Vera’s Story of Help and Hope

December 16, 2014

Advocating for the well-being of others has always been a priority for Vera, who is the founder of a career advancement firm specializing in diversity recruiting. But she quickly began to realize the importance of advocating for oneself after being diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2014.

“I didn’t know a thing about breast cancer. I was totally in the dark and only knew that I’d been lucky up to this point,” shares Vera, 71. “There was urgency and I had to be aggressive to get what I needed. I had to make sure that I was taken care of the way I needed to be taken care of.”

Vera soon underwent an MRI, biopsy and surgery to remove the tumor. Chemotherapy and radiation followed in her treatment plan. “I hated going to chemotherapy the first day and then saw that I had to change my attitude. My friend said you have to be grateful because how many women out there with cancer don’t have access to treatment. That changed my thinking and I started to see that people were there to help me. They were my friends, not my enemies, so I went in with a smile.”

Throughout her treatment, Vera leaned on a network of caregivers and was referred to CancerCare through several members of her synagogue. “I’ve been very open about my diagnosis and that has been part of the support. The people in my synagogue are very supportive, always asking me what they can do. Some have even begun telling me how they’ve survived cancer and it has been very inspiring. It shows me that I’ll have a long healthy life ahead of me.”

Vera credits her CancerCare oncology social worker for helping to navigate the emotional, physical and practical challenges associated with her diagnosis. “I received total support from Alison. Total understanding of how I felt and that I was not crazy. I couldn’t have gotten through this without her.”

Through her cancer experience, Vera says she has become a much stronger and more compassionate person. “I used all of my survival skills. They were put into play as soon as I had that mammogram and heard the doctor say, ‘Oops it looks like we’ve got something here.’ I went into gear immediately.”

“I’ve learned to be really very supportive of other people and what they’re going through. Everyone needs people to care about them, to love them, to be thinking about them and hoping that they are going to be ok. Everybody needs it. It’s really been a huge lesson for me and has made me very aware of how fragile we are.”

Continuing to do the work that she loves, maintaining a positive outlook and staying up to date on cancer treatment information has helped Vera to heal and regain a sense of normalcy.

“One message I would share after going through this is to advocate for yourself every minute. You’ve got to stand up for yourself. No one knows what you need better than you.”

 

 

 

 


CancerCare Social Workers in the Spotlight

December 9, 2014

 

CancerCare Women’s Cancers Program Coordinator Allison Nilsen, MSW, LCSW has been selected as a recipient of the prestigious 8th Annual Emerging Social Work Leader Awards of the National Association of Social Workers – New York City Chapter.

NASW-NYC, through its 8th Annual Leadership Awards, recognizes social workers who demonstrate exemplary leadership qualities and a unique commitment to the improvement of social and human conditions.

Through her work at CancerCare, Allison provides help and hope to those affected by women’s cancers. “I am continuously amazed by the resiliency of the human spirit,” shares Allison. “I work collaboratively with my clients to help them feel empowered, find meaning in their cancer experiences, and move towards physical and emotional healing.”

 

CancerCare Clinical Supervisor Richard Dickens, MS, LCSW-R and Director of the Susan G. Komen Breast Care Helpline Vilmarie Rodriguez, MSW, LCSW are co-authors in the recently released book “Surviving Cancer: Our Voices & Choices.”

“CancerCare has positively impacted the lives of many friends. When we formed our ‘Cancer Team’ for “Surviving Cancer: Our Voices & Choices” CancerCare became one of the first organizations we wished to include in our book,” shared author Marion Behr. “Richard Dickens came highly recommended. He reached beyond even my expectations because of the human quality he incorporated in his writing. Vilmarie was introduced to us because of her recognized gift as an oncology social worker.”

The book is a compilation of 67 voices belonging to survivors and a “cancer team” of doctors, social workers, cancer organization leaders, and other professionals directly involved in assisting cancer patients. Visit www.wwhpress.com to learn more about the book or to order a copy.

 

CancerCare Director of Education and Training Carolyn Messner, DSW, MSW, OSW-C, LCSW-R was awarded best poster at the International Cancer Education Conference. The poster, “When a Co-Worker is Dying in the Workplace: Transformative Grief Educational Paradigm” was selected by a conference poster committee.

