Finding community in fighting cancer

GVL / Courtesy - Ingrid Johnson

Ingrid Johnson

GVL / Courtesy – Ingrid Johnson

Kate Branum

A cancer diagnosis is both disheartening and frightening. For those currently facing cancer, who have a loved one battling the disease or are in the process of receiving treatments, connecting with others who share similar experiences can be a source of comfort.

Grand Valley State University’s Cancer Warriors group is holding a meeting at noon on March 16, for those interested in ways to cope with cancer. The event will be located in Zumberge Hall on the Allendale Campus.

The monthly, informal meetings are intended to benefit anyone who has been impacted by cancer including caregivers, friends and family of those diagnosed and people currently going through treatment or already in remission.

Each meeting is facilitated by Ingrid Johnson, GVSU Movement Science professor, who is a cancer survivor, and Sue Sloop, a former caregiver and Health and Wellness work life consultant at GVSU.

Johnson formed the group three years ago after she was diagnosed, as she could not find any existing cancer support groups at GVSU.

“During all of my treatments and everything I thought, I don’t want anyone to have that happen. I don’t want them to have to deal with this at work and think that they can’t talk to anyone at work about what they’re going through,” Johnson said.

In past years, meetings have consisted of a variety of topics intended to educate members about cancer and different ways to manage the symptoms brought on by treatment.

Cancer Warriors has brought in guest speakers to talk about soothing remedies such as acupuncture to help with pain and nausea, essential oils to de-stress, beneficial vitamins and healthy dieting to build the body back up after treatment.

“We’ve had a grief coach come in and talk a couple times,” Sloop said. “Grief for somebody dealing with cancer doesn’t mean necessarily that they lose their life, or lose the life of their loved ones. They lost what was normal, you know. Their whole life changes. There’s a lot of grief around that, too.”

Overall, the group tries to cover both the physical part of cancer as well as the emotional and mental components.

“Even if (those diagnosed) go on to survive and do well, there’s still a grief period where all of a sudden you realize you’re more vulnerable than you thought you were,” Sloop said, “and maybe your routine has to change now, and maybe your expectations have to change now, too.”

The group stays flexible with plans for each meeting. Sometimes, they host discussion-based sessions that allow members to ask questions or receive support.

People who attend the meetings are not required to share life experiences. The hope is that people will come and connect with other people.

In addition, the group puts together Cancer Warrior care bags for people who have been diagnosed. The bags are packed with comforting items including: Blankets, socks, lip balm, hard candies, cross puzzles and journals to help get through treatment.

Both members of the group and non-members are allowed to request a bag, either for themselves or for someone they know with cancer.

GVSU Cancer Warriors’ goal right now is to expand and become more accessible for students. There has been a relatively small number of attendees, but the group hopes to gain more participants.

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