5 tips for coping with loss during the holidays

C. Tolkmit

C. Tolkmit

The phrase “the most wonderful time of the year” is synonymous with the holiday season. There is even a classic holiday song by the same name. But, for anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one, the holidays can often feel anything but wonderful. Holiday traditions and time spent with loved ones can often be painful reminders of what you have lost, whether it’s recent or several years have passed. Rather than comfort and joy, the holiday season can become a time of dread and loneliness. If you are coping with the loss of a loved one, you are not alone. Here are a few tips for managing grief this holiday season.

  1. Consider your traditions. Some traditions or cherished activities can feel too painful to carry on without your loved one. It can be helpful to examine your traditions ahead of time and decide what is best for you and your loved ones. For many, practicing old traditions can be a way to honor your loved one and preserve their memory. For example, eating their favorite holiday meal or making a donation to their favorite charity in their honor.
  2. Allow yourself to feel emotions. Everyone has their own unique grief experience, and everyone draws different emotions from this time. Don’t feel pressure to “hold it together” or hold back sadness for fear of being perceived as a “downer”. But it’s also ok to laugh or smile. It doesn’t mean you have forgotten your loved one.
  3. Set realistic expectations for yourself. With the holiday season comes many tasks and events, such as decorating the house, cooking, shopping and attending parties. It can be helpful to take it easy and delegate some of these tasks to others to avoid feeling stressed or overwhelmed. You don’t have to accept every invitation if you don’t feel up to it.
  4. Take care of yourself. Grief can be exhausting for both the mind and body. Thinking about what you can do to physically take care of yourself, whether it’s extra rest, light exercise or other meditation can give you the strength to face your emotional challenges.
  5. Draw support from others. You don’t have to face the holiday season alone. Lean on family and friends to help you—whether it’s by listening, talking about favorite memories, providing a distraction or just being there. There are also support groups available so that you can talk and connect with others who are facing a similar experience.

The holidays can be difficult when you’re grieving. Please know that you are not alone. If you are feeling alone or are having difficulty managing emotions please call our Helpline at 1-888-793-9355.

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The psychology of giving

thanksgivingThe holiday season has officially begun! With the holidays comes the tradition of giving back.

Many people believe that giving back during this time of year is unique to this particular season. However, this is not the case–giving back is something you can do year-round.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

There is a certain psychology behind why people give back and volunteer.  Here are some reasons why people choose to give back:

  • Understanding – wanting to learn new things and obtain new knowledge
  • Enhancing esteem – feeling better about yourself
  • Personal development – acquiring new skills, and testing your own capabilities
  • Sense of community – striving to make the world a better place
  • Humanitarian values – wanting to serve and help others

Celebrating the holidays can be difficult for people who have experienced a major change in their life, such as cancer. During this time families may either want to do too much and wear themselves out, or they may decide to simply skip the holidays altogether. It’s important to remember that traditions may change as situations change, and there can be a healthy balance of celebration and taking the time you need for yourself. It can be helpful to accommodate the circumstances by keeping things simple. Maybe scale back on some holiday activities, and stick to tasks that involve little to no stress.

The holidays can also sometimes intensify feelings of loneliness, isolation and sadness, even when surrounded by family. Remembering the true meaning of the holidays and being sure to express any emotions you may be feeling is important.

Below is a list of tips to help patients, family and friends affected by cancer:

  • Express your needs
  • Set realistic expectations
  • Be gentle with yourself
  • Create new traditions and rituals
  • Keep activities non-strenuous and simple
  • Seek support

Caregivers can also help their loved ones by:

  • Reminding them that you care
  • Giving them space if they need it
  • Offering to help

There are many ways to get involved, make a difference and serve others. You can donate to an organization or volunteer where needed. On Giving Tuesday–which follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday–any donation made to the Cancer Support Community will be matched dollar-for-dollar by an anonymous donor, up to the first $15,000. We certainly hope you’ll save the date (Dec. 2) and help us spread the word!

If you are unable to make a donation, there are other ways to give. If you are interested in getting involved and volunteering for your local Cancer Support Community, take a look at our affiliate locations.

Also, if you have ever had a cancer diagnosis, you can also give back by joining our Cancer Experience Registry and sharing your journey.

If you have questions or would like more information, you can also call CSC’s toll free Cancer Support Helpline at 1-888-793-9355 to speak with a call counselor.

From the CSC family to yours–have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and happy holidays to all!

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What you need to know about Lung Cancer Awareness Month

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. During this month, health care organizations, professionals and the community bring attention to lung cancer. Lung Cancer Awareness Month initially began in 1995 as Lung Cancer Awareness Day. However, as the lung cancer community and movement grew, activities to promote awareness also grew, transforming the day into Lung Cancer Awareness Month.imgres

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States. In 2015, about 225,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer. Therefore, it is important to understand a lung cancer diagnosis, risk factors, sign & symptoms and resources for support.

Lung cancer is divided into two main types: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type, accounting for about 85 percent of lung cancers. There are three NSCLC subtypes: adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma. Small cell lung cancer accounts for about 15 percent of all lung cancers and is most often seen in people who currently or formerly smoked.

