After a cancer diagnosis, a patient’s needs for physical, financial and emotional support often are greater than what local hospitals and clinics provide.
After working long hours to help find help for her local cancer patients, oncology nurse navigator Toni Abbey said she couldn’t find enough services.
“There were so many needs that were unmet,” she said.
That’s what inspired her to start Blueprints of Hope two years ago to help patients with things such as transportation and lodging, and connect them with groups such as Cancer Fit at the Durango Community Recreation Center and businesses like True Boutique, a post-mastectomy shop.
And such needs continue to expand – an estimated 24,540 new cancer cases were diagnosed in Colorado last year, according to the American Cancer Society.
To better support some of these people, Blueprints is planning to start a walking and hiking group and a journaling group.
The concept will likely be similar to programs at Cancer Fit, where survivors find physical and emotional support.
“It gives us a place to come and verbalize different feelings and have people understand because we’ve all walked the walk,” said Patricia Redding, who has survived breast cancer and advanced skin cancer.
The Cancer Fit classes are personalized with an average attendance of about four to six, which allows the instructor to help each person with his or her physical needs such as scar tissue from surgery and balance issues, said Jo C Soignier, the coach, who has a doctorate in physical education.
“I use a very gradual progression because people come in with all kinds of challenges,” she said.
Fatigue is a challenge for her clients, and so she has them rate their energy level before and after class to make sure they leave feeling better.
“They come to work on their physical challenges, and they find in that journey that is a mind, body, spirit thing. ... We don’t really talk about the disease in there, we focus on getting better,” she said.
In addition to connecting patients to groups such as Cancer Fit, Abbey, a registered nurse, attends appointments with patients and guides them through big decisions.
Carroll Groeger first heard about Blueprints in late 2013 when she was asked to be on the board. She agreed because she thought at the time: “If I were ever to have cancer, I would appreciate having someone to guide me through this.”
One year later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, according to the American Cancer Society.
After she got the news, Abbey went with her to doctor’s appointments to take notes and ask questions.
“I got to realize: ‘Yes, by golly, it’s really nice to have someplace you can go to guide you through,” Groeger said.
One of the biggest decisions women face is whether to have a lumpectomy, a small surgery to remove individual tumors, or a mastectomy, a surgery that removes the entire breast.
Those who choose to have a mastectomy may not need radiation to destroy cancer cells and can avoid the painful treatment.
After a mastectomy, women need prosthesis to help properly balance the body.
True Boutique, a business that opened over the summer, is the only option to buy prostheses locally. The business was started by Lynn Philippon, a massage and certified lymphedema therapist who treats many women after their mastectomy surgeries.
She was inspired to start her business because she saw many women driving several hours to find a prosthesis or ordering them online. A poorly fitting prosthesis can cause shoulders to twist awkwardly and going without can also cause problems.
“It affects your spine, your posture, it affects the balance of the body,” she said.
It is also a matter of self-esteem for many to have a natural-looking silhouette.
“When they see that final outcome, they start to stand taller,” she said.
In addition to needing proper prostheses, some women develop lymphedema after surgeons remove some of their lymph nodes to check for cancer cells.
These nodes regulate fluid in the body, and without them patients can develop swelling in their arms.
Philippon helps redirect that fluid through gentle massage, and she can teach her clients how to do it for themselves.
Groeger did not expect to have lymphedema, but Abbey was able to help her recognize the symptoms and direct her to Philippon for care.
“I don’t know whether I would have found Lynn necessarily,” Groeger said.