By JOSH NEWTON
With advances in early detection and treatment of cancer, more and more people are surviving their battles against the growing epidemic.
“Survivors face a lot of different emotions – physical, emotional, psychosocial, financial,” said Margie Burkhart, supervisor of the Primary Prevention Project for Cherokee Nation Healthy Nation. “We want to address the needs they might have.”
Cancer support groups often enhance self-esteem, reduce depression, decrease anxiety and improve relationships with family and friends, according to the American Association for Cancer Research.
Medical professionals recommend people diagnosed with cancer speak to their physicians for help in locating the perfect support group.
In some areas, groups may even exist for family members and friends of those who have been diagnosed with cancer.
At the Cherokee Nation, a reorganization of the tribe’s cancer program has changed the comprehensive plan, Burkhart said.
In the past, on every third Thursday of the month, the program hosted a breast-cancer support group wherein 13 or 14 participants would meet. But those numbers had recently dwindled to about half of previous regular attendees.
The idea has now evolved to include all cancer survivors, which Burkhart feels is an important outreach.
“Instead of just focusing on breast cancer survivors, we’ll focus on all cancer survivors,” said Burkhart. “So, for instance, if you’re a man with prostate cancer, you’re welcome to come.”
Participants will find a wealth of activities during the informal get-togethers, along with dinners, crafts, guest speakers, and other educational components.
“People want to come for a reason,” said Burkhart. “If they keep up their nutrition, increase their physical activity, they can live longer, so that’s what we’re trying to do. After their survival, their battle with cancer, they’ve got a greater risk of developing those second cancers, so we want to encourage them to live a healthier lifestyle.”
Meetings will be led by Mary Owl, a public health educator and cancer survivor, according to Burkhart.
Meetings are every third Thursday, at 6 p.m. in the Healthy Living Skill Center off of West Fourth Street, near the old vo-tech center in Tahlequah.
Each meeting typically runs an hour, and is come-and-go for participants. More information is available by contacting Burkhart at (918) 453-5440.
For help finding other local support groups, log onto the American Cancer Society’s website at www.cancer.org/treatment. Visitors to the website can search by area code and choose from a lengthy list of support services they might be interested in.
The American Association for Cancer Research also provides resources for finding support. Log onto www.aacr.org and click on “Survivors & Advocates.” A menu on the left side of the screen provides a link to information about support groups.