Komen for the Cure

Duke program helps women cope with cancer

Posted May 6, 2009 5:44 p.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2009 10:01 p.m. EDT

— For many women, the challenges that come with a breast cancer diagnosis go far beyond the physical toll. Anxiety and depression can make healing and recovery even more difficult. However, Duke University Hospital has a program to help women and their families rediscover hope and inner peace.

Five years ago, at age 29, Jennifer beat breast cancer. She and her husband, Mike, decided to start a family. Then early last year, while pregnant with twins, she became critically ill.

“My cancer had returned. I didn't wake up until I was at Duke. I was taken off life support,” Jennifer said.

The cancer had spread to her liver and bones, and she lost the babies. Even after a tough recovery, she said she grew anxious over prospects of survival.

Duke social worker Tina Staley stepped in to help Jennifer discover seven pillars of personal recovery. She developed the Pathfinders program after conducting research with 55 cancer patients.

The goal of the program is “to look at how they cope and what gets them through a stressful, difficult situation,” Staley said.

Staley helped Jennifer go from a "place of anxiety and fear ... (to) a place of love, acceptance and hopefully inner peace,” Staley said.

Jennifer said she has great support among her family and friends, but reaching some pillars is a daily struggle.

“I really needed to work a lot with Tina to be able to find that hope,” Jennifer said.

Her hope isn't in a cure, but that regular treatments will stabilize the cancer and help her enjoy life.

The Pathfinders program may aid the healing process in many women, but its main goal is to improve their quality of life, even if a cure is not available.