A Ribbon of Hope
Utah’s Cancer Resources See Patients Through the Battle
By Spencer Sutherland
September 1, 2009
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. The disease is so prevalent that the American Cancer Society estimates that in 2008 nearly 8,000 new cancer cases were diagnosed in Utah alone. Though such a diagnosis can be life-altering, it could be comforting to know that more than 70 organizations throughout the state are dedicated to cancer prevention and education, and to supporting cancer patients.
Stopping Problems Before They Start
Many cancer-related programs focus on a specific type of cancer, such as breast, lung or prostate. The Utah Cancer Action Network (UCAN) is a volunteer organization created to coordinate services between these and other cancer organizations in the state, and reduce duplicated efforts.
“Utah’s most common cancers all have a prevention or early detection component,” says UCAN Program Coordinator Bronwen Calver. UCAN helps arrange presentations, health fairs and educational workshops to educate individuals about necessary screenings.
One of UCAN’s biggest efforts, however, is helping people implement the little things that can help prevent cancer. “Utah has very high rates of skin cancer due to our large number of sunny days and high altitude—we usually fall within the top 10 states for melanoma incidence,” Calver says. “Something as simple as using sunscreen can help prevent undue suffering.”
A Place for Learning
When philanthropist Jon Huntsman, Sr. was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1991, he didn’t feel there was any place to turn for answers. To prevent others from having the same experience, he donated $10 million to the University of Utah to establish a cancer center. In 1995, the Huntsman family donated an additional $100 million to create the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI).
The HCI now houses the Cancer Learning Center, which contains more than 3,500 books, videos and publications about cancer. The resources are free and available to anyone in the world. A toll-free informational hotline is also available.
Operating such a center is no easy—or inexpensive—task, but HCI Patient and Public Education Director Donna Branson says it is vital. “Our mission is to help educate the public about cancer risk, prevention and care. As part of that mission, we feel it is important to make these resources available to everyone.”
In partnership with Intermountain Healthcare, the HCI also helps oversee nine educational programs at Intermountain facilities throughout the state.
Treating the Whole Patient
Patients receiving treatment at the Huntsman Cancer Institute have access to more than just educational material. The institute’s wellness center offers free access to nutritional counseling, yoga, acupuncture, fertility and sexual health services.
“Many times, patients feel that when they’re being treated, their whole person isn’t addressed,” Branson says. “These services help address who they were as a person before cancer, and who they hope to be again after cancer.”
The wellness center’s heavy emphasis on fitness is not just beneficial for those who were active before their diagnosis. It can also be a great motivator for those looking to get in shape for the first time, Branson says. “A lot of times people see cancer as a turning point in their lives and a time to start looking at ways to be healthier. The center really helps them with the transition.”
HCI also participates in the YourStory project by giving patients the opportunity to record their life history. Copies are made available to patients and families as well as archived in the Marriott Library at the University of Utah.
Help for Families
Patients are not the only ones affected by cancer; family members also carry a heavy burden. The Cancer Wellness House in Salt Lake City is a free resource to anyone affected by the disease. The house hosts support groups for patients, caregivers, teens, kids and survivors.
The Cancer Wellness House also offers massage therapy, therapeutic touch and meditation sessions, as well as writing courses, lectures series, book clubs and family events.
A Message of Hope
“All cancer patients and situations are unique,” Branson says. “For some it is a chronic illness that will be treated and they’ll go on to live long and healthy lives. For others, it may be a terminal illness.” Regardless of the situation, Branson says the cancer experience is improved by learning what resources are available and how to utilize them. Above all, she reminds patients and families. “No matter the situation, there is always hope.”