South Florida Hospital News
Tuesday August 11, 2020
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January 2005 - Volume 1 - Issue 6
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Patients Find Hope at The Wellness Community

Stoyan Dulgeroff is a multiple cancer survivor. Like most cancer patients, he was severely depressed when he was first diagnosed with the disease, and felt at a loss to find the support he desperately needed. "I was crying all of the time; I felt like I had nowhere to go," he said. "Doctors can give you chemotherapy, or radiation or surgery, but where do you go for your heart and mind?"

Dulgeroff's answer was The Wellness Community, located in Boca Raton. A national nonprofit organization founded in 1982, the Wellness Community is dedicated to providing free emotional support, education and hope for cancer patients and their loved ones.

"This place is a blessing; the love and kindness found here is incredible," said Dulgeroff. "There are other survivors here going through what you're going through, so you can exchange thoughts and ideas. And they help you learn to live your life in a different way; they help make your life better."

The Wellness Community was originally founded by Dr. Harold Benjamin in Santa Monica, California. "Dr. Benjamin's wife had cancer, and he felt that no one should have to face that battle alone," explained Trish Hartog, program director of the Boca Raton center. "He also felt that no one should have to pay for cancer support."

There are now 22 Wellness Community facilities throughout the United States, as well as facilities in Japan and Israel. Each promotes Dr. Benjamin's 'Patient Active Concept,' which encourages patients to regain a sense of control over their lives by actively participating in their fight for recovery, and to realize that hope is a valuable tool in the fight against the disease.


Charlotte Okonow (left), Board President and Dr. Jaclynn Faffer (right), Executive Director of The Wellness Community.

To this end, The Wellness Community offers participants many opportunities to learn more about their illness. "We offer support groups for people with cancer, and also for their families and friends who are acting as caregivers," Hartog explained. "We have drop-in groups specific to certain types of cancer."

Physicians provide a monthly medical workshop, each of which focuses on a specific topic. The Wellness Community also offers stress reduction classes, including yoga and Tai Chi, as well as nutrition workshops once a month. All of these services are provided at no charge and are facilitated by trained volunteers and/or licensed clinical social workers

"If people had to pay for the services that The Wellness Community provides for free, the cost would be enormous," said Dulgeroff, who facilitates the Newcomers Orientation Group. "Like many cancer survivors, I volunteer here because they have given so much to me."

According to Hartog, The Wellness Community relies heavily on the work of volunteers, as there are only three full-time staff members. "Our volunteers staff the welcome desk, as well as arrange parties and some of the workshops," she said. "We are always looking for new volunteers." The organization is able to offer their classes at no cost through the donations of individuals, fundraisers, and also through a number of grants.

The Wellness Community serves approximately 150 people a month, with most classes held at their location on the northern campus of Florida Atlantic University. "One of the things that makes us unique is that our environment is deliberately styled to look like a home," said Hartog. "The people who come here are tired of hospitals and doctors' offices and clinical settings; they want to feel comfortable."

In order to let cancer patients know of the organization's services, Community Relations Representative Carol Kushner provides community presentations and visits local health fairs. "I always take a survivor with me to talk about his or her experiences and to tell how the Wellness Community helped them," she explained. "We also visit oncologists' offices and distribute our bimonthly calendars to more than 6,000 individuals, doctors' offices and hospitals."

And it's not hard to find a story to share. "We had a woman come to us recently who said that she planned to commit suicide if she got bad news at her next doctor's visit," said Hartog. "She attended one of our groups that night, and her attitude completely shifted. Now she's attending the weekly participant group, has a very positive outlook, and is supporting other members.

"She's getting what it is that we offer here, which is hope," Hartog continued. "People here are fighting cancer, and they're not giving up."

Dulgeroff encourages those who are newly diagnosed to come to The Wellness Community at least three times. "You owe it to yourself to give it a try," he said. "There is so much you can learn here, from how to deal with stomach upset to how to reduce chemotherapy effects. Coming here gets you out of the house and out of yourself, and you can be with people who feel the same way you do."

"They are family to me," he added. "They give me the strength to continue, and to fight the next battle."

For more information about The Wellness Community, visit www.twcboca.org or call (561) 955-9551.
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