Helping Snowbirds Fight Cancer: A Ray of Hope in the Sunshine State

Winter 2010 CSANews Issue 77  |  Posted date : Dec 06, 2010.Back to list

The Cancer Support Community is an ideal environment for snowbirds fighting cancer: welcoming outdoor gardens in the warm Florida sun, gentle fitness classes, special programs for couples and the vital support provided by expert, caring professionals.

On October 19, Cancer Support Community Florida Suncoast dedicated the state's newest and most complete healing facility, conveniently located off I-75 in Sarasota. Completely free to everyone - including Canadian snowbirds - our one-of-a-kind centre provides hope, education and support to people affected by cancer.

Our 11,142-square-foot "green" facility was carefully designed to promote health, particularly for people whose immune systems have been compromised. Blending indoor/outdoor elements into a natural setting, our state-of-the art healing centre features:
  • A studio for exercise and meditation
  • A teaching kitchen and a library
  • An "Ask the Doctor" living room for educational programs
  • An expressive arts studio for children's therapy
  • Gallery spaces for patients, family members and artists
  • An Internet cafe to learn and share information
  • Healing gardens for horticultural therapy, reflection and tai chi
  • A labyrinth garden
  • Technology to support remote programs and podcasts
Designed by Carlson Studio Architecture in conjunction with Ringling College of Art and Design, the building is pre-certified for Gold Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) by the U.S. Green Building Council.
All aspects of the building - the gardens, the green design, the use of natural light, colours and materials, space planning and countless other matters - were taken into consideration to do all that we could to truly build a healing environment. We also listened to feedback from cancer survivors and families, as well as physicians and design experts, and incorporated those findings into our facility. For example, we built a large Expressive Arts Therapy room for children, thanks to comments from a single mother with three kids who said that she wanted to come to our older building more often, but needed a place for her children.

At Cancer Support Community Florida Suncoast, our goal is to provide vital services that improve the quality of life for cancer patients and their loved ones, and which may enhance recovery.

In keeping with that goal, we offer a wide range of free programs for snowbirds and Florida residents, as well as online connections that allow participants to access our personal support when you return to Canada or wherever you've travelled from.

Weekly, professionally facilitated therapeutic support groups for people with cancer are the heart of our program. Support-group participants explore new ways to deal with their disease and become part of an extended family offering support and encouragement. By learning skills that enable them to take control of their situation, participants can improve their health and reduce their fears.
We also have support groups for caregivers, friends and families of cancer patients - including spouses and children. We recognize that stress for the caregiver can be as difficult as it is for the patient, and participants share ideas on supporting a loved one.

One of our regular discussion groups involves sharing experiences about the impact of cancer on relationships, improving communication so that couples can fight cancer together. We also offer brief, problem-focused counselling on cancer-related issues for patients and caregivers.

One of our unique offerings is our healing gardens program, designed by a professional horticultural therapist for those who love flowers and plants. It is both a classic stress-management activity and a newly evolving technique of general recovery from physical challenges.

Many snowbirds benefit from our "Ask the Doctor" sessions offered by professionals on topics related to particular cancers, drug therapies, nutrition, mind-body connections and other ways of fighting for recovery. We also host regular educational sessions and monthly "drop-in" groups organized around a specific diagnosis, such as breast or lung cancer.

To improve individual health and wellness, we offer classes led by qualified instructors who teach appropriate exercise and movement techniques to aid in recovery, including yoga, tai chi and qi gong. On the last Friday of each month, a local restaurant provides a catered luncheon with a regular attendance of 50-60 people. It offers a chance to meet with participants from all of our many programs.

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of local donors and foundations during a very difficult period, we were able to finance our $6.1 million model facility, and welcome many more visitors and residents each year. Ultimately, we hope that our centre becomes an international model for effective delivery of cancer support services.

Cancer Support Community is a nationwide network created by the recent merger of The Wellness Community with Gilda's Clubs Worldwide. Since 1996, more than 11,000 individuals have made more than 60,000 visits to the centre in Sarasota and at satellite locations throughout the area. We invite you to visit our beautiful new facility and take advantage of our free programs.

For information:

Cancer Support Community Florida Suncoast
5481 Communications Parkway
Sarasota, FL 34240
Tel: 941-921-5539