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‘My god, I survived’

For Silverthorne resident Jan Shipman, hearing the April 2005 diagnosis of ovarian cancer was one of the most difficult moments of her life. In the ensuing months, surviving ovarian cancer would test her inner strength and remind the 44-year-old, who also has multiple sclerosis, that a network of support is particularly important when life takes an unexpected turn.

“It’s like living through a plane crash,” Shipman says matter-of-factly. “Your first thought is, ‘My god, I survived.’ Then you look for others who have shared the same experience.”

Those “others” can be found in the Summit Cancer Support Group, an organization formed by 10 cancer survivors in 1994. Originally known as “Bosom Buddies” because it targeted women with breast cancer, the group today has more than 40 participants and offers support to women experiencing cancer of any kind.



“Our group has grown and our name has changed but our goals remains the same,” explains Joan Davids, the group’s president. “We’re here to provide an open, supportive environment in which women cancer patients and survivors can discuss the issues that concern them most.”

If there is one change of particular note since the group’s inception, it’s the addition of health care professionals to facilitate the meetings.



“In the beginning, we simply met and talked on our own,” Davids explains. “But we came to realize over time that it helps to have a facilitator, someone who can guide us as we share what can be very emotional memories and experiences. Cancer is a life altering event and it’s a difficult event.”

For Shipman, meeting with other cancer patients and survivors is nothing short of inspiring. “… Cancer is a totally different challenge,” Shipman explained. “My husband has been remarkable through it all and my friends have been indispensable. But it’s nice to see how women who have experienced something similar are also so kind and caring. A bond has formed between us that’s pretty amazing.”

Vanessa Lewis, MSW, a medical social worker at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center is the “sisterhood’s” co-facilitator along with psychologist and clinical nurse specialist Barbara Leffler, Ph.D., R.N. Lewis notes that current research supports the important role support groups can play in a patient’s ability to handle the uncertainties and challenges cancer presents.

“Research has shown that there are two important components of a successful support group,” Lewis explains. “The first is education and the second is what we call ‘externalization’ ” the chance to talk about your experience with people who understand. I think our group nicely balances these two important aspects.”

Developing the educational component of the program is a group effort, according to Lewis. “We have guest speakers who cover topics chosen by the members,” she says. “Future topics might include everything from understanding thermograms, mammograms, ultrasound and other diagnostic tools to new studies concerning cancer identification. We may explore yoga as a therapeutic exercise or discuss the affect on cancer of religion and socialization. It’s really all about what interests the women who attend. The bottom line is that the group exists to serve their needs.”

The Summit Cancer Support Group meets the last Wednesday of every month. Meetings are held at the Community Senior Center in the County Commons in Frisco and begin at 7 p.m. Women currently undergoing treatment for cancer or those who have survived cancer are invited to attend.

Periodically, meetings are open to family members and the general public. The Summit County Support Group is a 501-C3 non-profit organization. Contributions to assist with programming are welcome and are tax-deductible.

If you have any questions about the support group or would like more information, contact Joan Davids, president of the organization, at (970) 513-9898.


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