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iStock_000003443440Small.jpgBy Brianna Garrison and Sarah Hines, social work counselors

"In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times."
― Robert Emmons

Gratitude is a conscious decision that allows us to gain perspective by viewing a situation through an alternate lens. Cultivating gratitude can help those affected by cancer cope.

While it can be difficult to feel grateful during cancer treatment, gratitude makes it possible to remain realistic about the negative impacts of a cancer diagnosis and still identify potential benefits or areas of personal growth.

Cancer patients, survivors and caregivers have told us they've used gratitude to find some of
the following benefits during their cancer experience:

  • Closer relationships with family members and friends
  • Reevaluation of priorities
  • Taking control of a personal health situation
  • Spiritual and personal growth
  • Setting and achieving new goals
  • Greater flexibility, patience, and resilience

Christmas_gingerbread house.jpgBy Morgan Henry, Social Work Counselor

The holiday season can bring comfort and joy through family traditions, social celebrations and school events. However, if you're a cancer patient with young kids or teenagers, you may face many changes and challenges during holiday season, including:


  • Limited financial resources: Mounting medical bills, reduced income or changes in work schedule could lead to fewer holiday celebrations or gifts, which kids may eventually notice.
  • Travel plans: Because of your cancer treatment schedule or health situation, long-distance travel to visit family may not be possible.
  • Traditions:  Families may not be able to keep up with all of their typical yearly holiday traditions simply because they have less time, money and energy.
  • School events: If you're coping with a cancer diagnosis, you may not be able to attend your child's holiday school functions as usual. While grandparents or other family members can always fill in, parents not being there could still have an effect on children.
How cancer patients can help their families and kids during the holidays
There are many things you can do to help your children and other family members cope with the changes you're facing while still enjoying the holiday season. Here are just a few strategies.

hands black and white-FB.JPGBy Heather Valladarez, social work counselor

"How do I work, take care of my kids, be a good spouse, and find care for my loved one during the day?"

"I am taking care of my dad throughout the day, but I don't have any time for myself. This is becoming stressful."

These are just some of the situations that bring stress to caregivers for cancer patients.

While the caregiving experience can be extremely rewarding, it can also be very challenging. This so-called caregiver fatigue can be difficult both physically and emotionally.
 
As a cancer caregiver, you may experience any or all of the following emotional or physical stressors:


  • feeling overwhelmed
  • a lack of energy or feeling tired for long periods of time
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • weight gain, weight loss or other physical symptoms
  • losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

woman sad.JPG

By Emily Weaver

 

Depression is a serious illness that can have a major impact on an individual's quality of life. In fact, 15-25% of people diagnosed with cancer also suffer from depression. This is more than double that of the general population. Studies show that mental health and social well-being can affect the success of treatment.

 

Distinguishing depression from normal sadness

Depression is more than just the normal feelings of sadness. Depression is a when an individual experiences at least one of the following symptoms for more than two weeks:


  • Feeling sad most of the time
  • Loss of pleasure and interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Nervousness
  • Slow physical and mental responses
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feeling guilt for no reason
  • Decreased concentration ability
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

couple embracing

By Sarah Hines and Rebecca Savoie, social work counselors

A cancer diagnosis is almost universally a life-changing event, with significant effects on patients, family and other loved ones.

Patients and caregivers affected by a brain tumor diagnosis often face a unique set of challenges because a brain tumor is often associated with the sudden onset of symptoms that have both physical and cognitive effects.

Brain tumor patients: Common challenges
Some common challenges faced by brain tumor patients include:
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, seizures, vision and hearing loss, weakness or inability to move arms and legs and difficulty moving around
  • Difficulty with language, both understanding and communicating  
  • Impaired reasoning, processing and decision-making capacity
  • Word-finding difficulty, memory concerns and attention deficits
  • Changes in personality and behavior (aggression, irritability, impulsivity or depressive symptoms)
  • Loneliness, loss, anticipating loss or anxiety about death
  • Role changes (from caregiver to the cared for, from breadwinner to disabled, from partner in relationship to dependent)
  • Knowing who and how much to tell about your disease and when 
  • Difficulty navigating the health care system and communicating with health care professionals

handprint smiling boy.JPGBy April Greene and Wendy Griffith, social work counselors

Mother's Day is a special day that we set aside to celebrate our mothers and honor the joys of motherhood. But for moms diagnosed with cancer, this day can be especially trying.

While you may feel grateful to spend this special day with your children and loved ones, you also may wonder how many more Mother's Days you have left.

