Support is a lifeline

January 25, 2001

Support is a lifeline

By KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer
Support Group

Above: From left, sue Shetron of Waynesboro, Pa., and Dolores Noe of Hagerstown, both with advanced cancer, and Joanne Hykes of Maugansville, who has a chronic blood disease, share a moment of thanks.


staff photographer

Area cancer support groups

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Cancer counseling service, information and a variety of cancer support groups are available at John R. Marsh Cancer Center at Robinwood Medical Center in Hagerstown.


HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Y-ME of the Cumberland Valley Breast Cancer Organization offers information and support.


HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Summit Health's Summer Cancer Services offers cancer support

1-717-262-4660, Chambersburg, Pa.

1-717-765-4000, ext. 5194, Waynesboro Hospital


HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Dorothy A. McCormack Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., offers cancer support.


They were seven. Now they are three.

Monika McNamee, 55, died Tuesday, Jan. 23.

She was part of a group that came together nearly two years ago at the John R. Marsh Cancer Center in Hagerstown. Six of the women had advanced cancer.


McNamee wanted people to know how important the group has been and how much it helped her and the women who became her friends. She arranged a meeting of the survivors, women who stayed in touch long after the official 10 weeks of meetings were over. They called each other for "booster-uppers," she said.

McNamee didn't make it to Monday's meeting. She was in the hospital. Joanne Hykes, a group member who has a chronic blood disease, was with McNamee's family.

"She was a strong-willed person, " group member Sue Shetron, said about Monika.

Two springs ago, the women met as a group to think, to talk, to pour out their guts and laugh and to cry together, said Dolores Noe, 64.

They bonded quickly and so strongly, said Carol Antonowicz, a licensed clinical social worker who then was an oncology counselor at the John R. Marsh Cancer Center in Hagerstown. Antonowicz selected the women and facilitated their meetings. The women committed to the group - and to each other.

Noe's breast cancer was diagnosed in 1994. She had a mastectomy, and although no cancer was detected in her lymph nodes, her doctors recommended chemotherapy. In 1998, she learned that her cancer had metastasized - spread. There were spots on her liver.

Noe said she needed to talk to someone after receiving that "totally devastating" diagnosis. She went to a breast cancer support group, but the women involved were mostly newly diagnosed. "Here comes everybody's worst fear - in living color," is how she described feeling in that setting.

These women are not without wonderful support from family and friends. But no one can support you like someone who's going through the same thing, Noe said.

It wasn't the type of group you could advertise and have people just show up for or drop in on, said Patty Hanson, administrative director of the John R. Marsh Cancer Center.

One of the members died two or three weeks into the group, Antonowicz said. Another died a short time later. The women had to deal with these losses as well as their illnesses.

"Deep" questions forced them to look at the harder things, said Shetron, who lives in Waynesboro, Pa. "Sometimes you couldn't come up with an answer, because you just didn't know," she said.

Shetron, 48, has been "battling" ovarian cancer since 1992. She's had five major surgeries and has done nine rounds of chemotherapy. "We're dealing with it in a great, big way," Shetron said. They have taken care of legal issues, arranged for health-care and financial powers of attorney.

In December, Shetron enrolled with Hospice of the Good Shepherd in Chambersburg, Pa.

"I think quality of life is more important than quantity," she said. She has planned her memorial service and will donate her body to medical research at Johns Hopkins.

At one of their group meetings, they blew bubbles.

"I wanted to keep us grounded in present time," Antonowicz said.

Shetron brought a bouquet of red roses to a session and gave one to each of the women.

"It's so easy to forget how precious life is," Antonowicz said.

"After you get this kind of diagnosis, you know how many things are important?" asked Noe at the Monday gathering.

"Less than this," holding up her hand, five fingers.

What is important?

"Family, friends, telling them how much you love them," she answered.

"Living every day - even if it's raining. And saying 'thank you,' just 'thank you,' " she added.

There is mounting scientific evidence of the salutary effects of support, said Antonowicz, citing the work of Stanford University psychiatrist David Spiegel and others. There is power in caring, Antonowicz said.

She learned from the women in the group. Their lesson?

"Appreciate, appreciate, appreciate," Antonowicz said. "That was their gift to me."

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