Words People Say
By Jaroslava Salman, MD
“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” - Buddha
“Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds.” - Eli Wiesel
Few life experiences inspire unsolicited advice from people the way that cancer does. Many of my patients tell me about other people’s reactions to their cancer. These reactions are often driven by people’s natural discomfort with illness, or dying, and the need to reassure the patient with cancer (but mainly themselves) that “everything will be OK”. Our culture nurtures the myth of limitless youth, health and individual self-efficacy. This myth only perpetuates the denial of reality that we all age, we all get sick and die, and that we are in fact inextricably dependent on others. For most patients with cancer this reality assumes a stark and often painful presence. At that point they wonder why suddenly people around them have such a strong urge to dispense advice on lifestyle, diet, treatments and other related topics.
There is no question that having a cancer diagnosis carries a stigma that many find uncomfortable to face. It reminds all of us of our vulnerability but not everyone is able to face that with maturity and strength. If you are someone dealing with cancer, you may find that some of those around you want to withdraw and not see you, or talk to you. Others would like to find faults in you or your lifestyle that would “explain” why you got sick. Some prefer to offer “solutions” and “fixes”. This is part of human nature, we have a hard time accepting life’s uncertainty and unpredictability. It makes us anxious and creates a need to find quick explanations or ways to prevent “bad things from happening”.
Recently, one of my patients told me about a family party she attended. She was approached by a family acquaintance asking her bluntly about her cancer diagnosis and treatment, including whether her “breasts had to be cut off”. Needless to say, my patient was shocked and although she felt “violated and traumatized” by such questioning, she was not sure how to respond in the moment.
The list of unhelpful and, let’s be honest, annoying things people say (often in good faith) to those dealing with cancer is endless. Perhaps you have heard some of these yourself:
“You have to be strong!”
“You just need to stay positive!”
“You don’t even look sick!”
“Have you tried ‘xyz’ treatment…?”
“You need to eat more of ‘xyz’!”
“You know, my friend had the same thing and…”
“This is a new journey for you!”
“God doesn’t ask you to carry any more than you can handle.”
And the list can go on! I bet you too have heard a handful of unhelpful comments that have been offered to you. Maybe well-meant, but hopelessly unhelpful. How can one respond in such situations in a way that is firm but respectful, allowing one to stand up for themselves? You may find it useful to think about possible responses ahead of time – to prepare yourself, rather than trying to scramble for the right words when confronted with a surprisingly unpleasant comment or inquiry.
It is important to keep in mind that you are under no obligation to explain your health/illness to anyone, like an acquaintance at a family gathering for instance. My patient could have said: “I’m sorry, but I consider my health a personal matter and I don’t want to talk about it right now.”
For many people it feels like a new territory when they have to figure out how much they want to disclose to relative strangers (e.g. colleagues at work) and how detailed they want to be with friends and family. You have the right to decide who you want to share your health information with. No one needs to know more than you are willing to share. For friends and family who are close to you, it often works best when you are direct about what you do, or do not, want from them. If they keep asking you questions you don’t feel comfortable answering, you may say: “I know you mean well but I really would prefer to talk about something else right now.” or “Just being with you helps me. The fact that you are thinking of me is enough for me.” Be specific in expressing your needs. Most people want to be helpful but are unsure what to say or do. It is often a relief for them when you offer guidance by making a specific request – whatever it may be. You may want to teach people close to you to say: “I want to be helpful to you. What can I do to be helpful?”
Unfortunately, none of us can control what other people will do or say. As if it wasn’t challenging enough, cancer often forces people to “grow a thicker skin”. However, no matter where you are, you can always take a slow, deep breath and remind yourself: “I am grounded and strong, like a mountain” and let the unhelpful words of others just roll down that imaginary mountain like little pebbles that cannot hurt you. You know what your situation means to you, and you can find the strength to overcome it in a way that works best for you.
To learn more about Dr. Jaroslava and her work, follow this link: https://www.cityofhope.org/people/salman-jaroslava
What's Cooking, CSCP?
Nutrition workshops are among the most popular classes offered at Cancer Support Community Pasadena. At CSCP, we strive to offer programs that are “patient active,” meaning that individuals feel empowered to take control of aspects of their lifestyle. While many factors associated with a cancer diagnosis are outside of human control, things like diet, exercise, and mental health can be improved with education and applicable tools. Our nutrition classes at CSCP aim to provide information that can be reasonably applied to everyday grocery shopping and cooking.
Long time CSCP volunteer Pam Braun has recently taken our nutrition workshops a step further by introducing a 4 part cooking series to the CSCP calendar. For Pam, volunteering at CSCP brings great joy but is also personal, having gone through her own cancer experience almost 15 years ago. She also brings with her a wealth of cooking experience as she has worked as a chef, restaurant owner, and cookbook author (check out her book The Ultimate Anti-Cancer Cookbook). For years, Pam has offered a no-nonsense, informative, and creative approach to a plethora of nutrition workshops at CSCP (and she always comes in with delicious samples in tow). About a year ago, Pam generously offered to apply the information she presented in her previous workshops by facilitating a 4 part cooking class.
CSCP has now offered two cooking series under Pam’s direction. Along with presenting healthy alternatives to cooking classics, reviewing ingredient lists, and suggesting grocery staples, Pam and her class members cook a feast in each session! One would think that the fragrant stews, salads, pizzas, pies, and soups took hours upon hours to prep, but Pam shows her students that healthy recipes can be relatively easy. One of her famous soup recipes consists of boiling vegetables and simply pureeing them with broth in a blender. Pam demonstrates that the road to healthier eating need not be restrictive, expensive, or time-consuming.
While Pam has presented on the ease of maintaining a healthy homemade diet, we know that Pam put hours of planning, prepping, and cooking into this cooking series. CSCP is grateful for Pam for her years of volunteerism, tireless efforts at continually offering new information and flavors to the CSCP kitchen, and for infusing our office with the wonderful aroma of homemade cooking.
Pam will be facilitating a “Healthy Holiday Cooking” workshop on November 13 from 6 – 8 pm. Please call us at (626) 796-1083 if you would like to attend!
