Strong local support for cancer patients

Published 8:31 pm Saturday, February 23, 2013

Editor’s note: This is another in a series of stories leading up to the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life on May 17.

When a person is diagnosed with cancer, an array of medical staff — surgeons, oncologists, nurses and more — are on hand to offer services to help fight the cancer with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and other options.

But an aspect of the battle sometimes considered less is the need for a support network — emotional, financial, logistical and spiritual.

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Fortunately for cancer patients in Suffolk, this support network is well established in the city. Many of the services are provided at Sentara Obici Hospital.

“I think it helps them cope with their disease a little bit easier if they know they have a support team in place,” said Angela DiPersio, a registered nurse and cancer navigator at Obici. “It gives them somewhere to turn to, an extra support system to know they are part of the team, we’re part of the team, and we’re working together.”

As a cancer navigator, DiPersio meets with newly diagnosed cancer patients to help them find their way through the unfamiliar world of doctors, hospitals, treatments, medications, side effects, insurance and more.

“I try to walk them through the system from the very beginning,” she said. “I always tell my patients if you have a question and you don’t know where to turn, I’m here. We need to make sure you don’t fall through the cracks.”

DiPersio also works as a financial resource, helping patients get supplies such as wigs, prostheses and special clothing paid for by their plan if possible. She also helps refer them to programs that can help financially with different needs.

She also is able to go to patients’ appointments with them.

“Every now and then, you have a person that just doesn’t have family support, and they just want a second set of ears,” she said.

The hospital also hosts four support groups. They include a general cancer group, one for women with any kind of cancer, a breast cancer group and a prostate cancer group. DiPersio’s colleague Amy Peterson coordinates the groups.

“Anybody is welcome to them,” DiPersio said. “Patients can bring a family member or friend.”

Another resources is the Look Good, Feel Better program, which teaches patients how to cope with skin changes and hair loss using wigs, cosmetics and skin care products.

The American Cancer Society also provides several services in the area, including the Road to Recovery program, in which volunteer drivers help patients get to treatment.

The American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of Suffolk is coming up on May 17. For more information on how to get involved, visit