Posts Tagged ‘cancer survivorship’

7 Tips to Peacefully Celebrate the Holidays When You are Not Feeling Jolly

It is the time of the year to feel happy…time to be generous…time to spend time with loved ones… and sing festively? Are you not in the mood this season? Don’t worry; you are not alone. Many people find the holidays very stressful and sometimes even sad. Social engagements and family gatherings add another time commitment to already busy days. Gift giving puts pressure on already strapped budgets. Expectations of how you should be enjoying this time of year only make you feel worse. All of these feelings are magnified and complicated by cancer treatment during the holidays.

There are things you can do to help yourself get through the holidays and maybe even enjoy them a bit. Self care is important throughout the year, but during a stressful period it must be a priority.

1) Get Adequate Rest

Making sure you get adequate sleep nightly is key!

  • Adults need 7-9 hours every night and children need 10 – 12 hours of sleep each night.
  • Set a bedtime, and get out of bed every morning at the same time.
  • Don’t drink caffeine after lunch.
  • Limit alcohol to one drink at dinner.
  • Avoid stressful conversations after dinner.
  • Enjoy a relaxation routine in the hour before bed.

Relaxation routines depend on what works best for you, but consider stretching, breathing slowly, writing in a gratitude journal or listening to gentle music. For more information on the importance of adequate sleep and rest, visit the National Sleep Foundation’s website.

2) Pay Close Attention To Your Diet

Another key aspect of self-care is attention to diet and exercise.

  • Fill your plate with colorful foods, mostly fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat only one plate of food at each meal.
  • Enjoy a holiday dessert, but a small serving is enough.
  • Cook with family, enjoy the conversation in the kitchen, but wait to put food in your mouth until you sit down to the meal.
  • Instead of soda, drink warm tea or cider.
  • After the meal, take a walk. Take a walk 3 times a day. Bring someone on the walk whose company you enjoy.

3) Listen To Music You Like

If elevator carols make you crazy, actively search for music you actually like, maybe Celtic  tunes, old country or Jamaican steel drums, and turn that on whenever you can.

4) Try Alternative Gifts This Year

  • If your budget is tight, make gifts this year. Paint on canvas, write a poem, organize a scrapbook of old pictures, and cook a new dish. Or offer a service, such as walking a dog, watching children, delivering meals, organizing a closet.
  • If wrapping presents makes you grumpy, spend time finding wrapping paper you like. Design your own paper. Make your own cloth bags that can be reused. Wrap in plain paper and finger paint it.

5) Turn Your Hospital Experience Around

If going to the hospital or clinic during the holidays brings you down, try to turn the experience around. The staff is always asking you questions, how about you ask them a couple? Ask  the front desk, the valet, the nurse what they like about the holidays, what music they like, and what time of year they prefer.

6) Take Time Out Each Day to Be Positive, Relax and Breathe!

  • Every day, take time to breathe. Turn off the TV and computer. Sit down, stretch your head to the sky, softly close your eyes, relax your shoulders, breath in through your nose slowly and out slowly through your mouth. Say to yourself “I can breathe, I can do it.”
  • Every day remind yourself, “I am here today, I am going to find one thing I like today to make this day worthwhile.” Small things count. Notice a tree, feel the cool air, smile at someone.

7) Treat Yourself to an Alternative Therapy

Get a massage, try a Tai Chi or yoga class, consider acupuncture, drink green tea, or add turmeric to your favorite vegetable stir-fry. Many health benefits of alternative and complementary medicine are described at http://nccam.nih.gov. Be sure to check with your physician before you begin any new exercise programs, and let your physician know about any supplements you take.

To truly make a difference in the way you feel, daily make the effort to do some of the things mentioned above. You don’t need to do them all, but pick three things and make the commitment to do them every day!

Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!
Wendy Baer, MD

About Wendy Baer, MD

Wendy Baer, MD, is Medical Director of Psychiatric Oncology with appointments in the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute.

Clinical Specialties In her work at the Winship Cancer Institute, Dr. Baer helps patients and their families deal with the stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. As a Psychiatrist she has expertise in treating clinical depression and anxiety both with medications and psychotherapy to help people manage emotions, behaviors and relationships. The fundamental goal of Dr. Baer’s practice is to promote wellness and maximize patients’ quality of life as much as possible. She believes strongly in the team approach to patient care and collaborates regularly with patients’ doctors, nurses and social workers.

Education Dr. Baer attended medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she graduated with honors. From UNC she went to the University of Pennsylvania where she completed her residency in Psychiatry and served as the Chief Resident in her senior year. Prior to moving to Atlanta, Dr Baer worked in with patients dealing with cancer at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, WA.