The International Cancer Education Conference is organized by three cancer professional organizations – American Association for Cancer Education (AACE), Cancer Patient Education (CPEN) and the European Association for Cancer Education (EACE).

 

Congratulations to Allison, Rick, Vilmarie and Carolyn!

 


What I’ve Learned as a Social Work Intern

December 5, 2014

Cancer. The word itself provokes a vast array of emotional responses: fear, anger, sadness, confusion. People are fearful of this diagnosis, of the way it can change someone’s life and the various “unknowns” that surround an individual and his or her loved ones.

A diagnosis can be overpowering and daunting. However one lesson I have learned since I began my career as a social work intern at CancerCare has been to notice the rays of sun that peek out when least expected.

One important message floating through the facility of CancerCare is hope. It is not simply that I bring forth the concept of hope when meeting with a client. Rather, they remind me of the need for hope. They constantly teach me about the strength of the human spirit and the ways to persevere.

It can be difficult to access hope when coping with cancer. At times people may simply want to cry and vent, a right to which they are more than entitled. And yet, I have learned that hope can exist even in the most challenging of times. I came to CancerCare thinking that it would be my responsibility to help the clients find hope. In reality, I have learned more from my clients than I could have ever imagined. Their strength is evident by the mere fact that they sought out the support of CancerCare.

My time at CancerCare thus far has taught me about social work, as well as the reality of living with cancer. But more importantly, it has taught me about resilience and the beauty of life.

Guest blog by: Temimah Zucker

Social Work Intern at CancerCare

 


Family Conversations about Cancer

December 2, 2014

Cancer is a difficult subject to talk about, and many parents coping with a diagnosis may try to avoid the topic in fear that they will upset their children. What to say about cancer, how to say it, and how much information to share are common concerns.

Through my work at CancerCare, I have found that the use of art therapy can help families to communicate about cancer.

As one example of a creative project that can bring families together, CancerCare, with a sponsorship from Bayer, recently developed a free at-home activity kit to help start these discussions, called “Pillow Talk: Conversations about Cancer.”

Families who are supporting a loved one with cancer can order a free Pillow Talk Care Package that includes a hands-on, pillow-decorating project as well as materials that will help initiate those often-difficult conversations. With this care package, families can bring a blank pillow to life—it has a sleeve for pictures or special notes, fabric markers, and decorative materials that lets families’ creative expression drive the discussion.

CancerCare client Susan, of Connecticut, was faced with figuring out the best way to start the difficult cancer conversation with her 5-year-old son after her husband Chris’ diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer. Susan and her son sat together and colored the pillow that now features her son’s favorite things—superheroes, rainbows, planets, and rocket ships. On those long days when Chris is away at treatment, Susan’s son pulls out the pillow and reads the special messages his father left for him in the pouch.

 

Guest blogger Sandra Tripodi, MSW, LCSW, CancerCare Senior Director of Community Engagement

 

 

 

 


Honor the Caregiver in your Life with #CaregiverCandids

November 21, 2014

In honor of National Family Caregivers Month, CancerCare is encouraging anyone affected by cancer to recognize caregivers by sharing a photo that represents this important role.

We want to know how being a caregiver, or being cared for when you needed it most, has impacted your life. Honor your family, friends, your pet, a health care professional or tell us how you were a caregiver – the choice is yours!

Participating is simple. Today through December 15, visit the contest page, log in, and upload a photo. The next step is to encourage others to “like” your photo.

Three finalists with the highest number of likes will be selected and our panel of judges will choose the winner. Top photos will be showcased nationally on our website homepage and social media pages.

The winner will receive a $250 gift card, so enter today! Prize packs will be awarded to second and third place winners.

Are you a caregiver? You deserve support. CancerCare provides free, professional support services for caregivers and loved ones, as well as caregiving information and additional resources.

 


Xiomara and Jaeden’s Story of Help and Hope

November 14, 2014

Xiomara, 46, had never been affected by cancer until her son Jaeden was suddenly diagnosed at age three with ependymoma, a rare type of brain tumor.

“No one in my family had ever had cancer. When you hear about it, it is totally different than when it actually hits your family – especially a toddler,” she explains.

