KINGSPORT – Barbara Kindle and her son, Terry, bear a special bond that extends beyond their family connection.
More than 20 years ago, when Barbara was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, Terry was at her side, attending cancer support group meetings and encouraging her every step of the way.
Three years ago, when Terry was diagnosed with Stage 1 lung cancer, their positions were reversed. This time, it was Terry attending the meetings, with his mother backing him.
“I remember being scared when Terry was diagnosed,” Barbara recalled. “But I knew I had to be brave. It was my time to be the supporter for both of us.”
Through it all, they’ve had each other, they say, and it has made the journey easier. But they also credit part of their good fortune – Barbara is still cancer free and Terry is in remission – to something else.
“You still need the support of other people,” Barbara said. “It’s more important than you realize.”
Barbara and Terry found them at Holston Valley Medical Center’s Survive and Thrive, a support and resource group designed for patients, families and friends who are trying to get their lives back on track after a cancer diagnosis. The members of the group became like family to Barbara and Terry.
Celebrating 25 years this month, the group has gone through several names – I Can Cope, Take Time and finally Survive and Thrive – but its mission has always been the same. Survive and Thrive is, according to patients and coordinators, a place where hope grows.
“It got its start in 1987 when I was a brand-new, green nurse,” said Kathryn Visneski, an oncology nurse specialist at Holston Valley and a coordinator of the group since its inception. “It was designed to run a limited number of weeks, but when the time came for its completion, the survivors didn’t want to stop.”
Now, a quarter century later, Visneski is proud of the group’s success. The general support group, which also offers a separate breast cancer group under the Survive and Thrive umbrella, meets each week to offers a promise of hope, education and healing to members.
“We accomplish a lot of things in group,” Visneski said. “Quite a bit of what we do involves cancer education on a wide variety of topics and we have a great deal of fun. That is part of the healing process.”
Barbara and Terry first attended Holston Valley’s Survive and Thrive group not long after Barbara’s diagnosis.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer, it really was a surprise,” Barbara said. “I had always diligently followed through with mammograms, so I really didn’t expect them to find anything.”
At that time, Barbara knew she needed more help than what her husband and son could provide. The group sounded like a good idea, but she was nervous.
“At first I didn’t think we knew anyone,” Barbara recalled. “But after two to three visits, we were just like family. And Terry was such a support for the whole group.”
Barbara and Terry continued to attend the meetings for about eight years
“We had everyone from college professionals and chemical engineers to middle class folks like us,” Terry said. “When you go into that group, there are no class barriers. We all share something in common.”
Eventually though, family obligations and illnesses took more time than mother and son had to spare. They often thought of the group fondly but could no longer make it to the meetings. Then, in 2009, Terry went in for a regular doctor’s appointment to check into some shoulder pain he thought could be arthritis.
When the cancer diagnosis came in, he was shocked.
“It was funny, but I always felt as if I had survived cancer before with my mom,” he said.
Soon, Barbara and Terry were back with their support group family.
“We went back to the group in 2010,” he said. “At first, I felt very uncomfortable because I had always been a support for them. I just felt at a loss.”
Both Barbara and Terry soon discovered that though a lot of faces had changed, the group was basically the same. Terry had played the role of supporter 20 years earlier, but now it was his turn to be supported.
More importantly, the message Terry and Barbara found so important in those earlier meetings remained.
“Everyone has the attitude that Kathy had taught us,” he said. “That we’re survivors.”
Today, Barbara and Terry are quick to count their blessings. They attribute their good prognoses to God’s grace, as well as the wisdom and compassion of the healthcare workers in charge of their healing.
But they are also credit a special group called Survive and Thrive for help in their journey.
“I want everyone to know there is a place they can go and share and learn,” Terry said. “It does make a difference.”
For more information about Survive and Thrive, please call Kathy Visneski at (423) 224-5592 or visit the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/surviveandthrive.Survive and Thrive meets each Tuesday from 6:30-8 p.m. on the third floor of Wilcox Hall in the oncology library behind the nurse’s station.
Photo of Barbara Kindle and Terry Kindle is available here.