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Hospital starting cancer-patient support group

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

For several years, Kathleen Wales worked in Southern Regional Medical Center's Information Technology Department, helping troubleshoot technical problems for the hospital. According to hospital administrators, she worked closely with the hospital's benevolent fund, giving her own money, and at one time, a car, to patients with extreme financial burdens.

In the fall of 2008, she was diagnosed with colon cancer, which doctors later determined was terminal, according to hospital staff. Last September, after difficulty finding a support system in the south-metro area for general cancer sufferers, Wales came up with the idea of starting a support group run by Southern Regional -- one that would provide emotional support to accompany the medical support patients receive, according to Darlene Mims, an executive assistant in medical and surgical admissions at Southern Regional, who has spearheaded the effort since Wales' health has declined.

In Wales' honor, staff members of Southern Regional are picking up the torch and starting the hospital's first general support group for cancer sufferers and their families.

A kick-off celebration ushering in the start of the "In the Hands of the Master" Cancer Support Group will take place at the hospital this Saturday from 11 a.m., to 1 p.m., in Southern Regional's Clinical Training Site Center, located at 11 Upper Riverdale Road, Building 29. During the kick-off, cancer patients and their families will have a chance to learn about the program, share their stories, and meet hospital staff members, according to organizers.

"We've had support groups that utilize the facility, but we haven't had one that is a hospital-supported group," said Dianne Gilley, managing director of nursing at the hospital. "She [Wales] wanted to make sure that we had a hospital-supported group.

"She just felt like so many people are overlooked ..." Gilley continued. "Her goal was to have a support group, so that anyone, whether they have cancer of the organs or blood or whatever, they can come here and talk about it."

Mims said the group has already received the support of 30 Southern Regional staff members, who will provide technical, programming and financial support.

"It's been amazing, the support we have gotten," Mims said. "She [Wales] has gone above and beyond what we can do [at the hospital] to help people. She has given somebody a car, she has helped people financially outside of the hospital. This is Kathleen's dream ... we have to do this for her."

Gilley said the group plans to have monthly meetings and occasional guest speakers. While the group will not provide psychological counseling, she said it will give cancer patients at Southern Regional a chance to receive emotional support that patients are often unable to get from medical staff.

"There's questions you can ask doctors and you can get a medical answer," Gilley said. "That's clinical answers, that's side effects ... that's not the real human element. We want to be able to take a person who has been newly diagnosed and say we have somebody for you to talk to. We've got that hotline now."

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Southern Regional Medical Center:

www.southernregional.org