NEW YORKThe Gillette Company has launched an initiative called The Gillette Womens Cancer Connection to provide emotional support to cancer patients and their families. The program is specifically targeted at women with breast or gynecologic cancer.
The centerpiece is a website that includes an interactive support line, a database of 700 support groups arranged by zip code, and links to other womens cancer web pages. Gillette will also offer seminars around the country, support research, and distribute brochures on coping with the emotional and social issues of cancer.
Many Receive No Information
The company introduced its initiative with the release of a survey showing that 35% of women cancer survivors receive no information about where to go for support, and their spouses receive even less, although they suffer some of the same emotional pain (see box below for the survey results).
Survey Results Show Importance of Emotional Issues
The results of the Gillette Womens Cancer Connection/Roper Starch Worldwide Survey show that the emotional issues raised by cancer are of crucial importance to patients and their families.
Of the 467 women surveyed, 81% reported they had fears of recurrence, and 80% reported they were concerned about the impact of their illness on their family. More than three quarters of the women (77%) reported feelings of sadness, and 70% said they felt overwhelmed.
The spouses reported even more intense emotional reactions. Of the 141 spouses responding, the most common responses were sadness (85%), fear (82%), feelings of helplessness (76%), and feeling the need to make everything all right (70%).
Yet spouses were far less likely to have been offered information about support services than their wives. Only 27% were offered such information, compared with 63% of the wives. Fifty percent of spouses said they did not discuss their feelings and concerns with others.
More than 95% of the women felt that emotional support was either somewhat or extremely important; 71% said it was extremely important. The adult children of cancer survivors were almost as likely as their mothers to place a great deal of importance on emotional support to get them through their mothers cancer experience.
The Gillette Womens Cancer Connection is an extension of the companys involvement in the creation of two Gillette Centers for Womens Cancers in Boston. In 1996, the company donated $5 million to Dana-Farber Partners Cancer Care (Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Womens Hospital, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute), resulting in the creation of the centers.
Through our involvement with The Gillette Centers, we recognized that there was something incredibly powerful about providing emotional and social support in conjunction with medical care, said Joan M. Gallagher, a company spokesperson. Our goal was to take the issue of emotional wellness beyond the four walls of the Gillette Centers for Womens Cancers and to create a comprehensive program designed to offer support, resources, and connections to thousands of people across the country.
Connections Help Patients Focus
Ross Berkowitz, MD, co-director of The Gillette Center at Dana-Farber and director of Gynecology and Gynecologic Oncology, Brigham and Womens Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institutes, also stressed the importance of emotional support. When families make connections with others who have lived with or are currently living through cancer, and achieve emotional wellness, they are better able to focus on treatment and recovery, he said.
In addition to offering the website and other resources for patients and their families (see box below for more information), Gillette will be sponsoring seven seminars around the country in the coming year led by Ronnie Kaye, a psychotherapist and two-time breast cancer survivor. Ms. Kaye is the author of the book Spinning Straw into Gold: Your Emotional Recovery From Breast Cancer (New York, Fireside, Simon & Schuster, 1991).
For More Information
The Gillette Womens Cancer Connection website (www.gillettecancerconnect.org) includes an interactive support line, a database of 700 support groups, and links to other womens cancer websites. It also offers articles and advice specifically designed for women, spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends, and co-workers.
The company has published two brochures, A Road Map to Emotional Wellness and When Someone You Love Has Cancer: A Guide for Families. The brochures and a list of support groups can be obtained by calling 1-800-688-9777.
At a press conference held to mark the debut of the Gillette Womens Cancer Connection, Gillette invited some people to speak about their need for emotional support when they or a loved one had cancer. Joseph Abboud, a fashion designer, whose mother and sister both died of breast cancer, stressed the isolation men, especially, may feel.
I dont think that I had even one discussion with another man about my feelings, either when my mother died of breast cancer or when my sister died of the disease just 8 months ago, Mr. Abboud said. We guys are so in the dark ages. Even today, speaking about it is very difficult for me. Its not something men talk about. Maybe going on-line will make it a little easier.
Another speaker was author and broadcast journalist Betty Rollin, a two-time breast cancer survivor who gives what she calls cheery cancer talks. Ms. Rollin talked about the changes in attitudes toward cancer since her first diagnosis. When I was first diagnosed in 1975, you barely said the word cancer, you hardly ever said the word breast, and you never said them together, she said.
When Ms. Rollins book, First You Cry, was re-published recently, she had to re-read it, and I had the oddest reaction to the book. It was, what is this womanmecomplaining about? So she lost a breast. Big deal. Why is she making such a fuss? And, of course, it made me realize how far I had come, both from that original cancer in 1975 and the second cancer in 1984.
The worst part of a cancer diagnosis, Ms. Rollin said, is the fear and the not knowing what will happen. And what do you need when you are in that state of terror? You need people. . . .If there is a bright side to this disease, it comes from the love and support you get from people. I am personally grateful that Gillette has taken this step to help people with cancer and their families connect with others.