Biden Cancer Summit
In October 2015, months after his son died of brain cancer, former Vice President Joe Biden called for “a moonshot in this country to cure cancer.” Biden’s aspiration was personal, as it is to the millions of people across the United States who are impacted by the disease. Former President Obama added “For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”
Not only did Biden assert the need to for additional funding to go towards research and availability of more treatment options, but he also called for increased screening, prevention practices, and more accessible care to be put into place. With more funding in the area of cancer research, scientific opportunities would be accelerated. Named in Biden’s son’s honor, the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot Initiative was authorized to receive $1.8 billion over the next seven years to fuel its lofty goal of consolidating research that would typically take 10 years to complete into a span of 5 years. Following the birth of the Moonshot Initiative, Biden, along with his wife Dr. Jill Biden, founded the Biden Cancer Initiative, a nonprofit charged with executing the goals outlined by the Moonshot. Kim Thiboldeaux, CEO of Cancer Support Community Headquarters, serves on the board of the Biden Cancer Initiative, providing her unparalleled input on patient advocacy and the importance of psychosocial support. Nonprofits like the Biden Cancer Initiative work alongside federal agencies, such as the National Cancer Institute, to fully realize the goals of the Moonshot.
The Biden Cancer Initiative hosts an annual summit to inspire solidarity behind the Moonshot initiative. The summit, which is held in Washington D.C., is one of 450 Biden Cancer Community Summits that happen across the United States on September 21st. The power of the summits lie in the thousands of participants who exemplify #cancerFIERCE, a campaign launched by the Biden Caner Initiative and serves as a tagline for the collective cancer narrative. The voice of #cancerFIERCE, and the voice of patients, caregivers, survivors, and those who are bereaved, is made louder by those who participate in the summits. And the louder the voices, the more the Moonshot initiative is propelled forward. There are many ways to get involved in these nationwide summits:
We look forward to witnessing the ongoing progress of the Moonshot Initiative, fueled by nonprofits like the Biden Cancer Initiative and the #cancerFIERCE community.
A Season of Being
She commented on the nuances of the room: the texture of the couch and the way the sunlight streamed in and cast illuminations and shadows. She breathed in the environment, speaking of how she would paint or photograph the scene to capture the moment. Lorena Valencia had never been one to mindfully acknowledge the details of the present in that way, but this past year greatly shifted her perspective.
Lorena comes from a lineage of resiliency. Her parents placed high value on education and safety and made the decision to move their young family from Mexico to the US. Her father worked as a migrant farm worker, meaning that her family followed seasonal crops and often lived in tight accommodations (she remembers all six members of her family sleeping in a studio apartment at one point). Lorena’s natural intellect and work ethic stood out to her mentors in high school, and she was encouraged to apply to rigorous institutions that would foster her potential. She immediately connected with Pitzer College and its “come one, come all” spirit that exuded inclusivity and opportunity. Her authentic affinity for social justice and advocacy paved the way for a career in social work. Following her graduation, she “felt called through [her] faith and social change education” to move to East LA, where she knew her work and life path would be most needed and meaningful.
Fast forward many years of determination and commitment, Lorena was given a leadership role in managing a team of social workers employed by LAUSD that provide clinical case management services for at-risk youth. Lorena sees the potential in each student through a “lens of what’s going well” and “polishing their strengths.” Given her drive and selflessness, Lorena had little time remaining to look inward. And little did Lorena know that her fast paced life would take a turn in a way that she never could have expected.
Lorena’s brother was diagnosed with leukemia. It went from “treatment, to heavier treatment, to worst possible treatment, to bone marrow transplant, to rejecting bone marrow transplant, to death” all within the span of a year. After this incredibly jarring and unexpected loss, Lorena went in for her yearly routine mammogram, which revealed some suspicious activity. The initial reading did not phase Lorena until she went to her follow up appointment and saw herself in a patient gown. After her initial diagnosis of breast cancer, Lorena experienced pure shellshock, recalling feelings that she was “not really a cancer patient. This was not really happening to me.” A friend from church referred Lorena to CSCP. Easing into acceptance of her diagnosis, Lorena remembers thinking “if I gotta do this, let me figure out how to do this.”
Lorena joined CSCP’s weekly breast cancer support group and began coming to photography and meditation classes, among others. She religiously attended her group prior to making a treatment decision, a time that she felt was the most difficult of the entire cancer experience. In group, she felt that her “darkest thoughts lost power” when she was able to state them out loud among women she trusted. She recounted that she went from “thinking I was alone, but realizing that I was not.”
“In group, my darkest thoughts lost power.”
When she ultimately landed on the decision to pursue a mastectomy, she moved into action mode. Going into her surgery, she wanted to be as prepared as possible. She got her living trust and assets in order and “made peace with those [she] loved.” The surgery itself was “10 days of hell,” followed by a period of deep personal reflection. She utilized lessons gained from her meditation classes to “connect with a higher power and a higher sense of self.” This deep introspection allowed Lorena to wonder about “What does the unafraid Lorena do? What does Lorena do without worry? Who is my inner mentor, and what would my best self do?” This line of thinking that Lorena experienced following her surgery, fostered by the supportive environment in CSCP’s support groups and mind body classes, was liberating in that she was now fully able to embrace her potential in every single moment. Lorena is now in a period of recovery, and will be participating in CSCP’s Return to Wellness program.
Beyond Lorena’s personal transformation, her warm presence is transformative for CSCP. It is hard to meet a CSCP member who has not been graced by her honesty, courage, and compassion. Though she will forever be a true giver, Lorena has found that “[my] life is more balanced since cancer. I cannot do as much, but I can be. I can’t do the long hikes I used to do, but I can do a short hike and notice the leaves, and the creek, and the sounds. It’s a season of being.”
Spring has Sprung
With sunnier weather and pastel colors abounding, it feels that Spring is officially in the air. And a new season means a fresh new quarterly calendar at CSCP! With the last week of March rounding up, April 1st marks the first day of the spring quarter at CSCP. We have many exciting upcoming new programs, workshops, and groups that enable CSCP members to fill their calendars. Below are some highlights from our new quarterly calendar:
What’s So Great About Stretching?: This new four part series will focus on both education and physical application of stretching.
