A New Kind of Support:
For 44 years of marriage, Karen and Larry Ganzini have balanced each other. Karen is a talker; Larry is quiet. Larry isn't keen to
show his soft side; Karen feels worse when she bottles up emotions.
U-M Cancer Center develops program with Cancer Support Community to help patients and caregivers cope
Nearly 10 years ago, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although Karen says that cancer almost feels like second nature now,
issues due to the couple's differing communication styles have cropped up as the disease has progressed to stage IV. Karen and Larry
support each other, but it was still difficult to talk about certain aspects of Karen's cancer.
When Karen learned about a new pilot program to help patients and their caregivers cope better, the Ganzinis signed up. The program
was offered by the Ann Arbor branch of the Cancer Support Community, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing
education and support to people with cancer.
"I asked the question about hospice, and my husband really didn't want to go there at this point. He doesn't like to talk about the
end, and I understand that," Karen said. "But I need to know what it's going to be like."
By enrolling in the pilot program, Karen got her answers, and both Ganzinis agreed that the experience helped them feel better
about their situation. The program, called FOCUS, is based on University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center research that
has shown that patients and caregivers benefitted from meeting with a nurse to provide them with information and support.
"In our earlier studies, we found that caregivers often received more benefits from the program than patients, possibly in part
because caregiver needs are not typically addressed in traditional clinic settings," said
Laurel Northouse, Ph.D., R.N., co-director
of Socio-Behavioral Research at the U-M Cancer Center. Caregivers reported better mental and physical quality of life, less
negative views of caregiving and more active coping strategies. Both patients and caregivers reported better communication and less
uncertainty about cancer.
In order to offer the program in a community setting, it has evolved to become a series of group meetings facilitated by
a social worker, Northouse said.
"This is an important step to move the FOCUS program forward so that more people can benefit from it," Northouse said. "It doesn't help
anyone if the results of our research just get filed away. It's really wonderful to be able to collaborate with the Cancer Support Community to
implement this program."
Three or four pairs of patients and caregivers meet together in weekly two-hour group sessions for six weeks, said Bonnie
Dockham, L.M.S.W., a social worker for the Cancer Support Community who is leading the pilot program. Topics of discussion include
communication and coping tools, strategies for handling uncertainty, and practical concerns, such as symptom management. All
participants complete surveys at the beginning, end and one month after the program to assess its impact.
If the pilot program, which is funded by the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, is beneficial, the FOCUS program may be
disseminated throughout the Cancer Support Community's 50 affiliates and 100 satellite locations nationwide.
"The program is for people who are coping well with cancer, in addition to those who may want to learn new strategies for
dealing with their cancer-related stress.
We try to create a middle ground for dealing with the cancer together, as a team," Dockham said. "We talk about taking this team
approach, because cancer affects the whole family."
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