“The caregiver is often left alone to deal with all this on their own, and this is one place I have found good people and kindred spirits."By Kristine Sorensen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A local nurse at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center just won a national award for a program she created called “Caring for the Caregiver.” She is the winner of the 2020 Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing from the CURE Media Group, and with the program now virtual, it’s even easier for more people to participate.

Bernie McShea’s wife, Jane, is going through the fight of her life. She has a rare cancer, Leiomyosarcoma, that led to the amputation of her right leg and pelvis, but she’s looking forward to returning to work soon.

“She’s just got a phenomenal fighting spirit unlike anyone else I’ve ever met in my 55 years on this planet,” McShea said.

But it’s a challenge for Bernie to care for his wife while also working. Oncology nurse Christie Santure heard the stress from the caregiver of another one of her patients.

“She said to me, ‘I’m just feeling so stressed, and I don’t want to let my family know that I’m feeling so stressed,’” Santure said.

She listened and took action, creating Caring for the Caregiver — bi-monthly sessions now on Zoom, but previously at Hillman and Passavant McCandless, where caregivers of people with any illness can openly express themselves.

Caregiver Tim King participates in the sessions and said, “The caregiver is often left alone to deal with all this on their own, and this is one place I have found good people and kindred spirits.”

Caregiver Curt Marlatt adds, “This is support for caregivers where we come share and express ourselves and get help and talk to other people who are in the same way.”

Caring for the Caregiver co-leader Joni Sturgill, a licensed counselor, also guides the group in a mindfulness exercise every week, like breathing exercises. Participants say they leave feeling refreshed and more relaxed.

Joni and Christie emphasize the importance of self-care. Bernie makes sure to take walks with his dog and to exercise. He said, “You have to take care of yourself. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to be able to take care of anyone.”

You can go online to learn more and participate.

Kristine Sorensen