To undergo cancer treatment is to literally be in the fight of your life. It takes everything your have, physical, mental and spiritual.
No one can appreciate this better than the staff at Florida Cancer Affiliates, a community-based, medical oncology and hematology practice that provides comprehensive treatment, including outpatient treatment, chemotherapy, hematology, radiation therapy, Positron Emission Tomography, clinical research and pharmacy services.
It also provides counseling and workshops, both for the practical matters such as the financial aspects of battling cancer, to the personal, inner struggle of having to put up a long, hard fight against the disease.
For years, FCA has provided support group meetings for patients and their loved ones so that they can share their experiences, their knowledge and pool their inner strength.
Karen Brink, oncology liaison for FCA, started the support group and has seen it work well for many patients.
But over the years, through feedback, she realized that all patients are not alike.
For some people, faith plays a vital role in their entire mindset, especially when faced with adversity. But often, as devout as one may be — or even because of strongly held beliefs — many people are reticent about openly discussing their religious convictions in general public.
Convinced that for many people, faith is a source of inner peace and strength, earlier this year, Brink developed a new Spirituality and Healing Support Group.
Its goal is to allow patients, caregivers and loved ones a comfortable forum to explore and share ideas and questions about a greater power than themselves, however they understand that power, and the role it has in their recovery.
"It's not a prayer session, and it isn't group therapy — it's an inspirational group," Brink said. "It's something new. I don't think a lot of places outside a church offer it."
Jessica Deeb, a licensed clinical social worker, is facilitator for the group. If there is a single theme to the nature of the group, Deeb said, it is that it is "open."
"I think the best thing about it is it is really casual," Deeb said. "It's not all depressed, although it can go there if it needs to. It's a great community resource. People who come say they can share in ways they don't normally feel comfortable."
The group is free and open to patients, caregivers, loved ones and previous caregivers, Deeb said. And they do not have to be affiliated with FCA. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people can be assured that atmosphere of comfort and acceptance extends to them, as well, she said.
One of the best aspects of the group is it brings people together who have different perspectives, beginning with matters of spirituality.
"We want people to understand that other people will be using specific words of their own faiths, so they'll be comfortable when someone mentions Buddha or Allah or the universe," Deeb said. She added that includes those whose philosophy is of a more secular nature.
"That in itself is a belief system," Deeb said.
Discussions are about the role faith is playing in their treatment and recovery and how their faith has been a source of strength.
"The cool thing is we have lots of members that are extremely strong spiritually," Deeb said. "For me the strength with spirituality is having something that gets them through the dark places; sometimes that's where it is truly found. In that sense we have some real spiritual warriors."
Other times, patients want to discuss how their experience may have shaken their faith.
"The strength of the support group is they are hearing from the other members," she said. "They are very protective of one another."
They are also welcoming to newcomers, Deeb added. The sense of a common bond brings them together, no matter how many denominations are in the room.
One of the ways the group reinforces its common spiritual bond is through activities.
Deeb believes people get in touch with their spiritual side through the arts. One recent meeting included a drum circle. At other meetings, members have shared poetry and music.
"Sometimes the group can get light," Deeb said. "It doesn't always have to be about cancer."
The spirituality and healing support group meets once a month at Florida Cancer Affiliates, 5500 Little Road. Call (727) 372-9159 for more information.
To learn more about FCA, visit http://floridacancer.com.