Debby Jacobson, center, leads the Solon Strivers, a support group for residents with chronic illness. The group meets the second and fourth Wednesday of the month at 11 a.m. at the Solon Senior Center.

Although small in number, the newly formed Solon Strivers, a support group for residents with chronic illnesses, is large in purpose.

For Solon resident Barb Walters, who received her diagnoses a year ago of a chronic illness, she is seeing through the group that she is not alone.

“It’s very beneficial, getting others’ experiences,” Ms. Walters, 69, said. She is able to see how fellow participants live day to day, experiencing such things as awaiting test results or just having a bad day overall.

It is similar for Solon resident Mari Watson, 81, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and a spine disease.

“It’s very wonderful we can share because we stand on the same ground,” she said.

The group, which meets the second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 11 a.m. to noon at the Solon Senior Center, is open to seniors with any type of chronic illness who need support and desire to support others. The group is led by Solon resident Debby Jacobson, who holds a doctorate in social work from Tulane University and a master’s in social work from Louisiana State University. She is an assistant Professor Emerita at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.

She has facilitated a variety of support groups, most recently one for those with Parkinson’s disease. She approached Senior Center Director Jill Frankel about putting a group together in Solon for those with chronic illnesses, and they have had three meetings thus far.

“The value of group is so powerful,” Dr. Jacobson, a Solon resident for 28 years, said.

She said the group does not necessarily need to be topic driven.

Ms. Walters said she sometimes enjoys talking about things other than her disease.

“We talk about other things too,” she said. “You can’t focus on solely what you have or you will drive yourself nuts.”

A native of Japan, Ms. Watson said she is learning to laugh, even though she sometimes doesn’t understand American jokes.

“I’m in constant pain,” she said, but coming to the center, both for the group and her regular exercise classes, gets her up and forces her to come.

“I’ve learned that I have so many people to share my feelings with and my life, and I learned to be compassionate,” she said.

Examples of chronic illnesses that individuals who take part may have, but are not limited to, diabetes, arthritis, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, lupus, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, mood disorders and more.

Dr. Jacobson said the overall goal and purpose of the group is to provide support, validation, life skills and ways to improve quality of life. Those who take part feel less lonely, have reduced distress and gain a sense of empowerment and hope, among other benefits.

“I used to say for folks that have Parkinson’s that no one understands it better than someone (else) with Parkinson’s,” she said. “That is the way these types of groups work.”

Currently, Dr. Jacobson is getting the word out about the group’s existence and purpose. When they gather, they talk about such things as recurring themes that come up, such as loss, changes in relationships, or grief, among other topics. The group also loves to laugh.

“You have to learn to laugh,” Ms. Walters said. “You have to find things that make you happy, whether it’s walking the track or skipping with the grandkids.”

Dr. Jacobson said she is there to facilitate the discussion, not impose her values or beliefs. Instead, she helps those who participate to live their life to the fullest with chronic illness as well as determine what they can do to improve their quality of life.

“The best way for me to describe myself is that I’m a social worker first and a social work educator second,” Dr. Jacobson said. Her involvement in the group is “truly a labor of love.”

Both Ms. Walters and Ms. Watson said they will definitely come back again.

“You realize you are not the only one,” Ms. Walters said.

For the last decade, Sue Reid has covered the government, business climate and residents of Solon. A Times reporter for 22 years, Ms. Reid has earned commendations from the Ohio Newspaper Association and Cleveland Press Association.

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