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Group provides support to cancer patients, caregivers

Josette Miller of New Market sits with her dog Benjy. Miller started the Valley Cancer Support Group last year after her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. The group provides support to both caregivers and patients. Katie Demeria/Daily (Buy photo)

By Katie Demeria

QUICKSBURG -- Josette Miller, 43, of New Market, said when her mother was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, the family was blindsided. No close relative had ever dealt with cancer before.

"It was a big, big shock," she said.

A professional caregiver, Miller was familiar with what her mother, Theresa Knapp, 62, of Lacey Springs, needed in terms of basic care. When it came to support service for both herself and the rest of her family, though, Miller saw a void in the area.

So she decided to start a group herself. Within a month of her mother's diagnosis, Miller started the Valley Cancer Support Group.

"It's open to everyone and every type of cancer," she said. "I know how frustrating it is to not be able to find a group that fits you, so I wanted to include everybody."

Individuals fighting throat, ovarian, breast and leukemia cancers have all attended meetings -- as well as their caregivers.

"We've never had anyone come alone," she said.

Their meetings, which take place the second Tuesday of every month at the Woods Chapel Independent Bible Church in New Market, feature information about what caregivers can do for loved ones with cancer, or general emotional crisis advice from health counselors.

Each meeting also includes an open forum time during which anyone can express their feelings about the cancer diagnosis.

"No one has to fight alone," Miller said. "It's not good to keep everything inside."

That advice, she said, applies to both patients and caregivers.

Miller and her family have gone through quite a bit since Knapp's diagnosis. Knapp had a stroke in February and now relies on a walker to get around.

Recently they also discovered that the chemotherapy is not working effectively. When she was originally diagnosed, one of Knapp's lungs had already collapsed due to the size of the mass.

Since then, the mass has grown in size and the cancer itself has spread to her brain.

As a caregiver, Miller has grown to appreciate the importance of caring for her mother's emotions as well as her physical state.

"After we heard from the doctor about it spreading to her brain, as soon as we got in the car she said to me, 'So help me if you cry,'" Miller said. "And I didn't. I waited until I dropped her off, but I didn't while she was with me."

Having an outlet, Miller said, is very important when supporting someone through treatment. The support group tries to provide that.

They will have a team participating in this year's Relay for Life in Shenandoah County, and right now Miller is planning to bring a massage therapist to a meeting in order to teach caregivers how to give massages to their loved ones while they are receiving chemotherapy.

That sort of simple care, she said, aligns with what Miller said she believes is most important when supporting someone through treatment.

"It doesn't have to be money," she said. "The biggest thing you can give is time. Make them a meal so after chemotherapy they can come home and spend time with their family, or mow their grass for them so they don't have to worry about it. Donate your time."

Those interested in learning more about the Valley Cancer Support Group can visit www.facebook.com/valleycancersupportgroup or email Miller at pauljo98@yahoo.com.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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