Monday, April 30, 2001

Cancer caring expanded

Wellness facility is opened

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        You don't have to be an elected official to make a difference in this world. Lynn Stern is proof.

        With those words, cancer survivor Ted Kennedy Jr. helped open the Wellness Community's new Lynn Stern Center in Blue Ash on Sunday. The $3 million facility is named for the late co-founder and executive director of the organization's Cincinnati chapter.

  • Location: 4918 Cooper Road, Blue Ash.
  • Cost: $3 million. More than half has been raised. Donations are still welcome.
  • Size: 10,000 square feet.
  • Mission: To help people with cancer and their loved ones enhance health and well-being by providing a professional program of emotional support, education and hope.
  • Programs: Eighteen support groups and 30 programs offered weekly. Programs are free.
  • Usage: Averages 1,000 visits per month.
  Source: The Wellness Community
        The Wellness Community provides people with cancer - and their families - support groups, educational programs, art therapy, massage, tai chi, yoga and nutritional guidance. All services are free

        It's part of a movement in which patients take more responsibility for their health care and treat the whole person.

        “Cancer patients need more than just surgery and chemotherapy and radiation. We need true support — psychological support, social support and group support — and information about how we can approach our disease so we can be proactive in meeting those challenges,” said Mr. Kennedy, a 39-year-old health and disability lawyer who was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 12.

        He recalled when his dad - Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy - told him doctors had to remove his leg from the knee down.

        “I can remember how shocked and horrified I was by those words,” said Mr. Kennedy, a national board member for the private nonprofit Wellness Community, which is funded entirely by donations.

        “I grew up learning that cancer meant misery and death and agony,” he said. “We know today, those of us who are involved in The Wellness Community, that that's not true — that it can mean hope and opportunity because through struggle does come opportunity and a chance for growth.”

        Following surgery and chemotherapy, his self-esteem plummeted with loss of hair and the disfigurement of losing a leg. No girl would possibly want to date him. He was embarrassed and ashamed.

        “As supportive as my family was, they really couldn't understand truly how I was feeling at the time ...” Mr. Kennedy said. “There was nobody who understood — not in the medical community, not in my family, no one. There was such a focus at the time for getting rid of the tumor and the cancer inside my body, it was almost as if I didn't exist at all.

        “That's why I think these programs that are offered here at the Wellness Community are so important.”

        The facility will allow The Wellness Community to expand its free services to more people in a homelike setting, said Chris Conlan, executive director. It's staffed by social workers and other other health-care professionals.

        While the new facility is amazing, it's what goes on inside that counts, said Ken Strategier, a Wellness Community participant diagnosed with plasmacytoma in August 1999. Support groups have helped the 49-year-old Fort Mitchell man reduce stress.

        “The fear and anxiety are so strong, especially during early diagnosis, it just consumes you. The fear of the treatments also causes anxiety,” he said.

        Through The Wellness Community, he's discovered others with cancer who are still living and smiling.

        “Most people don't want to talk about cancer ... To really have good discussions with people about your fears and emotions, they have to be part of the club,” Mr. Strategier said. “They have to have cancer.”


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