Support Group Giving Aid to Fort Myers Latin Community Featured in the News-Press

When the 21st Century C.A.R.E. foundation began the first Hispanic Cancer Support Group formed in Lee County, Florida, they knew they were providing a much needed service to the community. The News-Press spoke with the organization founders to learn more.

Support group giving aid to our Latin community

By Craig Handel

For the past year, Carmen J. Rey-Gomez has worked with 21st Century C.A.R.E. to build the first Hispanic support group in Lee County.

With almost 20 percent of the county’s population being Hispanic, Gomez and other community leaders understood the need for bilingual group. 

But there are other reasons it’s needed.

Statistics have shown:

• Cancer has surpassed heart disease to become the leading cause of death among Hispanics, according to

• Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the Hispanic population.

• Hispanic women are less likely than non Hispanic white women to receive mammograms.

The support group became official in July. Meetings are once a month and caregivers are encouraged to attend as well as patients.

Rey-Gomez, a support group facilitator, has seen small but sure response.

“It’s come in bits,” she said. “Once people feel they’re getting what they need and we tell them what really happens, it’s a matter of time before they share that with others.”

Ruth Barrios, who is the caregiver for husband Guillermo, who has cancer, is appreciative of the support they’ve received.

“Participating has helped us deal with things that have been difficult to overcome and now we feel more motivated to continue fighting for our lives,” Ruth Barrios told Rey-Gomez. “God bless them.”

Maria Laufer, director of research and manager of diversity outreach and patient navigation at 21st Century Oncology, said as the number of attendees grows, she wants to keep the groups small to encourage them to ask questions and engage with other patients.

She prefers new members arriving to the meetings early so they can get acquainted. Marilyn Skeens takes referrals while Sharon Salenius is the executive director.

“We’re still in the rapport building phase,” Laufer said. “The support is driven by what their needs are.”

Click here to view the full story on the Fort Myers News-Press website.