CLINTON — Whether a survivor, a caregiver or someone still struggling with cancer, Clinton’s cancer support group is open to anyone dealing with any type of cancer.
The support group had been housed for several years at Mercy Medical Center. Three years ago, Zion Lutheran Pastor Jen Henry restarted the group at her church at the request of a member of her congregation diagnosed with colon cancer.
"This is a sharing group. It's a cheerleading group," Henry said. "For some people, it's the first place where they've shared their whole story, because it's safe."
Sharon Criss has been affected by cancer three times; in 1975 for her daughter, in 2000 for her husband, Norm, and in 2007 with her mother. She remembers receiving the diagnosis from the doctor each time.
"It is difficult to hear, but we make it even more difficult if we turn inward and try to deal with this alone," Criss said. "I'm thankful that each time we chose to reach out to others for support of all kinds... from family, friends, co-workers, church family and extended family everywhere."
The cancer support group was part of that extended family for her. Her husband, Norm, spoke of the other cancer survivors as his "Cancer Buddies."
Debra Stange said that while people diagnosed with cancer need support from family, friends and others, there are times when it is good to sit down with others "who are dealing with the same thing and really understand what you are going through."
She added that she gets to know the others attending and remembers them in her prayers until she meets them again.
"We share what we are going through that week or weeks past when we get together each month," Stange said. "We talk, ask questions, get answers or just to let it out how we are feeling it helps, we laugh or cry. It is always OK and we pray for each other if we want to."
Bob McCarthy attended the group with his late wife, Sallyann. He said for both of them it was a psychological boost, allowing them to share their experiences with others.
"It enables you to feel not so alone," McCarthy said. "You're not the only person with a problem."
Another caregiver, like McCarthy and Criss, Michele Bott also found the group to be valuable.
As a caregiver, she felt so isolated and alone at times.
"After attending the support group you find you are not alone... there are may fighting the fight," Bott said.
Francie Hill said attending the group is more about her and less about her cancer. The focus is on the people who are dealing with this diagnosis.
"Cancer doesn't get to be the main character. It's about who we are and how we decide to live despite the diagnosis," Hill said.
The group meets for an hour at 6 p.m. on the third Monday of the month at Zion Lutheran Church. Besides sharing experiences, the group also features guest speakers, ranging from physicians to nutritionists to relaxation experts. Henry said this gives the members an opportunity to ask a variety of questions related to their cancer.
"So the gambit is large on purpose," Henry said. "The main objective and main topic is hope."
This past Monday, cancer survivor Mary Jo Dopson addressed the group on how to travel while dealing with cancer. Hill said people with cancer have additional concerns while traveling. However, she said a person should not let the diagnosis stop them from going on a trip.
Hill encourages people to join the group for support. She added that many are hesitant to even say the word "cancer," choosing to say things like the "Big C."
"It's a six letter word and we should be able to say it," Hill said.
Anyone interested in the group can call Zion Lutheran Church at 242-7391.