Friday, July 12, 2013

Local nonprofit offers cancer support by Elizabeth Richards

On the last Monday of each month the Windham Cancer Support Group meets at the Windham Public Library, welcoming anyone dealing with cancer to ask questions, find information or simply vent. The nonprofit organization was formed seven years ago when two women determined that there was a need for a local support group. Now, the group has a core membership of 10 to 12 people.

Kim Murray and Rachel Phinney have been involved in the group since the very early days. They had known each other before their cancer diagnoses, and were diagnosed around the same time. The group helped them become stronger in their journey, said Murray. Phinney has only missed one meeting in seven years.

Murray stressed the importance of having a local group available. During cancer treatments, she said, the Cancer Community Center (CCC) in South Portland is just too far to travel. “I never made it there, but I was able to get to this group, which was really nice,” she said.

Bob Beane joined the group five years ago, after receiving a diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancer and a prognosis of three months. He recalled walking in to the meeting the first night, seeing a group of about 14 women, and wondering what he was doing there. Now, however, he feels differently. The group includes a few men now, and they would love to add more. “This is home. It’s local. As long as we keep the door open, there are people in this community, this surrounding area, this lake region area that we hope will hear about us and come in,” said Beane. “If we can come in and tell our stories and give somebody else hope, then that’s what it’s all about.”

Even though her treatment is complete, Murray said it’s nice to see what they give back by sharing their experiences with others. “We get just as much from them, and it makes us feel good to be able to give back because it was there when we needed it,” she said.

Phinney added, “We laugh, we cry, we try to make it very light, so people will come.” The toughest aspect, she said, is getting the word out there so that people know the group exists. “We’re there in Windham for people anytime they want to contact us. We have an open door policy, and everything is confidential,” she said.

Murray added that the members of the group rely on each other. “This is our network now, this is our community – it has made me feel a part of the community in a way that supports me, but also in a way that we can give back,” she said When a cancer diagnosis comes, she said, sometimes people have no idea what to say or do. Because the people in the group have been through it, they know how much something like a gas or Hannaford gift card can mean. And the connections they’ve made matter as well. “I can’t stress enough the friendships and the bonds that we have now,” she said.

“This group is a family. We’re always there talking to each other,” added Beane. “If somebody’s got a problem there’s three or four people standing there saying ‘what can we do to help?’ That’s what it’s all about.”

The group also offers education and resources, such as speakers at every other meeting, with topics ranging from reflexology and Reiki to nutrition and laughter yoga. The education piece is important, said Beane. “For those of us who have been diagnosed and are dealing with this stuff, about 80 percent of our knowledge of this disease, what it does, and what it’s doing to us comes from support groups. It does not come from the medical community. I have learned volumes of information about my type of cancer from support groups,” he said.

The Windham Cancer Support Group supports caregivers as well, with special meetings and the opportunity to connect with other caregivers. The group participates in American Cancer Society (ACS) events, such as Relay for Life and Making Strides, and helps connect members to resources available through the ACS and the CCC.

The group is also involved in fundraising, both holding their own and participating in local fundraisers to support individuals. With these funds, and funds donated to the group, they are able to provide some support as needed, as well as supporting a couple of local families affected by cancer around the holidays.

The Windham Cancer Support Group meets on the last Monday of each month. In December, they hold a social event instead of the meeting. The support group is active throughout the summer as well. “The cancer society stresses that cancer doesn’t sleep,” said Phinney. “We try to make it as accessible as we can if somebody really needs to talk.” The next meeting will be held on Monday, July 29, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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