June 20,  2008

Hatteras Cancer Foundation is expanding its role with more support and information


The Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation (HICF) is revitalizing its role as a support service to residents on Hatteras Island.  Informational and support groups are under way to facilitate a caring community for those living with and surviving cancer, as well as their loved ones.

Judy Banks, current president, opened a recent meeting explaining that the foundation, which began in late 2000, has successfully helped 68 families over the last eight years, to the tune of $400,000. 

The group helps island cancer patients pay for medical and prescription drug expenses not covered by insurance, and also aids them with financial help for traveling for treatment.

“Regardless of the economy, we are positive that we will be able to help people in financial ways,” remarked Banks.  But the foundation wanted to do more than just raise money.  The members want to provide educational information and a support network for islanders.

To this end, the board is organizing ongoing support and informational groups.  This summer, the group will meet on the third Wednesday of each month at Our Lady of the Seas social hall in Buxton.  Additional meetings may be scheduled in off-season months.

The kick-off meeting brought Betse Kelly to discuss the new Cancer Resource Center at the Outer Banks Hospital.  Kelly is a medical social worker employed by the hospital to coordinate and facilitate a wide variety of information about cancer, current treatments, and resources available to people with cancer, survivors, and their loved ones.

The center opened in January after three years of fundraising by the Outer Banks Hospital and various community organizations.  Its goal is to provide information and to help patients and their families navigate the often confusing maze of treatment options and resources.

Kelly reminded the group that cancer is the leading cause of death in North Carolina and Dare County.  “One of our ‘red flags’ [on the 2006 Health Carolinians survey] is cancer, particularly lung and breast cancer.” 

She further explained the situation in Dare County.

“Dare County is unique in the state in that it has a lower incidence rate but a higher mortality rate.  In other words, fewer people have lung or breast cancer than the rest of North Carolina, but they tend to not survive.”

As result the center looks at both prevention and treatment.

“We have lots of resources,” she said.  In addition to two computers for clients to research information, Kelly has heaps of printed materials available to give to patients.  In addition, she is building a lending library.

As a social worker, Kelly knows that success depends on a support system for the person undergoing treatment.  The resource center is available for anyone to use.

She related the story of a recent client.  A woman called wanting information on prostate cancer.  Her husband received a call confirming his diagnosis, but he had not seen his doctor to discuss treatment options.  Kelly helped the woman find information regarding main treatment options, physicians in the region treating prostate cancer, and she helped her develop a list of questions to take to the doctor’s visit.

Undergoing cancer treatment can be a long and wearing process -- physically, mentally and emotionally.  The center is linking with existing community resources and services in Dare, Currituck, Hyde, and other surrounding counties to provide support groups and activities.

For example, Kelly is partnering with the American Cancer Society to implement its “Look Good, Feel Better,” campaign for women.  The charity provides a wide variety of cosmetics and beauty aids for women undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment.  A trained volunteer cosmetologist works with the patient to use a variety of products.

“It’s really nice products donated by Clinique, Aveda, and other companies,” explained Kelly.  To date, she has worked individually with patients but will be working toward groups in the future.

Other American Cancer Society programs she is planning include the “Man to Man” prostate cancer survivor peer support group and a similar group for breast cancer survivors. 

Support groups will be a large part of her program.  Kelly is working with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office to develop a family-based support model.

Amanda McDanel of the extension office and Kelly will be working to host an evening support group where parents and other adults, such as grandparents, with cancer can bring their children to a dinner gathering.  After dinner, the groups will split for age-appropriate support groups and activities.

On the preventive end, Kelly hopes to host a smoking cessation group.

“Smoking has been linked not only to cancers in the lungs and mouth, but also in bladder and other cancers,” Kelly explained.

Cancer changes lives forever, and new treatments mean that many people live longer than even a decade ago.  As a result, the medical and social support communities are learning about long-term survival.

“Cancer survivors themselves are now teaching professionals what they need,” advised Kelly.  Issues such as continued employment, health insurance, and the long-term impact of chemotherapy and radiation are critical to survivors as they develop what Kelly calls “a new normal.”

The Resource Center is actively engaging community partnerships, and Kelly is excited to be working with the Cancer Foundation.  She is willing to provide focus information sessions, help with health fairs, and to facilitate the attendance of cancer specialists at the Wednesday support group meetings.

One area of particular interest to the evening’s attendees was the role of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Lineberger Center in local treatment options.

Kelly explained that various sub-specialists will be rotating through the Outer Banks every other week to provide consultative services to area residents.  The primary intent is to provide second opinions and treatment options to patients, not on-going treatment.

“It is important for the public to know when to see the specialist,” she advised.

Although patients may self-refer, Kelly notes that the purpose is not diagnostic.  Again, she related an example.  If a person believes he or she should have a skin cancer check or see a suspicious mole, that person should probably go see a dermatologist or plastic surgeon first for examination and biopsy.  Once diagnosed, the sub-specialist would be an excellent resource for treatment options and follow-up care.

Attending the group were three community members at various stages of diagnosis, treatment, and survival.  They found the information about the resource center helpful and offered Kelly insights into what made their treatment manageable.

“Peer support is number one.  I know that from personal experience,” advised Brenda Bucciorelli. 

Another attendee, recently diagnosed and considering treatment, stated the obvious.  “You want more information.” 

Kelly agreed that with the rapidly advancing and changing treatment protocols, knowing what the most current information can be daunting, especially when facing a frightening diagnosis.

She reminded attendees that she is an active participant in their search.  “I’m there to help you search for information and guide you to sites with the most up-to-date information.”

The three cancer patients/survivors agreed that the group provided excellent information, and even a support group would be helpful.  Nearly all had also been caregivers for a family member with cancer, so they noted that they would invite friends to come as well.

While the numbers may seem small, the early response to the group proves promising. The Cancer Foundation invites cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers not only to attend future meetings, but to contact them with ideas for future topics or requested speakers as they respond to community needs.


The Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation will be hosting a support and informational group for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers each month during the summer.  The meeting is held the third Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. (July 16 and August 20) at Our Lady of the Seas social hall in Buxton.  Sydnee Slaughter, a social worker now living in Hatteras, will be facilitating the group.  She may be reached at (252) 473-0830 or [email protected]. In addition, members of the Cancer Foundation Board are available to connect people with the group and share their ideas.  Contact information is at http://hatterasdesigns.net/HICF/contact.htm  Information on services and grant applications is available at the same Web site.

The Cancer Resource Center is available at the Outer Banks Hospital in Nags Head.  Drop-in access is available, but Kelly recommended calling ahead to assure she is accessible when you arrive, particularly for residents of Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands.  The Center is reached at (252) 449-7350.  Watch local papers and the Island Free Press for information on upcoming support groups, special programs and health fairs.

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