9/26/17 – Breast Cancer Live Chat Transcript

2017 Breast Cancer Live Chat Image

Thank you to those of you who joined the Breast Cancer live chat hosted by Dr. Lea Gilliland and Dr. Preeti Subhedar with Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University’s Glenn Family Breast Center. The chat had a good turnout and the transcript is now available below.

Breast Cancer Live Chat Transcript

Overview: Dr. Lea Gilliland and Dr. Preeti Subhedar answer your questions about breast cancer risk factors, screenings, symptoms, and therapy.

[Sep 26, 11:59 AM] EmoryHealthcare: Welcome everyone! Thanks for joining us today for our web chat about Breast Cancer: Risk Factors, Screenings, Symptoms & Therapy with Dr. Lea Gilliland and Dr. Preeti Subhedar with Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University’s Glenn Family Breast Center.

[Sep 26, 12:00 PM] EmoryHealthcare: We’ll get started in just a minute. Dr. Lea Gilliland and Dr. Preeti Subhedar are here to answer all your questions!

[Sep 26, 12:01 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Please note that all questions are moderated before appearing in the stream, so you may not see yours appear right away, but we will do our best to answer all your questions today.

[Sep 26, 12:03 PM] EmoryHealthcare: We received some questions that were submitted in advance of the chat, so we’ll get started by answering a few of those first.

[Sep 26, 12:04 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Q. What are your screening recommendations for women over 55?

[Sep 26, 12:04 PM] EmoryHealthcare: A. American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging recommend screening every year beginning at 40. This saves the most lives. A recent study by Cornell notes that 19% of all breast cancers occur in women age 40-49.

[Sep 26, 12:05 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Q. Does reproductive history affect breast cancer risks?

[Sep 26, 12:06 PM] EmoryHealthcare: A. According to the American Cancer Society, women who have not had children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk overall. Having many pregnancies and becoming pregnant at an early age reduces breast cancer risk. Still, the effect of pregnancy seems to be different for different types of breast cancer. For a certain type of breast cancer known as triple-negative, pregnancy seems to increase risk.

[Sep 26, 12:07 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Q. How often should I go to my doctor for a check-up?

[Sep 26, 12:07 PM] EmoryHealthcare: A. Once a year if you do not have a recent history of breast cancer. Screening mammography is recommended once a year.

[Sep 26, 12:08 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Q. What risk factors exist for breast cancer… I’ve heard alcohol, aluminum in deodorant, alkalizing versus natural pH in drinking water…

[Sep 26, 12:10 PM] EmoryHealthcare: A. According to the American Cancer Society(ACS), drinking alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Compared with non-drinkers, women who have 1 alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in risk. Those who have 2 to 3 drinks a day have about a 20% higher risk compared to women who don’t drink alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption is known to increase the risk of other cancers, too.

[Sep 26, 12:11 PM] EmoryHealthcare: A. (continued) The ACS recommends that women who drink have no more than 1 drink a day.

Additional risk factors noted by the ACS include being overweight after menopause (fat creates estrogen), not being physically active, not having children or delaying having children, not breast feeding, use of birth control (during use), and use of combined estrogen and progesterone therapy after menopause.

[Sep 26, 12:15 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Let’s move on to your live questions now!

[Sep 26, 12:15 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Please sign in using one of the options at the bottom of the chat and submit your questions for [enter doctor name] in the comment box.

[Sep 26, 12:15 PM] Guest1876: What type of doctor should I see if I think I have breast cancer?

[Sep 26, 12:20 PM] EmoryHealthcare: If the concern is a new mass, you should have a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound.  If you have a current diagnosis of breast cancer, you should visit your breast cancer surgeon for a consult.

[Sep 26, 12:20 PM] Simone: What is the hormone receptor status of my cancer? What does this mean?

[Sep 26, 12:23 PM] EmoryHealthcare: All breast cancers have a hormone that makes it grow. We look at 3 receptors for hormones to decide on what kind of treatment you need. We look at the estrogen, progesterone and Her2 receptors to direct therapy.

[Sep 26, 12:23 PM] Guest6133: How do I get a copy of my pathology report?

[Sep 26, 12:23 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Your surgeon should be able to help guide you.

[Sep 26, 12:24 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Or you could contact the hospital’s medical records department.

[Sep 26, 12:25 PM] JJL94: What about genetic testing? What would the pros and cons of testing be?

[Sep 26, 12:27 PM] EmoryHealthcare: There are certain situations in which genetic testing is important. Not all people need to have genetic testing. If you are a woman under the age of 45 with a diagnosis of cancer, are 50 years old with breast cancer and have a relative with a history of cancer, or multiple family members with cancer, you may want to consider testing. These are just some of the indications.

