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Siteman’s Cancer Transitions Group Offers Support for Survivors

By Kelly Pahl

Cyntia Borisch
 The new Cancer Transitions program offered by the Siteman Cancer at BJWCH is helping cancer survivor Cindy Borisch get back on her feet.  PHOTO BY KELLY PAHL

June 23, 2011 – Cindy Borisch survived stage 2 colon cancer and a divorce in 2010.

Excellent medical care, faith, a positive attitude and support from family and friends carried the judicial administrative assistant through a tough year that included surgery and chemotherapy.

A new group for cancer survivors offered by the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital is helping her through the mental and physical issues that came with surviving.

Siteman earned a grant from Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation to implement the Cancer Transitions program which was developed by the Cancer Support Community. The purpose is to help cancer survivors who have been finished with treatment for two weeks to two years improve their quality of life.

In 2005, the Institute of Medicine released a study called From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition.” The study found that there were shortfalls in the care provided to the approximately 12 million cancer survivors in the United States. Advances in the detection and treatment of cancer, combined with an aging population, will mean even greater numbers of cancer survivors.

“As a cancer center, we can’t turn our patients loose after treatment. We need to continue to offer them care and support,” says Anne Rihanek, social worker for medical oncology at the Siteman Cancer Center. “There is a great need for information and education on what cancer survivors can expect after treatment and how they can live healthier.”

The first Cancer Transitions program convened on April 26, 2011. The group meets for six weeks, breaks for four weeks, and then regroups for a last session to address questions and progress toward goals.

Each class focuses on a different topic presented by Siteman cancer experts including nutrition, medical management, and emotional well being including dealing with issues of depression, anxiety and relationship programs. Each class also includes exercise led by an exercise specialist from BJC Wellaware that is customized to the needs of each patient’s abilities. Group members keep a diet and exercise log and set personal goals.

Feedback from the first 14 participants has been positive.

“They appreciate the opportunity to interact with other cancer survivors, and to learn how they can be as healthy as possible both physically and emotionally,” Rihanek says.

Cancer Transitions is one component of a variety of services offered at the Siteman Cancer Center to help patients and families cope with cancer and its effects – emotional, physical and financial. Those services include support groups, education programs, psychologists, spiritual care, chaplains, financial counseling, nutritional counseling, pain management, palliative care and clinical genetics assessment. Social workers like Rihanek help patients and families cope with the challenges caused by cancer. They provide assistance with issues like lodging and transportation, rehabilitation and hospice care, and advance directives. They also identify community resources related to housing, employment, legal issues and financial concerns.
Borisch was diagnosed with colon cancer in late 2009. She finished her treatment in September 2010. She feels Siteman and the Cancer Transitions program is helping her to get her strength back and her activity level up. “I really like being in the room with other survivors who have similar questions and are going through the same things I am, even if they have different cancer diagnoses,” she says.

Borisch feels surviving cancer has made her a stronger person with a stronger faith. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “You won’t always be going through chemotherapy. Always look for the positive and be hopeful. There is support out there, so ask for it.”
The second Cancer Transitions program will start in mid-September. There are plans to hold the program at the BJWCH campus and at Washington University Medical Center. For more information, contact Anne Rihanek at 314-747-1236.