By Brian Morris
to an audio version of this
When a woman faces a cancer diagnosis, it's a permanently life-altering experience -
and finding the right support system can help soften the impact. There are also practical
issues like getting to and from treatment, an especially big problem on the Outer Cape.
For fourteen years, a Provincetown organization has helped women deal with the
emotional impacts, and day-to-day implications, of living with cancer or other chronic
illnesses. Outer Cape correspondent Brian Morris has this report.
In 1998, Fayette Watkis of Provincetown got the news every woman dreads: She had
: "Didn't have a clue what to do next. I just thought, well, this is it,
I'm a goner. It's just an overwhelming diagnosis to begin with, and just the insurance
issues, the financial aid, all of that."
Watkis tells her story while petting Roosevelt, her friend's Yorkshire terrier, who
eventually falls asleep in her lap. She says the diagnosis eight years ago redefined her
: "It changes everything. It changes your life. It will never be the
way it was before your cancer. And I guess it depends on your outlook whether that's a
good thing or a bad thing. And it has been a tremendously wonderful thing for
Watkis credits her upbeat outlook to a Provincetown-based organization called Helping
Our Women. The non-profit was founded in 1993, originally as a resource for women
with cancer. They now also offer services to women with chronic illnesses like heart
disease. Executive Director Irene Rabinowitz says there's a common thread of issues
that Helping Our Women seeks to address.
: "So there's the emotional issues that come out of the fear of
losing your home, or the fear of poverty, or the fear of being alone, essentially, to deal
with this - especially when we live in communities, we serve communities where people
have moved here from elsewhere quite often and may not have a family close by to be
able to help."
Helping Our Women operates rent-free out of a small but airy second-floor space, a
stone's throw from the clamor of Commercial Street. They currently serve 184 women
from Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet and Eastham. Because they're not disease-specific,
they don't qualify for State or Federal funding, relying instead on fundraising events,
private donations and funding from several towns.
Helping Our Women provides need-based financial assistance for things like medical
bills, utilities, eyeglasses, or dental care. They also have a core of volunteer drivers who
shuttle clients back and forth to medical appointments each month. Cancer survivor and
Provincetown resident Sylvia Newman found that service invaluable.
: "I turned to Irene for help, because I had to go to Cape Cod
Hospital. It's about an hour and a half to drive, and I could not drive during my treatment.
And I found great supports in H.O.W., financially, emotionally, and drives. Every time I call
her, she said, 'Well, I don't know, I'm going to try to arrange something.' But she's always
come through, and she was there for me every time I needed it."
Helping our Women also runs two weekly support groups, one for cancer survivors and
the other for those with chronic illness. Irene Rabinowitz recalls the day she filled in for
the cancer support group facilitator.
: "I did witness once with somebody who was literally terrified of
this diagnosis of cancer. And I saw this group of women including Fayette and Sylvia in
action, really taking care of somebody and explaining what it was gonna be like, and
saying, 'We'll be there with you. We'll be on the phone with you beforehand. We'll talk to
you afterwards.' And they really offered support."
Although Fayette Watkis is now in remission, she still finds great value in attending the
support groups each week.
: "People ask eight years out, you know, 'Why are you still going to
a cancer support group? Aren't you cured?' And it's not about that. It's a whole
transformation of your life, and that might take the rest of your life. But as long as I feel
that I'm getting a benefit, or that I could be a benefit to others, I'll be coming there every
Irene Rabinowitz says most women facing cancer are overcome by a sense of not
knowing where to turn for help. Many also feel initially that they're alone in the battle.
Helping Our Women aims to ease the burden by offering logistical and financial
solutions, and by giving cancer survivors the chance to strengthen each other by sharing
their experiences and voicing their feelings.
If you'd like more information about Helping Our Women's services, go to
helpingourwomen.org. Or call 508-487-4357.
Broadcast June 1, 2006
Brian Morris reports for the Cape and islands NPR Stations,