Life after cancer

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Cancer Warrior - Lauren Wagner

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Cancer Warrior – Lauren Wagner

Claire Fisher

College is hard enough on its own, but there are some members of the Laker community that are facing college on top of battling cancer. For those Grand Valley State University students, faculty and staff, the Cancer Warriors Network is there to support them.

Cancer Warriors Network is a support group at Grand Valley State University for faculty, staff and students who are impacted by cancer.

As the work life consultant for GVSU human resources, Sue Sloop has been involved in the Cancer Warriors group since its founding in 2012. This month she said she will help lead a discussion among group members on the changes in life after the battle with cancer is over. Adjusting to life after cancer will be the next topic of discussion for Cancer Warriors at their May 11 meeting.

“This month we’re going to have a general discussion about moving forward,” Sloop said. “After you’ve either had cancer or been a caregiver, how do you move forward? We’ll talk about how you move forward after cancer and what people need to do so.”

Marcia Frobish, who is a GVSU mathematics professor and a cancer survivor, has attended meetings of the Cancer Warriors for two years. She said that for her, moving forward involves being optimistic about the future and not allowing cancer to change the life she was living before cancer.

“I’ll bring some optimism to that discussion of moving forward,” Frobish said. “Cancer does not have to change your life. Just keep moving on with whatever you’re doing. Unless I’ve told them, most people don’t know that I’ve even had cancer.”

One of the topics Sloop said she hopes to address is the loss of the support system. She explained that during cancer treatment, patients have doctors and nurses around working to help fight the cancer. Afterward, patients may struggle to adjust.

“When you’re in treatment and you have the doctors, the chemo nurses and the radiation team,” Sloop said. “Then all of the sudden you supposedly no longer have cancer. And then who is going to support you? How do you let go of that support group and get to that new normal?”

To help adjust to the changes after cancer, Sloop said GVSU offers free counseling to faculty, staff and students.

“One of the things that we would encourage people to do is to get some support and get some counseling,” Sloop said. “It’s a grieving process: figuring out how to deal with letting go of what used to be normal and move to a new normal, how to move on.”

David Coffey, a mathematics professor, attended a few meetings of Cancer Warriors when he was caring for his father who had been diagnosed with cancer. He said that moving forward for him will involve sharing his experience as a caregiver with others.

“Even though I’m no longer in the midst of dealing with cancer, I would hope to attend meetings when possible to share my experience,” Coffey said. “It’s really giving back. I think that what I can contribute is my experiences dealing with that grief and the need to reach out to others.”

Frobish said she learned about handling cancer from survivors and caregivers who shared their experiences at Cancer Warrior meetings.

“When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know anybody who had ever had cancer,” Frobish said. “It just was nice to have to some people to talk to who know some of the pitfalls. I got some suggestions to help with all the goofy things you really don’t think about when you’re just confronted with a diagnosis.”

Sloop said that Cancer Warrior meetings, like the one planned for May 11, are often held in open-discussion style to allow member to address topics that they need or want to talk about. She explained that open-discussion meetings can involve sharing experiences and support.

“Whether you have cancer yourself or you’re a caregiver, it’s very difficult to watch somebody go through cancer and to go through treatment,” Sloop said. “It’s about having people know that we care and we’re here to support in any way that we can.”

One of the ways that Cancer Warriors shows support for people on campus with cancer is the Cancer Warrior Bags sponsored by GVSU human resources. Sloop said that the bags are sent to faculty, staff and students impacted by cancer to aid them during treatment.

“If somebody or their loved one has been diagnosed with cancer we will send a Cancer Warriors Bag,” Sloop said. “The bag is filled with all sorts of things that they can take to treatment. It’s a blanket, a crossword puzzle book, anything that will help to make the person feel a little bit more comfortable and let them know that we care.”

To learn more about Cancer Warriors or to send or receive a Cancer Warriors Bag, contact Sue Sloop at [email protected].