New Hollings Online Support Group Aims to Connect and Help Breast Cancer Patients | MUSK

The providers and specialists at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center know that patient care is about more than treating the cancer itself. They see the mental and emotional toll a cancer diagnosis can take, which is why Hollings is launching a new online support group for breast cancer patients and survivors.

“There is definitely an unmet need to connect these patients with others who can understand what they are going through,” said Jennifer Wood, RN, a pivot nurse at Hollings and one of the group’s organizers. “With the ongoing pandemic, the feeling of isolation has only increased in some cancer patients who cannot see their loved ones for fear of contracting COVID-19 with a weakened immune system. “

The online support group was officially launched in September and will take place on the third Wednesday of each month. Virtual meetings provide a resource for patients at any stage of treatment to connect with others no matter where they live.

Dr. Stacey Maurer, Assistant Professor at MUSC College of Medicine, will help lead meetings of the Breast Cancer Support Group. Photo by Marquel Coaxum

Stacey Maurer, Ph.D., assistant professor at MUSC College of Medicine, will help lead the meetings. “As the only NCI designated cancer center in South Carolina, we know that some patients have to drive several hours for treatment because we serve the entire state,” she said. “Being able to reach breast cancer patients with this online support group is a huge advantage. “

The group will discuss topics such as how to communicate your diagnosis with family and friends, anxiety surrounding a cancer recurrence, and managing a cancer diagnosis. Maurer said organizers want to keep topics broad to encourage more participation.

“We don’t want this support group to feel like a class. We want patient-to-patient connection and support to be central. That’s what it is: providing resources and connecting these patients to each other. ”

Maurer said patients reporting feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that between 25% and 50% of breast cancer patients report suffering from depression, anxiety and difficulty coping with the diagnosis.

Isolation and depression are growing problems as there are more breast cancer survivors today than ever before, thanks to advances in treatment. This is one of the reasons that Hollings breast cancer specialist Andrea Abbott, MD, is also involved in the project. Abbott said there are now more than three million breast cancer survivors in the United States, and for many, the hardest time comes after treatment ends.

“We’ve put so much effort into prevention and detection to catch these cancers at an early stage, but we also need to think about how we can support patients after treatment is over,” Abbott said. “It’s a scary time to go from seeing doctors all the time to then trying to live a normal life as a cancer survivor. Some women feel abandoned during this transition, and we don’t want it.

“We don’t want this support group to look like a classroom. We want patient-to-patient connection and support to be central. That’s what it is – providing resources and connecting these patients to each other.
– Dr Stacey Maurer

The Breast Cancer Support Group not only provides a connection with other patients, but also gives patients the opportunity to reflect with healthcare professionals on how to deal with the many challenges that a cancer diagnosis can cause. bring to help future patients.

One of the goals of the online support group is to show its feasibility – ideally to replicate it for other types of cancer as well. In 2020, approximately 32,000 South Carolina residents were diagnosed with cancer, 33% of whom reported high levels of depression or anxiety. Seventy-five percent of those patients felt they had unmet needs – needs Abbott hopes Hollings’ online support groups can meet.

“These are real issues that many cancer survivors face on a daily basis,” Abbott said. “If we can help current patients and survivors, while also gaining valuable insight into how we healthcare professionals can better support cancer patients, then this support group truly is a win for everyone. world. “

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