A Lasting Relationship

Through her husband's death from cancer and now her own cancer battle, Joan Frisbee has counted on Duke medical family therapist Geoffrey Vaughn.

Shortly after Joan Frisbee and her husband, Larry, retired to Pinehurst, North Carolina, Larry was diagnosed with late-stage kidney cancer. He was told he had about three months to live, but doctors at Duke Cancer Institute helped give him five and a half more years. Joan spent much of her time and energy caring for her husband, and when he died, she was in shock. That’s when she began seeing Geoffrey Vaughn, LMFT, ATR, a medical family therapist with the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program. 

“One of the nurse practitioners said to me, ‘We have a counseling service here for patients or families. Do you want me to refer you?’ Geoff and I have been working together ever since,” Frisbee says. “He helped me work through my grief and to realize that I was physically exhausted, and that I had a bit of survivor’s guilt.” 

Two years later, Frisbee, who had previously survived breast cancer, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Despite a tough battle, including a complicated surgical procedure, Frisbee maintains her sharp sense of humor. “I once had three CAT scans in a week. I can be my own night light; I glow in the dark,” she says. “Cancer isn’t funny. But so much of what goes on is.”

“I say that Geoff keeps me from falling off the planet."--Joan Frisbee

Through their five-year working relationship, Frisbee says, Vaughn has helped her understand that whatever she is feeling is okay. “I say that Geoff keeps me from falling off the planet,” she says.

Frisbee is just one patient who benefits from the services of the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program, which offers individual, couple, and family therapy as well as support groups, child life services, self-image resources, and recreation therapy, all at no charge to patients or families.

During her two-and-a-half-year fight with pancreatic cancer, Frisbee has still managed to cross some items off of Larry’s bucket list for him, including a trip to the Grand Canyon. And last year, she took two dream trips of her own—excursions to Europe on touring boats. “I may not win against this cancer ultimately,” she says. “But I want it to know that it’s been in a fight.”