The Caregiver Support Group aims to help those who help others

At Sanford Health, cancer patients receive world-class care from a multidisciplinary team of providers and nurses. However, these same patients still need care when they are at home, and that caregiver is often a spouse, parent, or child who spends all day caring for their loved one. So who takes care of the nurses?

Sanford Health offers a cancer survivor support group that meets regularly and is specifically designed for caregivers.

Gregg and Monica Webster

Monica Webster was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and was given about a 20% chance of surviving the six months. Aggressive chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery helped save her life, but she developed a metastatic brain tumor in 2015, a second in 2016, and a third in 2020.

Monica, now 59, is still living with cancer and meanwhile her husband Gregg is by her side.

“One of the things we found out quickly in this process was that while there are a lot of people who are involved with cancer, there really aren’t a lot of people who understand the human side of things,” Gregg Webster said. “There’s talk of medical stuff. The financial is talked about, but the human side of things is really difficult.”

Gregg spoke about some common issues that come up when providing 24/7 care, from basics like the best way to administer medication to work-related concerns like working on his wife’s schedule to answering calls from his accept insurance clients. But there’s so much more that Gregg and caregivers like him don’t necessarily take into account at first glance.

“What do we do to maintain our own health? Do we make sure we get enough sleep ourselves? Eat healthy? Is there a way we can give ourselves a break when we’re feeling overwhelmed?” said Gregg, referring to many of the questions he and other caregivers often ask themselves. “It’s emotionally draining.”

In addition, relationships with friends and family may also change.

“[Family members]politely invited us to join them at a retreat by the lake,” Gregg recalled. “But my wife is in a wheelchair. That will not happen.

“When people come to visit, they often cut it short. They leave early and don’t come back because they are uncomfortable. People just don’t get it.”

Support group for cancer survivors

There are caregivers around the world with the same concerns as Gregg, and Fargo has no shortage of them either.

Michael Burson, a senior social worker at Roger Maris Cancer Center, noticed that caregivers in the center’s waiting area were talking informally about some of their common concerns, and decided to start a peer support group in 2019. Since then, the program has grown to be available in other communities that Sanford Health serves.

“I don’t come up with topics. I let the group members come up with things that they feel they need to discuss,” said Burson, who moderates the group discussions. “As any good psychiatrist would say, the more we are in the background, the stronger the group will be. They are the experts of their experience. So we just create the space for them to do the work.”

It usually doesn’t take long for the members of the group to find something to relate to.

“I see lightbulbs going out in every group and people having these important ‘aha’ moments like, ‘Oh, I thought we were the only ones!’ It’s a really cool group dynamic and I love being a part of it,” Burson said. “That has a lot of value. Even if people only come once or twice, I think they walk away with something they didn’t have before.”

The Fargo group meets once a month on Tuesday afternoons for about 90 minutes. For those who cannot attend in person, there is the option to attend virtually as well. For his part, Gregg has been there for three years.

“There’s a tremendous amount of people out there just going through things blindly and trying to figure it out,” Gregg said. “It’s so valuable to talk to other people who are going through something similar themselves and really understand it. We can learn from each other.”

Here for everyone

At Sanford Health, our goal is to care for every patient. In the case of caregivers, their well-being is vital not only to their own health and state of mind, but also to their loved ones.

Because of this, Burson sees the support group as another crucial part of Sanford’s overall commitment to nursing.

“I think we’re providing excellent care to our patients,” Burson said. “I think we strive for excellence. So I would hope that the supervisor group would reflect that. Nursing is a very tiring job. So I’m really excited to be able to add to this experience for the people going through this and hope it has a positive impact on them.”

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Posted in Cancer, Community, Fargo

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