Caring For The Caregiver

September 19, 2020

Volume 14,

Lynne O’Connor’s winning essay describes how Christine Santure, B.S.N., RN, OCN, is this year’s Extraordinary Healer winner by caring for the caregiver.

Working in the infusion room at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hillman Cancer Center can be extremely busy, but that did not stop Christie Santure, B.S.N., RN, OCN, from sharing her dream of having a caregiver program. Christie approached me, her unit director, three years ago about starting Caring for the Caregiver.

Christie communicated that, time and time again, she noticed that caregivers did not have the tools to take care of themselves while caring for the patient. They often told her that they didn’t receive enough support and were unable to take care of themselves because they were so worried about their loved one. Wanting to help those who were helping others, she researched how to start the support group, found a sponsor to help her and ran with it.

The first sessions took place once a month and had low attendance. That did not deter Christie. She advertised the sessions on all three floors of the Hillman Cancer Center and at other sites in our network. She also attended nursing huddles to help promote her program. Through her belief in this program and her perseverance, the sessions began to thrive. Now, three years later, Christie offers the sessions twice a month at the Hillman Cancer Center. Additionally, she has worked with leadership at two of our network sites to start the Caring for the Caregiver program at those locations.

The group offers support and education to those whose loved ones are battling cancer. Members not only discuss topics and practices around self-care, mindfulness, stress manage- ment, compassion fatigue and nutrition but also support each other by sharing personal stories and struggles, so they experience the comfort of knowing they aren’t alone. Christie constantly works to improve the program, researching topics, resources and teaching materials for the caregivers. This is done outside her normal business day.

Caregivers in the Pittsburgh region are thankful for Christie’s kindness and dedication to this often overlooked population in the medical setting. Here are thoughts from some of the caregivers Christie has helped through this valuable program.

Facilitator Joni Sturgill: Christie is one of the kindest, most compassionate people I know. I’ve seen her, time and time again, go out of her way to help connect caregivers with the resources and support they need, as well as offer a listening ear to caregivers who just need to talk. Her knowledge, dedication and compassion are an asset to the Pittsburgh oncology community and to anyone who is a caregiver.

A caregiver: Caring for the Caregiver is a unique group in the Pittsburgh area and perhaps beyond, because it takes the time and effort to reach out to people in an oncology unit who are often not seen although they’re standing in plain sight: the caregivers. In most places in the cancer world, we caregivers are just there. We’re the concerned spouse standing in the corner. We have a name but not a story because we don’t have cancer. Many people see us, and some might even understand our burden, but few reach out. They don’t have the time or tools to do anything. Thank God that Christie came along and reached out with this group. Putting together Caring for the Caregiver wasn’t mandatory in her everyday job, but it was necessary for us. Christie saw us walking in numbers through hospitals, doing everything for our loved ones and nothing for ourselves. She understood we were tired/empty/confused and decided we needed help, too.

I’ve been part of the group for a only short period of time, but I can tell you without reservation that had Christie not started this group and thrown the doors open to everyone like me, I would be in a dark place, maybe not able to help my wife and certainly not able to help myself. There are times in life when saying thank you to someone who has suddenly appeared in your life and straightened things out just doesn’t seem to be enough. The Extraordinary Healer® Award would help a lot of us say thank you in a special way to a deserving woman.

A caregiver: One topic we often discuss in our caregivers’ group is gratitude. I am grateful at each meeting that Christie started this group. For the last year and a half, I have felt supported and encouraged by Christie and our facilitator, Joni. I have learned many ways of taking care of myself during my husband’s illness. Numerous times, Christie has explained medical procedures and aspects of treatment that have allayed my fears and helped me face whatever we had to deal with, one day at a time, regarding Dave’s esophageal cancer. This group is a true blessing. Christie’s passion for helping the caregivers — those who are often forgotten in the process — along with her perseverance to make the program a success make her a great candidate for the Extraordinary Healer® Award.

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