[Sep 26, 12:29 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Pros: allows you to understand your specific genetic risk

Cons: the result can sometimes be distressing. Talk to your family about what the results may mean to you

[Sep 26, 12:29 PM] Guest8532: Does smoking cause breast cancer?

[Sep 26, 12:31 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Smoking is a risk factor for all types of cancer, including breast. It is also a risk factor for non-cancer related diagnoses such as heart disease. Talk to your primary care physician if you are interested in smoking cessation.

[Sep 26, 12:33 PM] Guest4423: I had wire localization a few years ago. Are they using seeds now, to guide the surgeon?

[Sep 26, 12:36 PM] Guest6133: What kind of impact does stress have on breast cancer?

[Sep 26, 12:37 PM] EmoryHealthcare: There are no known direct links between stress and breast cancer, but we may just not know enough about the link yet. Stress can have an adverse effect on things like blood pressure, heart rate and can therefore be deleterious. Talk to your primary care physician for ways to reduce stress.

[Sep 26, 12:38 PM] Simone: Are mammograms painful?

[Sep 26, 12:38 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Mammograms can be uncomfortable but they should not be painful. It can be difficult to image all of the breast tissue that needs to be included. Please let your technologist know if you are experiencing pain or have experienced pain in the past.

[Sep 26, 12:41 PM] Guest1876: Is there a link between hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and breast cancer?

[Sep 26, 12:41 PM] EmoryHealthcare: There are 2 main types of hormone therapy. For women who still have a uterus (womb), doctors generally prescribe estrogen and progesterone (known as combined hormone therapy or HT). Progesterone is needed because estrogen alone can increase the risk of cancer of the uterus. For women who’ve had a hysterectomy (who no longer have a uterus), estrogen alone can be used. This is known as estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) or just estrogen therapy (ET).

[Sep 26, 12:42 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Combined hormone therapy (HT): Use of combined hormone therapy after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. It may also increase the chances of dying from breast cancer. This increase in risk can be seen with as little as 2 years of use. Combined HT also increases the likelihood that the cancer may be found at a more advanced stage. The increased risk from combined HT appears to apply only to current and recent users. A woman’s breast cancer risk seems to return to that of the general population with

[Sep 26, 12:43 PM] EmoryHealthcare: population within 5 years of stopping treatment.

[Sep 26, 12:44 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Bioidentical hormone therapy: The word bioidentical is sometimes used to describe versions of estrogen and progesterone with the same chemical structure as those found naturally in people. The use of these hormones has been marketed as a safe way to treat the symptoms of menopause. But because there aren’t many studies comparing “bioidentical” or “natural” hormones to synthetic versions of hormones, there’s no proof that they’re safer or more effective. More studies are needed to know for sure.

[Sep 26, 12:45 PM] Guest8532: What are the side effects of Tamoxifen?

[Sep 26, 12:45 PM] EmoryHealthcare: The common side effects of tamoxifen include menopausal symptoms such as night sweats, insomnia, weight gain. Other side effects include muscle or joint pain. The most serious risk of blood clots and risk of uterine cancer is only 1/1000 patients. Although these risks sound serious, remember that when tamoxifen is prescribed to you, it reduces your risk of another breast cancer by 50%.

[Sep 26, 12:46 PM] Guest6015: Where can i learn about clinical trials for breast cancer?

[Sep 26, 12:47 PM] EmoryHealthcare: You can always ask your breast cancer physician (medical, surgical, or radiation oncologist). Also, Winship Cancer center has a website that can specifically allow you to see if a clinical trial is appropriate for you.

[Sep 26, 12:48 PM] Guest6133: My grandmother said wearing my cellphone in my sports bra could cause cancer? Have you seen any research to support this?

[Sep 26, 12:48 PM] EmoryHealthcare: There has not been any reliable research to support this.

[Sep 26, 12:49 PM] EmoryHealthcare: These questions have been great! We have time for just one more question today.

[Sep 26, 12:51 PM] Guest8532: Can benign cysts become cancerous?

[Sep 26, 12:53 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Benign cysts are areas of fluid within your breast. These cysts are at no more risk of becoming cancer than any other area in your breast.

[Sep 26, 12:54 PM] EmoryHealthcare: That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks so much for joining us! As we mentioned, we’ll follow up with a blog post to answer any questions we didn’t get a chance to address today.

[Sep 26, 12:55 PM] EmoryHealthcare: Thanks for your questions!

[Sep 26, 12:58 PM] Guest3978: Thank you.

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment, please call 404-778-7777.


Emory Glenn Family Breast Center at Winship Cancer Institute is dedicated to breast cancer prevention, detection and comprehensive treatment of breast health issues and breast cancer including aggressive forms of triple negative breast cancer.

