Monthly Archives: January 2015

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Patricia’s Breast Cancer Story

Patricia wasn’t alarmed after she was asked to have a follow-up mammogram. She was still calm when they followed up with an ultrasound and needle biopsy, both of which she’d previously completed with normal results.

It wasn’t until Patricia was introduced to a nurse navigator that she realized her medical team thought she had cancer.
“I could’ve been knocked down with a feather,” Patricia remembered upon learning her diagnosis. “I never, ever contemplated having cancer.”

The tumor was small, but somewhat aggressive, and her medical team told her that chemotherapy was a choice. She had to quickly make decisions on whether to have a lumpectomy or full mastectomy and what treatment plan she wanted to pursue for her Stage 1, Grade 2 breast cancer diagnosis.

Patricia quickly gathered information from a variety of people to make decisions for her treatment. She met with a surgeon, collected advice from other breast cancer survivors and researched online to assist her with the decision-making process.

“I was totally overwhelmed by how much I had to learn,” Patricia recalled. “It’s almost like getting a Ph.D. in breast cancer.”

She ultimately decided to have a lumpectomy, intraoperative radiation and chemotherapy. Patricia was so terrified for her first treatment that she didn’t even want to go in the door. She knew she had to conquer her fear and although the chemotherapy was hard on her body, it wasn’t as bad as she thought it might be.

“I’m pretty stubborn. I’d say ‘I can’t do this anymore’ but I knew I had to,” Patricia reflected.

The number of people who said nothing about her cancer surprised Patricia. She understood that people often don’t know what to say so they say nothing at all, but now that she’s experienced cancer she has a better idea of what to say to someone facing a cancer diagnosis.

“Even a hug is better than nothing,” Patricia advised. “Just acknowledge that you care and that you’re there to listen if they need someone to talk to.”

Patricia learned about MyLifeLine.org through a coworker and remembered being completely overwhelmed with the amount of support she received through her personal site. She invited only the people she knew would be supportive to follow her experience on MyLifeLine.org.

“I was very careful about whom I let read my blogs on my site, but I had thousands of visits during the time that I was blogging. It was huge knowing there were that many people who cared about me, even if they didn’t write anything,” Patricia explained.

She used blogging to write about how she felt during the many ups and downs of her experience. “I really explored how I was feeling by writing. It was therapeutic. The feedback from friends was encouraging,” she reflected.

Patricia’s advice to those facing a cancer diagnosis is to maintain a positive attitude. “Your attitude is the only thing you can control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation,” she said.

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MyLifeLine.org Names Pete Sheehan as New Chief Executive Officer

DENVER, CO (January 21, 2015) — MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation announces that its Board of Directors has unanimously chosen Pete Sheehan, as the organization’s new Chief Executive Officer. Sheehan is a results driven health care executive with twenty years of progressive experience managing corporate and nonprofit organizations within the healthcare industry.

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Pete Sheehan, MyLifeLine.org Chief Executive Officer

“After a comprehensive search process, the board is pleased to have found the best individual to assume leadership of MyLifeLine.org,” said Jason Wagner, president of the MyLifeLine.org Board of Directors and Partner at EKS&H. “Pete is a seasoned healthcare industry leader who brings a deep understanding of the cancer, technology, health, policy and hospital space and experience guiding other organizations through expansive growth and times of evolutional change.”

In his new position, Sheehan will help drive the strategic planning, business development, product innovation and partnership development efforts of the organization. He’ll seize the vast opportunities created by the trends in the patient advocacy arena and increasing awareness of the social and emotional needs of cancer patients and caregivers.

“I’m excited to join MyLifeLine.org,” Sheehan said. “The intersection of technology and healing is an area I’ve explored with passion over the past 20 years.  I’m looking forward to identifying new ways we can build community support to reduce anxiety and stress for cancer patients, allowing them to focus their energy on what matters most, healing.”

Prior to joining MyLifeLine.org, Sheehan served as a Vice President for Healthcare in Ogilvy Public Relation’s Denver office.  He worked directly with the federal government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), serving as the agency’s liaison to healthcare providers and consumer groups across a ten state region.

Sheehan spent more than a decade employed by one of the nation’s most used consumer resources for physician information and hospital quality, Healthgrades.  As Vice President of Government Affairs & Strategic Partnerships he created and managed the company’s government affairs program, analyzing public policies related to data accessibility and public reporting of provider quality measures. Sheehan also worked with more than 100 hospitals across the nation on quality improvement, public relations and marketing projects during his tenure with Healthgrades.

Sheehan’s background blends health policy analysis, quality improvement, technology, and public relations in both the private and public sectors.  Before joining Healthgrades, he represented more than 60 hospitals as the state legislative liaison for the Colorado Hospital Association. Sheehan holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Colorado. He resides in Denver, CO with his wife and two children.

