A music therapist performs during the Cancer Transitions program at Spectrum Health.
Music therapy complements the Cancer Transitions program at Spectrum Health. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Maria Trevino was mad. At herself. At her family. At the world.

After being diagnosed with uterine cancer in August of 2013, she underwent surgery and 24 weeks of chemotherapy.

The cancer subsided and she was declared in remission. But the anger persisted.

“I should have been thankful the treatments were over, but I was very angry and upset by the simple fact that I had to start my life all over again,” the 36-year-old Grand Rapids resident said.

At the encouragement of Jessica Patten, Spectrum Health medical social worker at Spectrum Health Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, Trevino started attending the Cancer Transitions program.

“It helped me understand why I was feeling the way I was feeling,” Trevino said. “The group took me through the steps. It started peeling little scabs off and making things clearer.”

Hearing you have cancer shocks the soul. Treatments and doctor appointments can somehow provide routine, a small sense of stability in a swelling emotional sea.

But for cancer survivors, one day that routine ends. The quest is fulfilled, the questions answered. Except this one—what next?

Maria Trevino poses for a photo and smiles.
Maria Trevino had to learn how to be cancer-free in a whole new way. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

“The group helped me start listening and paying attention to other people who were going through the same situation,” Trevino said. “Most of us were feeling the same way. It’s almost another life you have to start after your treatment. I know I wouldn’t be where I am emotionally today without this group.”

Spectrum’s Cancer Transitions class started three years ago, made possible in part by LIVESTRONG, a group that funds community impact projects all over the country, and the Spectrum Foundation, according to Gerri Roobol, program manager of the Spectrum Health Cancer Program.

“Survivorship is now recognized as a distinct stage in cancer care,” Roobol said.

When patients were undergoing testing, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, they felt protected and closely watched over.

“To go from all of that to ‘see you in three months or six months’ is a scary feeling,” Roobol said. “When you’re all done and sent back to go on with your life and pick up where you left off, it can feel like you’re cutting ties and are adrift at sea. This class helps individuals make sense of what’s happening and kind of kickstart them.”

Roslyn Moe takes a selfie and smiles.
Roslyn Moe is a breast cancer survivor. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Rockford resident Roslyn Moe, 60, said she made new friends at the class after recovering from breast cancer.

“I think you just have a connection,” Moe said. “A group of us went on for a LIVESTRONG class at the YMCA. And we’re friends on Facebook now.”

But it wasn’t always so friendly and sharing. There was emptiness for a time.

“Cancer is so mind boggling anyhow, but when you’re all over with everything, where do you go now?” Moe asked. “It’s a very supportive group. I just thoroughly enjoyed the program and I really think people need to know about it.”

The class meets every Monday for four weeks at the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion in downtown Grand Rapids. It is free and open to the public. You don’t have to be a Spectrum Health patient to join.

Sessions include an occupational therapist discussing exercises and therapies to keep your body strong, a certified oncology dietician who shares healthy recipes, a music therapy program and a question-and-answer session with a cancer specialist.

Patten said the support group provides a safe place for survivors to reinvent their lives.

“We address some of the questions they didn’t feel they could ask,” Patten said. “Or things that came up later, even like sexual things, talking about relationships moving forward. This lets them know there are other people who feel the same way and, from a professional standpoint, they can get their questions answered.”

At a time when her emotions were raw, Trevino said that kind of bonding and acceptance was a transforming experience.

“Most of all I loved that I could be honest and not be judged by what I said or did,” Trevino said. “It helped me take a step further each and every day.”