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Woman to Woman

March 27, 2008

Melanie Cross

Support groups can be helpful to those facing a cancer diagnosis, creating for patients a place to express their feelings and gather information from others who are going through similar experiences. To help female patients address the host of emotional and physical issues specific to women, the Tulane Cancer Center has organized a women's support group.

Mary Kathryn Clabert and Dr. Rebecca Kruse-Jarres

Dr. Rebecca Kruse-Jarres, left, and Mary Kathryn Clabert, patient navigator and counselor, lead a monthly women's cancer support group in the Patricia Trost Friedler Cancer Counseling Center. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

The group meets monthly in the Tulane Cancer Center Comprehensive Clinic.

"Many of our female patients have real difficulty in dealing with the role reversal that a cancer diagnosis can bring," says Mary Kathryn Clabert, patient navigator and counselor in the Patricia Trost Friedler Cancer Counseling Center.

"The maternal instinct is very strong, and most females are used to being the caregivers in their families," Clabert says. "It can be very difficult for them to step away from that role and allow themselves to be taken care of during their cancer treatments. The support group is a safe environment where they can learn from others that it's okay and even necessary for them to focus on themselves for a change."

Clabert says that women especially have difficulty adjusting to the physical changes that cancer treatments can bring.

"Hair loss from chemotherapy and the loss of a breast from mastectomy can be emotionally devastating to females," says Clabert, "and are issues that perhaps only another female can truly understand. That's where the women's support group can be vital to a female patient's emotional rehabilitation."

The monthly one-hour sessions usually follow a loose structure, but generally attend to the patients' emotional needs as well as offer helpful information. 

"I like to let the meeting follow its own course depending on the input," says Clabert.  "Ultimately I'm there to facilitate, not dictate the discussion.  It's much more productive and beneficial for the patients that way."

One important resource the women's support group offers is access to a physician. Dr. Rebecca Kruse-Jarres, assistant professor of medicine, is the physician moderator of the group. 

"I think the women's support group is an essential service we offer our patients," says Kruse-Jarres.  "Dealing with a diagnosis of cancer is very difficult, as is going through treatments. I can give medical knowledge and emotional support, but I can never give what one patient can give to another after already having been through this."

The women's support group is free and open to the public. Patients from Tulane or any other health care facility, family members and caregivers are welcome to attend. For more information, contact the Patricia Trost Friedler Cancer Counseling Center at 504-988-6313.

Melanie Cross is manager of communications for the Tulane Cancer Center.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000