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.

 


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.

 


O’Neill’s Irish Pub Golf Outing Raises $175,000 for People Affected by Cancer

September 2, 2014

Ollie O’Neill moved to the states from Dublin in 1995 and pursued his dream of bringing the Irish pub culture to his new hometown, Norwalk, CT. He opened O’Neill’s Irish Pub and Restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day of 1999. Not only did he want to provide authentic food and drinks to the community, Ollie also wanted make a lasting difference in the lives of people affected by cancer.

Ollie O’Neill at this year’s event.

“I initially wanted to do something for CancerCare because my sister was diagnosed with leukemia when she was nine,” said Ollie. “We all felt that this was a cause we wanted to help because CancerCare was right here in town and we’d heard about some of the great services. I feel that if we had had these services when we found out about my sister’s diagnosis, it would have helped quite a bit.”

In 2007, O’Neill’s Irish Pub established the first annual Golf Outing. Ollie and his team of supporters have raised an astonishing $175,000 over the past 15 years.

“We figured it was a good way to get the community involved and give back. Get out there and play, eat, drink and have fun for a good cause,” said Ollie. “It is amazing. All we do is host the event and invite people to participate. They just want to contribute. I’ve sold out every year.”

“The event that O’Neill’s Pub and Restaurant hosts each year to benefit CancerCare makes a discernible difference in the lives of people affected by cancer in the Norwalk community and beyond,” said Regional Director of the CancerCare Connecticut Office Sandra Tripodi, LCSW, ACSW. “Whether it is a person who is in need of a wig, a child who is struggling to make sense of what cancer means in their family, or someone in need of financial assistance to address treatment related barriers, we depend upon our community of support to make our free services available.”

Are interested in making a difference in the lives of people facing cancer? Get your friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, and community involved in supporting CancerCare‘s free services through Team CancerCare. There is no limit to the kinds of events you can organize.

 

 

 


AVONCares Provides Help for Women Facing Cancer

August 18, 2014

Cancer treatment not only includes medical expenses, but also practical costs such as transportation to and from treatment, home care and child care. Thanks to AVONCares, a partnership between CancerCare and the Avon Foundation for Women, financial assistance and other services have been made available to underserved women facing cancer in all 50 states. Over the past 14 years, AVONCares has provided more than $21.6 million to help these women cope with cancer.

The financial impact of a cancer diagnosis is oftentimes overlooked and under-discussed. The inability to go to work and provide for one’s family, paired with medical and practical costs, can result in patients feeling lost and unsure of where to turn for help.

From Kathleen, a recent AVONCares grant recipient: “I never dreamed I would be in this position of being diagnosed with cancer and asking for help, because I was always the one giving to others. God bless you and your organization for your kindness.”

Support for this program is made possible by funds raised through the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Series.

Remember to reach out for support—medical debt can cause emotional stress, but there are resources available to provide relief. Learn more about CancerCare’s financial assistance services.

 


Susan’s Story of Help and Hope

August 14, 2014

The family at Henri’s 5th birthday party

Susan faced many challenges after her husband Chris was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. One of the greatest was figuring out the best way to talk about cancer with their five-year-old son Henri.

“Henri knows that something is wrong and I’m sure he knows more than he is able to articulate. He knows that daddy is sick,” shares Susan.

After searching online, Susan called CancerCare in search of resources to help Henri understand and cope. An oncology social worker suggested The Comfort Pillow Activity to help the family communicate with one another and feel more comfortable talking about cancer. The Activity includes a pillow that can be customized and designed to bring a child comfort, as well as a booklet and additional resources that help to initiate therapeutic conversations.

“CancerCare and their resources have been so helpful. Chris and Henri sat on the floor together, spread out all of the kit materials and colored on the pillow. It was a really great exercise for Chris – a really special bonding moment and it’s something they’ll always have together.”

The pillow features Henri’s favorite things including superheroes, rainbows, planets and rocket ships. “Henri sleeps with the pillow every night. He traced hearts on one side and wrote ‘Henri, Dad and Mom’ in each of the hearts.”

Sue feels the activity has brought the family closer and has allowed them to have difficult conversations about cancer. “When Chris has to leave for chemotherapy, he is oftentimes gone before Henri wakes up and doesn’t return until after Henri goes to bed. On those days, Henri can pull out the pillow and know that he is loved and can read the special message on an enclosed heart from his dad.”

 

 


Coping with Cancer as an Older Adult

August 7, 2014

Older adults have numerous strengths, including knowledge and experience, that can assist them in coping with a cancer diagnosis. Simultaneously, they may face unique challenges that affect their ability to make health care decisions and receive quality care.

Today, older adults find themselves in an increasingly complex medical system where they are expected to take an active role in managing their care when they may be unable to do so. Access to medical information through technology may prove confusing and cause patients to refrain from asking key questions about their care or feel unsure about where to access important and accurate health information.

It is essential that older adults and their loved ones be able to openly and honestly discuss their care with their doctors and any potential difficulties that may arise. CancerCare has valuable tips for communicating with your health care team.

Many older patients struggle with changes related to aging and becoming more dependent on others. As oncology health professionals, we are in the unique position to provide care and support. To learn more, please call 800-813-HOPE (4673).

Our guest blogger Sarah Kelly, LSCW is coordinator for Older Adult Services at CancerCare


Serpil’s Story of Help and Hope

July 24, 2014

After her husband Lance was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer at age 36, Serpil struggled with how to help her young children cope. “Lance was diagnosed when my daughter Seylan was five and my son Cole was two,” shares Serpil. “The relationship that they had with him was unbelievable. They were so close, so I knew that I needed to find them any type of help. I knew I needed to move and move fast.”

Their daughter Seylan began attending face-to-face counseling sessions with an oncology social worker at CancerCare’s New Jersey office located close to home. “She absolutely connected to the social worker. My husband also needed support and participated in counseling sessions by phone.”

Four years after his diagnosis, Lance passed away. Serpil once again set out to find additional resources to help her children process their grief. “CancerCare was always in the back of my mind. There was a comfort level there, so I reached out when I heard about the Healing Hearts Bereavement Camp.”

Serpil and her children attended CancerCare’s Healing Hearts Bereavement Camp during the summers of 2013 and 2014. The Camp, located at Malibu Dude Ranch in Milford, PA, offers a healing retreat for families coping with the loss of a loved one to cancer. The weekend combines fun activities such as swimming and horseback riding with therapeutic grief activities. The annual free retreat is made possible by dedicated supporters at Eisai.

Releasing a butterfly in Lance’s memory at the Healing Hearts Bereavement Camp

“What really touched me was seeing so many kids, who all shared a similar journey, in one place where they could just be free,” recalls Serpil. “I found the camp to be a refuge for them – a happy place. The kids stay in touch through social media and it gives them a sense of community. Very few of their classmates have had that same experience, so it helps them to have peers that understand.”

The family is now focused on healing by keeping Lance’s memory alive. “Every day presents new challenges and new hopes. You learn to live with the loss and you find comfort in memorializing a loved one. I’ve found it important to embrace amazing organizations like CancerCare. They serve as an outlet and an opportunity to connect and to remind us that we are not alone.”