Seeking help: Cancer services and programs in Juneau

Cancer services have increased in Juneau in recent decades. There are a variety of services created by the medical community and cancer survivors and their families that provide assistance, information and support.

Depending on the form of cancer a person has and what clinic they attend, the first course of action should be to discuss their options with their primary health care provider. If caught early, many forms of cancer are treatable.

When it comes to cancer, regular health screenings are vital.

“What is easier to put out?” asked Stacey Bjerkeset, a nurse at WISEWOMAN’s health clinic. “A campfire or a wildfire?”

Taken as a metaphor for regular cancer screenings, the importance for a person to establish a routine with their doctor becomes clear. Cancer caught early can be easier to treat.

Bjerkeset emphasized that people should not wait for screenings only when symptoms show or when they’re sick ­­— they should go when they’re well, too. People should have a doctor who understands their health history. When a physician gets to see a patient when they’re well, it establishes a baseline, making it easier for them to detect abnormal signs a patient may be showing when they are sick.

Every person’s scheduled screenings will differ based on family medical history, symptoms, health and other factors. For an informed idea on the various kinds of cancer a person is at risk for and when they should get screenings, they should talk to their physician, and can also check out the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s and the American Cancer Society’s websites for more information.

For those recently diagnosed who need more information or someone to talk to who understands what they are going through, they can contact Cancer Connection, a non-profit network service that provides support, awareness, education and resources. A person can call Cancer Connection, and if it’s after business hours, the call will be forwarded to a board member.

Cancer Connection can provide travel assistance for patients who need to leave for treatment. For those who travel to Seattle, Cancer Connection has rented a one bedroom, fully furnished apartment for cancer patients to use, located two blocks from Virginia Mason Hospital and three blocks from the Swedish and Harborview hospitals.

In town, Cancer Connection hosts Juneau’s Cancer Survivor Support Group the third Tuesday of each month. For those who want individualized support, there’s the Let’s Talk Program, created for cancer patients to speak with someone who has, as their website says, “been there and done that.” Cancer Connection tries to match up cancer patients with trained volunteers who have had a similar cancer.

Cancer Connection points people to other local resources. There’s the free Gentle Yoga for Cancer Survivors classes for women run by Virginia Smiley, a cancer survivor herself; Team Survivor Perseverance, a free program for women which provides exercise, health education and support; Alaska Native Cancer Survivors Group, which shares stories, information, resources and provides a network and support; Reach to Recovery has helped both men and women cope with breast cancer; Hospice and Home Care of Juneau provides palliative care under a physician’s direction; Team Survivor Perseverance Walk/Run Program meets Mondays and Wednesdays.

In addition, Cancer Connection guides cancer patients to national and State resources, Alaska hospitals and Seattle-area hospitals. They put on regular forums to talk about various issues concerning cancer, such as prevention and stress on this year’s forum, Oct. 17, or run fundraisers like their annual Beat the Odds race.

Dependent upon a variety of factors, cancers will have various treatments. Bartlett Regional Hospital offers chemotherapy and infusion therapy as well as some surgeries.

Southeast Radiation Oncology Center, which opened in Juneau in 2014, uses radiation treatment, such as external beam radiation therapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy, image guided radiation therapy and stereotactic body radiation therapy. Because these treatment centers are in Juneau, for some cancer treatments patients do not have to leave Juneau or Southeast Alaska depending upon their circumstances.

• Contact Clara Miller at 523-2243 or at

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