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  September 10, 2001

Health Center Provides Support
to Caregivers of Cancer Patients

Relatives or friends who care for one of the nearly 8.4 million Americans living with cancer often struggle with their own emotions as they watch their loved ones deal with diagnosis and treatment, and they often need help handling the extra duties and responsibilities that come their way.

The Health Center has a support program specially designed to give the caregivers of cancer patients some of the tools and resources they need.

"With so many more women working outside the home, and with family members often separated by distance, the caregiver role can be accompanied by tremendous stress and loneliness," says Lee Tremback, an oncology social worker at the Health Center and one of the leaders of the support group.

The group, offered periodically as a one-day program, is part of a national program called Strength for Caring, sponsored by pharmaceutical company Ortho Biotech Inc.

"The program gives caregivers an opportunity to share their experience with others in similar situations," Tremback says.

"Sometimes it's really like a light bulb goes on. Someone will talk about their situation and someone else says, 'Oh, we went through the exact same thing,'" she says. "It's a huge relief for many people just to know they aren't the only ones going through this."

"Strength for Caring also provides people with a medically trained professional who can answer their questions. "People often are unable to absorb all the information they get during medical appointments," says Donna Pryor, nursing manager for the Health Center's Cancer Center, who leads the group with Tremback. "They usually need time to think about the questions they want to ask."

The program provides an understanding of cancer and cancer therapy. It covers management of symptoms, family roles and shifts in responsibility during illness, family emotions and grief reactions, answering children's concerns about illness and dying, and end-of-life issues. It also provides information on improving the mental and physical health of the caregiver, understanding stress, and finding and obtaining resources.

"We provide reassurance around managing symptoms and side effects of treatment," says Pryor. "It can be as simple as making sure the patient takes a lot of fluids, or as difficult as helping someone manage pain."

Another important issue is depression and fatigue and how to tell the difference.

"Perhaps most important," Tremback says, "we give the caregivers an opportunity to talk about all these issues away from the patient and with others who understand what they are going through."

The Health Center will offer the free cancer caregivers support program on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information or to register, call (800) 535-6232 or (860) 679-7692.

Kristina Goodnough

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