Resources, support available for area cancer survivors

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 28, 2015

Nellie Stargell and Sheila Hornsby enjoyed a cancer survivors luncheon in early June to celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day.

For Sheila Hornsby, being a cancer survivor means welcoming a new “family” to her life. That family includes fellow cancer survivors, their caregivers, physicians, nurses, cancer navigators, art therapy instructors, yoga instructors, dietitians and others. They all work together to support Hornsby in living a healthy and emotionally rewarding life after her doctor gave her the news in February that her uterine cancer was in remission. “For us survivors and for those still battling cancer, it’s definitely a journey we did not choose,” said Hornsby, who was diagnosed in March 2008. “But through that journey, we have all grown so close. We’ve laughed together, cried together, celebrated remissions and wrapped our support around those whose cancer may have come back.” Cancer survivors in Troup County and the surrounding area gathered at Camp Viola in early June as oncology services at West Georgia Health honored them and their caregivers at a Cancer Survivors Luncheon. National Cancer Survivors Day has been celebrated across the country every year on the first Sunday in June for the past 28 years. The luncheon was a chance for survivors and caregivers to celebrate life, to spend time with West Georgia Health’s medical and support staff in a relaxed setting, to talk about the challenges of life after cancer, and to share how non-medical therapies offered by WGH have helped them in their cancer journeys. Hornsby shared with the group in particular about a curvy yoga class she’s participated in for about a year. The free class is offered from 6 to 7 p.m. every Tuesday at the Women’s Health Center at WGH for those diagnosed with cancer and for caregivers caring for someone with cancer. Taught by Renee Burke, curvy yoga uses gentle movements, stretches and motions to meet the needs of people of all sizes and abilities. “With the radiation I’ve had, Renee is wonderful about helping me modify moves because of my limited mobility,” Hornsby said. “And for women with breast cancer, she can modify stretches and moves in a different way for them. “Most of it is about breathing, and Renee just has this perfect soothing voice and is able to make you feel so at peace and relaxed.” Burke said some participants have been worried initially that they aren’t flexible enough to do yoga, but she tells them it has more to do with emotional balance and being willing rather than just being physically flexible. “In curvy yoga cancer therapy, many modifications are offered, as listening to your body is key, especially when in various stages of treatment and recovery,” Burke said. “Sometimes a person might take the entire class time to lie on the mat, or even sit in a chair and simply breathe. By connecting to your breath, you calm the sympathetic nervous system, the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, and invite in healing on a cellular level. “Our class also is a support group, offering love, kindness and acceptance of others but also encouraging you to gift yourself with the same. Those who come to this class are very dear to me. Each of us is on a journey, but I am especially honored to be a part of theirs.” One of Hornsby’s fellow cancer survivors, Fran Griffin, shared with the group a pottery mask that she made through West Georgia Health’s art therapy program when it partnered with LaGrange College art students last year. “To some people, it may not look like much,” Griffin said. “But to me, it conveys all the different emotions I have experienced as I’ve battled cancer. This mask I’ve created is not pretty; it’s not pretty at all. But to me, it’s beautiful.” Griffin also attends weekly art therapy classes at the Enoch Callaway Cancer Clinic. Taught by art therapy instructor Melissa Howington, the classes promote the mind-body connection and encourage patients to engage in creative expression through various art techniques. “Art and producing things with your hands and heart are really good for your soul,” Howington said. “If you don’t believe that, just ask any gardener, a man who works on an antique truck for hours in his backyard, a chef, a musician or a woodworker. “… In our classes, we don’t take anything too seriously,” she said. “For two hours, you are able to come into a room where you are totally accepted and surrounded by people who ‘get you.’ We usually have a room full of happiness and laughter, and every now and then, a few tears.” The curvy yoga and art therapy classes, and even the Cancer Survivors Luncheon, were made possible through a grant from the West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition. The grant also helps fund a monthly nutrition class offered in the Cancer Clinic, as WGH 2014 cancer patient and survivor surveys show that nutrition is their No. 1 concern. WGH’s Oncology Services partners with WGH’s Food and Nutrition Services to lead the classes, which includes tips from registered dietitians who educate patients through instruction and cooking demonstrations, recipes and individual consultation, including an assessment of a survivor’s nutritional needs. This is a contributed report from a press release submitted by West Georgia Health.