Our breast cancer doctors and researchers are thought leaders in the field of breast cancer and are uniquely positioned to have access to the latest information on cancer care. The breast cancer program at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University offers multidisciplinary teams including oncology surgeons, radiologists, medical oncologists, pathologists, and advanced practice nurses with expertise in only breast cancer. There are a variety of treatment options for breast cancer; for some patients, a combination of treatment methods may be used.

 

Coping with Survivor’s Guilt After Cancer

cancer survivor guiltBeing diagnosed with cancer can bring on many different types of emotions from fear to sadness to relief; however, many patients don’t think about how they might feel after they complete their treatment. Many are surprised when they begin to feel guilty. This is known as survivor’s guilt. It is a feeling that is often experienced by those who have survived a major or traumatic event such as being diagnosed with cancer. The feelings may come from a sense of guilt that they survived the disease and another patient did not or they did well with treatment while another had a very difficult time recovering.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you think you might be suffering from survivor’s guilt:

  • You are not alone. Survivor’s guilt is very common. It is a natural response for many cancer patients. It often feels like sadness, depression or even grief.
  • Tell someone about how you’re feeling. Talk with a friend or family member you trust. You can always reach out to a social worker to help you process these feelings. Acknowledging those feelings can be help you process them and ultimately overcome them.
  • Consider keeping a journal. Sometimes it is helpful to write down how we are feeling in order to help us manage those emotions. Starting an art project is another creative way to cope with survivor’s guilt.
  • Remind yourself that every patient’s cancer journey is different and that’s okay. It is unrealistic to compare your treatment outcomes to someone else’s because everyone is different.
  • Be supportive. If you know someone who is going through treatment and having a difficult time, it is important to provide them with as much support as possible. As a cancer survivor, you offer a unique type of support because you have been there.
  • Attend a cancer survivor’s support group. Reaching out to other survivors can be helpful.

Don’t wait to get help if you think you are experiencing survivor guilt. It is important to acknowledge and address the issue sooner rather than later. Patients can talk directly to oncology social workers through the following community organizations: www.livestrong.org, www.cancer.org and www.cancercare.org.

About Joy McCall, LCSW

Joy McCallJoy McCall is a Winship social worker with bone marrow transplant, hematology and gynecologic teams and their patients. She started her professional career at Winship as an intern, working with breast, gynecologic, brain and melanoma cancer patients. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Kennesaw State University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. As part of her education she completed an internship with the Marcus Institute working on the pediatric feeding unit, and an internship counseling individuals and couples at Families First, supporting families and children facing challenges to build strong family bonds and stability for their future. She had previously worked with individuals with developmental disabilities for over 4 years, providing support to families and caregivers.

Related Resources

 

When Your Partner Fails You

Cancer Support(This blog was originally posted on Friday, February 20, 2015 on the WebMD website)

Along with the worries, sadness and frustrations of dealing with cancer, many patients experience the heartbreak of their loved one failing to support them. How could a life partner or spouse fail you during cancer? There are many ways, some more obvious than others.

Jan’s husband never came to any appointments, ever. He never learned about her diagnosis, her treatment plan, the side effects of the medicines or the recommendations for how she might improve her energy and strength. He blamed the lymphedema in her arm after her surgery on her “lazy lifestyle.” He told her that support groups were for “wimps” and even took some of her pain medicine for himself.

Sally’s partner came to every appointment – he would never let anyone else bring her. He kept a medical notebook with her test results and argued with every doctor about each treatment plan. He would not let her eat any ice cream or cookies because he thought the sugar would make her tumor grow, even though Sally was at a very healthy weight and ate a very balanced diet.

Gary’s girlfriend would never stop talking about herself. At appointments with the oncologist she would ask questions about breast cancer even though Gary had lymphoma. She repeatedly complained about Gary being at home instead of work, “having him around the house all day is making me crazy, I need my space!” She had no understanding of cancer fatigue: “he looks fine, no vomiting or fever – he should be able to do more!” In the past Gary had been able to participate in his girlfriend’s extremely busy social schedule, but after lymphoma, he asked his girlfriend about limiting their social time to just close friends. His girlfriend insisted on accepting every invitation, and started leaving Gary at home, alone.

Some spouses and partners don’t get it, but they want to, which is huge. If a loved one wants to do better, there is hope for the relationship. If you’re the partner — not the patient — in this scenario, and you’re wondering how to recover from your initial missteps, here’s what I would suggest: Start by setting aside time when there are not any children yelling or bills to be paid or dishes to be done. Begin with a question, “so how are things going for you?“ Wait for an answer. Listen. Then ask “Anything I can do to help?” Breathe, pause, listen. Maybe put your hand on your partner’s shoulder, gently, in order to emphasize you are listening. If you start getting yelled at for being late once 6 months ago, breathe deeply, and respond simply, “I am sorry I was late, but now I really want to help, and do better. Let’s keep talking, but no yelling please.” Make eye contact and smile.

