How learning about your diagnosis can help you

Today’s blog post is written by Marni Amsellem, PhD. Marni is a research consultant for the Cancer Support Community. 

Donna, Melanoma Warrior Photograph by Ed Cunicelli

Donna, Melanoma Warrior
Photograph by Ed Cunicelli

With the month of May coming to an end, it means for many of us a lot more outdoor time in the months ahead, and doing what we can to stay healthy and safe. And for good reason, May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Skin cancer affects many Americans. In 2014, there were more than 76,000 new melanoma diagnoses in the U.S. alone, and melanoma accounts for less than 2% of new skin cancer diagnoses each year.

The Cancer Support Community (CSC) provides a number of resources and support services for those affected by skin cancer. One of these resources is our Frankly Speaking About Cancer workshops, which are offered through CSC’s Affiliate Network . Over the past several years, hundreds of people affected by skin cancer, most living with a metastatic melanoma, have connected with each other while learning about social and emotional issues commonly faced by those with cancer, current and emerging treatments and ways to improve communication with one’s health care team. Peoples’ response to the workshops has been overwhelmingly encouraging; nearly all (96.3%) would recommend attending a workshop to others affected by skin cancer.

We also hear how the workshops are providing much-needed information. Many people participating in a workshop have reported significant gains in knowledge. Most (83.8%) indicated they knew more about the topics addressed after attending a workshop, compared to 26.9% who reported a high level of knowledge before attending (a gain of 56.9 percentage points). Another big benefit of participating in a workshop is that the majority of people indicate feeling more confident in talking with their health care team about their treatment preferences. This is particularly striking given that the majority (71.7%) of attendees were not newly diagnosed, which speaks to the fact that regardless of where people are in their experience, information and support can be helpful.

In addition to workshops, CSC offers a number of ways for you to learn more about melanoma, emerging treatment options for metastatic melanoma, tools to help cope with a melanoma diagnosis and ways to connect with others.

Learn more about melanoma and other types of cancers by visiting our website.

Do you have tips or resources you would recommend to others impacted by a skin cancer diagnosis? Share with us in the comment below, or weigh in on Facebook and Twitter.

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A very Modern (Family) cancer campaign

SV FlagWhat happens when you combine Hollywood, social media, and cancer awareness? The Ready. Raise. Rise. campaign.

This new campaign by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eric Stonestreet of ABC’s Modern Family  gives people the opportunity to “Raise your flag” in support of someone they know who is affected by cancer. In thirty seconds, anyone can create a virtual flag with the name of the person they support and share it on the Ready. Raise. Rise. page, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to let them know they’re not alone.

But that’s not the best part.

The campaign isn’t just providing another way to show the heroes in your life that you care; it’s giving away thousands of dollars to the cancer advocacy groups with the most flags raised in their names. With your help, the Cancer Support Community can be one of those organizations. With one campaign that shows support for loved ones, spreads awareness of immunotherapy and can help CSC provide support, education and hope to people touched by cancer, we have just one more question— who wouldn’t participate?

To salute your loved ones, just visit and click “Create your Flag.” Then choose a background, a phrase, a loved one to honor and Cancer Support Community as your cancer advocacy group, and voila! Your masterpiece is ready to be shared with the world in places that will inspire even more people to join the campaign.

Ready. Raise. Rise. will be happening all summer long, so take this time to spread the word to all of your friends and family about the easiest way to make a difference in cancer research. There is no limit to how many flags you can create! We’ve got the idea. We’ve got the star power. We just need you.

Who do you raise your flag for? Tell us about your dedication in the comments below!

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The 3 C’s of oncology nursing: care, compassion, commitment

Today’s blog is by Michele R. McCorkle, RN, MSN. Michele is the Executive Director of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS). For more about Michele, please see her bio below. This is the second installment of our #ThankaNurse campaign in honor of Oncology Nursing Month. Do you have a nurse to thank? Click here to upload a tribute to your favorite nurse.

McCorkle Picture

Oncology nurses are on the front lines of patient care providing support and comfort along the cancer journey. According to the Gallup Poll, nurses are the most trusted profession and we would not attain this status without care, compassion and commitment–the theme of the 2015 Oncology Nursing Month (ONM).

In honor of ONM, I would like to highlight some of ONS’s policy efforts impacting the work of the oncology nurse and the patients we serve.

With a strong presence on Capitol Hill, ONS promotes our signature legislation, the Improving Cancer Education and Treatment Act, designed to provide dedicated, reimbursed time for an oncology nurse to provide symptom management education to patients, much like diabetic educators do. This bi-partisan legislation has support from Congress and federal regulatory agencies for its emphasis on prevention.

ONS also champions evidence-based research and federal investment in science and clinical training. Championing the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), oncology nurses are raising awareness for advances in palliative care, pain management and end-of-life treatment. These practical guidelines inform both the patient and the practitioner on how best to manage the treatment and care.

