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

 

 

 

 


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. 

 


Financial Assistance Available for People with Pancreatic Cancer

October 27, 2014

 

CancerCare recently announced a new national grant, generously provided by Celgene, available for people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

The “CancerCare Get You There” program will assist both men and women with transportation costs associated with their cancer treatment. Applicants must be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and meet additional eligibility guidelines. To apply or learn more, call 800-813-HOPE (4673).

“A cancer diagnosis is a very difficult time for many families financially and costs such as transportation can oftentimes prevent our clients from receiving proper treatment,” said CancerCare Director of Patient Assistance Programs Jane Levy. “Thanks to Celgene, these individual grants will help to alleviate some of the financial stress for people coping with pancreatic cancer.”

CancerCare offers additional services for anyone affected by pancreatic cancer, including support groups, counseling, podcasts and educational materials.

 

 


Sue’s Story of Help and Hope

September 25, 2014

Sue with and her children Emily and Andy

Sue began advocating for emotional support after her husband, Rob, advanced to stage 4 melanoma in 2009. He’d been at stage 3 for almost three years, long enough for his doctor to be optimistic and for the family to feel more confident about the future. The news, received in the emergency room where he’d been taken in response to a seizure, came as a huge blow. In the weeks and months that followed, Rob desperately wanted counseling to help him cope.

“I wish I’d known about CancerCare sooner,” said Sue. “I spent whole days identifying and taking Rob to psychologists within his health plan, but we found that none of them understood his emotional state.”

She was ultimately referred to CancerCare for her own support. “When I finally learned about the CancerCare phone and online caregiver support groups, I seized them like a lifeline and was rewarded with both coping skills and lifelong friendships.”

But Rob, by then very advanced, could not manage counseling by phone. When he passed away in 2010, Sue again sought out resources to help her and their children Emily and Andy, then ages six and three, process and heal through the difficult time. That’s when she learned the CancerCare New Jersey office was nearby. She says it was life-changing.

Sue began receiving in-person bereavement counseling. She and her children also attended the Healing Hearts Bereavement Camp, picnics, holiday parties and other activities.

Andy at CancerCare’s Healing Hearts Bereavement Camp

“I think bereavement therapy is important for both the kids and the surviving spouse. The CancerCare family program was incredibly supportive for us. We benefited from group activities where we all shared our experiences and were guided by the counselors,” says Sue. “Emily told me several times it meant a lot that she could talk with and play with other kids who had also lost a parent. It was hard for her to interact with kids at school who didn’t understand, and she felt removed from them; different. I think it gave Andy words to express his loss in preschool.”

For families facing similar challenges, Sue suggests taking time to be together as a family and create special memories together. She also stresses the importance of managing the continuum of care, asking others for help when necessary, and having a sense of humor even during the hard times. “It’s critical to hang together as a family unit. At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask your friends for help and to accept it! And whenever things get stressful, try not to lose your sense of humor and perspective.”

“We have healed and grown, basking in the warmth and support of CancerCare’s wonderful, caring staff and the ability to share with other families in similar situations. CancerCare continues to be part of our lives as we move into a new role, drawing on our experiences to help other families embarking on this journey.”

In Rob’s honor, Sue formed Team Chevrier to raise critical funds for anyone affected by cancer in the CancerCare Walk/Run for Hope in Paramus, New Jersey. Learn more or donate to Sue’s team by visiting http://community.cancercare.org/robswalk


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.

 

 

 


The Benefits of Joining a Support Group

August 27, 2014

People with cancer and their caregivers sometimes feel that other people, unless they’ve been through it themselves, don’t really understand or “get it.” Or they don’t want to burden their families or friends with their worries: Why do I feel so bad? What will happen to me?

Joining a support group is an opportunity to meet with people who are going through similar experiences. By expressing your thoughts and feelings and sharing what you’ve learned, you may begin to feel less alone. Group members exchange valuable information and tips with one other including where to find reliable medical information, how to communicate better with their doctors, and what useful resources are available. Groups provide a safe space in which individuals can voice their feelings, concerns, and anxieties without fear of judgment or reproach.

One support group member shares her experience and gratitude. “The people in this group have become family to me. They understand the roller coaster ride. I can cry here and I can share tender stories here. I can share the rays of sunshine as they come. I am grateful to CancerCare for facilitating this group – I don’t know what I would have done without it.”

All of CancerCare’s support groups are led by oncology social workers. These professionals help the group achieve its goal of providing support to members, and can also help members individually as needed. Groups meet face-to-face, over the telephone and online.

If you’re feeling alone and needing information and emotional support, a group might be a valuable way of connecting with people to help you cope with your situation. CancerCare has many free support groups that may be a fit for you or your loved one. And if a support group is not a good fit, you may consider individual counseling.


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.”

 

 


Online Support Groups for People Coping with Cancer

July 26, 2012

CancerCare’s free online support groups connect you with others in a similar situation, helping you find support no matter where you live. Our online support groups are led by professional oncology social workers and are password-protected. Once members complete our registration process, they can participate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We offer over 20 different support groups targeting specific populations, such as people in treatment for cancer, people who are post-treatment, caregivers, and people who have lost a loved one.

A few support groups that are actively seeking new members include our Brain Tumor Caregiver Support Group, Metastatic Breast Cancer Patient Support Group, and People Who Have Lost A Loved One Support Group.

Even if we don’t currently offer a group for your specific diagnosis, we do offer general groups for men with cancer and women with cancer.

All support groups are completely free of charge, but registration is requiredLearn more.


Free Support Groups for People Affected by Cancer

January 12, 2012

CancerCare offers free support groups for anyone affected by cancer, including people with cancer, their caregivers, friends and loved ones, and the bereaved.

A cancer diagnosis can bring many difficult emotions, including fear, anxiety, and a feeling of isolation. Support groups connect you with others in a similar situation who may relate to what you are experiencing.

We offer diagnosis-specific support groups, such as a group for people affected by colorectal cancer, as well as specialized support groups, including groups for men with cancer, young adults with cancer, and parents of children with cancer.

CancerCare’s support groups are led by professional oncology social workers, and are available online, over the telephone, and face-to-face in our offices in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut. To learn more about CancerCare‘s telephone and face-to-face support groups or to register, call 800‑813‑HOPE (4673).

Online support groups are password-protected, and members must go through a registration process. After completing the registration process, members can participate 24 hours, 7 days a week. New online support groups will be offered starting February 1.

View all of CancerCare’s free support groups.