Sally’s partner took the advice above, he set aside the time, took several deep breaths, and listened. He listened closely because he really did love her, and wanted to know how she was doing. He admitted that he had hoped to stop the cancer by controlling everything about her medical care and diet. Sally was able to explain she did appreciate the help with scheduling and tracking her medicines, but she did not want to be treated as an invalid or a small child. Sally’s partner was eventually able to become the partner she needed – a partner interested in caring for her but also respectful of her autonomy.

Gary spent a lot of time after cancer treatment thinking about what kind of life partner he wanted. Reflecting back over the years, he was able to see that his girlfriend had always been self-absorbed. Friday nights, she chose the restaurant; Sunday morning she picked the breakfast; and during the week she rarely asked how Gary was doing at work. Gary realized that he would rather be alone than in a relationship with someone who only cared about herself. “After everything I have been through, I deserve real love.”

Jan always knew that her husband drank too much, but she had hoped he would stop on his own. Through her cancer treatment Jan was terribly embarrassed that her husband was not at appointments. On the day Jan came home to tell her husband that the oncologist told her she was cancer free, he was passed out on the couch. Not being able to share the journey, or the joy in the recovery, pushed Jan to tell her husband that she wanted a divorce. When he realized Jan was actually planning to leave him, he knew he had to get sober. The addiction to alcohol had robbed Jan’s husband of the chance to be a support when his wife really needed him. The only hope for the marriage was for him to get completely sober, and with medical care, Jan’s husband finally stopped drinking. Once sober, he returned to being the kind of husband Jan remembered from when they were first married. He cooked pasta dinners, rubbed her feet in the evening, and actively listened when she talked about her health concerns and hope for the future.

We all hope that our partner will step up and be there for us if we need them, but sometimes they don’t support us as we’d hoped. There are a variety of reasons why a loved one may fail during cancer treatment, and the psychological work is to realize the failure is about their issues, not about you or your self worth. If there is genuine caring, and a real desire for a loving relationship, a couple may get through the challenge of cancer. And if not, there may be grieving process if the relationship fails, but there is great beauty in a cancer survivor taking steps to be in the healthiest, most loving relationship possible. After cancer, you deserve it.

About Dr. Baer

Wendy Baer, MDWendy Baer, MD, is medical director of psychiatric oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, with appointments in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences in the Emory School of Medicine, and the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship.

In her work at the Winship Cancer Institute, Dr. Baer helps patients and their families deal with the stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. As a psychiatrist, she has expertise in treating clinical depression and anxiety both with medications and with psychotherapy to help people manage emotions, behaviors, and relationships. The fundamental goal of Dr. Baer’s practice is to promote wellness and maximize patients’ quality of life as much as possible. She believes strongly in the team approach to patient care and collaborates regularly with the doctors, nurses, and social workers that make up a patient’s care team.

Dr. Baer attended medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she graduated with honors. From UNC she went to the University of Pennsylvania, where she completed her residency in psychiatry and served as the chief resident in her senior year. Prior to moving to Atlanta, Dr. Baer worked with patients dealing with cancer at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, WA.

Related Resources

Coping After Cancer Treatment is Finished

Cancer TherapyA cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. In fact, many patients have told me that cancer can easily define your life with on-going treatment lasting months and even years. Many patients stop working, limit their social interactions and even change roles within their household as a way to focus on completing treatment. You might think that once chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are over a patient would celebrate and move on, but that’s not always the case. Many patients feel lost and can find themselves asking what now? The intense focus on treatment often overshadows the future.

Here are five tips to help you cope after your treatment is finished:

  1. Consider attending a local support group. They are a great way to connect with others who have a similar diagnosis and have completed treatment. Support groups are a safe place to discuss the feelings that go along with being done with treatment and handling post treatment life.
  2. Reach out to a social worker or counselor. They are often available to provide individual counseling. This is helpful in allowing you an opportunity to identify your strengths and appropriate ways to move forward now that you’re better.
  3. Think of what helped you cope before treatment. Make a list of things that made you feel better when you were having a difficult time before you were diagnosed or treated. Some of those same healthy techniques such as exercise, yoga, or talking to a friend could be useful post treatment.
  4. Don’t rush yourself. Be realistic about your expectations of how you should feel after treatment. Be sure to ask your medical team how you should feel both physically and emotionally post treatment. Remember, you have been through a lot, and it will take time for you to fully recover. Putting additional stress and pressure on yourself to “feel better” because you are finished with treatment can only make this more difficult.
  5. Remind yourself you are a survivor! You have survived your diagnosis and treatment. Positive self-talk is beneficial in reducing stress and decreasing depressive symptoms.

