Cover Stories

Haven of Help: Cancer Support Community

There’s a living room here and a pretty garden. There are toys for children and a library of books for grownups; amid walls painted in soft, restful colors, there’s the gentle patter of conversation. “It’s a sanctuary,” says Renata Sledge, program director at Cancer Support Community Greater St. Louis (CSC). “It’s cozy,” she says of the building tucked back behind I-270 and Manchester Road.

The St. Louis affiliate opened its doors to cancer patients and their loved ones as The Wellness Community in 1993. Last year, through professionally led programs designed to provide social and emotional support and education to anyone affected by the disease, it served 1,500 people, all free of charge. One of its primary aims is to reduce the feeling of aloneness so common among cancer patients.

cancer-support-community_ss-cover-9-21St. Louisan Justin Fantroy speaks to this isolation. “At first, after a diagnosis, everyone rallies around,” he says. “But gradually, over time, people move on; the phone rings less, the care packages aren’t as frequent.” And even when there’s ongoing support, he says, a person is “painfully aware” of the burden they place on family and friends. “All the usual stresses of life still exist. If my wife has had a bad day at work, hearing how sad I am doesn’t help,” explains Fantroy, who was diagnosed with lymphoma last year. “The CSC provides a place where everyone is understood.”

Sledge says the community tries to think of everything, to cater in as many ways as possible to the needs of patients and families. Workshops address the nuts-and-bolts of treatments, clinical trials, insurance and legal matters like wills and powers of attorney. Self-care classes teach yoga and mindfulness, good nutrition, cooking, how to look after hair and nails during chemotherapy, and even how to tie a head scarf. Groups led by licensed healthcare professionals address issues of bereavement, healthy coping and how to discuss your diagnosis with family members of all ages. “Some people don’t want support groups, but just come to be around other people,” Sledge explains. The vegetable garden and craft classes in things like jewelry-making, sewing and painting also provide peaceful outlets; the kitchen and living room are comfy, homey settings for just sitting to chat. While most programs take place in the community building, some happen off-site at cancer centers in the St. Louis area.

Thanks to a stem cell transplant, Fantroy recently has been in partial remission. Another transplant is planned for the near future. He says he has been overwhelmed by CSC support; it has become like family, he says, and on Nov. 12 he will appear on stage at the nonprofit’s signature annual fundraiser, ‘Laughing Matters,’ an improvisational comedy show. “I guess they think I’m a funny guy,” he laughs. “It’s a pretty big honor and I’m very glad to help.” Other participants are Alison Ferring, Paul Gallant, Laurie McConnell, Joe Ortmeyer and Randy and Jeff Vines.

Pictured: Justin Fantroy with wife Jennifer and son Noah
Photo: Suzy Gorman

Cancer Support Community holds ‘Laughing Matters,’ an improvisational comedy show on Nov. 12 at STL Motorcars in Chesterfield. Pictured on the cover: Joe Ortmeyer, Justin Fantroy, Randy and Jeff Vines, Alison Ferring and Paul Gallant. Not pictured: Laurie McConnell. For ticket information, call 314.238.2000 or visit cancersupportstl.org.
Cover design by Jon Fogel | Cover photo by Suzy Gorman

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