In 2010, Xiomara noticed that Jaeden began frequently stumbling and falling. “One day he was playing on the floor and he looked up at me and his eyes crossed. I thought it was kind of strange. I told myself, now I’m going to look into this and took him to the pediatrician.”

After Jaeden received an MRI, the doctor called to deliver the news. “He kept saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ When he said the word cancer, I was stunned. He asked me to write down these phone numbers, but I couldn’t write. It is a feeling you just can’t describe. It hits you.”

Jaeden was quickly scheduled for surgery to remove the tumor and spent the following two weeks in the intensive care unit. “It was nerve-racking. My sister came to the hospital and waited 16 hours during the surgery with me. Waiting, waiting and waiting. It was hard on my other two children. My first son couldn’t walk into the room because of the tubes and bandages.”

As part of his treatment plan, Jaeden was transferred to a rehabilitation unit and underwent six weeks of radiation. He also had eye surgery and began outpatient therapy. He will most likely undergo eye surgery in the near future and continues weekly therapy.

Since Jaeden’s diagnosis, Xiomara has received financial assistance through a partnership between CancerCare and The Lavelle Fund. This fund supports programs that help people who are blind and visually impaired lead independent, productive lives.

Jaeden celebrating his seventh birthday

“CancerCare helped me out with medical bills that I had to pay, along with the transportation to vision therapy. If it wasn’t for that I don’t know what I would have done. I’m still struggling as a single parent, but they have helped and I’m very grateful.”

Now seven years old, Jaeden is thriving at school and summer camp. “I’m grateful to know that his tumor is out and that he’s doing as well as he is right now,” says Xiomara. “He’s walking, he’s talking. I still think about it and am still nervous about it. That’s my little angel. He’s a strong little boy.”

 


Lisa’s Story of Help and Hope

November 10, 2014

After Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2009, she turned to her reiki practice, a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing, to help make sense of it all.

“When I was initially told I that have cancer, of course, I was shocked. I turned white in the doctor’s office,” remembers Lisa, a certified reiki master and holistic practitioner. I immediately went into survivor mode. It was surreal, bizarre.”

Lisa soon underwent a lumpectomy and radiation and credits her spiritual tools for helping her through the difficult time. “I don’t believe in giving cancer power. I just called it the ‘C’ and I’d imagine Pac-Man eating away all the diseased cells out of my body. I had to do a lot of spiritual work on that.”

At times, Lisa found herself overwhelmed by her diagnosis and subsequent treatment. “I felt like I was getting lost in the shuffle and had to be my own advocate. It was hard to navigate all of this. It was like a full time job – getting a second, third opinion. The key to it was listening to my intuition as my guide, as it always leads me in the right direction.”

After learning that many of her medical bills wouldn’t be covered by insurance, Lisa turned to CancerCare. “I couldn’t believe that I was being hit with all of these bills while I was still going through treatment. CancerCare guided me in the process of receiving financial assistance. They really gave me a lot of tools that helped me and for that I’ve been so grateful.”

Lisa always knew that she would give back to those who helped her one day. She began putting her skills as a reiki master to use for a greater good. Each October, for the last three years, Lisa has donated her reiki income to CancerCare’s free support services. She also uses her healing skills to perform reiki on people going through cancer treatment. “Reiki is gentle but yet powerful. It gave me hope, inner strength and released lots of anxiety and stress.”

“I feel blessed that I came across CancerCare. They helped me when my insurance company failed me and left me with a huge portion of the bills. What I received, no words can describe.”

When Lisa was previously diagnosed with chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS), which has no cure, she was led to find alternative ways to heal. Since that time, Lisa has regained her health and strength and has been dedicated to healing, teaching and empowering others with cancer or any other type of illness. To learn more about Lisa’s story, visit her site.

 


CancerCare Oncology Social Worker Pens Inspirational Book for Families

November 5, 2014

Communicating with a child whose parent has been diagnosed with a chronic illness can be both confusing and overwhelming. As CancerCare’s Healing Hearts Program Coordinator, Claire Grainger, MSW, LCSW works closely with families to help navigate these challenges.

Based on her professional experience and expertise, Claire has written the recently published book “My Daddy Sits Upon a Star.”

According to the publisher, the book follows the life of a child whose father has been diagnosed and later dies of a chronic illness. The story shares how, even though the child misses his father’s physical presence, he is able to develop a way to maintain an everlasting connection to his father’s spirit.