More than 14 million Americans are cancer survivors. No matter what the type or stage of the disease, reaching out for additional support and assistance is just as important after treatment as it is during treatment.

About Joy McCall, LCSW

Joy McCallJoy McCall is a Winship social worker with bone marrow transplant, hematology and gynecologic teams and their patients. She started her professional career at Winship as an intern, working with breast, gynecologic, brain and melanoma cancer patients. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Kennesaw State University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. As part of her education she completed an internship with the Marcus Institute working on the pediatric feeding unit, and an internship counseling individuals and couples at Families First, supporting families and children facing challenges to build strong family bonds and stability for their future. She had previously worked with individuals with developmental disabilities for over 4 years, providing support to families and caregivers.

Resources

Living with Cancer

How Will I Cope with Cancer?

Wendy Baer, MDGetting diagnosed with cancer is a unique experience for every person. It can mean many different things depending on the type of cancer, the stage, the treatment options and the overall health of the person. Regardless of the type of cancer, most people experience a whirlwind of emotions during the time of diagnosis. Uncertainty and loss of control are two common feelings. Uncertainty is especially intense in the work-up phase when you are not sure what kind of cancer you have, what your options are for treatment or who is going to take care of you during treatment. Loss of control may be an issue when you feel your body is broken, tumors may be growing, cells may be multiplying, and you wonder about dying. You may feel loss of control over your energy since you are not able to do activities or work you enjoy. The time needed for appointments may make you may feel as if the medical system has taken control of your entire schedule.

If you are asking yourself the question, “How will I cope?” you are actually in a good starting place. Actively thinking about how to manage emotions such as uncertainty and loss of control is a sign that you will be able to get through your cancer experience.

There are two key questions to ponder as you work through the issue of how to cope during cancer. How have I coped before? And, what do I like?

How have I coped before? When faced with difficult situations in the past, everything from a new school or a new home to a relationship breakup or a job loss, what have I done to get by? What thoughts or behaviors helped me manage my emotions? There are definitely many unhelpful coping strategies during stressful life events, such as becoming isolated, sleeping too much or using more alcohol. Unhelpful coping strategies should be noted and avoided. More helpful coping strategies include being with people who really care about your wellbeing, spending time outdoors, listening to music, breathing deeply and slowly, making lists and schedules and allowing other people to help you with chores.

What do I like? Not just what flavor of ice cream or what kind of movie, but what makes you feel joyful? What do you care about, what do you want to be good at? Who in your life matters to you? Who do you like to be around? Cancer can make your own mortality prominent in your mind on a day-to-day basis. The question, “what do I like?” is essential to consider when you recognize time is limited. Thinking about what matters to you, even writing those things down, encourages you to then take steps to include them in your life. Make a list with specifics. There may be simple pleasures you can enjoy during cancer treatment, and others that will have to wait until after treatment, but plan them, talk about them, work towards getting there. Having both short and long term goals can help you cope with cancer.

Some people are not able to answer these two questions because clinical depression gets in the way of seeing anything pleasant or joyful, or severe anxiety short-circuits the ability to think logically. Drugs and alcohol interfere with the ability to experience pleasure in a meaningful way. Emotional and behavior disturbances can be treated, both with medication and with talk therapy. A comprehensive cancer center offers psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers willing and interested in helping you get your mind in a healthy place to answer the two important questions. Taking care of your brain is critical for overall health.

You can cope. Answering the first question shows that you’ve coped with hard things before. Answering the second question gives you motivation to get through treatment for cancer. There may be challenges, really tough ones, but you can absolutely conquer these challenges. How do I know? I witness people surviving and thriving everyday at Winship.

Wishing you well,

Dr. Baer

About Dr. Baer

Wendy Baer, MD is the Medical Director of Psychiatric Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. In her work at Winship, Dr. Baer helps patients and their families deal with the stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. As a psychiatrist, she has expertise in treating clinical depression and anxiety both with medications and psychotherapy to help people manage emotions, behaviors and relationships. The fundamental goal of Dr. Baer’s practice is to promote wellness and maximize patients’ quality of life as much as possible. She believes strongly in the team approach to patient care and collaborates regularly with patients’ doctors, nurses and social workers.

Caring for the Caregiver

Cancer CaregiverCaring for a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer is such an important role. Most often it is a spouse, family member or close friend who becomes the primary caregiver for the patient. It’s a big responsibility that can, at times, be overwhelming. Sometimes we forget that caregivers need to be taken care of too.

