New group provides support for cancer patients

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By Alex Cornacchia, Contributing Writer

Rosalie Utley, who runs the new St. Luke’s cancer support group. (Photo/submitted)
Rosalie Utley, who runs the new St. Luke’s cancer support group. (Photo/submitted)

Westborough – Rosalie Utley was trying to recall when the first meeting for St. Luke’s cancer support group, a group she had formed, was held.

“We just started about, um ? the beginning of November?” she wondered aloud.

“Nov. 19,” group member Kathy Dunbeck interjected with no uncertainty. Utley looked surprised, as anyone might be by someone who is able to pull exact dates out of thin air, until Dunbeck explained: “I remember that because that was my last day of radiation.”

A look of recognition crossed Utley’s face. “That’s right!” She leaned back in her chair and nodded. “Nov. 19.”

It was the kind of exchange that would usually go unnoticed, just two people trying to recall a piece of information. But it hinted at a particular dynamic ? one of comfort and camaraderie, shared experience and understanding ? that was striking, given the fact that the group is only about two months old.

Utley joked that the group was born at least partially out of selfishness – “I wanted to get out of the house,” she said – but she also felt that it was a calling of sorts. She’d been battling lymphoma for five years, with doctors telling her multiple times that she wouldn’t make it, yet every time she pulled through. She remembered speaking with Kathleen Bush, her mentor and spiritual advisor, about how God must have some reason to keep her around.

“I said [?] ‘I need to do something with my time. I just don’t want to sit and wait,’” recalled Utley.

That’s when she got the idea to start the support group.

The meetings follow a relatively loose format. Members come in and greet each other, everyone says a short prayer, then Utley poses an open-ended question. After that, she lets the needs of the group dictate how the rest of the time is spent. Often that means people talking freely about their experiences, building on each other’s points, but Utley is open to anything that would be beneficial for the group.

“We can sit here half an hour or an hour and not talk,” Utley noted. “That’s fine.” She then added, on second thought, “I might not let it go half an hour?”

Perhaps the most apparent benefit of joining a support group is the sense of a shared experience among members; as both Utley and Dunbeck point out, nobody really understands what a cancer patient is going through, except another cancer patient.

But there are also some less obvious benefits: giving each other tips on how to handle certain symptoms, finding a space to process emotions years after the last round of chemotherapy has been completed, or simply learning about how other people are surviving.

Utley hopes to create a space where people feel safe and comfortable, and emphasizes that anyone – regardless of faith, age, or whether they received a cancer diagnosis yesterday or 10 years ago – is welcome.

“We’re here to help whoever wants to walk through that door,” she asserted.

St. Luke’s cancer support group meets every other Wednesday at St. Luke’s Parish Center from 10 – 11 a.m. For those who are interested in joining, contact Utley at 508-523-8015 or [email protected].

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