Cancer Diagnosis

Nearly 1.5 million people are living with cancer in the United States. Multiply that times the number of family members who are impacted, and the numbers are staggering.

"Cancer is a difficult and frightening experience," says Debi Lillegard, MA, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist at Park Nicollet Cancer Center. "We recognize the importance and benefits of providing counseling, support and education to cancer patients and their families as they are faced with one of their biggest challenges - the fight for life."

A family diagnosis

Lillegard tells her cancer patients that families share a diagnosis, read Each family member plays a vital role in a patient's support system. Lillegard and the cancer center support team are dedicated to strengthening patients' emotional health, as well as that of patients' friends and families. "We work closely with every family member on his or her own mind, body and spiritual journey," she says.

According to Lillegard, everyone deals with the emotional strain of a cancer diagnosis differently. In fact, family members often have a more difficult time dealing with the diagnosis than patients. "I think family members can feel completely powerless in the situation, whereas patients are completely focused on recovery and treatment," Lillegard says. Once a month, a caregiver class is offered to family and friends at Park Nicollet Cancer Center. "The better a patient's family and friends care for their own physical, emotional and spiritual health, the better able they will be to care for their sick family member or friend," she says.

Different kinds of support for different people

Park Nicollet Cancer Center provides patients with a wide variety of classes, groups and resources with an excellent support and education staff. "We provide a class for newly diagnosed patients and families, which they can attend all the way through post-treatment," Lillegard explains. "We also offer a monthly post-treatment class where people can talk to other patients going through some of the same challenges and milestones."

Along with individual, family and group counseling, Park Nicollet's oncology chaplain is dedicated to patients' healing. A music therapist is available to teach patients guided imagery and relaxation techniques. "Many of these tension-reducing techniques can be used during treatment or when patients are having an overwhelming moment," Lillegard says. A support services coordinator is available to all patients, referring them to different groups and facilitating transportation and library services. "By offering a variety of services to patients and their families, patients not only feel better, they often recover faster," Lillegard explains.

Dual forces for supporting children

As parents struggle with cancer diagnosis and treatment, countless numbers of children also must be considered. To provide children and families with one of the strongest support groups, Park Nicollet has joined forces with the Angel Foundation, a Minnesota-based, patient-focused organization that provides resources for cancer patients and their families. "It is a wonderful program for the whole family to attend and ensure their children are getting the support and education they need," Lillegard says. A four-week session is available for children ages 4 to 18. "Kids go to one age-appropriate group while parents and adults attend another at the same time," she says. Parents and adults are taught different techniques for talking with children about cancer, while children receive information on a kid-friendly level. They learn to understand emotions and develop friendships with other children going through similar hardships.

Park Nicollet Cancer Center's team is providing valuable support and education to cancer patients and families every step of the way. "We help patients and families find their inner strengths and normalize some of their most challenging experiences," Lillegard says.