Here are some tips for caring for the caregiver:

  • Reach out to other friends and family members for assistance. Make a list of duties that need to be completed in order to care for the patient. Ask others to help complete those tasks. This can help alleviate some stress for the caregiver.
  • Sign up for a caregiver support group. This can introduce you to other caregivers who are in a similar situation. It is also a great way to share ideas and tips. Winship Cancer Institute has a Caregiver Support Group that meets on the third Wednesday of each month for caregivers of cancer patients. Caregivers may also be interested in reaching out to other caregivers for some one-on-one support.
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep and rest. Seven to eight hours of sleep each night can help you recharge your body and mind and give you more energy.
  • Consider relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga. Journaling is another great way to help process your feelings. This can be helpful in coping with some of the stress related to caregiving.
  • Don’t neglect your own health. Be sure to schedule and keep your own doctor appointments. It is common for caregivers to put all of their focus on the patient’s needs and ignore their own health. If you are a caregiver, you must take good care of yourself; otherwise, your own health concerns may make you unable to continue taking care of the patient.
  • Make time for yourself. It is important that caregivers do things that they enjoy doing, such as spending time with friends, participating in a hobby or exercising.

It’s easy to burn out while caring for a loved one with a serious medical condition. Pace yourself and know that you have don’t have to go it alone.

About Joy McCall, LMSW

Joy McCallJoy McCall is a Winship social worker with bone marrow transplant, hematology and gynecologic teams and their patients. She started her professional career at Winship as an intern, working with breast, gynecologic, brain and melanoma cancer patients. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Kennesaw State University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. As part of her education she completed an internship with the Marcus Institute working on the pediatric feeding unit, and an internship counseling individuals and couples at Families First, supporting families and children facing challenges to build strong family bonds and stability for their future. She had previously worked with individuals with developmental disabilities for over 4 years, providing support to families and caregivers.

Related Resources:

Caregivers of Cancer Patients Need Care Too
Support Groups at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
American Cancer Society
CancerCare

Growing Hope Together!

Mary BrookhartI was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 33. A cancer diagnosis always comes as a shock, but it’s particularly unexpected at that age. Because my mother had breast cancer at a young age, a new provider sent me for my base line screening mammogram and that turned out to be my first and only mammogram. I can say without a doubt that a mammogram saved my life.

I was treated here at Winship, by Dr. Toncred Styblo and Dr. David Lawson. Twenty-five years later, all three of us are still here. I came back to Winship six years ago, but not as a patient. I took a job as supervisor of business operations for the Glenn Family Breast Center at Winship, and I am one of the organizers of the Celebration of Living event coming up this Sat., June 21.

That’s why the Celebration of Living event is so near and dear to my heart. This is a chance to get together with other survivors, and discover that part of being a survivor is learning that it’s ok to let fun and humor back into your life. Learn to let the fear go and not let it rule your life. Coming to the Celebration of Living event can be a first step toward getting back out into the world, or it can be a continuation of your on-going journey. We all know that battling cancer has very dark moments, but I hope we can bring some hope and lightness into your life.

So I invite all cancer survivors, their family members and friends to come share this special day. There will be workshops for the mind, body and soul, as well as music, food and companionship. It’s free and open to all. Detailed information is available on our website.

I see more and more people surviving cancer because of new and better treatments and earlier detection. In the time since I got my screening mammogram, the technology has greatly improved. Emory and Winship are now offering state-of-the-art 3D mammograms (also called tomosynthesis) at no additional charge above the cost of standard mammograms, so that all women can benefit from this more precise screening technology. For more information about this new service and where it’s available, check out this video about 3D mammography at Emory Healthcare.

For some, the idea of living a normal lifespan with cancer as a chronic disease is a reality.

My hope is that one day, all cancer patients will enjoy a lifetime of survivorship.

Mary Brookhart,
Cancer Survivor

About Mary Brookhart

Mary Brookhart grew up in Ohio before moving to Georgia to get away from the snow. There she enjoyed a 20+ year career in advertising and design. In 2008, looking for something more rewarding, Mary returned to Winship, this time, not as a patient, but as supervisor of business operations for the Emory Glenn Family Breast Center. Besides serving as an advocate for breast cancer patients, Mary coordinates screenings for mammograms and the Emory’s Breast Cancer Seminar for the Newly Diagnosed breast cancer patient. She currently lives in rural Conyers, with her husband of 37 years, and their three horses.

8 Ways to Cope with Cancer as a Young Adult

Friend SupportReceiving a cancer diagnosis can be devastating. Just imagine how hard it would be to hear the news as a young adult. The challenges of being diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 18 and 39 are different from those in patients who are diagnosed later in life.

Many young adults diagnosed with cancer experience a disruption in a new career and dating. Cancer and any treatments that follow can sometimes have long-term affects on a person’s ability to start a family.

