Nicki’s Circle Provides Caring Community for Ovarian Cancer Patients
When she started her work with cancer survivors in 1998, Susan Hess, a licensed professional counselor (LPC), discovered a basic truth: women with ovarian cancer need someone to talk with. Nicki’s Circle offers ovarian cancer support groups to solve this need.
At that time, support groups for breast and other more common cancers were available. But while breast cancer affects about 12 percent of women, ovarian cancer is relatively rare — affecting only about 1.3 percent of women. Equally rare were resources for women battling ovarian cancer. “Those women really wanted to get together and share and learn,” Hess says.
Ovarian cancer support Groups with Nicki’s Circle
So, Hess made it her mission to provide women with ovarian cancer a place to come together and support each other. She started with a group of women meeting in her central Denver office. By 2005, Hess and eight or nine women had created the non-profit Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance (COCA) and na ovarian cancer support group called Nicki’s Circle , named after Nicki Stoner, a member of one of Hess’s early groups who lost her battle with ovarian cancer.
That support group still meets in Denver, but now has five additional chapters, including in Boulder, Lone Tree, Fort Collins, and two conducted by phone with women across the state. Altogether, about 45 women participate each month, Hess says.
From the beginning, Hess took a page from the successful playbook of breast cancer support groups. Research into how effective those groups were showed that women needed to gather, and share. “They just needed a place to talk,” she says. “They really needed to tell their story and hear what other people were doing to mitigate side effects and manage the whole experience.”
That is still what Nicki’s Circle is about, Hess says. “We don’t have speakers or a particular agenda. It’s just an opportunity for women to be together in a community.”
Before Nicki Stoner passed away, she requested that memorial donations in her honor be used to fund the ovarian cancer support group and keep it going.
Those donations amounted to $7,000, and that money eventually became the seed from which the Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance (COCA) grew in 2005.
Now, the mission of COCA, which is funded primarily by donations, includes raising awareness about ovarian cancer and providing support to those battling the disease. Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers is proud to help support two of COCA’s efforts: Jodi’s Race for Awareness an event held each June in Denver City Park, where over 3,000 people gather to honor COCA’s mission, and providing newly diagnosed women with Comfort Kits containing items to help ease the side effects of treatment.
In addition, COCA offers other services to ovarian cancer patients throughout Colorado including:
- An 80-page resource guide with information about Colorado resources for patients, caregivers and healthcare providers.
- A one-to-one peer mentor program.
- Financial assistance to aid with household expenses during treatment for those who qualify.
- Attendance at health fairs around Colorado where volunteers distribute symptom cards.
COCA also participates in the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance’s nationwide program Survivors Teaching Students ®. Every six weeks, as University of Colorado School of Medicine students rotate through training in women’s care, ovarian cancer survivors and a facilitator speak to them about ovarian cancer symptoms, with the goal of promoting early detection.
“The women get to tell their stories so the students begin to understand the symptoms,” Hess says. “One problem is ovarian cancer symptoms can be very easily confused with other symptoms. And a Pap smear checks for cervical cancer, not ovarian.”
COCA and Nicki’s Circle welcomes any woman who is newly diagnosed, in treatment, or has completed treatment, for ovarian, or gynecological, cancer. Caregivers are welcome as well. COCA requests that women contact Susan Hess by phone at 720-519-3122 before coming to the support group for the first time. Also see Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance.
Learn more about other support groups for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers offered by Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers.