Posts Tagged ‘survivorship’

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:, and

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.

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Why We Run: A New Type of Togetherness

Bari Ellen & Charles RossBari Ellen and Charles Roberts always had a strong marriage. Togetherness was a major goal for the couple, who married in late midlife. Their shared experience of running a restaurant together, traveling together and moving across country to Arizona for a new life adventure strengthened their bond.

Their togetherness took a wayward turn in 2009, however, when the husband and wife were each diagnosed with cancer within two days of one another. Charles had been sick for months, but doctors couldn’t determine what was wrong. Bari Ellen, who was feeling great physically, had gone to yet another doctor’s appointment with her husband. Charles suggested to the doctor that perhaps he just had an infection, as his wife seemed to have an infection, too.

“She’s got a lump on her neck. Maybe we both just have an infection,” Charles said.

The doctor took one look at the lump on Bari Ellen’s neck and said, “Make an appointment with the receptionist tomorrow.” It was a good thing that she did.

“They did a biopsy, and the doctor told me I had head and neck cancer and that it was pretty far gone. He said he didn’t know what he could do for me,” Bari Ellen remembered.

Her cancer was staged at 4B and the prognosis was poor. Two days after Bari Ellen received her bad news, lab results for Charlie came back announcing that he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.

“We were in a swirl,” Bari Ellen said. “It just came out of nowhere.”

Within a week, Bari Ellen went to Atlanta at the suggestion of her daughter, who works at Emory, to get a second opinion. Her daughter had told her that maybe the couple could find hope and better news at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

“Once we got to Winship and saw their compassion and dedication and their sense of purpose, we got a sense of purpose and hope, too,” Bari Ellen said. “They gave us an action plan; they didn’t just write me off. We knew we had a fight before us, but we knew we could win it.”

Today, as survivors for four years, the Rosses are retired, enjoying grandchildren, exercising, volunteering and taking care to eat healthfully. They are also running races and this year, both of them are registered for the Winship Win the Fight 5K on October 5th. The couple have formed a team called the Ross Re-Missionaries, and are recruiting as many friends and family members as they can.

“After everything we’ve been through, and after everything they’ve done, I said ‘We’re going to start giving back,’” Bari Ellen said.

The randomness of their diagnoses helps the Rosses to understand the importance of cancer research, which is another reason they strongly support the Winship Win the Fight 5K. All money goes to cancer research at Winship and donors can choose a specific cancer type to which they would like to contribute.

“Our doctors were so phenomenal and did so much for us that we want to do whatever we can,” Bari Ellen said. “They saved our lives.”

The Winship Win the Fight 5K is fast upon us! If you want to run or simply help support other runners like the Roberts, visit the Winship 5K website for more information.

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Valerie Harper: An Energetic Will to Fight in the Face of Cancer

Valerie Harper Cancer DiagnosisWhat would you do if you were told you had an incurable disease and possibly only months to live? Actress Valerie Harper recently had to ask herself that question. This past January, Harper, best known for her role as Rhoda Morgenstern in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, was told she has leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare form of incurable brain cancer.

Doctors told Harper, who already has battled lung cancer, that she could have as little as three months to live. Since going public with her news back in March, Harper has mentioned in several media appearances that she has gained strength from opening up about her battle with cancer. In an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Harper displayed great courage and an even greater attitude when asked about her devastating diagnosis. “There’s other ways to handle it than just sit on the couch and accept.”  Through her actions, Harper has demonstrated that she is doing anything but ‘sit on the couch and accept.’

Now, eight months since her diagnosis, Harper has yet to slow down. Instead, she is doing book tours and TV appearances, exercising and even starring in an upcoming TV movie, set to air January 2014.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of willpower is “energetic determination,” while the Cambridge American English Dictionary defines it as “the ability to control your own thoughts and behavior, especially in difficult situations.”

A cancer diagnosis affects each patient and his or her family members differently. Some people may enter a state of severe depression, while others go about their normal activities while only stopping to receive treatment. For Harper, energetic determination is the key to making sure every day is the best it can be.

What are your thoughts on Valerie’s reaction to her earth-shattering diagnosis? Do you think her willpower has anything to do with her outlook on life, or could it be her coping mechanism?

At Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, we understand that life after a cancer diagnosis can be anything but ordinary. Because of this understanding, we have developed our survivorship program to meet the needs of cancer survivors at any stage of cancer, from diagnosis to post-treatment. For more information on the Winship Survivorship Program, email or call 404-778-0572.

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Survivor Story: Debbie Church’s Battle with Breast Cancer

Debbie Church

Debbie Church is Coordinator of the Cancer Survivors’ Network and Patient Navigator at Saint Joseph’s Hospital and a 5-year breast cancer survivor. Debbie has shared her story through the journey of survivorship below. We’re lucky to have Debbie and Saint Joseph’s Hospital as part of the Emory Healthcare family and we thank her for sharing her story. We hope our readers and community members are as inspired by her story as we are!

“Dick and I fell in love over 32 years ago and have never quite gotten over it! We have had some interesting moments, but we have made it through each challenge. Love always finds a way. Unexpectedly, our lives changed in an instant when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2008. We knew life would never be the same. Life is like that box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.”

Read more of Debbie’s story on the Saint Joseph’s Hospital blog >>

About Debbie Church, BA
Debbie Church, BA in Psychology and History, Salem College, and a M.Div. from Southeastern Seminary Wake Forest and a Certified Cancer Services Navigator has worked in oncology for over 20 years. She is currently employed at St. Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta as Coordinator of the Cancer Survivors’ Network and Patient Navigator. She has worked also as Director of Support Services and Chaplain at Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers, Atlanta Medical Center and various hospitals in the Southeast. She has spoken at many cancer events including GASCO Conferences here in Atlanta and other hospice and oncology centers in the southeast. She was a contributing author for Thomas Nelson’s Women’s Study Bible as well as publishing a book in 2010 with her husband, Don’t’ Ever Look Down; Surviving Cancer Together.

Cancer Survival Rates Expected to Rise by 37% over 10 years!

By the year 2022, there will be 18 million cancer survivors living in the United States, according to a recent report by the American Association for Cancer Research. The report points out that as survival rates increase and cancer survivors become an ever-growing portion of the population, a coordinated effort will become crucial to meeting long-term medical, psychosocial and practical needs.

When news of the boost in survivor numbers made headlines, CNN Newsroom anchor Brooke Baldwin brought Emory surgical oncologist Charles Staley, MD on set to interview him as both a cancer doctor, and a cancer survivor. Watch the full interview below:

As more people are living longer after a cancer diagnosis it is very important to educate survivors on the after effects, long term effects, nutrition, and fitness following cancer care. Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University has a Survivorship program to help patients get back to life after surviving cancer. Get more information about the survivorship program.

Over the course of the next few months we will highlight many different areas of survivorship on the Winship blog so make sure to follow us to get more detailed information on living after cancer.

Dr. Charles StaleyAbout Dr. Charles Staley

Dr. Staley is the Chief of Surgical Oncology for Emory University Hospital and Chief Medical Officer for Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. Dr. Staley specializes in treating cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, stomach, liver, small bowel and rectum. He has investigated gene therapy for metastatic colon cancer and radiofrequency ablation with intra-arterial chemotherapy for patients with colorectal liver metastases. Currently, he and his colleagues are exploring methods of using nanotechnology to treat and diagnose pancreatic and breast cancer. He joined Emory University School of Medicine faculty in 1995 after a surgical fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Dr. Staley earned his medical degree at Dartmouth University School of Medicine and conducted his residency at the University of Pittsburgh’s University Health Center. Dr. Staley is an active member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, The Georgia Surgical Society, and the Society of Surgical Oncology.

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Prepare for Life After a Diagnosis of Cancer

Cancer SurvivorshipAccording to the American Cancer Society, there are over 13.5 million survivors of cancer in the US today (a cancer survivor is defined as anyone from the moment of diagnosis throughout the balance of his or her life). This number is expected to significantly increase over the next 20 years due to improved early detection, improved treatment options, aging baby boomers and longer life expectancies. With longer life expectancies, cancer survivors can experience a higher burden of illness than others not diagnosed with cancer.

