Cancer Day aims to assist
Nancy Lofholm/For St. Mary’s Medical Center
Cancer upends lives. When cells run amok, the changes trigger weighty decisions. Personal focus shifts.
Family relationships change.
Time splits: There is life before- the-diagnosis, and life after. This wide-ranging struggle plays out daily at St. Mary’s Cancer Center where 800 patients were newly diagnosed with cancer last year. They joined the ranks of the two in five people who will develop cancer in their lifetimes.
For the past decade, St.
Mary’s Survivorship Program has been asking these cancer patients, “What do you struggle with?” The patients’ responses, covering diagnosis to remission, have been used to create a roster of programs, services, survivorship groups and information resources. Now, those collective concerns have prompted the First Annual Western Colorado Cancer Day — Living Fully! The day, devoted to anyone affected by cancer, will be held Saturday, January 28.
“When you are diagnosed with cancer, you are sucked into this vortex. You don’t even know the language being spoken,” said Debra Hesse, coordinator of St. Mary’s Survivorship Program. “You realize that medicine can’t fix everything that happens to you.
You find out that there are so many things that will impact how well you will do with your treatment.”
Hesse said she and the Survivorship Program patient advisory team have built the cancer event around the concerns of cancer patients. These problem areas were compiled from post-treatment patient evaluations: Were finances a worry?
Did your cancer affect family members? Has it negatively impacted work? Were treatment side effects a problem? How well did you understand treatment options? Are you having trouble maintaining emotional equilibrium?
The team spent the past year organizing the free seminar so that many of those issues could be addressed in one day, and for as many as 400 information seekers at once. The 18,000 invitations sent out underscore the number of people impacted by cancer treatment at St. Mary’s, the largest multidisciplinary cancer program between Denver and Salt Lake City.
But St. Mary’s won’t be the only cancer-treatment program represented. Other cancer-treatment groups and out-of-hospital programs will be included in the resources available for seminar participants. The 30 resource tables at the seminar will include the Grand Valley Oncology Center, Grand River Health in Rifle, the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, HopeWest, Healing Horizons, Grand Valley Medical Supply and Home Care of the Grand Valley.
“We brought together as many providers as we could because we wanted to make it as meaningful and powerful as we can,” Hesse said.
The message of the keynote speaker at the seminar luncheon is also expected to be powerful.
When Delaney Clements died of neuroblastoma last March at the age of 13, she became an inspiration for other cancer patients. Her 100-watt smile, her embrace of life’s joys even during illness and in the face of a poor prognosis, and her active engagement in all facets of her treatment during the five years of her cancer journey showed other cancer patients that a diagnosis doesn’t need to be life-ending or spirit crushing.
Delaney’s mother, Wendy Reece, will deliver that message as the keynote speaker.
She will also speak to the need for caregivers of cancer patients to care for themselves.
It was something she had to learn as she went through her daughter’s illness.
Other speakers include Cathy Bradley of the Cancer Prevention and Control Center at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, in collaboration with St. Mary’s. Bradley will speak about how living well affects health, especially when facing cancer.
Other speakers will address how nutrition impacts cancer, how best to prevent a recurrence, how to support loved ones with cancer, and what recourse patients have to pay for cancer treatment.
An expert panel will discuss the latest research breakthroughs and explain specific topics like targeted therapy which is designed to attack genes or proteins found in cancer cells; precision medicine that focuses on the changes in cancer cells that help them grow and spread; heart-sparing radiation that reduces radiation effects on cardiac health; and oral chemotherapy, a sometimes alternative to intravenous drug delivery.
Hesse said she knows how powerful this kind of information can be for cancer patients and their loved ones. She became involved with the cancer center 15 years ago, after she was diagnosed with melanoma.
She volunteered at the center for five years before moving into a fulltime paid position. She brings to the program the belief that cancer is a lifelong impetus for staying informed.
The fear of cancer never goes away,” she said. “But you learn to use knowledge to deal with it.”