New support offered for people with colorectal cancer

With a grant from the California Colorectal Cancer Coalition (C4), the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center’s WeCARE! Cancer Peer Navigator program will provide emotional support and resources to colorectal cancer patients in the Sacramento region by linking them with specially trained navigators who are also survivors of the disease.

“We’re so excited about the grant and the opportunity to focus on colon cancer,” says Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater, associate adjunct professor with the UC Davis School of Medicine, director of the cancer center’s Outreach Research and Education Program and a cancer survivor. “There are many patients who are at an early stage in their disease and treatment, and we want to be there to support and help them.”

Recognizing the need to support a patient-centered program such as WeCARE!, the C4 hopes the $7,500 grant will aid in efforts to improve patient care, and also help raise awareness about the importance of screening to catch tumors early when they are curable and reduce mortality from the disease.

“While our primary focus has been on increasing screening rates to reduce the number of people diagnosed with late-stage disease, we also want to begin addressing issues related to treatment and survivorship,” says Margaret Hitchock, Secretary and Treasurer of the California Colorectal Cancer Coalition. “Our funding of the UC Davis Colorectal Cancer Peer Navigator Program allows us to make contributions to this aspect of patient care.”

Slots for new colorectal cancer peer navigators also are available. Peer navigator training teaches cancer survivors how to help patients manage their anxiety, improve treatment decision-making and develop coping skills through a daylong training and a monthly session facilitated by medical and community professionals.

“Training is so necessary to do this appropriately, and this takes time and funding,” says Florence Kurtilla, a WeCARE! peer navigator and C4 board of trustees member. “Peer navigator volunteers are necessary, and there is a viable, great program ready to help those patients.” 

Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater

A peer navigator, or cancer coach, connects patients to community resources, shares knowledge about life with cancer and is able to actively listen to patients based on their own understanding of what the patient is experiencing.

“When it’s two in the morning and you’re freaking out wondering who is going to take care of your kids and pay the bills – that’s when a peer navigator can help and just listen,” says Mark Galvan, a WeCARE! cancer peer navigator in the Modesto/Central Valley area.

Originally created and modeled for breast cancer patients, the program now offers navigators for patients with other types of cancer including bladder, prostate, leukemia/lymphoma, lung and colon.

The WeCARE! Cancer Peer Navigator Program is also available at the Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center, Fremont Rideout Cancer Center, Feather River Hospital Cancer Center, Sutter Health/Memorial Medical Center and the University of Nebraska Medical Center Cancer Program.

For more information or to be assigned to a WeCARE! cancer peer navigator contact Marcie Ellis (female cancer coordinator) at 916-734-5786 or email [email protected]. For male cancers, contact Ruben Gonzalez at [email protected] or Jack Sanders at [email protected]. For more information to become a cancer peer navigator, contact Patti Robinson at 916-734-0823 or email [email protected].