Some moms even feel guilty on Mother's Day because it reminds them of the things they can no longer do for their family.

Rather than focusing on the difficult feelings, why not focus on celebrating the real meaning of Mother's Day by spending time with your family and making memories that you'll all cherish?

Making handprints: An easy way to make memories

Making a handprint with your loved ones is one great way to do this - even if you're experiencing mixed emotions and limitations from cancer or cancer treatment.

parent with cancer CW.JPGBy Laura Nathan-Garner

A parent's cancer diagnosis can turn a child's world upside down, no matter how young or old the child is.

But coping with a parent's cancer diagnosis can be especially difficult for teens, tweens and even younger children.

Below our social work counselors April Greene and Wendy Griffith answer questions about parenting through cancer and helping kids and teens cope with a parent's cancer diagnosis.

What's the best way to talk to kids about cancer?

No matter what your prognosis is, it's essential to talk openly and honestly with kids. If you're telling your kids for the first time, try to have this conversation in a private space where you can focus on the discussion and be close enough to physically console your kids if needed.

Children tend to think in very concrete terms and like to know what's going on and what to expect. If they ask something that you don't know the answer to, it's okay to tell them that you don't know and that you will work on finding the answer. The most important thing is to communicate openly, honestly and frequently.

advanced care planning CW final.JPGBy Stephen Collazo, Department of Social Work

Today is National Healthcare Decisions Day.

Whether you're a patient or caregiver, having conversations about future care should be an essential part of your cancer treatment planning process at every stage. It should start at the time of diagnosis.

By preparing for your future, you can ensure your choices are given the utmost respect.

Here are some steps for implementing the advance care planning process in your specific medical situation. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it serves as a good starting point for patients and families.

journaling through cancer.JPGBy Crystal McCown, social work counselor fellow

Navigating your way through a cancer journey can be tough. It can be hard to find time to care for your body, spirit and mind.

Journaling is one way patients can care for themselves. Writing down your thoughts gives you an opportunity to work out your feelings and emotions, which may help you relax and find reasons to be happier and more hopeful about the future.

Methods of journaling
There are many different types of journaling. Here are a few you might want to explore:

  • Gratitude journaling: Write down everything you're grateful for. This focuses your attention on positive aspects of your life.
  • Blog: A blog is a website that you can easily update by writing short posts.  Blog posts can be as simple as commentary on your day-to-day life and treatment, or reflection pieces exploring your life's purpose or connecting with a higher power.
  • Stream-of-consciousness writing: Write down everything that comes to your mind. This unstructured, unedited writing will reflect your raw thoughts and observations.
  • Art journaling: Draw, doodle or scrapbook what you're feeling and thinking.
  • Line-a-day journaling: Limit yourself to a single line or sentence for the day.

newly diagnosed with cancer photo.JPGBy Christine Durlam and Amy LaMarca Lyon, social work counselors

When you're a newly diagnosed cancer patient, all the questions and concerns can be overwhelming.  

How will you tell your family and friends? Will your friends treat you differently? Will you have to quit your job? Who will take care of your kids?

It's normal to have these questions and thoughts. But it's important for you to know that you're not alone and that many others are facing these same challenges. 

Here are a few tips for coping with a new diagnosis of cancer.

CT and MRI scans  Tips for coping with stress.JPGBy Emily Weaver, Social Work Counselor

You're sitting in the waiting room, your heart is racing, your palms are sweating and your blood pressure is rising. 

You've had difficulty sleeping the past few nights because your mind is racing with worries about your upcoming CT or MRI scans. 

You've considered cancelling your appointment, but know it will only delay your care in the long run.

Patients and cancer professionals call this "scanxiety." And, because CT and MRI scans are associated with the diagnosis of cancer, scanxiety is a normal feeling.

But sometimes scanxiety can interfere with your daily life and the ability to engage in your own medical care.

Here are strategies you can use to help manage scanxiety.

social work v day post CAP pic.JPGBy Sarah Hines

"Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope."

- Maya Angelou

While the masses are out shopping for long-stem roses, many of our patients and their loved ones find themselves preoccupied with MRI results, blood counts and chemotherapy.

Unfortunately, cancer doesn't only affect the individual who is diagnosed. Relationships are impacted, with spouses, partners, and significant others of patients facing many challenges and hurdles throughout the cancer journey. 

Communication concerns
As a couple adapts to a cancer diagnosis, it's important to understand that old communication patterns may no longer serve the same purpose. Couples often utilize very different coping styles to handle the diagnosis. Some openly express their emotions, while others reflect on them internally.  


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