Gary Cooke
Special to The Union

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May 28, 2013
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Hospital support groups treat emotional needs

Cancer is like a coin with two sides, Dr. Jeff Kane explains on a video made to explain what support groups do.

“Cancer has heads and tails,” he says. “Heads is the physical aspect of it, the tumor, while tails represents the suffering of the people who have it and the suffering of all the people around them. If we just treat the physical aspect, then we’ve done exactly half of a treatment.”

That’s why Dr. Kane and others have worked since the Sierra Nevada Community Cancer Center opened in 1995 to construct a network of support groups designed for patients, families, and caregivers. Thirteen such groups are functioning today, offering emotional and practical support in a wide range of ways.

“From the beginning, our oncologists have believed in support groups as a way of treating the whole person,” explained Rebecca Parsons, an oncology social worker who acts as liaison to the groups. “From our first patient care support group with Jeff Kane to the groups and classes we currently offer, we want to provide emotional support and information from other cancer survivors as part of the best oncology care we can possibly give patients.”

Peer Supporter and group participant Bev Osborn attends Kane’s support group weekly. She began attending about a year ago, and has found the group helpful and rewarding.

In her role as a SNMH Volunteer Peer Supporter, Osborn was assigned a patient to provide comfort, friendship and assist with resources. She decided to take her patient to Kane’s Cancer Survivors Group, and both have been attending ever since.

“There is so much compassion and listening. It is amazing. It is reassuring that family members and friends are welcome to sit in if they wish,” Osborn said.

Groups are created depending on need and interest, and a minimum of four people plus facilitator is required, Parsons said.

Groups are mostly free of cost to participants thanks to ongoing support from the Sierra Nevada Hospital Foundation. It covers many aspects of the cancer experience, from living with lung or prostate cancer to yoga practice and dream work.

Nevada City poet Molly Fisk has been teaching the class Writing to Heal through the Community Cancer Center for 13 years.

“I’ve taught about 300 people including cancer patients, caregivers, and family members. While some take the class only during their chemotherapy and radiation treatments, others have attended steadily for 13 years. When I ask, they say that writing helps them think clearly, stay on the right track, and helps them cope with other challenges of life now that their health issues have subsided. I think the writing helps us cope and gives us a way to manage our emotions,” Fisk said.

Jeanine Bryant, MS, is a children and adult group facilitator, who believes “the loneliness is the hardest part” for many people who suddenly find that they have cancer.

“Through our groups, they know they’re not alone,” Bryant said. “The support they receive from others is the best medicine to help relieve the emotional pain of what they’re dealing with.”

The video of Dr. Kane and a number of support group participants may be viewed at the website Further information about the groups may also be obtained by calling Debby Kirk at 530-274-6872, or Rebecca Parsons at 530-274-6656.

All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.

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The Union Updated May 28, 2013 12:22AM Published May 28, 2013 12:22AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.