NORTHERN KENTUCKY — When it comes to cancer, emotional support can often take a backseat to physical treatment, explained Gretchen Ramstetter, vice president of development for the Cancer Support Community of Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky.

What You Need To Know

  • Cancer Support Community of Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky is a nonprofit that helps people with cancer create a sense of community

  • That ability to create community was challenged during the pandemic when the organization had to stop in-person services

  • The support community shifted to online support groups

  • The organization said it was able to reach more people than ever before, but it’s hard to replicate the connections that are formed in person

And during the COVID-19 pandemic, that problem was made even worse, she explained.

“As we all know, cancer is scary. Cancer in the middle of a global pandemic is terrifying. So as we were all sheltering in place, feeling isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety, uncertainty, and really at the baseline, fear, that is what our participants feel on a daily basis with what they’re going through,” Ramstetter said. “And so when you layer a pandemic of this nature on top of that, it really was a difficult process watching a lot of our participants have to say goodbye to what they consider their home.”

“Cancer, when it comes home, can be very, very isolating, very anxiety-provoking, and it really affects the entire family, not just the person going through it,” said Executive Director Kelly Schoen.

Cancer Support Community of Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky is a nonprofit that helps cancer patients, survivors, family members and anyone affected by cancer through the experience by building a sense of family and connecting people. Everything is free of charge.

That’s something that was difficult to do during the pandemic when people were being told to stay apart to stop the spread of the virus. The organization had to halt its in-person support meetings.

However, Schoen said the organization was able to keep connecting people regardless. Support groups and educational programs have been held over Zoom.

“This might sound strange, but we found a silver lining with the pandemic, that it made us quickly figure out how to do things virtually. So we did not miss a day of programming during this entire time,” Schoen said. “We were connecting with people who never would’ve come into our building.”

Knowing many of the participants live alone, the support community did a lot more one-on-one calls checking in on people, Ramstetter said.

Schoen said the virtual sessions have helped people feel empowered and educated to ask the right questions for their treatment plan. While the group is starting to do some in-person meetings, the virtual component will continue. The in-person meetings require masks and social distancing for safety purposes.

“But what we miss are those small, normal interactions. Talking in the kitchen after programming, chatting as we’re walking out the door. Nothing can replace some of those things,” Schoen said. 

The organization has a new partnership with St. Elizabeth Healthcare. Meetings are held in the Innovated Oncology Center at St. Elizabeth Edgewood.