Ok, I went to the Nutrition Workshops, Now What Do I Do?: All of us at CSCP know and love Pam Braun! Pam, a chef and author of The Ultimate Anti-Cancer Cookbook, has offered her personal experience and expertise in many of our past nutrition workshops. Pam will be taking it a step further in this four part series to help attendees learn practical ways to integrate the nutrition information they have gleaned into their cooking.
Cardio Jam!: Cardio Jam is back by popular demand! This cardio dance class is led by fitness instructor, Gayle Marie, and the music coming out of the fitness room each Wednesday morning made all of CSCP want to join in on the fun.
Shaking and Baking with Pam: Pam is making multiple appearances at CSCP this coming quarter! In addition to her four part cooking series, Pam will be facilitating an interactive baking demo for our Children’s program. Pam is taking this baking experience up a notch by shaping the dough into fun animal and monster shapes.
Release and Recalibrate with Sound: Want some R&R? This workshop never disappoints. Being surrounded by the soothing sound and peaceful vibration of Tibetan bowls can be a grounding and rejuvenating experience.
Young Adults Group: This monthly networking group will be taking place on the third Monday of each month from 6 – 7:30pm, starting on April 16th. This group will provide a forum for adults diagnosed before the age of 35 to discuss topics unique to young adults; an often neglected age bracket in cancer care. Scroll down to read our “70,000 Stories” post to hear from one of CSCP’s young adult members as well as learn more about the young adult group.
In addition to the above events, we have several other new programs and workshops, weekly fitness and art classes, several Spanish language programs, and social events. Make sure to come into CSCP today to grab a physical copy of the calendar or visit the calendar page on our website to follow live links for events and classes
It is rare in this complex world that we find answers through profoundly simple actions. When faced with the overwhelming task of contemplating happiness, we often think we will only find true happiness when certain conditions are met (i.e. “I will be happy if…” or “I will be happy when…”). Perhaps some of the most seemingly simple yet compellingly intuitive research of our day surrounds the correlation between happiness and gratitude. As we enter Spring, a season of abundance and newness, let’s take a deep dive into the meaning of gratitude, the research that looks at the connection between gratitude and happiness, and easy ways to incorporate a gratitude practice into your everyday life.
What is gratitude?
Many of us understand gratitude as the action of expressing thankfulness, as in thanking someone for passing you the salad at the dinner table. But in the scientific community, gratitude is not only a passive action, but an emotional state of appreciation. Dr. Robert Emmons, a preeminent researcher and psychologist, provides helpful insight on gratitude:
“Gratitude has been conceptualized as an emotion, a virtue, a moral sentiment, a motive, a coping response, a skill, and an attitude. It is all of these and more. Minimally, gratitude is an emotional response to a gift. It is the appreciation felt after one has been the beneficiary of an altruistic act” (Emmons & Crumpler, 2000).
Further, Emmons posits that gratitude consists of two parts, the recognition of the value that we hold from within, and value that is directed towards us from others. In that, we recognize the internal and external manifestations of giving and gratitude.
Gratitude and the Research
Positive psychology is revolutionary in the way that it perceives of mental health. Traditionally, psychology has embodied a pathological framework. That is, psychology tends to give credence to individual deficits and abnormalities, which are then dealt with through diagnosis and treatment. There is certainly value to this framework, but positive psychology brings necessary information to the table by focusing on individual strengths, resources, and adaptive coping skills. Positive psychology looks at what we are already doing right rather than what is wrong. Multiple positive psychology studies have found correlations between gratitude and happiness, strong interpersonal relationships, a sense of optimism, self-control, and better physical and mental health. Neuroscience has even validated these correlational studies, finding that gratitude triggers areas of the brain associated with morality and virtue.
How to incorporate Gratitude into your life:
Incorporating gratitude in your life does not need to entail a radical shift in your daily schedule. Many find that a simple 5 minute daily practice is incredibly impactful. The following are some creative ways to implement gratitude in your routine:
There are many more ways to practice gratitude than those on our simple list. So be grateful for that creative brain of yours, and begin to cultivate your own unique gratitude practice.
And all of us at CSCP are grateful for you
Olivia Gaines was being treated in the pediatric unit one night because the adult unit was full. “I remember being in pain and I was up at 2 or 3 am and I heard a kid crying. Why was this kid with cancer crying? I didn’t want to think about it.” Discreetly, she began walking down the hall towards the cries, averting nurses as they roamed the unit. When she reached the kid’s room, she opened Spotify on her phone and serendipitously, the song “Dancing in the Moonlight” played. And in the dead of night, in her backless hospital gown, she “started dancing in the moonlight with this kid and he stopped crying.” She wondered “how many more kids are crying right now and just need a little song?”
Olivia Gaines is an iconoclast, in every sense of the word. Upon her high school graduation, she donned a Gap sweatshirt and announced to the Ivy-league bound graduating class that she would be taking a gap year. She co-led a backpacking crew on an 18 day outdoor trip through the Adirondack Mountains. She studied art history in Italy and got accredited in dog sled management in Canada. She became fluent in Spanish in three months, worked as a housekeeper in Hawaii, and ran a half marathon. She helped to start the TEDx conference series at her college and is passionate about “breaking the mold to break expectations.” When recounting her diverse life experiences, she says “I wish I could get this in ten seconds.” Nearly impossible, with regards to all that she accomplished within the first 20 years of her life and considering what happened next.
Olivia’s symptoms began when she was leading a backpacking trip. “It started slowly, at first. I was beating myself up because I started to be behind everybody, and everyone would keep walking…I was so tired.” Quickly following the trip, she experienced debilitating pain in her neck that hindered movement to the point that it was difficult to open a book at college. In the school cafeteria “I couldn’t use a fork to feed myself and all these people just walked by… and I wondered ‘Would I be that kind of person to walk by if I saw someone in this kind of pain?’ People just didn’t know how to deal with it. No one really did. And there was one person who would cut my food and feed me, and I thought I couldn’t do this for the whole semester.” Olivia ended up discontinuing college during her sophomore year, dedicating her time towards investigating her declining health through consultation with several medical professionals, ranging from general practitioners, to an upper cervical specialist, to ER doctors, to neurologists, chiropractors, and university health center physicians. The Rx was always the same: rest, take pain meds, and come back in two weeks. Following a bout of significant abnormal bleeding, Olivia’s mother urged her to go to urgent care. Within 24 hours Olivia was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and began chemotherapy. “It took me almost dying to be diagnosed. I remember wondering ‘Who am I going to be?’ This was a defining moment in my life. I was concerned about who I would turn into. Maybe I’m resilient, but what if I gave up on living?”
Following a year and a half of relentless treatments where Olivia was often in the hospital for periods of three and a half months, she remembers “I lost a sense of imagination and being able to have a vision. And when you lose vision, you perish. So it was a lot of staying in the bed and wondering why I was still here. I did not have belief that things would change. That was a hard place because that’s what I feared when I first got the diagnosis. And I thought, ‘Well, I got this far, now I am ready to go.’” She remembers being fatigued to the point that when she would walk to the bathroom, the physical exertion would tire her. She would nap, and then wake up and realize that a day passed. She felt all “senses of power being taken away. Life was interrupted at a stage when I was growing into the person I wanted to be. And all the sudden, I felt like I wouldn’t have time to become the person I wanted to be, so why even try?”
Though unique in its own right, Olivia’s story is representational of the cancer experience of young adults. This story, one of the 70,000 stories of young adults diagnosed with cancer yearly in the U.S. alone, reminds us of a growing need to develop supportive care practices in medical and psychosocial communities that attend to the unique needs of young adults facing cancer. She identified many issues that, though not entirely exclusive to the young adult population, are certainly preeminent or exacerbated in this life stage due to a cancer diagnosis. To name a few:
Research validates Olivia’s experience, citing issues such as isolation, continuity of care, grappling with mortality, body image issues, decreased independence and reliance on caregivers, worries about the future, finances, and disruption of work or higher education as critical areas of concern for young adults. Further, there is a gap in the research addressing young adults as most oncology literature surrounds adult populations. Often, young adults are grouped with pediatric or adult groups in treatment and research, which further obscures our understanding of the needs of this population.
Olivia fortunately had the support of an around the clock caregiver (her mom cared and advocated for her all the while holding down a full time job), financial stability and insurance to pursue effective treatments, and an inherent resourcefulness that enabled her to find supportive venues, like Cancer Support Community. Olivia also had the support of her church, college, and high school alma mater through the blood drives that they conducted, which also raised awareness for national bone marrow associations. She remembers slowly coming out of the fog she experienced during her recovery by recognizing “little steps, small decisions, even if it was just one day being grateful for something.” A nurse gave her CSC Pasadena’s calendar and, though she was reluctant to come at first, she quickly became grateful that she simply had a place to go. After participating in CSCP’s services, her potential became tangible opportunities. She landed a part time job with the gym that offers a strength training class at CSCP. After receiving an email about a writing competition, she submitted a letter to young cancer patients and won $5,000. She entered a step study she was introduced to at CSC and increased her steps from 1,000 to 7,000 – 8,000 steps a day in six short weeks. She reignited her passion for writing by attending a weekly journaling and poetry class (read Olivia’s blog here). What ultimately shifted for her? “There was the support group… there were the phone calls…receiving messages of impact when I wasn’t expecting it… having a space away from the hospital that gets it… those little moments of remembering who I was.” When reflecting on her experience at CSCP, she says “So many people are travelling on the surface where you cannot afford to do that here. These places are created to restore the sacred. You help give everyone peace when there’s a place taking care of you on a soul level. That’s what’s going to help you come alive again. That’s why it’s beautiful that this place exists.”
Though Olivia’s story has an encouraging ending, she humbly recognizes that other young adults with cancer may not have access to some of the resources that she did. More investment in addressing issues such as accurately assessing for needs (both medical and psychological), linking patients to resources, and attending to the unique emotional concerns of young adults is essential in providing comprehensive cancer care. To that end, CSCP will be offering a new young adult support group starting in April 2018 to provide a place for young adults facing cancer to connect, reflect on treatment, recovery, and survivorship, and gain hope. To those who are just at the beginning stages of getting a cancer diagnosis, Olivia eloquently says “You can be more than be sick. You’re here. You’re worthy. Keep the vision of who you want to be alive.”
To find resources for young adults facing cancer, call Cancer Support Community’s helpline at (888) 793-9355 or follow this link.
Being your own Valentine
With the month of love in full swing, many are focused on love they give outwardly towards friends, family members, and partners. Rarely do we gift ourselves with a Valentine's day treat, a metaphorical hug, or words of compassion. And yet, self-love is integral in maintaining physical and mental health. Especially during cancer, when your body and mind experiences trauma and is challenged beyond the limits you knew you were capable of, self-love is paramount. And yet, self-love and self-care are all too often overlooked. While cultivating love and meaningful relationships is undoubtedly important, self-care is equally so. Here are some ways that you can be your own best Valentine throughout the month of February and beyond:
It may seem that there is little time for enjoyment amidst the everyday bustle of life, but there is always 5 minutes on a weekday to take a walk around the block, 30 minutes in the evenings to read your favorite book, or an hour on the weekend to watch your favorite show on Netflix. And if there truly is no time, perhaps taking something off of the to-do list is warranted. Make time to do something you love, no matter how big or small.
Many of us are control freaks by nature, but as we all know, much is out of our control. Perseverating on the future and/or the past will do little to change where we are right now. However, savoring the moment will free us from shackling ourselves to what was and what could be.
We live in a world that is full of near-constant stimulation: social media, work demands, family obligations, never-ending traffic… the list goes on. Meaning that it becomes even more important to take a step outside of the business of it all. That may look like meditating for a few minutes at your work desk, limiting use of technology during certain hours, or creating work/life boundaries so that your professional obligations don’t impede upon your home life.
The benefits of exercise are indisputable. Integrate exercise into your life in meaningful ways: if you enjoy biking, bike. If you enjoy dancing, go do a Zumba class. If you enjoy hiking, check out a new trail. Even though the idea of exercise may trigger feelings of resistance, fear, and ambivalence, give it a try and work at your speed. Following the workout, all of your feel-good hormones will spike and give your physical and emotional being a much-needed boost.
Rarely do we pause to ask ourselves how we are really feeling (see distractions/ lack of time theory alluded to in item 3). As such, we can be detached from our emotional state. Further, we often “push through” to evade or “get over” difficult emotions. But part of self-love is loving ourselves in any feeling state; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Be genuine in your feelings of sadness, happiness, fear, excitement, and love; embracing those emotions completely and without judgment. When we give ourselves permission to feel fully, we are practicing love for ourselves in one of the deepest, most intimate ways possible.
So treat yourself to some chocolate, a heart-shaped card, and a little self-love this month, Valentine. You’ll be happy you did.
New Support Groups in 2018!
2017 proved to be an exciting year for CSCP as we saw a significant increase in our service hours, meaning that our participants were using our services more often. As such, there is a demand for additional programs and support services on our calendar. One of our goals for 2018 is expanding our program offerings. In the next few months, we will be introducing three new support groups to meet the needs of our ever-expanding family at CSC. If you are interested in learning more or joining any one of these groups, please call us at (626) 796-1083. Further details are below:
In this monthly networking group, men can connect discuss issues related to their diagnosis and survivorship. CSCP continues to offer support groups for women, and there has been an ongoing need for men to have their own space to process issues unique to them. This group is open to patients and survivors and will meet the second Monday of each month from 6 – 7:30 pm, starting on February 12th, 2017. As this is a monthly drop-in group, participants are welcome to continue attending their weekly support groups at CSCP in addition to the men's group.
Young adults face issues distinct to their age group when dealing with cancer. This group is open to people who were diagnosed between the ages 18 – 35 and are currently facing a cancer diagnosis or are navigating survivorship post-treatment. Concerns surrounding fertility, career, finances, and survivorship often impact young adults in different ways than other age cohorts. As this is a monthly drop-in group, participants are welcome to continue attending their weekly support groups at CSCP in addition to the young adult group. This group will take place on the third Monday of each month, with a start date to be determined.
With the addition of another bereavement group to our program schedule, there will be additional space for those who are looking for group support in their journey through grief. This group is available for those who are grieving the loss of a love one within the past 2 years due to cancer. This group will take place on Tuesday evenings from 6 - 7:30 pm, with a start date to be determined.
Are there other programs that you would like to see added to CSCP's calendar? Let us know in the comments below!
Eating Clean in 2018
Each New Year, many of us pledge to overhaul our lives by implementing new exercise regimes, dietary plans, and fitness goals. And we are all guilty of sometimes adhering to those lofty plans for exactly two seconds. Often, New Year’s resolutions represent ideals rather than practicalities. We must give ourselves some grace in marrying what we hope to achieve in a utopian world with what is most realistic in our everyday lives. This post is dedicated to providing simple and easily attainable ways to modify your diet so that you meet those resolution goals and keep your tummy satisfied. Also, attend our upcoming nutrition workshops to gain more information and practical tips to improve your diet.
In recent years, there has been increased interest in the role that diet and nutrition play in preventing cancer, maintaining health throughout treatment, and promoting a healthy survivorship. While there is no magical Amazonian fruit that can be blended into your smoothie bowl and eradicate cancer, there are several dietary and lifestyle choices that we can make that are correlated to lowering the risk of cancer as well as mitigating treatment-related side effects. We do know that cancer is caused by a constellation of factors, including genetics, environment, and an unlucky draw of the cards. While many of these circumstances are out of our control, a recent study found that up to 30 – 35% of cancer diagnoses are linked to diet. Below are five digestible (no pun intended) tips that you can integrate in your diet that are suggested to aid in cancer prevention and maximize health throughout treatment.
The value of water consumption cannot be underestimated. An average human is composed of 60% water and all body functions require water to operate. As water is our primary fueling source, one could easily understand why water is important, especially during cancer treatment. What with treatments often provoking side effects such as lack of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea, patients need water as a replenishing source. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women consume 91 ounces and men consume 125 ounces of water each day (about 25% of which comes from the food you ingest).
Carbs are not the enemy, even though many diets swear against them. This is good news, as grains are often central to many diets. However, we do need to be careful with the types of carbohydrates that we are selecting to include in our diet. Many of the carbs in our grocery aisles are refined grains, meaning that they are robbed of several nutrients in the refining process. When choosing carbs, look for whole grain products as they retain vital macronutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Some examples include brown rice, whole wheat bread, and oats. Look for products that say “100% whole wheat" or check ingredient labels as many products are marketed as “whole grain” but still contain refined flour.
A diet high in fruits and vegetables has been linked to several positive outcomes, including cancer prevention. Plant based foods contain phytonutrients or phytochemicals such as carotenoids, resveratrol, quercetin, indole-3-carbinol, sulforaphane, and silymarin. These phytochemicals have several benefits, and they are best derived by consuming them from the source (i.e. eating fruits and vegetables as opposed to simply taking supplements or pills). Further, fruits and vegetables provide an excellent source of fiber, which can help with constipation.
And a few words of caution:
Our body needs protein for growth and building and repairing tissues. That said, we must choose our proteins wisely. High consumption of red and processed meat has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, especially gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers. If you can, limit red meat and choose alternative protein sources such as nuts, beans, fish, soy, and poultry.
Remember the word of advice in our second suggestion to limit refined carbs? That suggestion was born of the fact that refined foods often have a high glycemic index, meaning that they quickly turn into sugar in the blood. Cells, both good and bad, are fueled by glucose. Excessive sugar consumption can lead to several health risks, and may be connected to cancer risk.
Below are a few food blogs that provide excellent recipes that utilize many of the above tips. Hopefully this information gives an extra boost to your confidence in maintaining your health-oriented resolutions and leads you into the kitchen! Share any photos or links of healthy recipes that you create in the comments below.
