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• Form a focus group.
Before deciding which services and information to offer cancer survivors, invite several who have had different types of cancer to participate in a focus group. No two cancer cases are exactly the same and peoples’ needs may vary, explains Judy Gerner, LPT, director of Anderson Network Patient Services at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
• Contact local health care professionals.
Before developing an educational seminar or starting a support group for cancer survivors, call other health care professionals in your community to find out what is currently available. Often, several health care facilities start a support group with three or four participants each. If facilities would refer cancer survivors to existing groups, each would be much larger and more productive, says Michelle Melin, MA, director of patient services at Y-ME, a national breast cancer organization based in Chicago.
• Gather input from national organizations.
A lot of the legwork already has been done, says Melin. Many national organizations can provide patient education managers with lists of telephone networks, local support groups, and other resources available for cancer survivors. (For contacts, see resource box, p. 39.)
• Look beyond the community.
Telephone networks don’t have to be local to benefit the cancer survivors in your community. The Anderson Network is a nationwide service that connects cancer patients and survivors by telephone to people with similar cancers and treatments. Currently, 1,200 cancer survivors compose the network. "The network helps cancer patients get rid of some of the fear, just to know that there is someone who has gone through the same thing and is alive and well today — and is functioning well. It gives people hope and encouragement and gets them through the experience," says Gerner, who heads the network.
The Anderson Network also sponsors a two-day conference, each in Houston, for cancer patients, survivors, and their families. Conference activities include medical sessions with cancer specialists, coping sessions, journal writing, and art therapy.
[Editors note: The Anderson Network pays for the first telephone call, if long distance, when connecting patients to people with similar cancers. The cost of all other calls is paid by the person using the service. The cost for the two-day conference is $50.00. A quarterly newsletter is sent to anyone who asks to be placed on the mailing list. For information, call: (800) 345-6324.]