For People With Cancer, A Community Of Support And Hope

October 14, 2011
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Cancer Support Community offers a place to connect

By Lisa Girard

When Linda A. Hoefling was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2007, she felt scared and alone – with no one to turn to. “My family didn’t know how to deal with what I was going through,” the 62-year-old Tinton Falls resident said. “I knew I needed some support.”

Shortly after receiving her diagnosis, Hoefling happened to see a commercial for The Wellness Community, a cancer support organization with chapters throughout the country. She called the toll-free number and was told that – quite fortuitously – a center had just opened in Eatontown.

“I walked through their doors on May 22, 2007 – a week after they opened – and it was the best decision I ever made in my life,” Hoefling said. “It didn’t look or smell like a doctor’s office, and they didn’t ask for my insurance information. I wanted to get well and deal with what was now my life, and they gave me the resources to do that every step of the way.”

Hoefling is just one of many who have found acceptance and comfort at The Wellness Community, which was renamed the Cancer Support Community – Diney Goldsmith Center in August. It was founded by Deal Park native Ilene Winters with the help of Rumson resident Barry Goldsmith, who wanted to create a place where people with cancer could come together and share fears, hopes and experiences. Winters, a former Wall Street executive who left the corporate world shortly after 9/11, had lost her mother Cissie, and Goldsmith his wife Diney to cancer – both in 2004.

“As I looked back at my mother’s experience, even though she had been blessed with the support of family and friends, she didn’t get the chance to interact with others going through the same thing she was,” Winters said. “Cancer can be isolating and scary. This is a way to get group support so you’re not sitting home trying to make decisions by yourself, or with your husband, who may not know much about it.”

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The statistics, as published on the Cancer Support Community’s Web site, are staggering. It says that one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and more than 24,000 Monmouth County residents are currently living with cancer, with almost 3,500 new cases diagnosed each year. The Wellness Center has several support groups, including three for those with breast cancer: an Early Stage Breast Cancer Group; Late Stage Breast Cancer Group; and Breast and Gynecologic Cancers Group. Each meets once a month and gives women a chance to form connections, share information about medical professionals and treatments and give each other support.

Ilene Winters, founder of the Cancer Support Community in Eatontown

“There’s a wealth of information from others who are dealing with or who have dealt with the same issues: the side effects of cancer treatments from chemo, radiation or taking oral medication, what to do if you have nausea, body image issues,” Winters said. “Or if there’s a special doctor or treatment someone found out about, they can share it with others.”

Each support group has a professional facilitator – either a licensed clinical social worker, an oncology social worker, or someone with a Masters Degree in social work. The center also offers other programs and activities for those with cancer and their loved ones. These range from creative writing, yoga and canasta to nutritional seminars and informative sessions like, “Managing Your Medical Bills” and “Parenting Through Cancer.”

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Cancer Support Community is offering some special seminars, including “A Nutritional Approach to Breast Cancer” by Dr. Adria Rothfeld held October 5 and “Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Spotlight on Breast Reconstruction” by Dr. Michael Rose on October 12.

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The Cancer Support Community, which relies on donations and works on a budget of about $400,000 a year, has helped many people in the area, and its popularity is growing. In 2010, there were 8,000 visits to the center, up from 6,000 the previous year. About 80 percent of those who attend are women, but the center recently started a men’s support group as well. The center’s tag line is, Cancer Support, Education and Hope.

“Some people are very isolated in this world, and we’re their lifeline during their cancer experience,” Winters says. “And even if you do have a support system, you’re not surrounded in your general life by people who have cancer, which can be isolating and scary. Here, what we are trying to create is a community of people who have walked in your shoes.”

And although Hoefling is now cancer free, she still puts in time at the Cancer Support Community, answering phones and volunteering to help with special events. “The center helped me heal physically as well as emotionally,” she said. “It’s not a doom and gloom place, but a place of hope, and I’m so grateful God put it in my path.”


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