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News Archive - Progress Newsletter Spring 2002 Online

Emotional Caring

Emotional needs vary among cancer patients as they travel through the different phases of their cancer journey. Patients may experience times of no or low distress, moderate distress or extreme distress. Some patients may remain at one level while others fluctuate between levels. Just as emotional needs vary, the type of emotional care offered also must vary.

At the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Psycho-Oncology Program strives to meet these needs. The program currently offers a variety of supportive/ educational groups for patients experiencing the lower end of the stress scale and individual psychotherapy sessions for patients experiencing extreme distress and anxiety. After extensive planning and research, the Psycho-Oncology Program is starting to roll out therapy groups for patients in the moderate range of distress.

Beginning this spring, a pilot therapy group for patients with a diagnosis of primary breast cancer will be offered. Women who have recently completed treatment – lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy – may be referred to the therapy group by their health care provider. The group will meet weekly for 90 minutes over an eight-week period and will be limited to 10 members.

“Each week the therapy group will be focused on a certain area, and we will bring educational materials and exercises to address the specific topic,” explains Jane Deering, M.S.W., clinical social worker, Cancer Center groups coordinator and co-facilitator of the pilot breast cancer therapy group. “Topics to be addressed include learning new coping skills, relationships with family and friends, sense of self, and finding a new normal.”

Lori Reece, a 41-year-old breast cancer survivor, is looking forward to joining this new pilot breast therapy group that will focus on post-treatment issues. “One thing that I realized after finishing my treatment is that people don’t understand that it is not over in terms of my feeling safe. I will always have that feeling, and it is emotionally hard. You feel like you are helpless and can’t do anything. At least when you are going through treatment you feel like you are fighting back,” says Ms. Reece.

The supportive/educational groups that are currently available at the Cancer Center follow a more open design than the new therapy groups. The supportive groups typically have open membership that changes over time and meet once a month with an informal open discussion format.

Current groups are set up according to cancer type or age range (e.g. Melanoma Support Group, Young Adults with Cancer Support Group). This leaves many people without a group to attend. It is the hope of the Psycho-Oncology Program that, in time, they will be offering programs for everyone.

“The vision is that there will be a mix according to diagnosis and also according to a particular need,” explains Claire Weiner, M.S.W., adult clinical social worker, Department of Psychiatry, and co-facilitator of the pilot breast cancer therapy group. “We are discussing groups focusing on male cancers, parenthood and cancer, and for women with metastatic cancers. The groups will be in various formats depending on needs.”

“I think it could be very helpful to focus groups on issues,” says Carol Adams, seven-year breast cancer survivor and member of the current Breast Cancer Monthly Support Group. “My current group has been a tremendous help to me, but it’s difficult for me to talk about my recurrence. If you haven’t had a recurrence, you are just praying that you won’t get one. I know in the past it was hard for me to hear about people who had had recurrences; it scares you. A group focused on metastatic disease would give people like me a chance to talk a little more easily and openly about what really concerns us.”

“All the groups will offer a place where people can feel safe and know that what they say will remain confidential,” says Weiner. “The groups will be a place where they can express their worst fears that they maybe cannot express anywhere else. They will learn that there won’t be anyone else in the group who hasn’t had similar thoughts.”

The Psycho-Oncology Program is a new cooperative effort between the Cancer Center, the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Social Work. Kathy Wade, M.S.W., director, Social Work, has played a major role in the creation of this program.

Karen Hammelef, R.N., M.S., director, Cancer Center Patient Support Services, has been a key organizer of the effort. Joseph Himle, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor, Department of Psychiatry, will be leading a research study to determine if these short-term therapy groups will reduce levels of anxiety and improve social functioning in comparison to care without group therapy support.

A main goal of the Psycho-Oncology Program is to provide the framework to deliver emotional care to patients and families dealing with cancer throughout their experience. For more information on the programs offered, please call 1-877-408-7377 (PFSS).

“Patients will do better by getting help from one another, in a group experience facilitated by a welltrained therapist. We hope to be able to offer group therapy to all patients who would benefit from it, as well as for family members.” Michelle Riba, M.D., director, U-M Psycho-Oncology Program.


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