Few experiences in life match the feeling patients and family members have when they complete acute treatment for cancer and begin their road to survivorship. Some patients move on quickly and experience no further challenges associated with cancer, but others experience “after effects,” or long-term or late effects. Cancer survivors, and their families, should be aware of these potential after effects so they can prepare themselves to deal with them as they get back to a more normal life.

After affects can range from mild to severe and vary from survivor to survivor.

  • Long–term effects of cancer develop during cancer treatment and may not go away.  Some long-term effects can improve such as anemia, fatigue or anxiety.  Some potentially permanent long-term effects are limb loss, weakness or nerve damage.
  • Late effects are delayed effects of cancer treatment and they can surface months to years after treatment.  Some late effects of cancer treatment are heart disease, lung disease, lymphedema, osteoporosis, depression and secondary cancers.

After effects are categorized into physical, emotional and practical after effects.

Physical after effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of limbs
  • Scars
  • Pain
  • Early menopause
  • Infertility
  • Loss of limb or use of limb
  • Lymphedema
  • Impotence
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control

Emotional after effects include:

  • Body image changes
  • Sexuality changes
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Fear

Practical after effects include:

  • Difficulty working due to physical and emotional after effects
  • Changes in relationships with loved ones, friends or co–workers
  • Problems getting or retaining health or life insurance coverage
  • Challenges communicating with healthcare team members
  • Financial stressors
  • Employment discrimination

It is very important to note that not all patients experience significant after effects of cancer, but knowing about them will help you cope and may limit the severity of these after effects with  early intervention and treatment.

Talk to your care provider about the after effects you might expect with your cancer and what you possibly could experience based on your treatment regimen. Keep a record of your symptoms to discuss with the care provider and make sure to schedule screening tests and follow up exams as recommended.

About Joan Giblin, NP

Joan Giblin, Winship Cancer Institute

Joan Giblin, NP has a total of 43 years of nursing experience, 25 as a family nurse practitioner and 16 as an oncology nurse practitioner, where she is actively involved in patient care and clinical trials.  In 2011, Ms. Giblin assumed a new role as the director of the Winship Survivorship Program with primary responsibilities for developing the program as a resource for patients and a means to facilitate continued good health and quality of life for cancer survivors.  Prior to this, she was the director of the Winship Call Center, the first point of contact for new cancer patients, and was instrumental in establishing protocols and procedures to streamline access to care at Winship.

Clinical Specialties: Ms. Giblin’s experience as an oncology nurse practitioner gives her unique perspective on the needs of cancer patients and cancer survivors. As a clinical nurse practitioner, she was part of the aerodigestive team, specializing in the care of patients with lung, head and neck and throat cancers.

Research Focus: Ms. Giblin’s current research is in the area of survivorship related to long term and late effects of cancer treatment and adherence to follow up.

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Breast Cancer Survivors at Higher Risk for Heart Disease

Heart Disease after Breast CancerAlthough many women who have survived breast cancer are worried about the chance of recurrence, recent research suggests that risk of a heart problem is greater or equal to the risk of breast cancer reoccurring. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments for breast cancer can often be toxic to the heart muscle as well as to other organs. Chemotherapy side effects may increase the risk of heart disease, including weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy).

A significant proportion of women with breast cancer have one or more risk factors for heart disease at the time of breast cancer diagnosis that further increase the risk of cardiotoxicity, including smoking, obesity, lack of activity and high cholesterol. Additionally, if a woman had radiation therapy on the area of body that includes the heart, there may be an increased risk of cardiomyopathy, coronary artery disease and heart attack. The combination of radiation and chemotherapy can further increase a woman’s risk of heart damage. Thus, after second malignancies, heart disease is the leading cause of long-term morbidity and mortality among breast cancer survivors.

If you are a survivor of breast cancer, take control of your heart and breast health by following some simple guidelines:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid smoking
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Manage stress!  – Stress can shut down your immune system, making it harder for you to fight off disease. It also can prevent the body from healing, which can put you at greater risk for heart disease.
  • Exercise! Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity 3 times a week.
  • Monitor and manage diabetes.
  • Eat healthy! Your diet should be low in fat and include generous amounts of fruits and vegetables.
  • Actively monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Work with your physician to reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol if they are high.
  • Get rest. Most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night to heal and keep the immune system healthy.

