Cancer support organization works to ensure ‘no one faces cancer alone’
Kim Hensley of Gilbert has found a place where other people truly understand what she’s going through.
Diagnosed with breast cancer and lymphoma, Hensley has been attending support group meetings at Cancer Support Community Arizona since March. She says although her family and friends have been wonderfully helpful as she manages her condition, it’s been extraordinary to discover a place where she can connect with other cancer survivors.
“When people in my group say they understand my situation, I know they really do,” she explains. “And I also know that something I share might help someone else in the group.”
Cancer Support Community was founded by Harold Benjamin, Ph.D., in Santa Monica, California, in 1982. As a result of the experience with his wife’s breast cancer, and through subsequent years of study on the psychological and social impact of cancer, Dr. Benjamin formulated the Patient Active Concept: the idea that people with cancer who adopt a series of actions, behaviors and attitudes that will improve the quality of their life may enhance the possibility of recovery.
In the past 34 years, the Cancer Support Community Affiliate Network—originally called The Wellness Community—has grown to more than 50 local sites across North America. Based in downtown Phoenix, Cancer Support Community Arizona opened its doors in 1998 and has served more than 10,000 participants, says Hallie Rexer, the organization’s marketing coordinator in Phoenix. In 2015 alone, more than 11,000 people attended a program, which are all provided free of charge in a home-like, community setting.
“Cancer Support Community’s mission is to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community,” Rexer says. “Together we work so that no one faces cancer alone.”
All programs are facilitated by licensed mental health professionals, Rexer continues, including emotional support groups, networking groups for people with specific types of cancer, educational workshops, exercise activities, stress management sessions, lectures by experts in the field of oncology and social gatherings. These are intended to be presented “with laughter, joy and hope,” she says.
Healthy lifestyle activities include yoga, tai chi, Jin Shin Jyutsu, Zumba, cooking classes and many more. Cancer Support Community’s social connections include seasonal potlucks, a coloring club and a holiday light bus tour.
“We offer specific programming and activities for children, teens and families,” Rexer says. “New this year, we offer programming in Spanish.”
The Youth and Family Program ensures children, teens and their families, friends and caregivers have access to information, support, and health and wellness resources, Rexer says.
“Through our programming, youth ages 5 to 18 with cancer, or who have a sibling or parent with cancer, can participate in activities that teach age-appropriate information about cancer, coping skills to de-stigmatize the diagnosis, dispel myths, discuss treatment effects and how to be a good friend to someone with cancer, and promote healthy communication and expression of feelings.”
Programs and services are offered to cancer patients with any diagnosis at any stage, and to their families and friends, Rexer adds. Cancer Support Community also welcomes the larger community to join in special events throughout the year, including an annual Tribute Tree Celebration in December, which honors all those who have been on a cancer journey. “All services are provided through the generosity of individual and private contributions,” says Rexer. “A large amount of donations come through fundraising efforts.”
Hensley appreciates the Community attracts participants from all over the Valley.
“People are willing to drive in because it’s so worth it,” she says.
Story by Debra Gelbart
Photography by Mark Lipczynski