Here are eight ways to help you cope with cancer as a young adult:

  1. Request and ask for help. Having a support system during this time is critical. Be sure to reach out to others for support even after your treatment is completed.
  2. Consider giving friends and family members specific tasks in order to help you. Some friends and family members may not be sure how best to support you during this time. It may be helpful to you and them to provide friends and family members with specific requests. For example, request rides to treatment, ask for certain meals to be made or errands to be ran.
  3. Educate yourself. Having knowledge about your diagnosis and treatment often helps young patients maintain some sort of control during this time. This also helps to ensure you are making educated decisions about your healthcare.
  4. Ask questions! Do not hesitate to ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions. Write down your questions prior to your medical appointments.
  5. Inquire about how your treatment will affect you. Many treatments affect a patient’s ability to conceive children in the future. Talk with your medical professional about this and what options may be available to you.
  6. Consider reaching out to other young cancer survivors through young adult support groups or connecting online. The Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University currently has a new Young Adult Cancer Survivor Online Support Group that meets once a month. This group is specific for any young adult who was diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 18 and 39.
  7. Reach out to a social worker for additional emotional support. Oncology social workers have a special level of expertise and are trained to provide support to patients as they are coping with diagnosis and treatment. It is often helpful to be able to process your feelings with someone else. Social workers also have a wealth of knowledge about additional resources that may be helpful.
  8. Try not to compare yourself to other friends or family members. Your cancer diagnosis may have altered your life pattern, however, it does not have to destroy it.

The cancer diagnosis is something that happened to you, but it doesn’t have to define you or control your future. There is help out there; you just have to know where to look and who to ask.

About Joy McCall, LMSW

Joy McCallJoy McCall is a Winship social worker with bone marrow transplant, hematology and gynecologic teams and their patients. She started her professional career at Winship as an intern, working with breast, gynecologic, brain and melanoma cancer patients. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Kennesaw State University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. As part of her education she completed an internship with the Marcus Institute working on the pediatric feeding unit, and an internship counseling individuals and couples at Families First, supporting families and children facing challenges to build strong family bonds and stability for their future. She had previously worked with individuals with developmental disabilities for over 4 years, providing support to families and caregivers.

Additional Resources

Caregivers of Cancer Patients Need Care Too

Cancer Caregivers SupportFamily members and close friends often take the role of a “caregiver” when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer and begins the cancer treatment process. The caregiver provides physical and emotional care for the cancer patient. Although the caregiver takes this responsibility on in love, they can also easily burn out. The stress and consequences of caregiving can take a toll on both the patient and the caregiver. Some signs that the caregiver might be experiencing caregiver stress or burn out include:

  • Change in weight
  • Change in the amount or pattern of sleep
  • Feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Increased anger or frustration
  • Lack of time for their own needs
  • Feeling overwhelmed or trapped
  • Feeling misunderstood or unsupported
  • Missing or delaying their own medical care
  • Stopping routine exercise, socialization or other healthy daily activities
  • Increased alcohol or drug use

It is imperative that caregivers take care of themselves and not feel guilty about doing this. If the caregiver is not healthy, he or she will not be able to effectively care for the patient either. Some suggestions for caregivers to reduce burnout and improve self care:

  • Reduce Personal Stress -Recognize the symptoms of stress, identify the source of stress, identify what you can and cannot change and take action.
  • Set goals – We are more likely to achieve goals if they are broken into small steps. An example – I will walk 15 minutes every day.
  • Seek Solutions – Once you have identified a problem, taking action to solve it can change the situation and also change your attitude and give you more confidence.
  • Communicate Constructively – Use “I” messages instead of “You” messages, respect the rights and feelings of others, be specific and clear, be a good listener.
  • Ask for and Accept Help – Be honest with yourself and ask for and accept help when needed.
  • Talking to you Physician – Ask for medical advice when you don’t understand the needs of the person receiving care but also seek medical support for yourself.
  • Start to exercise – Exercise promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression, and increases energy and alertness.
  • Learning from your emotions -Emotions are useful tools for understanding what is happening to us. So, pay attention to them.

Caregiving can be a personally fulfilling and rewarding experience. Take care of yourself in order to best care for your loved ones. They will appreciate your love and care and understand your needs as well.

About James Hankins, MSW, LCSW
James is the Director of Patient Support and Social Services at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. James specializes in providing support and counseling services for patients and their caregivers dealing with all types of cancer. He graduated from Michigan State University and received a Masters in Social Work from Wayne State University. James has spent the majority of his 20 years of professional service focusing on mental health issues related to changes in physical health with special emphasis on the challenges facing caregivers.

Related Resources: