$1 million gift from Kansas Masonic Foundation will provide psychological treatment for cancer patients

After people are diagnosed with cancer, their lives and their family’s lives often revolve around their treatment for a while.

But it’s after that treatment stops, and patients try to get back to normal, that the emotional effects of the diagnosis can really hit home, Susan Krigel says.

“That’s usually the time when people have time to start sitting there and start reflecting on what happened to them,” said Krigel, a postdoctoral fellow in clinical psychology at the Kansas University Medical Center.

That’s where Krigel, a soon-to-be-licensed psychologist, comes in. She can provide one-on-one and group psychological treatment to help patients and their loved ones cope with the seismic changes cancer can cause in their lives.

And now she’ll be able to do that for patients across the state of Kansas and the Kansas City area, thanks to a $1 million gift from the Kansas Masonic Foundation announced Monday by KU Endowment.

The gift will fund a therapist position for Krigel. She’ll provide psychological services through the KU Cancer Center for members of the Midwest Cancer Alliance, a network of 19 hospitals and research institutions across Kansas and the Kansas City area.

“This is a unique type of position,” said Hope Krebill, executive director of the MCA.

Via interactive television systems, Krigel will provide one-on-one therapy and lead groups for cancer patients and the loved ones who often help provide care for them. She specializes in psycho-oncology, a branch of psychology that concentrates on the mental health of people with cancer and the people close to them.

A cancer diagnosis can certainly be quite upsetting, Krigel said, but such services are often most needed after patients have completed treatment, perhaps a year after their diagnosis.

“They may need help putting cancer into the perspective of their life,” Krigel said.

The may deal with fear of a recurrence, they may struggle to return to work, and after the whirlwind of treatment they finally have time to sit and reflect on their experience. And their relationships with family members, who may have become temporary caregivers, are often changed.

“Cancer really does impact the entire family,” Krigel said, “and it often changes interpersonal dynamics permanently.”

Psycho-oncology services are often lacking in rural areas, she said. This gift will help extend them to MCA affiliates as far as Oberlin, Goodland and Garden City.

Mark Nelson, executive director of the Kansas Masonic Foundation, said the MCA’s reach is part of the appeal for the foundation, which has provided about $23 million for KU Cancer Center research since 1975 and made gifts supporting the MCA in recent years.

“We’re not just helping people in the Kansas City area,” Nelson said. “We’re a Kansas foundation.”

The foundation has pledged to support the KU Cancer Center until a cure is found, he said.

Lawrence Memorial Hospital, which became a member of the MCA this past summer, will be among the hospitals to benefit from the new service.

The hospital does already have a full-time social worker on staff in its Oncology Center to provide emotional support for patients and oversee support groups, said Sheryle D’Amico, LMH’s vice president for its Physician Division.

But as a psychologist with a doctorate, Krigel may be able to offer some additional therapy options for patients, D’Amico said, and the staff is excited to see what will be available.

“I would see it in a way complementing some of what we do already,” D’Amico said.