Mar 01, 2019 8:00 AM

breast cancer patient Lisa Church sits and talks with social worker Lisa Gauchey
This still from the documentary However Long shows patient Lisa Church with HCI social worker Lisa Gauchay.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a life-altering experience for patients and their loved ones. Some people may reflect on how their cancer will change plans for them and their family's future. Others may experience shock, fear, disbelief, guilt, or loneliness that can affect their life as much as any physical changes from surgery or treatments.

"Cancer can be a very isolating disease," says Lisa Gauchay, MSW, LCSW, social worker with the Patient and Family Support team at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). "Connecting with other cancer patients in a support group can decrease isolation, provide additional support, and help reduce stress."

Gauchay runs a support group at HCI for people with metastatic breast cancer—when the disease has spread beyond breast tissue to other parts of the body, also called stage IV breast cancer. The group meets once a month, discussing different topics that include how to cope with grief, bucket list ideas, and the process of dying. Patients who participate in the support group often create lasting friendships by connecting with others who are going through similar experiences.

A Salt Lake City-based documentary filmmaker, Jenny Mackenzie, learned about the support group when her best friend was a participant. This inspired Mackenzie to begin filming the group in 2015, which led to a documentary titled However Long.

Lisa Church, whom Mackenzie follows in the documentary, passed away in late 2017. She was last filmed one week before her passing, laughing and smiling with other patients during a meeting of Gauchay's support group.

In memory of Lisa, friends and family donated $2,600 to Huntsman Cancer Foundation to support the group. In addition, Lisa's long-time partner, Elaine Elliott, donated $5,000 from her estate. It is Elaine's hope to make this an annual gift to support the group that meant so much to Lisa.

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