News: Health Has a Community

Living with cancer is not a solo struggle

May 3, 2001 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Ted Kennedy Jr. says cancer patients need more than medicine. Kennedy helped open a new support facility for the Wellness Community.

Dealing with cancer involves a lot more than dealing with cancer, according to Ted Kennedy Jr.Kennedy knows this not just because he is a member of the national board of The Wellness Community, but because he lost his leg to cancer when he was 12 years old.

Kennedy was in Cincinnati last weekend to celebrate the opening of the Lynn Stern Center, the Wellness Community's new regional services facility. Named for the founder of the Wellness Community of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, the center will give cancer patients a chance to become more active in the treatment of their illness.

The center, located in Blue Ash, offers free services such as support groups, educational programs, art therapy, massage, tai chi and yoga. The Wellness Community has 20 support centers across the country, including one in Fort Wright.

Kathy Land, a cancer patient who uses the services of the Wellness Community, finished a round of chemotherapy six weeks ago and hopes her cancer is in remission. Land, who has ovarian cancer, first heard of the Wellness Community when she had a tumor removed. She attended an introductory meeting in 1996 and has participated ever since.

"I go pretty religiously," Land says. "I find that your family and friends can all be supportive, but nobody knows what you're going through like someone else who is going through it."

Kennedy agrees. The emphasis in 1973, when he was diagnosed with cancer, was on curing the physical damage. Doctors never asked how he was feeling emotionally.

"There was very little emphasis at all placed on how I was coping with the cancer and chemo," Kennedy says.

Although he remembers cancer being scary for him to face as a child, there were no programs about how to keep a positive outlook, something he thinks would have been helpful.

That's where places like the Lynn Stern Center come into the picture.

"You are actually in control of your own treatment, and that's a huge change that has taken place in the last 20 years," Kennedy says. "There's always that lingering feeling of 'Is there something else I should be doing to maximize my recovery?' "

One goal of programs offered by the Wellness Community is to minimize that fear.

"It's a community so that people going through the cancer experience can learn from each other," says Christine Conlan, executive director of the Wellness Community-Cincinnati.

A total of 18 support groups meet each week, and the organization offers 30 other programs on nutrition, stress management, artistic and musical expression and other topics.

Conlan says keeping stress and worries to a minimum can help the healing process.

"When you're sick with cancer, you need all the energy you have to deal with the illness," she says.

Charitable donations, grants and proceeds from Legacies — a consignment store in Hyde Park — pay for Wellness Community services.

Children of cancer patients can attend a program offered in collaboration with Cancer Family Care.

"It helps kids deal with what the changes are in the family," Conlan says. "Cancer strikes the whole family, not just the cancer patient." ©