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Continuing ed for cancer survivors

As part of the Art Cart project at the Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center, survivors and their caregivers were asked to make a single brushstroke on the canvas. The result was tied together in a single piece by local artist Don Miller. The painting sold for $4,000 at the Shagging for a Cause auction and was promptly donated back to the cancer center. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

Think of continuing education classes and most envision pottery and scrapbook-making classes, computer and easy tax filing courses. At Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center you won’t find any of those classes, though they do offer continuing education of specialized sort. Their continuing education is for cancer survivors and their caregivers.

Every month Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center sponsors a wide array of events to help educate those with cancer, and those who support them, about cancer—how to live healthily with the disease, how to prepare emotionally, and how to provide care for the caregivers themselves.

“We know caregivers go through a lot too,” said Kristi Fearrington an oncology social worker at the cancer center, which is why caregivers are included in the open invitation to therapeutic massages and restorative yoga offered at the center.

Fearrington, along with fellow social worker Judy Humphries, is the conduit between the Shepard Cancer Foundation and the free programs and therapies funded by the foundation.

Part of their work is to provide educational programming, events like “Shepard Lunch and Learn,” a new program where cancer survivors and caregivers can share a meal at First Church of Christ. They listen to experts speak on topics that directly impact their lives, like palliative care and hospice, caring for caregivers, lymphedema—precautions, preventions, and treatment. Twice a year, the center offers a four-week session called “Healthy Living with Cancer” where participants learn about cancer, from the general to specifics like exercise and dietary advice, as well as learning about the psycho-social aspects of living with the disease.

No cancer survivor nor caregiver is turned away, regardless of whether treatment occurred at the cancer center, according to Fearrington.

“These are free programs. We don’t care where you were treated,” said Fearrington. “If you’re a survivor or a caregiver, you are more than welcome.”

For the women currently receiving cancer treatment, a makeup kit valued at $200 and a two-hour session with a volunteer cosmetologist is provided through the center’s “Look Good, Feel Better” program, sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Participants are taught survival skills like how to take care of their skin during treatment, how to paint on eyebrows in the case of hair loss, how to wear wigs and scarves.

According to Fearrington, one of the most important events offered by the center appeals, and is open, to the general public: learning how to protect yourself from insurance scams, especially those involving prescription drug plans.

“There are a lot of scams out there. So we have an educational gig at night for the general public. We do it every year in the late summer, early fall,” Fearrington said. “We explain to any interested parties about Medicare Part D and prescription plans, through insurance.”

The center receives much positive feedback from their lineup of events, according to Fearrington: “A lot of folks walk away saying, ‘I had no idea, nobody told me that,’” testament to the value of the center’s continuing education.