There are probably no families living on the Outer Banks whose lives have not been touched by cancer. It is the leading cause of death in Dare County. It is a disease that is being fought by many who are involved with treatment, education, support and research.

Three years ago, The Outer Banks Hospital made a commitment to raise funds to open a Cancer Resource Center, whose mission is education, referral and support. In January, the Center opened, staffed by social worker Betse Kelly.

Kelly’s interest in working with cancer patients developed during her years as a medical social worker at the University of Virginia Hospitals and Dare County's Department of Public Health's Home Health and Hospice agency. “As a social worker, when I first worked with people who had cancer and with their families and their support systems, I felt as if I had found my professional home,” she said. “It is an immensely rewarding and humbling experience to help those who are experiencing a difficult, frightening and often confusing time as they navigate the services available to cancer patients.”

When Kelly read about the hospital’s plans for a Cancer Resource Center, she knew she wanted to be associated with the Center. She researched other cancer resource centers on line and talked with people who had been treated for cancer, asking them what they found “most” and “least” helpful as they managed their cancer journey. Since coming on board in January, she has hit the ground running, meeting with Cancer Support Groups and Cancer Foundations from Grandy to Hatteras along with speaking to physicians and nurses, ministers, school teachers, priests, friends, neighbors and community organizations.

As the Center evolves, so will the role of the Coordinator. Currently, Kelly defines her activities as follows:

  • Provision or coordination of educational services. When a person with cancer understands their illness and possible treatments they hopefully are able to make informed decisions. Understanding often leads to meaningful participation in treatment planning with health care providers. Knowledge and understanding increase a person's legitimate sense of control and help them to become a partner in their medical treatment.
  • Assistance with accessing the most current and reliable information. There is an overwhelming amount of information available about cancer, cancer treatment, and about the psychosocial aspects of living with cancer. Some of this information, while very well-meaning is on sites that may not be kept up to date or are out of date and some have information that is inaccurate. At the CRC there is assistance to find the best information available on the internet. There is also free printed information from well-respected, reliable and accurate sources.
  • Assistance with understanding and navigating complex health systems. Understanding roles and the ways health care teams function can be difficult to the newly diagnosed person who has never experienced complex medical care. Learning about what happens when, who does what, and what services may be available can lessen people's anxiety about what is to come and increase their confidence in their treatment, which in turn assists them in maintaining a positive attitude.
  • Supportive services. Direct assistance at the CRC as well as referrals to community resources to address psychosocial needs and concerns. There are resources available locally and otherwise to assist with financial concerns, emotional distress, and bereavement as well as practical concerns such as caregiver support, household assistance and transportation.
  • Educational outreach to increase the community's cancer awareness. Providing educational opportunities to our community about cancer, cancer screenings, healthy behaviors, and cancer risk factors will hopefully help in the areas of early detection and cancer prevention.
  • "Look Good...Feel Better," a program of the American Cancer Society that teaches women with cancer special beauty techniques so that they may look their best during chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Programs such as the American Cancer Society's, "I Can Cope", a cancer education and support program as well as "Fresh Start", an American Cancer Society smoking cessation program are planned for the future.

"Basically, I’m here to help. Any way that I can, " said Kelly. "I encourage people to call - my telephone number at the Center is 449-7350. Or better yet, make an appointment to come by. Sometimes, connecting with the right person - whether it's a social worker, physician, support group or other cancer survivor - can make all the difference."

As she gathers information, Kelly is connecting the dots about who needs what and where. Additionally, she is inviting families, friends, and groups to meet in the Cancer Resource Center where there is a wealth of printed material along with access to the internet. Kelly wants to get the word out about what she and The Outer Banks Hospital know...the Cancer Resource Center is a good way and a good place to share the cancer journey and be supported along the way.