ONS accomplishes many of these goals by working in coalitions to help educate decision-makers. Through a national, grassroots network, ONS continues to reach elected-officials at the local, state, and federal levels, providing both empirical data and real life stories on what patients with cancer go through once diagnosed.

Personally, oncology nursing has been a passion of mine since the mid-1980′s. As a nursing student, I was exposed to many clinical opportunities, but none as moving to me as the first evening working on the oncology unit. An elderly woman just died as I walked on the unit to begin my shift as a nurses’ aid. I was moved by the care, compassion and commitment demonstrated by all of the nurses and ancillary staff that evening. My career in oncology began that evening and has been very rewarding.

About Michele
Michele R. McCorkle, RN, MSN, is the Executive Director of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS).  With more than 27 years of oncology nursing experience and 20 years in association management, Michele has executive oversight of the membership association, which encompasses education, research, publications, membership and component relations, integrated marketing communications, and health policy. During her 20 years at ONS, she has led a number of strategic efforts at ONS, including the development and leadership of Oncology Education Services, Inc., ONS’ for-profit subsidiary (1996-2005); the development of the ONS strategic plan, and partnerships.

Prior to joining the ONS staff, Michele was Patient Care Manager, Staff Development Instructor, and Clinical Nurse at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (now part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, UPMC).  She received both her BSN and MSN from the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing.  Michele can be reached at 412-859-6266 or

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Oncology Nursing: 40 Years and Going Strong

Today’s blog is by Brenda Nevidjon, MSN, RN, FAAN, Chief Executive Officer of the Oncology Nursing Society. For more about Brenda, please see her bio below. This is the first installment of our #ThankaNurse campaign in honor of Oncology Nursing Month. Do you have a nurse to thank? Click here to upload a tribute to your favorite nurse. 

Nevidjon Picture

In 1993, May 6-12 were designated the permanent dates for celebrating National Nurses Week.  May 12 is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday and typically marks the conclusion of the celebration in the workplace. In oncology nursing, we celebrate our specialty throughout May beginning with recognition at the annual Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Congress. Sometimes the celebration begins in late April as it did this year at the 40th Annual ONS Congress.

Our 40th anniversary has provided an opportunity to acknowledge our past and to look to our future. The specialty of oncology nursing was in its infancy 40 years ago.  A small group of nurses formed ONS which I believe officially established the identity of an oncology nurse.  Although I had been caring for patients with cancer beginning in 1972, including working on a bone marrow transplant service in Basel Switzerland, I did not call myself an oncology nurse or cancer nurse.   The first time I identified myself as an oncology nurse was when I read about the formation of ONS. Today, although I have been in executive positions and away from clinical settings for years, I identify as an oncology nurse; it is my foundation.  In 40 years, ONS has grown from that small founding group to more than 37,000 members.

Although cancer care has changed greatly in 40 years, many qualities of oncology nurses have endured; compassion, commitment, curiosity, courage. Oncology nurses are the health professionals who spend the most time with patients and families and are committed to caring, teaching, advocating, and making a difference in their lives.  Making a difference is what most oncology nurses will tell you is one of the rewards of their work even during stressful and sad times.

When I talk with colleagues, who like me, have been a nurse for many years, we tell the stories of what surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy were like in our day and the advances we have seen.  New treatment modalities and supportive therapies continue to challenge oncology nurses to be current with scientific breakthroughs and to be life-long learners. Subspecialties and new roles have expanded the picture of an oncology nurse to a mosaic of choices. What unites us is our passion for what we do whether that is direct care, educating the next generation, creating healthy work environments for staff, or building the science of our specialty.

As oncology nurses celebrate our specialty throughout May, we can be proud of the legacy we have created in our first 40 years.  The newer oncology nurses that I met at the ONS Congress this year are our future and I know our specialty is in good hands.

About Brenda
Brenda Marion Nevidjon, RN, MSN, FAAN, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), a professional association of more than 35,000 members committed to promoting excellence in oncology nursing and the transformation of cancer care. She has had an extraordinary nursing career of leadership in service and education.   Immediately prior to her position at ONS, she was a professor at Duke University School of Nursing and taught graduate students in nursing and healthcare leadership programs.  After two decades in oncology clinical and administrative settings, she transitioned to health care executive practice, culminating with her being the first nurse and the first women to be chief operating officer of Duke University Hospital

Through diverse clinical and administrative experiences in Canada, Switzerland and the United States, she has devoted her energy to bridging practice settings and academic environments to advance patient care, creating innovative work environments, promoting scholarship in practitioners, and developing leaders.  She also has helped develop professional nursing organizations at the local, national, and international levels and has made lasting contributions to the Oncology Nursing Society and organizations.  She consults with organizations related to work culture, team building, and leadership development.  She is a graduate of the Johnson & Johnson – Wharton Fellows Program in Management for Nurse Executives, was in the inaugural class of the Robert Wood Johnson Nurse Executive Program and is a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.