Oh She Glows: http://ohsheglows.com/
Pinch of Yum: https://pinchofyum.com/
100 Days of Real Food: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/
Sprouted Kitchen: https://www.sproutedkitchen.com/
The Year in Food: http://theyearinfood.com/
American Cancer Society. (2015, July 15). Benefits of good nutrition during cancer treatment. Retrieved January 04, 2018, from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active/nutrition/nutrition-during-treatment/benefits.html
Anand, P., Kunnumakara, A. B., Sundaram, C., Harikumar, K. B., Tharakan, S. T., Lai, O. S., Aggarwal, B. B. (2008, September 25). Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Retrieved January 04, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515569/
How to Eat When You Have Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved January 04, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/cancer/cancer-diet#2
Magee, E. (n.d.). The Anticancer Diet. Retrieved January 04, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/the-anticancer-diet#1
Publishing, H. H. (2016, September 16). Cancer and diet: What's the connection? Retrieved January 04, 2018, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/cancer/cancer-and-diet-whats-the-connection
The Holiday Season brings with it immeasurable and inescapable cheer. The last heat wave of Summer barely graced us before tidings of tinsel, flocked trees, and icicle lights stocked the store shelves. Around every corner is yet another reminder that the holidays are upon us, and with that reminder comes an implicit message that they should be filled with family, joy, and peace. And while that image sounds ideal, the holidays can, in truth, represent a season of conflict, hardship, and ambiguity amidst the cheer. And when mixed feelings exist in a winter wonderland of cloying happiness, those feelings are often exacerbated, making the sadness even sadder and the loneliness even lonelier. And cancer can be that unwelcome guest at the Christmas dinner table, piercing through an otherwise peaceful season with feelings of apprehension, anger, grief, tenderness, fear, and everything in between. Cancer can disrupt family holiday traditions, impact finances, and shift dynamics in the roles that people play in their family’s holiday celebrations. It may leave caregivers and well-intentioned family members baffled as to how to interact with and support their loved one during this festive season. And while there is no road-map to eradicate the emotional roller-coaster that the holiday season can present, we offer a few tips that may help alleviate some stress, provide room to be genuine about your feelings, and embrace the holiday season for all that it may be: the bad, the ugly, the surprising, and the beautiful.
First and foremost, allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to feel happy, sad, confused, excited, scared, and joyful. The more we avoid our feelings, the more that they can overwhelm us. Though we may try, we can never outrun the way that we are feeling. And feelings in and of themselves are not bad, wrong, or permanent; they are simply a wave that will ebb and flow. So allow yourself to feel sad, because that sadness will inevitably clear the way for other more peaceful feelings to occupy its space.
Holidays are often characterized by traditions, and with those traditions come expectations. Perhaps you were always the family member responsible for hosting the family, or baking the apple pies, or buying the mountain of presents, or directing the cleanup crew following Christmas dinner. Hence our next tip: contemplate. Check in with yourself to assess whether you want and are able to fulfill everything that you historically do during the holidays. Maybe maintaining the traditions that you normally do is of utmost importance to you, or maybe this year you want to change things up. Maybe you need to give some thought to where and with whom you want to spend time with during the holidays. This process of contemplation may sound like a daunting task, but taking the extra time to prepare for the holiday you want will relieve your future self of undue stress.
Remember the holidays are not just about giving, but also receiving. Asking for help, space, time, and understanding are all appropriate items on your holiday wish-list. Chances are you have never hesitated to help a family member or friend in need- maybe it’s now your turn to ask for help. Maybe you need help with cooking or cleaning in advance of your holiday gathering, or you need help organizing your coat closet, or shopping for presents… No matter what the request may be, those close to you will be more than willing to help.
While it is a major feat for Santa to scale the chimneys of families worldwide all within a matter of one night, we cannot all be Santa. We cannot expect ourselves to perform to ridiculously high holiday standards on top of the things we ordinarily do on top of life stressors on top of a cancer diagnosis. When we set expectations that exceed our physical and mental abilities, we set ourselves up for failure at the very worst, and one heck of an unpleasant and stressful holiday season at the very least. Setting realistic expectations does not mean that you are throwing in the towel. Rather, it means that you are taking a look at your goals and taking inventory of your resources to achieve those goals. Make a list of your priorities and evaluate how you will work towards those priorities (i.e. axing some items off the to-do list, enlisting friends and family for support, scheduling in appropriate time for rest, etc).
And for the family members out there: listen. Listen to your loved one talk about their experience with cancer, and listen to them when they want to talk about Aunt Marge’s green bean casserole. Be present with them in providing space for them to talk about their health or to not talk about their health. Also, allow them to contribute. Be attuned to their wishes and needs, which may include keeping with their usual duties and roles or changing things up a bit. Holiday traditions can be very meaningful and important, and sparing your loved ones of the duty to contribute in the way that they normally do or want to do may rob them of the joy that characterizes this season.
Above all, be present with your family and loved ones. The fragility of life becomes evident when it is threatened by a disease like cancer, which inevitably provides perspective on the things that matter most. All of us at CSC Pasadena wish you a peaceful and meaningful holiday season.
Cancer During the Holidays. (2014, November 24). Retrieved December 06, 2017, from https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/cancer-during-the-holidays.html
Coping with Cancer at the Holidays. (2010, December 13). Retrieved December 06, 2017, from http://www.massgeneral.org/cancer/about/newsarticle.aspx?id=2479
Unique ways to support CSCP
CSCP is a pure nonprofit. We are so fortunate to be funded by private donations, foundation grants, and fundraising events. No matter the size or frequency of donation, every bit counts. Our funding enables us to do what we do on a day to day basis; providing free support, education, and camaraderie to individuals and families facing cancer.
In addition to our primary funding sources, there are several unique ways to support CSCP, some of which are embedded in purchases that you and your family would already be making. For example, if you register your Ralphs reward card using our organization’s name, then a percentage of your grocery purchases will go to us thanks to Ralphs’ Community Contribution program. Or you can register CSCP as a charity with AmazonSmile, which will give back .5% of every Amazon purchase you make.
CSCP has also partnered with some local organizations that generously donate a portion of their sales to CSCP. Pearls, an adorable boutique in San Marino, donates 10% of their Glassybaby sales to CSCP. Glassybaby votives are beautiful handblown tealight candle holders that come in an endless variety of colors. Pearls features clothing, jewelry, and accessories that are elegant and practical, and the owner, Lauri Wax, aims to give back to local charities through sales and fundraising events. And the larger Glassybaby organization dedicated its red “Love” votive to CSCP, donating 10% of its sales to us.
