Support groups can greatly enhance quality of life for cancer patients and their families, according to the American Cancer Society. One clinical trial finds support groups helped relieve tension, anxiety, fatigue and confusion. Other research shows a link between group support and greater tolerance of cancer treatment and ability to follow treatment plans. Alegent Creighton Health has more support groups than any hospital system in the metro.
Dave Fitzpatrick first noticed the changes in his wife's personality. Then Jan Fitzpatrick had trouble processing information, couldn't come up with the right word in a conversation and her right leg started dragging.
The Fitzpatricks' Alegent Creighton Clinic primary care physician, Lewis Eirinberg, M.D., knew right away something was wrong. An MRI confirmed it: Jan was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, or a brain tumor. She was Stage 3. The prognosis was poor.
"We didn't suspect this," husband Dave Fitzpatrick said. "It was totally off our radar. The world shut off at that point. We were obviously very scared. We were uncertain what it meant."
Specialists told him the tumor was "too deep in the brain" to remove surgically. There weren't many options for Jan. Doctors said she could live three to five years.
"You never believe something like this will come into your world," Fitzpatrick said. "Then you realize you're not immune to this."
The Fitzpatricks turned to a Brain Tumor Support Group that meets every month at Alegent Creighton Health Immanuel Medical Center. "Once we got there, it felt right to us. There are other people going through the same thing. You hear the stories and realize you're not alone."
They became regulars. "We find the disease that invaded our lives does not have the ownership we once thought it did," he said. Special speakers would lead some meetings. Others were open discussion. Cancer Psychiatric and Support Specialist Linda Dempsey facilitated the group.
"There's not a lot of pretense in the world we now live in," Fitzpatrick said. "We find that life is not over, just defined in a way different than before. Not all of what we had in life before will be ours again but with the help of each other, we find renewed strength to face whatever challenges lie ahead."
Just after Thanksgiving, Fitzpatrick wrote on Caring Bridge that his wife was "in a holding pattern." They visited Colorado—someplace they'd gone many times during their marriage—and he added, "Where do we go from here? I'm not quite sure. We'll continue to strive for the best that life has to offer and find comfort in knowing that whatever it is that lies before us, we don't face it alone."
Alegent Creighton Health offers a number of support groups for cancer patients and their families. You can find more information at www.alegentcreighton.com/cancer-support-groups or by calling 1-800-ALEGENT (1-800-253-4368)