Claire was first inspired to write the story after forming a lasting bond with her neighbor, Joey. At six years old, Joey experienced the loss of his father to pancreatic cancer, and Claire and her husband quickly stepped in to help the family cope.

“Joey is an only child and had no immediate family in the area. His mother, Kathy, is incredibly independent and stepped outside of her comfort zone to ask if we could help watch her son one night each week while she worked,” said Claire. “We became family in no time and forged a lasting relationship with love. We are connected and are there for each other.”

Claire penned the story and began reading it to Joey during their time together. “He loved the book. I wanted him to think about his dad in his everyday life and carry on the amazing bond that they shared. I wanted him to look out into the universe and still see his father.”

Joey, now a 22-year-old college student, has volunteered for the last three years at CancerCare’s Healing Hearts Family Bereavement Camp and other CancerCare fundraising events. “I think he sees himself in the children at the camp because he has been in their shoes. He wants to show them that he’s still connected to his dad and he’s ok.”

“This experience has taught me that even from a really difficult time, some really poignant and meaningful events and relationships can evolve,” said Claire. “This is a book for anyone who has suffered a loss. It can bring peace in knowing that you will never forget your loved one and that you can let them continue to inspire you.”

CancerCare provides free, professional support services for people who have experienced the loss of a loved one to cancer, as well as grief and loss information and additional resources.

Claire Grainger, MSW, LCSW

 


Helpful Resources Available in Time for National Family Caregivers Month

November 3, 2014

Kathryn and her husband Jonah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As more patient care is happening within the home, caregivers are becoming increasingly responsible for providing ongoing emotional and practical support. However, fewer than 15 percent of caregivers seek professional help in addressing their own physical, emotional and financial needs. In celebration of National Family Caregivers Month, CancerCare encourages caregivers to seek out support.

Helpful resources are now available to address the unique needs of those caring for a loved one. A new online tool called Help for Cancer Caregivers provides personalized information to help monitor, track and manage the challenges each person faces in their caregiver role. For example, if individuals feel overloaded by their caregiver responsibilities, the web tool responds with information on how to cope and talk about overload with others.

“One of the biggest challenges that I was facing as a caregiver was feeling the need to be ‘on’ all the time, feeling that I had to be the one who remained strong and healthy,” shares Kathryn, a cancer caregiver. “I was having a very hard time socially because I was surrounded by people who loved both of us and supported us, but there was no one in the room who really understood what I was going through.”

National Family Caregivers Month is an opportunity to advocate for those who provide care for loved ones. It is also a time to advocate for support and to provide education and resources for those playing this vital role.

Help for Cancer Caregivers is a collaboration of organizations with a common goal of reducing family caregiver distress: Caregiver Action Network, CancerCare, Indiana University, Johnson & Johnson, Michigan State University, Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company, Onyx Pharmaceuticals, an Amgen subsidiary, and WellPoint. Help for Cancer Caregivers continues to lead and innovate in the field of cancer caregiving.

CancerCare has additional resources for caregivers including support groups, counseling services, podcasts, educational materials and more. 

 


Palliative Care Inches Toward Standard of Care

October 29, 2014

The Inaugural Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium made its debut in Boston on October 24, 2014. Jointly sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM), American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) and the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer (MASCC), this marks the first major meeting of cancer specialists and clinicians who focus on relieving symptoms.

Palliative care is specialized medical treatment that focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness. It improves quality of life for both the patient and the family.

Traditionally, palliative care has been accessed only toward the end of life. Many recent studies however, have shown that introducing it earlier into cancer patients’ care plans results in improved quality of life, living longer and lower medical costs. Patients and families may resist palliative services because they associate the term with hospice and end of life. This problem of semantics often results in patients not being adequately treated for debilitating symptoms such as pain, nausea and fatigue.

It’s time to correct these misconceptions and help patients access the care they need, be it medical, emotional, spiritual, financial or otherwise. Through palliative care, people affected by cancer will benefit from improved symptom management, reduced stress and overall, a better quality of life.

Want to know more? Visit cancer.gov or cancer.net for additional resources.

Our guest blogger is CancerCare Chief Executive Officer Patricia J. Goldsmith.