The signs and symptoms of lung cancer can vary from person to person. However, when symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Persistent coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • A change in color or volume of sputum (mucus)
  • Harsh sounds with each breath
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches, bone or joint pain
  • Bone fractures not related to accidental injury
  • Neurological symptoms
  • Neck or facial swelling
  • General weakness
  • Bleeding or blood clots

Often times, these symptoms do not present themselves until the cancer is in later stages. However, new screening techniques for lung cancer continue to be developed, helping to detect the disease at an earlier stage.

If you would like to learn more about lung cancer, check out the following Cancer Support Community resources for more information:

Also, don’t forget to tune in to Frankly Speaking About Cancer on Tuesday, November 25 at 4 p.m. ET for a special episode dedicated to learning more and raising awareness of lung cancer.

Coping with a lung cancer diagnosis and treatment can be emotionally challenging. But you are not alone! There are many ways to get the support you need. The Cancer Support Community offers resources to help support you and your family through this experience. Whether you are newly diagnosed, a long-time cancer survivor or a loved one, you can call CSC’s toll free Cancer Support Helpline® at 1-888-793-9355 to speak with a call counselor who can help answer questions that you have and link you to valuable information and support.

How will you raise awareness for lung cancer this month? Let us know what activities you have planned in the comment section below.

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Use this tool to help choose health insurance

Cancer Insurance Checklist_Banner Ad_FINALOpen enrollment for the health insurance marketplaces begins on November 15th. From then until February 15th, you may buy health coverage for 2015 on your state’s marketplace by visiting HealthCare.gov or CuidadoDeSalud.gov.

If you have cancer, a history of cancer, or a risk of cancer, the process of shopping for health insurance may be overwhelming. To help, the Cancer Support Community and a group of advocacy organizations created the Cancer Insurance Checklist, which is newly updated for the 2015 open enrollment period. You may use the Checklist to easily compare plans to decide which insurance is best for your needs and your budget.

By printing and filling out the Checklist for each plan that is being considered, you can make a comparison by taking your own personal medical needs, coverage options and costs into account. The Checklist can be helpful not only when you are comparing insurance plans yourself, but also when you are discussing your needs with your navigator, marketplace representative or health care provider.

The Checklist is available in English and in Spanish at www.CancerInsuranceChecklist.org or www.SegurosMedicosYCancer.org. These websites also provide helpful links to other resources related to cancer and insurance in English and Spanish.

We urge you to use and share this helpful new tool with anyone who may need it.  And if you need any assistance with cancer related issues, please call CSC’s Helpline at 1-888-793-9355.


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Delivering on Patient-Centered Care

CER report back coverPatient centered care, i.e. putting the patient at the center of his or her care. I think about this a lot. What does it really mean? What is the disconnect? Is it achievable? How do we prepare patients and their families? How do we prepare health care professionals?

I have been thinking about this more due to our recent release of pivotal information from the Cancer Experience Registry. The October 22 release of Elevating the Patient Voice looks at the cancer experience through the lens of 3,500 patients with striking results.

But first, is this issue. There is no doubt that we all are thinking about the patient and their families and, in that sense, placing them at the center of care. As a community, we talk to and about them, make decisions that impact them and even try to predict how they will feel. As I recently heard a physician say, “It is our duty to protect our patients.” Now, please do not misinterpret my thinking. I am thrilled that we are protective of our patients, as many are in the most vulnerable state of their lives. But in protecting patients rather than engaging patients, we may be compounding that vulnerability and moving patients from the center of care to hanging on to the caboose of a very rapidly moving train.

As one example, the Registry data shows that up to 65 percent of patients report feeling unprepared to make a treatment decision. 65 percent— that’s 2 out of every 3 patients. Of the 4,563 people who will receive a cancer diagnosis today, up to 2,965 will not be prepared to make a treatment decision. Yet, these same patients have to live with the outcomes of their care. Some are very positive and may result in better patient outcomes, including being cured. Some however, are not so positive and can exist with the patient and family for years to come. Patients in the Registry report missing social events (48%), depleting their savings (36%) and altering grocery expenses (37%) to pay for their care. They report short and long-term side effects that include up to 70% reporting significant levels of fatigue. And, they report impact to their ability to work (46%). Patients are living with the consequences of their cancer care and they deserve to have more of an understanding and voice in the process.

The good news is that when engaged, even in a one-time treatment decision counseling session, patients report being more satisfied with the interaction with their health care professional and report lower levels of decisional regret. And, as one physician reported, “they bring me better questions, not more questions.”

The Institute of Medicine report (Ensuring Quality Cancer Care) was published in 1999 and noted engaging patients as a key element in quality cancer care. 15 years ago. Since 1999, much as been done to advance this goal of engaging patients. Three more IOM reports, the 2012 Commission on Cancer Patient-Centered Standards, the American Society of Clinical Oncology Quality Oncology Practice Initiative, the oncology Medical Home models and others are trying. But how can we get there quicker and with more accuracy? Engage patients.

While it sounds simple to implement, it is not. Imagine a world where patients sit face-to-face with a care provider who has time to and is reimbursed for arriving at a care decision with the full understanding of the patient. Imagine a world where advisory panels that make major decisions on behalf of patients actually have people living with the disease informing their thinking. Imagine what could be accomplished in clinical research if patients were aware of their options. Imagine the result of shared-decision making and care planning from the point of diagnosis on overall patient outcomes, including patient dignity.

This level of engagement is within our reach. Now let’s all get busy, we’ve got important work to do.

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