City of Hope – Couples Coping with Cancer Program

Courtney Bitz, LCSW, MSW, director of Clinical Social Work and Spiritual Care in the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope, a comprehensive cancer center near Los Angeles, discusses the Couple’s Coping with Cancer Together program. She is joined by Gayle Whittemore, a breast cancer patient at City of Hope who, with her wife, raised $200,000 and collaborated with City of Hope to start a supportive care program where patients and their loved ones can learn how to go through a cancer diagnosis together. The program guides caregivers on how they could provide support and also receive the support they need so that the relationship remains strong. This program is one of the only programs of its kind and is offered as part of the normal continuum of care provided to patients and families at City of Hope. It is tailored to the unique needs of English and Spanish-speaking couples regardless of sexual orientation or relationship status. Since its inception, Couple’s Coping with Cancer Together at City of Hope has helped nearly 2,300 couples navigate a cancer diagnosis. 

Courtney Bitz, LCSW, OSW-C, ACHP-SW is the Director of Clinical Social Work and Spiritual Care in the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope. Ms. Bitz had strategic leadership in the implementation of the High-Performance Team and Staff Leadership Model for the Department of Supportive Care Medicine.     Ms. Bitz has been in the field of psycho-oncology for over 18 years specializing in evidence-based intervention modalities, concurrent program development, and organizational development. Ms. Bitz spearheaded the development of the  Couples Coping with Cancer Together  Program, which provides strength-based education and support to patients diagnosed with cancer and their partners.  Couples Coping with Cancer Together  Program has garnished international attention and to our knowledge is the only program of its kind in the country.  Ms. Bitz has published in Psycho-Oncology, Oxford University Press and Journal of Supportive Care in Cancer. She has presented her work at numerous international and national professional including World Congress of Psycho-Oncology, American Psychosocial Oncology Society National Conferences, Association of Oncology Social Work National Conferences.

Gayle Whittemore was diagnosed with Stage 2, HER 2-positive breast cancer shortly after marrying the love of her life, Alexandra Glickman. Gayle experienced challenges during her treatment, leaving Alex frustrated that she couldn’t do more to help her wife. This experience sparked an idea.

Gayle, who lives in Studio City, California, was aware that City of Hope, a cancer organization near Los Angeles, had extensive supportive care services. But Gayle thought, what if we could help start a supportive care program specifically for couples? Gayle and Alex rallied their friends to raise $200,000 and collaborated with City of Hope social workers to help get the Couples Coping with Cancer Together program started. This program (offered in English and Spanish) is one of the only programs of its kind in the nation. It is offered as part of the normal continuum of care provided to patients and families at City of Hope. Since its inception, City of Hope’s Couple’s Coping with Cancer Together has helped nearly 2,300 couples navigate a cancer diagnosis. Gayle, who is celebrating 10 years of being cancer free, is this year’s patient ambassador for the virtual Walk for Hope on Nov. 7.

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