One Friday, Georgia CORE’s Vice President, Angie Patterson
and I walked into the Enoch Callaway Cancer Center, WellStar West Georgia Medical
Center, in LaGrange, Georgia, for a meeting.
As we journeyed to the conference room, we passed a small art room. A vivacious, older woman inside greeted us
and gave us our first look at Enoch Callaway Cancer Center’s Survivors’
Program. In conjunction with the West
Central Georgia Cancer Coalition (WCGCC) in Columbus, Georgia, Enoch Callaway
is pioneering a survivorship program to meet the needs of its local cancer
survivors. A Commission on Cancer
Accredited Hospital, it helps those both undergoing and surviving cancer
treatment. Begun because an unmet need
was recognized in the survivorship community, and funded by the Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Control Program*
through the WCGCC, it has blossomed into a thriving program that assists those
going through cancer treatment, survivors, and their caregivers.
Currently, the classes consist of Art Therapy, Curvy Yoga,
and Nutrition and are free for those diagnosed with cancer or for caregivers
caring for someone with cancer. In
addition, two annual gatherings are held each year on National Survivor’s Day
and during the Winter Holidays. However,
they began with more humble beginnings.
During a treatment session, a patient in art school and his nurse
practitioner began discussing the benefits of art therapy. Several conversations later, a local artist eagerly
accepted an invitation to establish an art therapy class. Inspired, the local community donated art
supplies to help the program get started.
Through word of mouth, flyers and announcements in the
newspaper and at more traditional support groups, survivors, their caregivers
and patients began attending this new art class. No artistic talent was required, just a wish
to be in a community with others going through similar circumstances. Studies have found that art therapies are
beneficial for the cognitive and emotional state, and can also help reduce
pain, nausea and anxiety for cancer patients.
These Art classes became non-traditional support groups that helped
patients, survivors, and their caregivers find a healthy way to express their
emotions and begin to understand their journeys while simultaneously finding a supportive
community creating their own paths. Classes
were initially designed to be held 2-3 times a month. However, due to intense interest, they are
now held twice a week.
The art classes were so successful that the Cancer Center
wanted to show the local community the efforts of the survivors and get them
involved. Two exhibits were organized
and displayed at the local art museum.
The first, entitled “Body Works: The Journey,” consisted of 50 paper
mâché torsos. Survivors each took home a
cast and decorated it to tell the story of their own body throughout
treatment. The artists were then
videotaped to explain how their artwork illustrated their physical journeys. Quotes from their videos were painted on the
walls of the museum next to their torsos capturing the journey they had been on
with their bodies—creating a stunning and emotionally moving art display.
The Journey” was created. Each
survivor was given a 12” x 12” piece of canvas and asked to describe what their
support network meant to them throughout their treatment. When the finished products were returned,
they were sorted into themes, finding the common thread—such as religion,
family and friends. These groups were
then placed in a much larger black border—creating a unique quilt that told the
stories of the artistic survivors. In
addition, the local community continued to be highly supportive of these
exhibitions through attendance and donations of goods, resources and services. These group projects continue today with more
recent campaigns including four corn-hole-toss board games for National Cancer
Survivor’s Day and stakes for the on-site garden.
In addition to the art program, an unconventional yoga
teacher appeared with a passion for teaching “Curvy Yoga.” A course offering a gentle introduction of
yoga techniques relating to relaxation, stretching and breathing began that
allows participants to bring the body they have to the mat. More challenging poses and strength moves are
also offered to create an atmosphere of sharing that can be more effective at
building a cohesive group than the traditional model of a support group. According to the American Cancer Society,
“yoga can be a useful method to help relieve some symptoms of chronic diseases
such as cancer… and lead to increased relaxation and physical fitness.” Offered once a week, the class caters to all
abilities by also providing chairs and cots for those with less mobility.
During this time, Mary Ann Hodnett, a cancer survivor and
new Enoch Callaway Cancer Center employee, began helping coordinate all of
these survivorship programs. As a
survivor, she wanted to discover the other needs of the survivors. An evaluation was conducted among the
participants of the art and yoga classes.
The results of this survey overwhelmingly found a need for nutrition
classes. “Live, Laugh, Learn – A
Nutrition Experience” evolved.
Nutrition and diet play an important role in maintaining
health and fighting disease. Cancer
treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, can affect your body’s ability
to tolerate certain foods. However, some
survivors do not know how to change their eating habits or find recipes for
healthier meals that they find appealing.
“Live, Laugh, Learn” provides a healthy, free lunch and is led by
Registered Dietitians who educate cancer patients and survivors through
instruction, such as cooking demonstrations (recipes provided); individual
consultations that include assessing the nutritional needs of the survivors;
and assistance and instruction on gardening (including building and caring for
a raised garden bed).
Cheryl Johnson, the President and CEO of the West Central Georgia
Cancer Coalition, noted, “Many people believe you have to go to Atlanta or
other, larger cities, to find worthwhile programs. However, the Enoch Callaway Cancer Center has
created a thriving survivorship community with limited resources in ‘rural’ Georgia. We are so proud to be able to assist them in
their endeavors through the Georgia
Comprehensive Cancer Control Program grant, and look forward to seeing how
their program evolves.”
These complimentary therapy classes continue to grow. In
fact, thoughts of a drumming class or of creating a “Best Practices” guide so
that other locales can reproduce these support groups have been voiced. Perhaps Mary Ann Hodnett says it best, “We
would really like to encourage more Georgians to look to their own community
and discover their own resources. We
also want survivors to know that there is life after cancer—and there are many diverse
ways to find support along your journey.”
To learn more about the Enoch Callaway Cancer Center at
WellStar West Georgia Medical Center, go to http://www.wghealth.org/our-services/cancer-clinic/complementary-care/.
[*Funding made available by: Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Control Program Chronic Disease
Prevention Section Georgia Department of Public Health Contract #40500-032-16140940.]