Potomac’s Lori Nam and her husband moved to Potomac with the optimistic dreams of all newlyweds — the opportunity to build a life near family and friends, the excitement of beginning promising careers, looking forward to children and active healthy lives. She is a pharmacist and he is a surgeon.
But these dreams were dashed when 29-year-old Lori Nam was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in September 2009. Since that time, she has been through surgery, chemotherapy, relapses, unrelenting physician’s visits, having to quit work, exhaustion and recurring cancer which has turned into chronic cancer.
Fourteen months ago, another cancer survivor introduced her to Hope Connections for Cancer Support. “I had searched for a program for young adults with cancer and wasn’t able to locate one that met my needs,” said Nam. “It seemed that most groups were either for much older patients, pediatric patients or caregivers. I was thrilled when I found that Hope Connections offered a group for young adults and I immediately joined. The group has been so valuable because we share common problems. Each of the members must navigate through the same problems that I have. Even though our group is scheduled to meet only once a month, we have formed lasting friendships and get together much more often. It is so meaningful to have someone to talk to who truly understands and can laugh and cry at the same frustrations and challenges.”
Hope Connections for Cancer Support was the dream of Bernie and Bonnie Kogod, who after losing a daughter to cancer, started a family foundation in her name (The Michele Susan Kogod Memorial Fund) which provided a $50,000 seed grant to create a cancer support center. In 2004, the Kogods teamed up with Paula Rothenberg, who had just lost her father to cancer, to begin the process of creating a place where people affected by cancer could come together as a community to connect with and support each other.
“Through a seed grant from the Michele Susan Kogod Memorial Fund and the dedication of a committee of survivors, caregivers and community members, we were able to raise the funds to open and sustain our organization,” Rothenberg said. “This committee became our founding board of directors, a group passionate about the mission of helping people with cancer and their loved ones deal with the emotional and physical impact of cancer through participation in free, professionally-facilitated programs of emotional support, education, wellness and hope.”
In March, 2007, Hope Connections, located at 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda began serving people affected by cancer through support groups, educational workshops, mind/body classes and community programs — all free of charge.
“Hope Connections provides a non-clinical setting for cancer patients, families and caretakers,” Rothenberg said. “They have to spend too much time in medical facilities. We are located in a home built in 1929 and we try to make the setting as warm and inviting as possible.”
Weekly and monthly support groups led by licensed clinicians provide a place to connect with others, and to explore coping strategies. Two groups are held weekly for people with all types of cancer while other weekly support groups include bereavement, advanced cancer and caregivers. Monthly groups are designed to connect those with a similar cancers or similar life circumstances. These include bladder, breast, lung, ovarian and other GYN cancers and the Young Adults with Cancer group.
“The face-to-face interactions are so important,” Nam said. “Being in a group with younger cancer patients has been extremely beneficial because we share a lot of the same issues — fertility, employment, health insurance, relationships with spouses or boyfriends and girlfriends, dating, returning to normal life. We talk about everything from how to deal with finding a new job and explaining that you have been out of the work force because of your treatments, to how to discuss your cancer with friends and acquaintances.”
The mind/body classes provide physical exercises to release endorphins, improve muscle tone, aid in stress management and help the mind and body become stronger and more capable of fighting the disease. Meditation classes lead to a reduction of anxiety and stress, lowered blood pressure and relaxation while classes in knitting and cross-stitching provide creative outlets. Classes are held in yoga, Pilates, Inner Peace and Healing, Mindful Meditation, Qigong, Hypnosis for Symptom Reduction, Reiki, Emotional Freedom Techniques, Chair Dancing, and Relaxation and Tranquility. A class called Creativitea includes live harp background music and a cup of tea while reducing stress through painting.
Hope Connections Education Programs provide a variety of topics related to coping with cancer, research and improving the quality of life. Speakers are experts in their fields. Upcoming topics include “New Therapeutic Approaches in Gynecologic Cancers with Johns Hopkins oncologist Deborah Armstrong, M.D. (Monday, June 17, 6-8 p.m.), Interventional Oncology with oncologist Andrew Hines, M.D. (Wednesday, July 10, 6-7:30 p.m.), Current and Future Treatment Approaches for Advanced Kidney Cancer with oncologist Michael Atkins, M.D. (Monday, July 29, 6:30-8 p.m.) and Craniosacral Therapy with Andela Ferri, MA, LMT, RCST (Wednesday Aug. 14, 6:30-8 p.m.).
All donations to this 503(c) (3) non-profit are tax deductible to the full extent of the law – and stay in the community to help cancer patients and their families. For more information on Hope Connections for Cancer Support, go to www.hopeconnectionsforcancer.org or call 301-603-7500.