Peggy Wheeler, RN, OCN, CBPN is the breast cancer nurse navigator at Baptist Health Lexington (Ky.). She is the facilitator of “The Empowerment Series for Women with Cancer,” a series of free programs which have helped women diagnosed with cancer receive resources and support since 2010.
Q: Where did idea for the Empowerment Series come from?
Peggy Wheeler: I started my role as breast cancer nurse navigator at Baptist Health Lexington in September 2010.
After the patients receive the news that their breast biopsy was positive for cancer and receive the date the time for their surgical consultation, the mammography department sends them a package in the mail. The package contains a list of questions to take to their appointment with the surgeon, a booklet on breast cancer, and a letter from me. The letter introduces my role to patients to let them know that I will be at the surgical appointment to support them, take notes, etc. I also include my contact number so that they may contact me before the surgical consultation, if they wish.
The surgical appointment is focused on reviewing the pathology report, surgical options, scheduling any further tests, images, and genetic counseling. I review the notes I have taken, the educational book, and a folder of resources available at Baptist Health Lexington and in the community with the patient.
After a short time in my position, I realized that there was a need for additional support and information for patients. And so, I thought of forming a support group for these patients.
Many support groups bring patients together to talk about their illness. That’s certainly helpful, but I thought there would be value in providing tools for patients to help them address issues associated with their cancer diagnosis. I came up with the idea of “empowerment.” I felt that these women needed to be not only supported but empowered.
We launched the Empowerment Series and held our first program October 2011. It was open to women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, regardless of where they received treatment.
Q: What happens at a typical program?
PW: Dinner is served at 6:00 PM, and the speaker portion takes place from 6:30-7:30 PM. Participants can attend as many of the programs as they wish. Programs are free, and are held once a month, for eight consecutive months, at a local church.
When the ladies arrive, they meet each other and find a seat at a table. They then serve themselves from a catered buffet. While they enjoy their meal, they can talk to each other and have time to share personal information, if they like. Some prefer to sit alone and be quiet, and this is fine, too.
I always attempt to provide a relaxed, open, and supportive atmosphere. Sometimes the ladies are not feeling well and do not choose to eat or socialize much. We support that. At 7:00 PM, the speaker begins. The ladies are encouraged to ask questions and share during the speaker’s time. I am present as well as a certified oncology nurse to address questions they may have.
The latest Empowerment Series began in November 2016. The first program was titled “Nutrition and Movement.” In December, the program was on “Caring for the Spirit” The January program is on “Fear of Recurrence, Stress and Depression.” The topics for the rest of the programs this year cover how to pay for cancer care, body image and sexuality, genetics, pain and sleep issues, and giving back to the community.
For the first five years of the Empowerment Series, the programs were only open for breast cancer patients. We averaged 10-12 people per program. This year, the program was opened to women with any kind of cancer. At the first program in November, we had 23 participants.
Q: How is the Empowerment Series funded?
PW: In 2011, I received a grant from Susan G. Komen. In 2012, a grant was provided by a pharmaceutical company.
There’s not much expense involved. There’s the cost of food and a few speakers I pay to come in. I had small notebooks made, and had magnets with the program schedule printed on them to help with promoting the Empowerment Series.
This was all covered by grants for the first two years. Since that time, Baptist Health Lexington has covered the cost of the program as they could see that patients were being helped and served.
Q: What are the objectives of the Empowerment Series?
PW: As we look at survivorship for cancer patients, the support group is really helpful as it offers a needed resource for patients after they have completed treatment. When patients finish their cancer treatment, they must receive a survivorship care plan. We send them a care plan that reviews all of the treatments they have received along with follow-up recommendations according to National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines. The care plan is then reviewed with the patient by an oncology nurse, advanced registered nurse practitioner or physician. When the provider identifies needs, having a support group is a valuable resource.
Support groups like this one help breast cancer programs fulfill standards of the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC) and Commission on Cancer. That’s certainly important, but not the only reason we have continued the Empowerment Series. The impact that it has on the patient has been our focus.
Q: Is there a “success story” you can share?
PW: Thank you for asking this question. I love to share this story. Each time I do, it reminds me of how amazing these ladies are!
The topic was “Nutrition and Movement.” Our oncology dietician spoke first. She provided handouts and reviewed how nutrition is important for healing as these women go through their treatment and for wellness afterwards.
Our exercise physiologist led the second half of the program. She asked the ladies to bring their chairs into the room where they would do the movement part of the session. One of the ladies in attendance had received chemotherapy the day before and stated that she was on the couch feeling bad. Her husband insisted that she come to the session and drove her. She said that she did not think that she could move the chair by herself. So, naturally, I moved it for her.
The movement portion of the program began with great music playing and a wonderful inspiring spirit. The ladies were all smiling and following along. At one point I looked around the room of 17 women and they all had their heads back laughing, including the lady that was not feeling well. After the movement session was over, the ladies were asked to return their chairs back to the other room. I walked over to help the lady that had difficulty with her chair. She stood up straight and tall, and with a big smile she said, “I think I can do this myself.” And she did!
Q: Do you have any plans to expand your support group services?
PW: Yes! We now have an oncology social worker on our team. She has started a “Coffee for Caregivers” program. The first meeting was January 14. The focus of this group is to provide a place and time for caregivers to discover ways to cope, renew and learn about resources available in the community.