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Happy (and sad, and scared, and difficult) Holidays!

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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.

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  1. Feel

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.

  1. Contemplate

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.

  1. Ask

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.

  1. Set Realistic Expectations

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).

  1. Listen

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.

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References:

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

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

Seasons Eatings

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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.

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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.

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Pumpkin Choco-lantern Muffins

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 22-25 minutes

Yeild: 1 Dozen Muffins

Ingredients

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

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners or generously grease muffin tin with coconut oil or grapeseed oil.
  2. Combine all dry ingredients: wheat flour, oat flour, almond meal, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt
  3. Process the medjool dates, grapeseed oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract in a food processor until a caramel-eque texture is achieved
  4. Combine all wet ingredients: caramel mixture, vanilla extract, pumpkin puree, and almond milk
  5. Gently fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients until incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips
  6. Pour batter into prepared muffin tins. Completely fill each tin to allow for optimal rising (and delectable muffin tops) during the baking process. Smooth the top of each muffin and garnish with a couple additional chocolate chips.
  7. Bake for 22- 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the muffins comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool completely and…
  8. Enjoy

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

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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.

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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.

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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

catherine bicknellFifteen 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.”
051309 140443 2 2Fast 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.
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Pictured from left: Rachel Koonse, Program Coordinator; Melissa Alcorn, Board and Guild Member; Catherine Bicknell, Laura Wending, Program Director


 

Nonprofit Day, CSCP’s Anniversary

CSCP’s original “Wellness Community” sign circa 1990

Perhaps it is serendipitous that today, August 17th, is National Nonprofit Day, because there is much to celebrate at CSC Pasadena! CSCP is proud to be part of a group of 1.5 million nonprofits across the US that serve our communities in so many meaningful ways. We are also proud to be capable of offering all of our services free of charge to the community, and we are forever indebted to the generous foundations, donors, board and guild members, volunteers, and participants who have tirelessly supported us to continue to do what we do.

There are a few more reasons that CSCP is celebrating. First, we are celebrating our 27th year of operation in Pasadena at our annual anniversary party next week. CSCP (originally known as the Wellness Community) opened its doors 27 years ago in Pasadena. Over the years CSCP has grown and evolved in tremendous ways, all the while staying true to our mission and core values. And we hope that our 27th year brings with it all of the progress, connection, and meaning that defined our 26th year.

Anniversary Party Flier

What’s Next for Healthcare Reform?

congress 321420 960 720Cancer 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.”[1] 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.

[1] Cancer Policy Institute Aims and Positions. (n.d.) Retrieved August 10, 2017, from https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/cancer-policy-institute-aims-and-positions