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Support Can Be Just a Phone Call Away

By Mary Damiano

(Page 1 of 3)

Gilda Radner, comedienne and actress, said that when she was diagnosed with cancer, she felt as if she’d become a member of a club to which she didn’t want to belong. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, their caregivers and family members also join an exclusive club that the caregivers themselves often overlook. But seeking out other members of this club can make a great difference in the quality of life for both the caregiver and the person they are caring for.

Support groups are often thought of as something for the person who actually has the disease. But Karen Hansen, Program Director for Gilda’s Club South Florida, believes support groups are equally important for caregivers. “Cancer happens to the whole family,” Hansen says. “The caregivers themselves need a place to talk to someone else who’s going through the same things that they are, without the person with cancer.”

Gilda’s Club offers a variety of groups and activities so people living with cancer and their families can always find a group to fit their needs. There are groups for people living with cancer based on the type of cancer, groups for families and friends, groups for parents of children with cancer, groups for kids who’ve lost someone to cancer. Professional therapists and psychologists facilitate the groups, but Hansen stresses that the members are in charge. “The groups here, there’s a facilitator in it, but the members run it. The group is about the members.”

Nothing is frowned on within the groups. Hansen says that group members are free to be themselves, to talk about the good and bad things they are feeling. “There are no rules,” Hansen says. “They’re free to express if they don’t like what they hear or disagree with someone.” Dr. Nick Masi, President and CEO of Gilda’s Club South Florida, is one of the founding members of that chapter. Dr. Masi and his wife, both psychologists, helped found the South Florida chapter of Gilda’s Club in 1994.

“We have had some personal cancer experiences ourselves and knew the importance of the social and emotional support and knew it didn’t exist down here in South Florida,” says Masi. “We were looking into something like a Gilda’s Club to bring down here. We got together with a group that we were already involved with and got together with another group, the American Cancer Society wanted to help us, and we made it happen.”

Masi understands firsthand the need for support groups for both patients and caregivers. “I had two daughters with cancer,” Masi says. “My oldest daughter, Jennifer, passed away when she was 14 from neuroplastoma. She had been diagnosed when she was three, so she lived for 11 years. We had been through all kinds of cancer experiences for those 11 years, and during that time, my other daughter was diagnosed with a tumor when she was two years old. She had surgery and chemotherapy and she’s been fine. She’s now in college and doing great.”

Both Hansen and Masi agree that one of the most beneficial aspects of caregiver support groups is that they give caregivers a place to talk about what they’re going through with others in the same situation. “Once they start coming,” Hansen says, “They keep coming back and they feel like they’re not alone anymore.” They have someone to share it with.”


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