What does it take to provide cancer treatment and support to patients and families living with the uncertainty of that diagnosis?
- The best most innovative diagnostic-medical-surgical interventions possible. I worked for many years for a hospital tucked in a small town in East Tennessee. When we moved to Kingsport for Dave’s job, I left a teaching position at Yale University. You would think it would have been a big transition, but it was not as much. The reason was the Cancer Center at Holston Valley Hospital delivered excellent medical and nursing care. Over more than 2 decades, Wellmont-Holston Valley Medical Center has grown to a 590-bed facility – it’s well-known for its Cardiovascular service, Lung Center, and Cancer Center. It is also a Level 1 Trauma Center. In a small town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, such a medical center gives confidence to families that their loved ones are getting exactly the care they need.
- Patient- and Family-Centered Support Services. Not long after arriving at Holston Valley, I was tasked with developing such a program (the philosophy was already there, but it needed to be made more comprehensive). With the help of the medical, nursing, and allied help staff, and with the support of family members previously touched by cancer, we launched the I Can Cope support group. We quickly observed that words mean things, and that cancer is not an “I” experience. It is “we”. We changed the name to Take Time…to Help, to Heal. Our focus was supporting patients and families through the whole spectrum of their cancer experience – from diagnosis to health (whether long-term or as fulfilling and comfortable end-of-life experience as possible). When we left Kingsport to take an overseas job, Kathryn Visneski, my partner for many years in the Cancer Center, took the lead in continuing the support work. The name of the support groups was changed to Survive and Thrive Cancer Support Groups (reflecting a broader multiple group approach with strong community affiliation ). Kathy has kept true the mission of cancer support at HVMC over all these years. Jane Martin, an art therapist, and many others have come alongside Kathy to make this service truly outstanding. Cancer support services require people; equipping and mentoring patients and families to support each other extends the helping hands a Cancer Center has to offer.
- Community Engagement and Support – Cancer affects families and communities. To have community agencies pull together to stand with and empower patients/survivors and families does a truly remarkable thing – it pulls the cancer experience out of the dark and normalizes it in such a way that debilitating fear is diminished. That is huge in the fight against cancer. Hope thrives as it should.
It’s surprising to see the lack of such cancer support services in much larger medical communities. They are costly, but the cost-effectiveness of such programming is measured in so much more than dollars.
Do you have ongoing cancer support services available where you live should you or a loved one need them? Sometimes it just takes a handful of people to start them, either as part of a cancer center or other community agency. Then, with growing awareness and support, they can take off. It’s been over 25 years that Survive and Thrive (aka Take Time…to Help to Heal) has touched lives in Kingsport, Tennessee. It can happen where you are…for the good of so many. If you have had such an experience, please tell us about it and what difference it made.
Post-Script: Just an example of how community works together to support cancer patients/survivors and their families is exhibited in picture below. School children colored pictures for our support groups which were used on “Christmas Blessings” folders, filled with encouragement from the patients/families themselves. The support group programs through the years demonstrates the wide range of subjects and those facilitating learning, across specialties and beyond the medical community. What a journey it was for me to be a part and to still be in communication with Kathryn Visneski to see continuing cancer support in Kingsport and beyond.
Photo Credits: Survive and Thrive Cancer Support Groups, Holston Valley Medical Center, Kingsport, Tennessee (except for a few personal pics)