Resilient, Informed, Strong, Extraordinary
Susan Werlinich’s local cancer support group, RISE, empowers and educates cancer survivors, patients and caregivers.
When Susan Werlinich moved from Columbus, Ohio, to Southport, she searched long and hard for a cancer support group in her new town. As an oncology nurse for more than 30 years, she knew first-hand the importance and value of support groups for seriously ill people.
Finding none, she started one. RISE — Resilient, Informed, Strong and Extraordinary — brings together cancer survivors from all communities in the surrounding area. Werlinich hosted the first several meetings in a friend’s home. Word got around about her credentials and the impact the group members were having on each other, and doon the growing group was meeting at the St. James Community Center in Southport.
David Goudy of Southport attended his first group meeting in 2020 when he was diagnosed.
“The value of this group is gaining another level of support as I move through the various processes of chemotherapy,” he says. “I have had great support from friends and family, but sitting with a group of people who are also having this experience has been helpful. They more fully understand what I am feeling and I more fully understand each of their situations. In a way, we can trade war stories as well as find ways to encourage each other.”
Betsy Hussey, also of Southport, attended her first meeting after her radiation treatments were completed.
“It was a very private decision to share my diagnosis,” she says. “I was so unaware of where to go and what to do and where to start. I really wish I had gone to the group during my treatments for access to information and answers to many questions I had. Even though I am done and cancer free, I feel compelled to be connected with others.”
The RISE group meets twice monthly. Members include patients actively going through treatment, survivors and caregivers.
“Our group’s name perfectly describes the people who attend,” Werlinich says. “We just talk. It’s a very free-flowing group. No agenda. No forced participation.”
The conversation is very often educational, answering questions for the newly diagnosed or helping compose questions and tips for future doctor visits. Werlinich is empowering members to realize that they are the boss of their body and their disease.
“Empowerment is so important,” she says. “It promotes courage and takes away anxiety.”
Werlinich received her nursing degree from Hartford Hospital School of Nursing in Hartford, Connecticut. Her first position as a nurse was on the surgical floor of Hartford Hospital. When her husband, who was in the service, was transferred to Hawaii, Werlinich got her first taste of taking care of cancer patients in St. Elizabeth Hospital.
She recalls, “I knew right then that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my nursing career.”
A move to Lansing, Michigan, landed her a nursing position in the oncology unit in Sparrow Hospital. In a move to Columbus, Ohio, she became the manager of the oncology unit at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center. She remained at Grant for 33 years.
“I had different jobs in that hospital, all related to oncology including implementation of clinical trials and radiation therapy,” she says.
Werlinich spent her next 15 years strictly focused on breast cancer patients as a breast cancer nurse navigator until retirement.
Werlinich reflects on her time at Grant Medical Center.
“Cancer is complex and interesting, never boring,” Werlinich says. “I love medicine and I love helping people. Oncology crosses all types of medical disciplines from chemotherapy to surgery and allows me to really follow a patient throughout their specific treatment program. Through oncology nursing I got to know both patients and family. And I liked that.”
Goudy appreciates Werlinich’s extensive experience with oncology. “Susan has been critical to giving me insights into what my body is up to as I go along the treatment process,” he says.
Hussey adds, “It’s good for the caregiver to get some validation of their concerns through Susan’s wide knowledge.”
Through her network of experts, Werlinich invited breast cancer surgeon Dr. Deepa Halaharvi from Columbus, Ohio, to speak to the group. Hussey’s husband attended with her.
“The doctor shared information about the disease, treatment options and positive results from treatments,” Hussey says. “It allowed support people to understand what the process is about.”
But there is more than medicine, radiation and chemo discussions happening in this group.
“I also believe I have a new group of friends, not just ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ but a supportive group of friends,” Goudy says. “I leave each meeting feeling quite positive.”
Hussey can’t agree more.
“I am glad that there is a support group to navigate patients and families through this disease,” Hussey says. “When I leave, I feel happy that I went, glad to have met other people and hopeful that the next time personal situations will have improved. It’s like a family. People really understand what you are experiencing and truly feel your worry and concern.”
Goudy welcomes others in the community to join the group. “You will be walking into a place where you will feel safe and supported,” he says. “It’s not easy making the decision to attend, but it has proven to be a wise move for me.”
Werlinich says in conclusion, “Live life despite cancer. Don’t let it define your life.”
Want to join?
RISE meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 3 to 4:30 pm at the St. James Community Center, 4136 Southport-Supply Road SE, St. James. It is free and open to anyone in the local community. For more information, email email@example.com.