Cancer Support Group Lifts Spirits at Holidays, Educates All Year
Raymond Fuller was stunned when he received a kidney cancer diagnosis in March 2018.
"I felt like my world was coming down around me," said Fuller, 50. "I had no symptoms, no clue about anything. It was life-changing."
Immune-based therapies, targeted treatments and clinical trials have dramatically improved his physical health and cancer recovery.
And the best medicine for his mental health and determination? Fuller credits the Cedars-Sinai Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC) Support Group. Fuller has been a regular at the group sessions since his first appointment at Cedars-Sinai Cancer nearly two years ago.
"The group helps so much — the positivity, the information-sharing, all of it," said Fuller, a Westchester furniture and cabinet maker. "It helps me appreciate the moment and look forward. I see people who've been dealing with this disease for 15 years and are doing fine. That's uplifting."
The sessions feature an array of speakers, including dietitians, oncologists, radiologists, social workers and others who treat cancer survivors. The group meetings provide an opportunity to get detailed information and advice from experts. Participants also talk shop with each other—fellow travelers who know better than anyone else what they're enduring.
"Patients want to know about treatment — what's out there, what's next, what's under investigation," said Nancy Moldawer, MSN, RN, a longtime kidney cancer nurse, researcher and facilitator of the Cedars-Sinai cancer support group. "They take each other's phone numbers and often have one-on-one chats when the meetings end. They create their own support network outside of our meetings, too, which is an enduring gift."
Physicians tend to focus on medical treatments, but this kind of supportive environment—knowing you're not going through this alone—may be just as important. One of the values of having a group like this is that you have a place to connect with people—at the holidays and year-round.
When the holiday season rolls around, some participants need an extra boost as they deal with the stress of large gatherings, rich meals and fatigue, Moldawer said. To combat those seasonal challenges, Moldawer strives to present an inspiring end-of-year educational program.
"I try to make it spiritually uplifting and meaningful," Moldawer said. "And, of course, we serve healthy, festive holiday snacks!"
The benefits of social connectivity have been well documented anecdotally and through studies, said Arash Asher, MD, director of the Wellness, Resilience and Survivorship program at Cedars-Sinai Cancer, who spoke at the November meeting. They include:
- Sharing stories and information with fellow survivors
- Learning to live a purposeful life
- Gaining authentic hope and optimism
- Cultivating a sense of gratitude
- Embracing a sense of humor along the way
"Physicians tend to focus on medical treatments, but this kind of supportive environment — knowing you're not going through this alone — may be just as important," Asher said. "One of the values of having a group like this is that you have a place to connect with people, at the holidays and year-round."
Kidney cancer is among the 10 most common cancers in men and women. Nearly 74,000 new cases of the disease will occur by the end of this year, according to the American Cancer Society. About 14,770 people will die from it.
Fuller said that his first reaction to his cancer diagnosis was "panic and shock." Talking over his case with kidney cancer specialist Robert Figlin, MD, deputy director of Cedars-Sinai Cancer and Fuller's oncologist, calmed Fuller, who learned about his treatment options, easing his fear of the unknown.
"From day one at Cedars-Sinai, I wanted to talk to others who share my experience," Fuller said. "I have great friends, but they don't understand what I'm going through and sometimes it's hard to talk to them. The group makes me feel normal again."
Fellow participant Raymond Haug, 81, echoed that sentiment.
"If I hadn't had the support, I probably wouldn't be here today," Haug said. "It made all the difference."
For more information about Cedars-Sinai cancer survivorship programs and how to enroll, contact: 310-423-0638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about kidney cancer on the Cedars-Sinai blog: Managing a Kidney Cancer Diagnosis: Expert Advice