St. Anthony Summit Medical Center launches cancer support group for patients and caregivers
When Dr. David Biggs joined St. Anthony Summit Medical Center this summer he brought with him something the hospital had been lacking: a local oncologist.
Now that he’s been in the role for about six months, Biggs is working to improve the experience of cancer patients. As part of that effort, Biggs and the hospital’s team of chaplains have launched a cancer support group.
The group, which has its first virtual meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 14, aims to create a sense of community among cancer patients and caregivers.
“It’s really an essential part of any cancer program to provide emotional and spiritual support to the patients and their families,” Biggs said. “It’s something that can’t be done well in an office setting, it’s really best done outside the medical office and in an more supportive and open environment.”
Lydia Wittman, who is a chaplain at the hospital, said the goal is for the group to meet monthly. Initially, the group will include both patients and caregivers. However, the hospital hopes to have two support groups, one for patients and one for caregivers, once it brings in more cancer patients.
Wittman said the meetings will often involve a speaker as well as dedicated time for group members to talk through their experience.
“Meetings will depend very much on input from the group members as far as what topics they’re interested in discussing,” she said.
Biggs said one of the most important parts of the meetings will be the open discussion about how people are feeling.
“We find that, for a lot of patients, they get a lot of support from the sense that they’re not alone in this,” he said. “They’re not the only people that have experienced these feelings of hopelessness, loss or fear. Just hearing other people talk about these things gives people a lot of hope and support in realizing they’re not alone.”
The group is part of the hospital’s efforts to improve the cancer program. Before Biggs joined in July, Summit County cancer patients often had to go to Denver or Vail for care.
As of right now, Biggs is only seeing patients two days a week, as there hasn’t been a need for more than that. However, his and his team’s presence in Summit County has helped the patients he does see feel more at ease in their care.
“Patients had to either travel to Denver, or if they had urgent problems, had to communicate with an office in Denver,” he said. “It was difficult to see your practitioner on a regular basis … So being able to just drive to Summit or contact your providers who are right here in the county with you, I think this is going to make a big difference.”
Wittman said the group will provide a sense of community for cancer patients as the pandemic creates even more isolation.
“Illness in general can be very isolating,” she said. “There are unique aspects of dealing with cancer that exacerbate that even more, whether that’s having to stay away from people because of a compromised immune system or the effects of the medicine that just make it impossible to engage in activities. That can be a very real struggle.”
While the group will be meeting virtually during the pandemic, Biggs and Wittman have the goal for it to continue far beyond that and eventually start meeting in person. People who are interested in attending Monday’s meeting can register by emailing Wittman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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