Importantly, if you have received chemotherapy or radiation for breast cancer, it may be useful to follow up with a preventive cardiologist on a regular basis. If you experience significant problems such as shortness of breath or chest pain, report it immediately to your health care providers.

About Dr. Parashar

Dr. Susmita Parashar, Emory HealthcareSusmita Parashar, MD, MPH, MS is a Board certified cardiologist at the Emory Heart and Vascular Center and Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) at Emory University School of Medicine. Prior to joining the Division of Cardiology, Dr. Parashar was Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Medicine at Emory for 8 years. She applies her experience as a Board certified internist in providing a holistic care to patients.

She has received several grants and awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Heart Association to conduct research on women and heart disease. She has served as Emory principal investigator for large NIH – funded clinical research for heart attack patients. She was also invited to participate as a co-investigator for the NIH- fnded Cardiovascular Health Study for older adults.

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Survivorship Care Plan- Are You Prepared? Take-Aways from Web Chat

Cancer Survivorship SupportRecently, I conducted a chat with Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University on the Effects of Chemo and Radiation on Cancer Survivors. In 1978, as a child, I was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. I received radiation and chemotherapy at that time that resulted in my development of significant late side effects in my adult life.

The participants asked some great questions. One particular question we did not have time to answer was,

“Did you find a survivorship care plan an effective tool for you or your parents once you moved from active treatment?”

For me, a cancer treatment summary or a survivorship care plan was extremely helpful after my active treatment. Without the knowledge from my parents and their guidance, I would not have been able to properly prepare a care plan.

I recommend that every cancer survivor become well informed and secure a treatment summary and survivorship care plan.  Consider it the first step in accepting responsibility for your personal health and well-being after cancer treatment.

A Cancer Treatment Summary should include the following information at a minimum:

  • Identifiers for you (name, medical record number and birthdate)
  • A description of your cancer diagnosis including pathology and staging information
  • A list of all treatments you have received (surgery, chemotherapy, biological therapy, hormonal therapy, and/or radiation therapy)
  • All dates and doses of treatment you received  (i.e. cumulative doses of anthracyclines)
  • Any significant side effects you experienced during treatment
  • Contact name and phone number of a member of your family or close friend
  • Names and Contact information of all providers involved in your care

A Survivorship Care Plan should include the following information at a minimum:

  • A Treatment Summary
  • A plan for long term follow-up including appointments and testing you will need and when you should have them
  • A list of any long term side effects that you need to be aware of and ways to handle them (including physical issues as well as emotional and social issues you may experience)

For more information on how to prepare your survivorship plan and the benefits of having one, check out the chat transcript.

About Stephanie Zimmerman

Stephanie’s personal experience as a child diagnosed and treated for Ewing’s Sarcoma in the late 1970’s led her to become a nurse serving the physical and psychosocial needs of children and their families along the cancer trajectory. In April 2008, Stephanie’s heart failed because of the chest radiation and Doxorubicin used to cure her Ewing’s Sarcoma three decades prior. Unable to return to clinical practice following a heart transplant, yet unwilling to abandon her passion for the survivor population, Stephanie partnered with Judy Bode of Grand Rapids, MI in the founding of myHeart, yourHands, Inc. [MHYH]

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The Effects of Chemo and Radiation on Survivors Web Chat

I am a survivor. I beat Ewing’s sarcoma, a childhood cancer, which I was diagnosed with at 8 years old. I fought the cancer with an intense treatment plan that included 6 weeks of radiation therapy followed by 7 cycles of multi – agent chemotherapy. As a result of the aggressive treatment plan, I developed heart failure and ultimately had to receive a heart transplant. I beat the odds and am here to tell my story of survivorship!

Join me on Tuesday, February 19 from 12-1pm for a live, interactive chat about weathering the storms of cancer. Despite the side effects that have impacted my life greatly, long after the completion of my therapy, I am bubbling with hope and smiling about thoughts of my future.

About Stephanie Zimmerman

Stephanie is a patient and family advisor for the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. She is also a cancer and heart failure survivor and late effects cancer educator. She co –founded My Heart, yourHands, Inc., a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to equipping survivors with late effects after cancer treatment.


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

Survivor Tips for a Relaxing HolidayIt 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 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, Winship Cancer Institute

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.