She has contributed extensively to the nursing literature and is regarded as a mentor for nurses to develop their power and voice through publication.  Her diverse contributions include two volumes of oncology nurses’ narratives as well as books, articles and chapters on oncology topics, and articles and book chapters on administrative topics.


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A Tale of Two Mothers

Judy WSA headshotToday’s blog is from Judy Pearson. Judy has written nearly two decades worth of newspaper and magazine articles, and has published three books. In 2014, she was named one the most inspirational women in Chicago. A triple-negative breast cancer survivor, she is the co-founder of the Women Survivors Alliance, and the editor of NOU Magazine. SURVIVORville, the Women Survivors Alliance annual event, is June 5-7 in Nashville, TN. Register here for this can’t-miss event!

Most people consider themselves lucky to have one great mother. I had the amazing fortune to have two great mothers. Always one to search for purpose in all of life’s events – even the bad ones – I realize these women taught me valuable lessons that have guided me throughout my life, especially through my cancer diagnosis and treatment. While these brief words hardly do them justice, I hope you’ll gain strength from my moms as I have.

Judy's parentsMy biological mother was beautiful. She was a petite fireball, with laughing blue eyes, a great command of the English language, and a deep love for the Chicago Cubs.

Having been born in 1925, she was very much a woman of that era, and therefore a long time smoker. That horrific habit gifted her with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease at the age of 60. Still not curable, it is far more manageable today than it was at her diagnosis in 1987.

For six years, an oxygen cannula was her constant companion. But that burden became the source of these three precious gems.

1. My mother wasn’t a vain woman, but she took pride in her appearance. After her diagnosis, she continued to do her hair and makeup routine every day. Then she put on the cannula. I asked her if it was difficult to see her mirror reflection and she shared this brilliant tidbit.

“Did you know you can even eat an elephant a bite at a time? I don’t think about having to put the cannula on EVERY day. I just think about doing it TODAY. I might get better tomorrow. I might not. But worrying about the rest of my life is too overwhelming. I take it one bite at a time, one day at a time.”

2. Months later, I called my mother one night after work. I was furious. An evil woman had deliberately undermined a sale I was working on, claiming it for herself. How could she be so nasty, I wailed.

My mother replied, “Never judge another person till you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins. Maybe that woman needs the money more than you do. Maybe her husband will be cruel to her if she isn’t successful. Or maybe she’s just plain mean. Regardless, it will all shake out in the end as it’s supposed to.”

She was right. A few years later, that woman divorced her bullying husband.

3. And then came the day that I was fired from a job. I was devastated and called my mother from under the covers, where I was hiding with a bottle of wine and BBQ potato chips.

“It’s only when it’s the darkest that we can best see the stars,” mom told me. “This is the perfect time to reconsider where your life is headed. If you could do anything at this moment, what would you do?”

That “mom morsel” eventually led to my career as an author and freelancer, not to mention buoying me up during the dark days of cancer treatment.

Judy's stepmomFive years after my mother died, in 1993, my brother and I were thrilled when our dad married Joanne, a long time family friend and equal to our biological mother in every way. We and our step siblings agreed we had always felt like family. Joanne had survived colon cancer before she and dad married, but just a year after their wedding, she was diagnosed with oral cancer. As I watched her navigate the cancer journey, she too, shared three invaluable gems that have never failed me.

1. During her own pre-treatment appointments and in conjunction with my father’s heart attack the year before, Joanne always had questions for the medical team.

“You are and always will be your own best advocate,” she told me. “Never be afraid to ask questions or ask for more information if you don’t understand the answers. Your medical team works FOR you not just ON you. You can’t make informed decisions if you don’t understand.”

2.  After sharing that first gem, she continued with this one: “Why remember something when you can write it down.” Every answer she got from doctors went into the notebook she carried. She called it “her brain,” as it also included her calendar and address book. Without it, she once said, eyes twinkling, she felt as though she was completely naked.

My corresponding notebook is now not only a record of my own diagnosis and treatment, it’s a great reference for my writing. Chemo brain prevails!

3. Joanne died with the same amount of courage she had lived with. She had buried two husbands (including my father), and endured many other of life’s hardships. When her third primary cancer was diagnosed with no hope of cure or recovery, she made the decision to travel to the next life sooner rather than later, with all of us near her.

Once, alone with her near the end, I asked her if she had any regrets. She told me, “Every day of my life has been the best day of my life.”

That gem needs no explanation. It is the best lesson a mother could ever share with a child. And it, coupled with the others both my mothers gave me, are gifts I will always cherish. They have helped me in co-founding the Women Survivors Alliance and SURVIVORville. And in doing that, I’m paying their gifts forward.

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