Survey explores local interest in forming cancer support group

Steps are being taken to gauge the interest of local citizens in forming a cancer awareness and support group in the Vermillion community.

Mary Merrigan, director of public relations at Sanford Vermillion Hospital, has distributed a survey via e-mail asking for people to submit their input about the idea.

The survey includes basic questions that ask people the time, the day of the week and the frequency they would prefer for the group, if formed, to meet.

People taking the survey are also asked to indicate topics relating to cancer they are most interested in discussing. Those topics include diagnosis, treatments, managing the cancer experience, coping with the emotional and physical side effects of the disease, pain management, issues relating to health insurance, filing claims and practical assistance, caregiver information and resources, and support for patients and survivors.

Marcy Lund, Vermillion, former community health nurse for Clay County, hopes the survey will generate enough local interest to warrant the forming of the support group.

"Our daughter, Linda, was diagnosed with breast cancer last February, and as a nurse, I had no idea what it was like going through chemotherapy," Lund said. "It was much more difficult than I thought it would be, but I felt fortunate that I had the support and concern from my friends and my church and my fellow nurses."

Lund recently had a conversation with her niece, who is employed at Sanford Vermillion, about the foot pain that Linda found accompanied her cancer treatments.

"I talked about how difficult it was for me to see her go through this," she said. "And then my niece went on to tell me how her grandson had the same side effect. He suffered foot pain with his treatment for leukemia. And I realized here are two people, of different ages, being treated for different kinds of cancer, and yet they're having the same problems."

Lund admitted that sharing her concerns and learning more about chemotherapy's side effects helped her better cope with her daughter's ordeal. "And my niece said, 'Marcy, we need to get a support group started.'"

This fall, Lund and people associated with the American Cancer Society contacted Merrigan. "So really, we've just taken baby steps with this idea," Lund said.

"It really started with Marcy having the revelation that are probably other people in this community that can benefit from having some meetings where you can just sit around the table and share," Merrigan said. "From our perspective as a medical center, we would be more than willing to help to provide speakers, presenters and educators for different topics that might be brought up in a support group setting."

It was decided that a good starting point, Merrigan said, would be to conduct the survey in the community to learn the interest level in such a support group.

"These types of things appeal to some people, but don't appeal to others," she said. "Of course, to me it would be an ever-changing crowd. People have different needs at certain  times, and those needs may not necessarily always stay as strong. People may get better, or, once they receive needed information, they may decide they don't need to be part of the group. So it will probably be an ever-changing crowd."

Merrigan has sent the survey electronically throughout the community. It has also been spread via Web pages of local churches, and Lund has helped inform through members of the Vermillion Ministerial Association.

"That's a real good way to get the word out – through churches," Merrigan said. "And I've sent it out to our employee base, but I also tacked on a few other groups that I'm involved with.

"Anything we can do to get more feedback on this survey will be helpful," she added. "And we really don't have a timeline yet. We want to see what we can find from this first step, and then go from there."

"We want to let these families and caretakers know that we care about them," Lund said. "And we want to provide an avenue for them to vent their feelings, and concerns and anxieties."

"And this will also be for learning – learning from other people's similar experiences, or different experiences," Merrigan said.

"There isn't anything like this in Vermillion, that we know of," Lund said, "and I know the help that Linda has received from her support group in Yankton has been very beneficial."

"And we want to make sure to emphasize that we are talking about cancer in general with this survey and this idea," Merrigan said. "We know there are many different types of cancer, and we want this group to include anyone – be they patients, survivors or family members who are affected by any type of cancer. We're not trying to be specific; we're trying to provide general cancer support."

People may get information about the survey by contacting Lund at 624-8706, or Merrigan at 638-8461.


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