One cancer survivor quit her job to spend more time with her 8-year-old son; another left Silicon Valley to find a less stressful environment; a third returned to teach an art class for the organization that helped embolden all of them to take charge of their lives again.
For three years, Cancer CAREpoint’s Survivorship Series has provided a free space for more than 200 cancer survivors to discuss and share their post-treatment experiences, according to project director and Mountain View resident Sheryl Brown.
“It’s to help people honor their cancer experience, but not have it take over their lives,” said Brown, a three-time cancer survivor.
The 2018 series in collaboration with El Camino Hospital is scheduled 6-8 p.m. Wednesdays, June 20 through Aug. 1 (except July 4). Participants meet at the El Camino Hospital Cancer Center, 2505 Hospital Drive, Mountain View.
The workshop focuses on psychosocial support, encouraging people to quit smoking, journal and meditate, and providing writing prompts for reflection on body image and recurrence.
Throughout the six weeks, a class of 14-16 participants collaboratively completes workbooks revolving around such themes. With assistance from a social worker serving as facilitator, the survivors also create their own “healing plan,” a personalized approach for moving forward, according to Brown.
“It’s a two-pronged approach – validating your feelings, and ‘What can I make myself do to get stronger after?’” she added.
The feeling of post-treatment uneasiness can bring about survivor’s guilt, fear of recurrence, conflict with their religious beliefs and unease about the future, Brown said. For example, a past Survivorship Series participant suffering from major scarring was unsure how to pursue an intimate relationship.
The anxiety can persist for a long time. In Brown’s case, she’s “still carrying some pieces” of the feeling from her final treatment 33 years ago.
Many who complete their cancer treatment and suffer from the anxiety think they “should feel happy,” according to JoAnna Quan, a social worker at the El Camino Hospital Cancer Center who is part of the collaboration. Thus, a large part of the series is a validation of the uneasiness.
“It provides them with a sense of the new normal, like, ‘Hey, you know other people have gone through this,’ and they feel the same way,” Quan said.
She added that the El Camino Hospital Cancer Center and Cancer CAREpoint, which have collaborated for two years, “co-treat” their patients. The El Camino clinic might refer a patient seeking additional help to CAREpoint’s Survivorship Series and advise the psychologist leading the workshop to focus on the patient in special areas. A Survivorship Series participant might also be recommended to the El Camino clinic.
El Camino’s location also broadens the reach of the series by making it more accessible to those who live farther from CAREpoint’s headquarters in San Jose, Quan said.
Brown noted that the Survivorship Series draws a diverse crowd of people – some willing to speak in a non-native language – to share their experiences.
The small class size and collaborative process help bond the groups – many alumni of the program remain close friends. Nearly 60 attended a recent social CAREpoint hosted for survivors.
Registration is free and offered on a first-come, first-served basis to those 18 and older. Participants are required to register by June 18.
Additional Survivorship Series, each lasting six weeks, are scheduled 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays, Aug. 21 through Sept. 25, and 6-8 p.m. Wednesdays, Oct. 3 through Nov. 14. Both are held at the Cancer CAREpoint Resource Center, 2505 Samaritan Court Suite 402, San Jose.