Community Support on the Frontline of Cancer



Photography by Wes Battoclette

A cancer diagnosis is life-changing, not only for the patient, but also for their family and friends. Dealing with the stress of cancer is overwhelming physically, emotionally and socially, but Cancer Support Community Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky (CSC) is taking strides to make sure that no one faces cancer alone. 

For 25 years, the not-for-profit organization has enhanced the lives of people in the local community by offering free support and services to improve quality of life and survival. Evidence shows that the best cancer care includes psychosocial and emotional support, and that care is provided through CSC community-based programs, which give non-medical care to men, women and children with any type or stage of cancer and also to their loved ones. 

Support is needed now more than ever, as cancer diagnoses continue to increase. “The city … Northern Kentucky and the surrounding suburbs are known for good schools, parks, strong hospital systems and businesses,” says Michelle Johnson, executive director of CSC. “It’s our mission to support our entire region and to be available in strategic locations around the Tri-State.” 

Off-site partnerships are integral to the CSC mission with the goal being to bring free programs and services closer to where people live in order to break down access barriers.  Programs are located at more than a dozen locations throughout the region and participants can choose from any options, based on their comfort level and what they feel will best improve their personal experience and well-being. Support groups, healthy lifestyle classes, support for family and children and social gatherings are only some of the comprehensive menu offered at CSC partnerships. 

“We are extremely proud to have our satellite facility in Northern Kentucky hosting support groups, educational programs, healthy lifestyle activities, and social events to meet the needs of the local community.  Our most popular programs are our healthy lifestyle programs such as yoga, tai chi, mindfulness meditation and our weekly professionally facilitated support groups,” says Kelly Schoen, program director of CSC. “All of our programs are designed to alleviate the universal challenges of a cancer diagnosis: loss of control, loss of hope and unwanted aloneness.” 

West Chester Hospital collaborates with CSC through a free cancer educational seminar series, a monthly cancer support group facilitated by a licensed CSC social worker and recently a “Connect to Community” program.  Connect to Community involves a licensed social worker who provides support and resource information to patients and caregivers at West Chester Hospital oncology clinics.

“Patients and caregivers are more comfortable when they know that a comprehensive health care community is invested in their treatment and care plans,” says Debbie Conradi, RN, oncology patient coordinator at West Chester Hospital. “Providers and staff feel assured that their patients have a strong continuum of care with access to helpful resources through the information and provider referral process.”

The Cincinnati VA Medical Hospital (VAMC) works with CSC to offer a support and networking group for individuals with head and neck cancer. The meetings are held at Cincinnati VAMC and are open to people with head and neck cancer as well as friends and family members. In 2015 the group expanded by utilizing telehealth modalities in order to include participants from the Chillicothe VAMC through videoconferencing.

“Despite the inevitable communication barriers that many people with head and neck cancer experience, the program has been very successful,” says Kathy Groves, a speech-language pathologist at Cincinnati VAMC. “Support is able to be given to individuals in a rural area of Ohio where such services specific to individuals with head and neck cancer, to our knowledge, don’t exist.” 

Groves explains that the head and neck cancer experience includes unique issues and side effects, including problems with speech, voice and swallowing. A group where people can share their experiences and also provide advice to newly diagnosed individuals is invaluable. 

“Over the years, many participants have shared with me that the group provided them with help and support that no medical resource could provide and that being able to help others by sharing information and friendship was very meaningful to them,” says Groves. 

The Christ Hospital has partnered with CSC for more than 11 years, with programs like “Cooking for Wellness,” “YCat” (Yoga Therapy in Cancer and Chronic Illness) and tai chi. The YCat instructor, certified to specifically teach patients undergoing cancer treatment and cancer survivors, has taken services to patients’ bedside   in the Christ Hospital Infusion Center, and both the patient and family members have found it beneficial. 

“The partnership has brought the community services and resources to the patient,” says Connie Cook, director of the cancer center, clinical director of oncology services at the Christ Hospital Health Network. “Each year we perform a needs assessment for supportive services and our patients enjoy having programs that reduce stress and are educational.” 

Permeating the community with hope, stability and knowledge has been the driving force of CSC since its creation in 1990. Lynn Stern, the founder of CSC, recognized the need to offer a community approach to cancer care and to support every individual impacted. “No one understands like someone who’s been there. And no one should have to go through this alone,” said Stern, who passed away in 1999 after her cancer recurred. 

Countless lives have been bolstered by the organization and the stories are immensely inspiring. Denise, a participant of CSC, says the organization has been invaluable to her mental and physical health. “When you have cancer, you can’t talk to your family because you need to protect them,” Denise says. Survival, hope, friendship and community are some ways Denise describes her experience with CSC. 

On Valentine’s Day, CSC received a card from Karol, who is a participant and has experienced two cancers. The card was in honor of her husband, who pressed his doctor for more answers because of Karol’s involvement with CSC. The result was a diagnosis of prostate cancer and due to the early detection; Karol believes it saved her husband’s life. 

Inspiration doesn’t only reach the participants; CSC programs are transformational for everyone involved, including staff. “I am inspired every day when I come to work, by the strength and courage that people have when facing cancer and their ability to connect and support one another,” says Schoen. “CSC really is a community where everyone has a voice, a story and wisdom to share.” 

CSC is strengthening its leadership and relationships as they plan to expand further and will continue to touch those whose lives have been affected by cancer.

“People will respond differently to a diagnosis or a family member’s diagnosis and that is their choice,” says Johnson. “Our programs and services are ready to uniquely support the choice of how you want to respond moving forward: you count. We do not have all the answers, but we believe every life matters.”

 

For more information about programs offered in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky and around the region:

Cancer Support Community – Blue Ash is located at 4918 Cooper Road, Cincinnati, OH 45242. You can reach them at 513.791.4060, by email at info@cancer-support.org or visit www.cancersupportcincinnati.org. 

Cancer Support Community – Fort Wright is located at 1717 Dixie Highway, Suite 160, Fort Wright, KY 41011. You can reach them at 859.331.5568, by email at info@cancer-support.org or visit their website at www.cancersupportnky.org.