Finally, CSCP has recently begun a new partnership with Creamisty, a local Pasadena franchise that serves decadent and creamy nitrogen ice cream. The ice cream is customizable and made to order, and the fascinating experience of getting nitrogen ice cream is worth going in and of itself! Creamisty is located a few short blocks from CSCP, and its owner, Allan Gumar, was inspired by the services that CSCP provides to the community. For every customer that mentions CSCP, Creamistry will donate 20% of the purchase to CSCP.
Not only is CSCP grateful for the generosity of these organizations for giving back to important causes, but we also feel a sense of pride to be a part of a community that is so charitably minded. Pasadena is known to have the second most nonprofits per capita in the nation, right behind Washington DC. This speaks to the true civic nature of our city; committed to helping local organizations thrive and serve the diverse needs of our residents.
As the weather turns and we begin brainstorming Halloween costumes and browse ticket prices for our holiday travels, we know the season of eating has officially begun. And who can resist the fun-sized chocolates, bountiful pumpkin baked goods, and delectably decorated Christmas cookies? While indulging during this season is fun, nostalgic, and arguably unavoidable, perhaps we can be mindful of replacing some of those high sugar, high fat, processed foods with equally (or near equally) delicious alternatives. That way, we can savor without the guilt, and conscientiously indulge when we feel like indulging. And that makes the sweet treats even sweeter.
While no one is immune from cancer, CSC encourages individuals to be Patient Active and take control of what they can when impacted by cancer. For some, that may mean reevaluating lifestyle choices- namely diet, exercise, and stress levels. We have multiple exercise and stress reduction classes that attend to those latter two areas, and we are also anticipating some upcoming nutrition workshops later this quarter. To hold you over until those nutrition workshops, we present to you a low-sugar (and refined sugar free), dairy free, high protein, and high fiber treat: Pumpkin Choco-lantern Muffins.
Now before we delve into the recipe, we offer some nutrition information to consider:
Several studies have looked at the impact of anti-inflammatory, low-sugar, plant based (aka nix the processed foods and up consumption of the stuff that grows from the ground) diets in relation to cancer. Read up at the clickable links to find out more. In consideration of that information, these muffins are refined sugar free, dairy free, whole wheat, and void of processed ingredients.
Fall is pumpkin everything. And pumpkin is actually good for you, if not doused with sugar. Read up to find out more.
And now for the actual recipe. These muffins are light and fluffy (even though they are whole wheat!), sweet but not over-the-top sweet, filling, and oh-so Fall. These are perfect companion to your morning cup of coffee, a wonderful afternoon pick-me-up, or a healthy way to curb your sweet tooth.
Pumpkin Choco-lantern Muffins
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 22-25 minutes
Yeild: 1 Dozen Muffins
1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
½ Cup Oat Flour *
½ Cup Almond Meal *
3 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
Pinch of salt
1 15 oz. Can Pumpkin Puree (not to be confused with Pumpkin Pie Filling, which has lots of added sugar)
1.5 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
5 Pitted Medjool Dates
¼ Cup Grapeseed Oil
1/3 Cup Maple Syrup
½ Cup Almond Milk
1/3 Cup Dairy Free Chocolate Chips
*Feel free to process ½ cup of rolled oats and ½ cups of almonds in a food processor to achieve a fine, flour-like consistency
What are your favorite Fall treats? Leave your thoughts in the comments below so that we can dream up more healthy alternatives!
Return To Wellness
Perhaps one of the most unexpected emotional twists and turns associated with a cancer diagnosis is the period of time when active treatment is done. Where you are navigating the space between ill and well and thinking about the inevitable question of “what’s next?”, but still undoubtedly and significantly impacted by cancer. The period when normal life stressors once again are on the front burner, but you are still managing treatment side effects, residual fatigue, and emotional depletion. There is hope when looking towards the future, but an immediate return to the “old you” may not be in the cards the way that you may have anticipated.
Return to Wellness is an 8 week recovery-oriented program designed for breast cancer survivors. It bridges the gap between completion of treatment and moving towards survivorship. The program is intended for women who are between 6 weeks and 24 months out from active treatment. Return to Wellness offers several unique components that aim to serve emotional needs, spark preventative and sustainable health measures, and foster camaraderie. A small group of women gather together for four hours a week. On Tuesdays, they participate in a support group led by a licensed mental health clinician, followed by a strength training class. On Thursdays, they attend an educational workshop (topics range from nutrition, to sexuality and body image, to developing an exercise routine) and end the evening with a yoga class. The different elements of the program are in place to attend to multiple aspects of health and well-being. Often, by the end of the 8 week series, the women are often inextricably bonded.
CSCP is in the midst of a Return to Wellness series and we are already compiling a roster for the next offering. If you are interested in participating in a future Return to Wellness group, please call CSCP at (626) 796-1083.
A Volunteer of Distinction
Fifteen years ago, Catherine Bicknell was drawn to a building adorned with Pink and Silver balloons, and felt compelled to walk inside. Catherine had recently moved to Pasadena from Washington and was looking for a local oncologist to monitor her health following her history with cancer. Little did Catherine know that stepping into CSCP’s office would lead to years of volunteerism with us, and a reputation in which she is known as the “gem” of CSCP, according to one participant.
Catherine, who hails from England and had a long career as an architect and professor, was in disbelief when she was first diagnosed with cancer. She felt as though cancer hit the “wrong person at the wrong time,” and her grueling treatment left her feeling well only 5 days out of every 5 weeks by the time that she recuperated from her chemo infusions. Catherine remembers undergoing treatment as a true “endurance test.” During those coveted 5 day periods of wellness, Catherine, a professional photographer, was hired to shoot a documentary book in Butte, Montana. She loaded her car with her dog and photography equipment and drove across Idaho and into Montana. While in Butte, she found herself immersed in creative work, living simply and solely out of her car. On her drive back to Washington, the lingering impact of her time in Butte occupied her mind, and it was only when she got home that she realized that she did not hold a single thought about cancer while away. At this point, Catherine consciously chose to “identify as a photographer, not a cancer patient.”
