cancer at many different stages and places in their journey. I had learned the importance about getting second opinions and feeling really comfortable and confident in their medical team. That turned out to be invaluable in my case.”

It’s hard for people who aren’t battling cancer to understand the struggle, and it’s common for people with cancer and their caregivers to feel isolated.

“It is good to have friends who truly understand,” says Charlene Mecklenburg of Colerain Township. “When I’m in the group I’m not ‘alone,’ not ‘the one with cancer.’ We laugh together and cry together. The support group has saved me.” 

CSC has worked hard to form strong relationships with medical professionals and systems in the region, Johnson says. 

And the medical community is grateful to have CSC as a resource, says Dr. Randy Broun, president of Oncology Hematology Care, Inc., an oncology practice specializing in medical and radiation oncology.

“Cancer Support Community programs help complement the care that community oncology practices provide by helping patients and families through the cancer journey and beyond. The Tri-State community and OHC are fortunate to have their expertise,” Broun says.

CSC is 100 percent privately funded through philanthropy, including generous individual donors, corporate partners, foundations civic groups and Legacies Upscale Resale Store. All money donated stays in the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area to support the community. CSC is also supported by a large volunteer base, local hospitals, medical practices and other non-profit organizations that share similar philosophies.

CSC works to ensure that there is a community of hope to support all those impacted by cancer and encourages those in need to reach out.  As CSC’s founder, Lynn Stern, once said, “No one understands like someone who’s been there. And no one should have to go through this alone.” 

In Ohio, Cancer Support Community is located at 4918 Cooper Road, Blue Ash, OH 45242. You can reach them at 513.791.4060. In Kentucky, it is located at 1717 Dixie Highway Suite 160, Fort Wright, KY, 41011. You can reach them at 859.331.5568. Visit their website at