Survivorship programs focus on wellness, support

by Ginny Gaylor


When you receive a cancer diagnosis, odds are you don’t spend much — if any — time thinking about what life will be like once you’re done with treatment. You worry about chemotherapy or radiation, or if the cancer will go away. You think about how it will affect your family, your savings and your job. You might even think about losing your hair. So when treatment is done and your cancer is in remission, you suddenly realize, now what?


You are not alone. But Triad area cancer patients are fortunate. With five major hospitals to choose from, treatment is never far away. Best of all, each of these medical centers has programs geared toward guiding cancer patients and survivors through each stage: diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. From support groups to exercise classes, each provides a range of activities to support cancer patients.


Celebrating survival

Sometimes it’s important to simply celebrate survival, and that’s what programs at Forsyth Medical Center and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center offer. Forsyth’s program, Feel Good Fridays, takes place the first Friday of every month. During the program, survivors can get haircuts, manicures and massages; practice reiki; and enjoy crafts and food.


“The event is a day for survivors and their families to enjoy,” says Laurie Mathis, a breast oncology nurse navigator with the hospital system.


Judy Dobson, a breast cancer patient, enjoyed participating in Feel Good Friday so much that she ended up volunteering to decorate tables for the event.


“It’s one of my favorite support systems there,” she says. “Just being around people who understand more about the situation I’m in helps, and I really do like the atmosphere.”


Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (WFUBMC) offers a similar program on a quarterly basis called Just 4 You Day. The event includes breakfast, lunch and snacks, and offers professional chair massages, makeovers from Belk’s cosmetic artists, haircuts, manicures, live music, a DJ, and door prizes. Area military staff as well as personnel from Coldwater Creek and Home Depot also have stepped in to help out during events.


“They have shown tremendous enthusiasm for being a part of this special day for our survivors,” says Marcy Poletti, MSN, RN, the hospital system’s oncology service line program administrator.


Finding a new normal

At Moses Cone Health System, Finding Your New Normal (FYNN) is an eight-week program geared toward people who have completed cancer treatment. The program was built on a wellness concept using a model developed by a UNCG professor of counseling.


“We combine a focus on issues survivors need to know about and are affected by, and introduce some kind of exercise each week,” says Terry Moore-Painter, the hospital systems’ chaplain.


She adds that FYNN groups tend to bond pretty closely and often continue to meet even after formal sessions are over.


Fran Rinehuls knows firsthand the benefits of the FYNN program, although she was reluctant at first.


“I remember when I finished with my treatment, I expected to be me again, and it doesn’t quite work that way,” says Rinehuls, a breast cancer survivor.


“I thought about going, but I hesitated,” she adds. “I thought it was going to be really depressing. I had this preconceived notion of what a support group was going to be.”


Fortunately, her idea of what a cancer support group was and the reality were worlds apart.


“Within five minutes of the group starting, I thought, ‘This is just wonderful.’ I fit in immediately,” Rinehuls says. “All of us were in the phase of getting our hair back, so we all had the same haircut.”


During the first session, Rinehuls recalls an instant connection and empathy among the group’s members.


“We knew what the other person was going through. There was no need for explanations,” she says. “We still get together.”


Helping hands

Alamance Regional Medical Center in Burlington takes a slightly different approach with Wings to Recovery, a cancer survivorship program that pairs a cancer survivor mentor with a current cancer patient.


“We try to match diagnosis to diagnosis,” says Rosa Davis, a chemotherapy-certified registered nurse and the program’s coordinator.


“We even try to match mentors and patients on specific types of treatment,” she adds. “The mentor is someone who has been through it, walked down that path and knows how the new patient feels.”


Mentor Dave Forsyth wishes this kind of program existed when he began receiving treatment for multiple myeloma.


“I think the most encouraging part is to see someone who has survived cancer. That gives them hope,” he says. “Not in words, but just to see someone nine years after treatment walking, talking, functioning — that is the greatest thing about the program. Things may well have changed, but there’s still life after treatment.”


Fit to fight

Many of the area’s hospital systems offer fitness and exercise programs geared toward cancer patients and survivors, but the one at High Point Regional Health System is slightly different.


“We have the only medically certified fitness center,” says Janet Forrest, the hospital’s oncology program planning liaison.


Cancer Fit, one of the center’s programs, is a guided 12-week exercise workshop run by an exercise physiologist. The idea is to increase stamina and decrease cancer-related fatigue. While the program does have a fee, there are scholarships available.


“It shouldn’t be closed to anyone because of finances,” Forrest says.


Cancer Fit also is designed to help build bonds with other survivors.


“We have mini classes and discussions,” Forrest says. “We also go on outings together because the classes have bonded so much.”


Ginny Gaylor is a freelance writer based in Greensboro.


Shining lights

While there are various programs available at area hospital systems for cancer survivors, there are two nonprofits specifically designed to help women prevent and live with breast cancer. Friends for an Earlier Breast Cancer Test focuses on prevention of the disease, while Alight Inc. — a new group — focuses on helping newly diagnosed patients.


For the past 15 years, Friends for an Earlier Breast Cancer Test has worked toward funding research for an earlier biological test to detect the disease. It also celebrates survivors during its annual lunch and dinner events each October.


“We get a lot of folks who come and bring a friend who’s a survivor,” says Kara McBurney, the organization’s events coordinator. “They come as a group of survivors, or they purchase a table in memory or in honor of someone.”


Cynthia Holliday, Alight’s executive director, says the organization’s first goal is to make sure local women focus on treatment and wellness.


“We have an emergency assistance fund to help if someone is having issues like paying their utilities, job loss or child care so that they can come to treatment,” she explains. “We don’t want anyone to forgo treatment or not focus on wellness because of finances.”


The group also provides patients with tote bags that contain a breast cancer treatment book, notebook with community resources and pillow to use during treatment.

“Alight is a different piece of the puzzle,” Holliday says. “We help people right now, locally, today.”