Fast forward a few years, and Catherine found herself stepping into CSCP after being intrigued by the balloons, and once she learned about our organization, wanted to find out how she could volunteer her time. After a period of serving as a front desk volunteer (a job that Catherine felt she could never master due to the inarguably complicated phone system), Catherine began to teach photography classes to CSCP participants. The class was incredibly well-received, with 26 participants attending the first session, and Catherine has continued to teach 2 weekly photography classes at CSCP for the past 14 years. In addition to teaching her classes, Catherine has become a sort of resident photographer at CSCP, creating beautiful canvases that adorn our walls, contributing images for our annual reports, and shooting staff when needed. Catherine has given immensely to CSCP, and yet when speaking to her she communicates a deep gratitude for CSCP and the people that she encounters while here. While Catherine strives to foster her students’ photography skills in her classes, her class is also much more than developing photographic techniques. Catherine shared that her class often “starts with visual stuff, but quickly leads to how [the students] are doing, and how they’re feeling.” All those years ago when shooting the documentary in Butte, Catherine realized that the “visual experience becomes a whole world,” and she endeavors to create a space in her classes where individuals diagnosed with cancer can temporarily leave behind their current reality and enter a new world through photography. Creativity calls for an openness and vulnerability, and Catherine has the gift of establishing a space where participants feel uninhibited in expressing themselves, both through art and through narrating their experiences. Catherine feels that, following her experiences with cancer, the “biggest gift in life [she’s] been given is a second life,” and Catherine uses that gift by giving back to the community at large in remarkable ways. Catherine’s students offered testimony about their experiences with her at CSCP:
“I appreciate Catherine’s help with he technology of saving, moving, editing, enhancing, and printing the photos I took on my iPhone. I learned a lot in her class! “
“I have been attending Photography classes at the Cancer Support Center for close to a year. Catherine is always a warm, engaging woman who delights in encouraging the students in the class. Whether the students have more, or less ability, she always directs her comments to point out the positive aspects of the work. She often explains how, with a little manipulation, or altered perspective, the way to improve the photo’s presentation. She is always positive, even in her criticism! And that is a gift that too few people have to share.”
“Catherine Bicknell’s photographic workshops, Focus on Fun, has guided and enhanced my photography skills by playing with camera images. Her knowledge has helped bring out my creative juices through group sharing of weekly images. It is just a wonderful fun experience seeing other individual’s shared photos through their eyes. It does not matter what type of camera you own. It is what I see through the viewfinder that really promotes my enthusiastic interest. With sincere appreciate to Catherine!”
CSCP is incredibly grateful to Catherine for her years of service and dedication to our organization. We recognized her volunteerism with CSCP at our Anniversary Party on August 26th, where she donated a beautiful new canvas to CSCP, pictured below.
Pictured from left: Rachel Koonse, Program Coordinator; Melissa Alcorn, Board and Guild Member; Catherine Bicknell, Laura Wending, Program Director
Nonprofit Day, CSCP’s Anniversary
What’s Next for Healthcare Reform?
Cancer Support Community’s services are provided under the framework of a Patient Active concept, developed by our founder, Harold Benjamin. The Patient Active model places individuals at the center of their care, encouraging them to make the best informed healthcare decisions for themselves. To that end, CSC provides a place where people can be empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community. Additionally, CSC’s Research and Training Institute empirically validates the programs that we offer, and continually seeks feedback from individuals with cancer to refine and improve upon our patient-centered care. CSC advocates on a national level to promote these ideals to ensure that all individuals with cancer can access quality healthcare that includes psychosocial support. Our Cancer Policy Institute takes the following three stances: “access to care for all patients, quality as a central theme, [and] research as a critical priority.” As of late, healthcare reform has been a primary focus for CSC’s Cancer Policy Institute. This post delves into the status of healthcare reform and how to get involved with advocating for cancer patients and their loved ones at a national level.
To start, let’s take a look back in time a few weeks ago to see where healthcare reform stood, and then we will explore where healthcare reform is now and how it may play out in the next few months:
At the end of July, there were several major senate votes that all but ended the polarized status of the healthcare reform crusade. On July 26th, a repeal and replace bill aimed at terminating Obamacare with no replacement plan was defeated in the senate. This bill fell six votes short of being passed. After the failure of this bill, senate majority leader Mitch McConnell proposed a “skinny repeal” amendment. The “skinny repeal” would essentially preserve Obamacare but modified a few key elements, including the elimination of Obamacare’s “individual mandate,” which taxes uninsured individuals, and disposing of penalties for some businesses that do not offer coverage to their employees. Under this plan, 16 million Americans would lose their insurance, and many more would face significant increases on their premiums. On July 28th, the senate voted against the skinny repeal, which many felt would be the last effort to pursue health care reform in such drastic terms. The senate is now approaching their August recess.
Though the failure of the repeal and replace bill as well as the skinny amendment is a major victory for healthcare advocates, there are still potential issues on the horizon. When the senate reconvenes in the Fall, a bipartisan hearing is planned in preparation for September 27th, the day that insurance companies and the federal government sign contracts outlining what will be sold on Obamacare exchanges. The hope is that this bipartisan hearing will drive down premiums as well as provide billions to insurance companies to subsidize individuals on an Obamacare plan. However, at this juncture, the future of healthcare reform is still murky. It is possible for the administration to take away federal subsidies, neglect to enforce the individual mandate, and cut funding for organizations that assist low income individuals with healthcare enrollment. Notably, the CHIP program, which provides coverage to children of low income individuals who are not eligible for Obamacare but also cannot obtain private insurance, is set to run out of funding in September. These funds may very well not be reinstated. Further, an analysis was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that insurance agencies are going to be increasing premiums significantly in the next year due to the uncertain tide of healthcare reform. The analysis also found that insurer participation in the Obamacare market will be at an all-time low.
So where are we now? Perhaps cautiously optimistic. There have been major victories in recent weeks that indicate that access to affordable care is a value shared by many Americans. However, we must stay vigilant in our pursuit to maintain the availability of quality healthcare for all. To get involved with CSC’s Cancer Policy Institute, you can join our advocacy movement. Once a part of the movement, you will have the opportunity to voice your opinions, participate in research, and receive information about policy initiatives. We believe that no one should face cancer alone, and part of that endeavor involves fighting to continually ensure equal access to affordable healthcare.
 Cancer Policy Institute Aims and Positions. (n.d.) Retrieved August 10, 2017, from https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/cancer-policy-institute-aims-and-positions