‘Community is stronger than cancer’

Everyone has been impacted by cancer in one way or another. In the midst of a difficult experience, sometimes it helps to know you’re not alone. Offering psychosocial support to those affected—whether they be a patient, caregiver or loved one—is the goal for a nonprofit organization new to northern Arizona called Cancer Support Community Arizona (CSCAZ).

CSCAZ is the state’s only nonprofit that provides free support services, programming and resources to people impacted by any cancer at any stage. The organization will celebrate the grand opening of its new Flagstaff location on Oct. 8 -9. The office was planned to open in 2020, but the opening was put on hold due to the pandemic, while outreach continued virtually. Of the nearly 14,400 remote visits from patients, survivors, families, and caregivers in 2020, approximately 20 percent were from northern Arizona.

“With Coconino County reporting cancer as the No. 1 cause of death for residents in the area, we are eager to open our doors to meet the psychosocial and emotional needs of everyone in northern Arizona who is impacted by cancer,” said Cindy Payne, a faculty member in the College of Education and executive director of Cancer Support Community Northern Arizona. “Having a physical presence in Flagstaff allows us to expand our services to families and caregivers across northern Arizona.”

After retiring from full-time work at NAU after 30 years, Payne continues to teach part-time in the Department of Education Psychology. Wanting to stay busy, she applied for the executive director position for CSCAZ’s location in northern Arizona.

“I felt a tap on my shoulder to step into the opportunity to serve the northern Arizona community,” Payne said. “A cancer diagnosis can paralyze both the patient and their family and loved ones, and our organization steps into that paralysis with life-affirming support groups, educational workshops, social community connections, healthy lifestyles components and resources and referrals, helping the impacted family begin to breathe again and work through the challenges that cancer offers.”

Payne also saw this as an opportunity for NAU to partner not only by opening its doors to the university community but also connecting with programs that require internships of their students to provide valuable experience in a nonprofit setting. Students have the opportunity to serve as interns and support group facilitators, as well as assist with the backend operations of opening a new location.

Student intern, Kaitlyn McWilliams

When senior Kaitlyn McWilliams needed an internship placement for her social work program, she knew she wanted to work with hospice, medical, or aging populations.

“With the pandemic, these placements were limited, but the intern supervisor said, ‘I think I have a place for you that would combine all of these populations,’” McWilliams said. “I came to interview at CSCAZ and already felt welcome and at home.”

At a young age, McWilliams knew she wanted to work with people. At a sixth-grade science fair, she designed a project to test if people could judge a real smile from a fake one. Out of all the participants, she was the only one to get a perfect score. Finding social work felt like she had found her calling, and she knew  it was the right fit from the moment she started the program.

McWilliams and Mary Hald, another student intern from NAU’s social work program, have been focused on preparatory work like getting to know folks in the agency, touching base with participants, and promoting the grand opening. Soon they will start to travel throughout northern Arizona to share more information about CSCAZ’s services and programs. After the grand opening, they will host classes, complete intake assessments, and listen to people’s stories.

Student intern, Mary Hald

“This internship is setting me up for success because I have a chance to practice the skills I have been learning in the classroom,” Hald said. “It’s essential for social work students to practice in a real-life context because that is where we learn and gain experience.”

Hald was quickly introduced to grant writing, a skill she says will be incredibly important for her career, especially if she works with a nonprofit. Her plan is to become a therapist for children affected by cancer, so the placement with CSCAZ aligned perfectly.

“Our main tagline says it all: ‘Community is stronger than cancer,’” she said. After receiving support from CSCAZ, about 96 percent of participants felt closer to community and less isolated, an incredibly important marker of success for the organization.

“A cancer diagnosis can be devastating, as everyone who is affected, from a patient to a caregiver, experiences feelings of fear, anxiety and helplessness,” said Debbie DiCarlo, chief executive officer of CSCAZ. “While medical providers deliver life-saving physical treatments, Cancer Support Community Arizona supports the emotional and social needs that accompany a cancer diagnosis.”

The full schedule of grand opening events at CSCAZ’s new Flagstaff location (914 N. San Francisco Street) includes:

Friday, Oct. 8

  • 2:30 p.m.: Expressive Arts with Joy Kockerbeck (in-person only)
  • 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.: The Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention team will be sharing information about cancer and cancer prevention (in-person only)
  • 3 p.m.: Breast Cancer Education by Dr. Kate Preston of Flagstaff Surgical Associates (in-person and virtual)
  • 4 p.m.: Official Grand Opening ribbon-cutting ceremony (in-person only at CSCAZ front parking area)
  • 4:30 p.m.: Hypnotherapy for Pain Control Education by Craig Meriwether, Therapist (in-person and virtual)
  • 4:30 p.m.: Gentle Yoga led by Yogi Peri Miller (in-person only)
  • 5 p.m.: Tasty Food is Medicine presentation & food demo/tasting with chef Chloe and registered dietician Jay Sutliffe (in-person only)

Saturday, Oct. 9

  • 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Visit with Dawn Wright for glitter body tattoos and other fun activities (in-person only(
  • 9:30 a.m.: Gentle Yoga led by Yogi Peri Miller (in-person only)
  • 9: 30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.: The Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention team will be sharing information about cancer and cancer prevention (in-person only)
  • 10:30 a.m.: Frankly Speaking About Cancer: The Cost of Care by North Country HealthCare Educators Kimberly Gutierrez and Abby Sanchez (in-person and virtual)
  • 11 a.m.: Expressive Arts Activity with Joy Kockerbeck (in-person only)
  • Noon: Anti-Cancer Living: Transform Your Life with the Mix of Six, presented by Cindy Payne, CYCAZ Educator (in-person and virtual)
  • 1 p.m.: Hypnotherapy for Pain Control Therapy Session led by Therapist Craig Meriwether (in-person only)

Registration for CSCAZ’s grand opening activities is required. To register, visit www.cscaz.org/NAZ-Opening

For additional information, guests can visit www.cscaz.org/NorthernArizona or call (928) 236-2333.

About Cancer Support Community Arizona

Since 1999, Cancer Support Community Arizona (CSCAZ) has been providing emotional and social support for anyone impacted by cancer. The nonprofit organization offers more than 100 free programs per month, including support groups, social activities, mind/body therapies, nutritional counseling and educational seminars that are specially designed to support cancer patients, their families and caregivers. Most of Cancer Support Community Arizona’s programs are funded by individual and corporate donors. To learn more about CSCAZ, visit cscaz.org.

Northern Arizona University LogoMcKenzie McLoughlin | NAU Communications
(928) 523-4789 | McKenzie.McLoughlin@nau.edu

NAU Communications