It’s National Cancer Survivors Day and the number of individuals
and families celebrating life today keeps growing. In fact, the American
Cancer Society estimates there are more than 15.5 million cancer survivors
in the United States—a number expected to increase to 20 million
in less than a decade, thanks to ever-improving care and treatment.
But even as survivor numbers grow, it can’t be ignored that a cancer
diagnosis impacts the lives of patients and families, often for years
post treatment. For this reason, St. Joseph Health provides many services
just for survivors and their loved ones.
Joe Velasquez, LBSW, who runs cancer survivorship and caregiver support
groups for the
Joe Arrington Cancer Research and Treatment Center at
Covenant Health, says that it’s extraordinarily important for people not to feel
they’re alone. “After cancer, there is power in reaching out
and connecting with others,” he says. “Some people shy away
from getting support, but we have had a lot of success with these types
Well aware of the importance of supporting patients before, during and
after their treatment, many St. Joseph Health hospitals offer programs
for cancer survivors. Some of our offerings focus on building a healthier,
balanced life after cancer, such as the Cancer Wellness Program at
St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. This evidence-based program addresses body weight, nutrition,
exercise and lifestyle to promote patients’ overall well-being.
Similarly, at t
St. Joseph Health Sonoma County,
courses are offered for yoga, art therapy, nutrition and more. The intent is to
assist cancer survivors in achieving long-term health –physically,
spiritually and emotionally.
Additionally, there are programs that directly address the effects of procedures
which may cause temporary weakness.
Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, Calif., for example, has a host of support groups, along with a
rehabilitation program focused on helping oncology patients regain strength. And many other
offerings help families and individuals deal with the emotional impact after diagnosis
For more validation that support groups are going strong, one need only
St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif., where survivor
groups are available for those experiencing several types of cancer, including
head and neck, brain, lymphedema, and prostate. There's also a ladies'
night for cancer survivor fellowship and relaxation and yoga classes tailored
to the cancer survivor.
Social worker Velasquez refers to the “flood gates” that often
open up in his support groups for survivors and caregivers. The Caring
for Caregivers group focuses on acknowledging the challenges of their
jobs, helping caregivers ask for assistance, and ensuring they take the
time for self-care. He also makes sure that the caregivers themselves
support one another. “Caregivers need as much of a support system
as patients,” he says.
Survivors, too, greatly benefit from the support of each other, as Velasquez
witnesses at his Been There Done That group. “I could offer all
kinds of tips on financial issues, coping mechanisms and service available,”
Velasquez says. “But most of the power of the group comes from people
talking with others who share their experiences. I don’t agree with
those who say support groups aren’t needed because you can connect
with others online these days. There will always be a need for face-to-face
St. Joseph Hospital, Orange, similar conversations take place, but entirely in Spanish. The
Entre Amigos support group is the only Spanish language cancer support group in Orange
County, focusing primarily on breast cancer patients and their families.
However, those with other cancers are welcome, as well as those who received
cancer care outside of St. Joseph Hospital. “It’s very important
for patients to be able to speak freely, and that means being able to
talk in their native language,” Angela Acevedo, RN-BC, OCN, MA,
MFT, cancer navigator at St. Joseph Hospital’s
Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment.
Although there is plenty of time for interacting with another, Entre Amigos
also focuses on education. The group will often have guest speakers, including
doctors, geneticists and nutritionists. “Our members may come in
thinking that having cancer means they will not live,” says Acevedo,
“but when they see others in the group who have participated for
17 years, they realize that cancer is treatable and survivable.”
According to Acevedo, members often thrive and grow stronger after a cancer
experience. “For many, a diagnosis of cancer changes their lives
in ways that are actually positive. They set different priorities, especially
in regard to their own health and relationships. People say to themselves,
‘It happened, but better things will happen to me from now on.’”
Entre Amigos is held the fourth Thursday of Every Month, 6-8 p.m., St.
Joseph Hospital, Orange (SJO). For more information call (877) 459-3627.
For more information on SJO’s Cancer Wellness Program, call (714) 734-6230.
For more information on the Been There, Done That and Caring for the Caregiver
groups at Covenant Health, call 866-4Covenant (866-426-8362).
Access programs at Queen of the Valley Medical Center