About MyLifeLine.org

MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit based in Denver, CO that provides free websites to people affected by cancer so they can easily connect with family and friends. Research shows that increased social and emotional support can improve cancer outcomes and MyLifeLine.org is instrumental in providing and organizing strong support communities. With over 130,000 patients, caregivers, family and friends in all 50 states and across 183 countries, MyLifeLine.org is the key to solving the communication issues that arise when someone is diagnosed with cancer.

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The Cancer Journey: An Unplanned Detour to Your Life

About the author: Jeff Ward is a cancer survivor, no, actually a thriver, a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, certified Cancer Coach, dad, husband, and lover of nature and an adventurous life. The mission of his heart-based coaching is to help and inspire those affected by cancer, particularly cancer survivors who got a wake-up call from their cancer, to move from surviving to living a thriving life. You can reach Jeff at his website at www.jeff-ward.com, or email jeff@jeff-ward.com.

Cancer has a way of sending us off the path of our normal lives. One day we’re going about our business, doing what we do to live a normal life. Then, through whatever circumstances and events, we learn we have cancer, and our lives take a major detour; totally unplanned, totally not welcomed, and for some, the path of our lives will never be the same. I know when I was diagnosed, my life took a sharp turn to a place away from what was until then my everyday life.

The following paragraphs describe the seven stages to the path that a typical cancer patient experiences. Some people may experience variations of the journey or minor stages not listed (such as denial), but for the most part, these are the major steps most cancer patients experience to some level. Caregivers go through similar stages, though with a different perspective.

This journey can also apply to those dealing with other life-threatening diseases or life-altering events.

  1. Innocence – This is the stage where everything is normal in your life, where there is indeed a sense of innocence, of a normal energy level. There is no sign of what is about to happen. You may have something not quite right that may warrant a doctor visit, but there is no hint of cancer at this point. Life is good. For me, there were no symptoms – just a routine blood test for a yearly physical.
  2. The Call – This is when you first hear the word “cancer”, perhaps after undergoing some tests. Your life is about to change and you feel it deep inside. You are entering a new world and have no idea what’s ahead. It’s like you are being forced off a cliff edge, out of your control. I almost fell off my chair when my doctor told me I tested positive for cancer. I did feel my like my life was out of control.
  3. Initiation – This is the stage where you are introduced to medical terms, tests, treatment etc. that you aren’t used to and not expecting. Your body seems out of your control. You feel bewildered, lost, physically fatigued from treatment and not sure what’s next. Physically you’re not the same. Talking with doctors, looking at treatment plans, etc. was entirely new and scary to me. I was very healthy pre-cancer.
  4.  The Pit – The Pit is the low point in the journey. You feel fear, anxiety, negative energy. You don’t know how you’ll get out of this, or if you even will. It is dark and lonely and unpleasant. You feel out of control on all levels – mind, body and spirit. This is also the place of greatest growth, where you need to let go of certain old beliefs or something that no longer serves you. Then allies and hope and something new can be welcomed in. I went into the pit fairly quickly after my diagnosis, as my dad had died of the same cancer years before.
  5. Allies – Allies are anything that provides support, help, sense of trust, or a sense of forward direction. They can be people, spirituality, things, etc. Allies are always there, but take hold in your life when you start letting go of old ways and let go of limiting beliefs from the Pit stage. As you rise out of the Pit into this stage, you begin to understand how you have changed from pre-cancer to now. Listening to those who cared about me help me to let go of money and practical concerns and focus on what was important to my healing.
  6. Breakthrough – This is a time when you have hope, when you feel like you have more control of your life, when things are moving forward. There is a renewed sense of hope and future here. You are starting to feel unstuck, that you are more in control of your life, and starting to do things that reflect that. When I started to heal from my treatment, and realized that I could come out of this ok, I started to feel more hopeful on beating cancer.
  7. Celebration – Imagine being on the medal podium, celebrating your achievement – this is Celebration. It is a place where you celebrate what you’ve been through, who you’ve become, what you can do from here. There is a sense of accomplishment, that the worst is over, and you’re a new person and have learned from and embraced what you’ve been through. You see a new you, a new life. There is hope and possibility from this place. When I got my follow up testing results and was found to be cancer free, I felt a tremendous sense of relief, and a sense that I’ve been given a new lease on life to live more powerfully.

Some of the benefits of understanding this unplanned journey include:

  • It really is a journey with twists and turns, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually and mentally as well. There will be ups and downs.
  • Knowing where you are on this map can help you deal with some of the uncertainties and fears that cancer presents, so that you can live more powerfully through this experience
  • Being in touch with your raw emotions. Feeling and acknowledging (but not being stuck) where you are at deep inside is vital to your recovery.
  • You are not alone. Others have walked your path, and many more are on the wings ready to help
  • It can be a wake-up call to whatever you’ve been holding inside, to a new life
  • For most cancer patients, you will come out of this unplanned trip okay
  • You will learn about your authentic self, and perhaps be a changed person for the better

Healing, dealing with, and overcoming cancer involves more than just getting medical treatment. It also calls into play paying attention to the mind and spirit dimensions as well. While navigating the cancer journey is obviously unpleasant, it can be an opportunity to grow, and for those who survive, to push the re-set button to their life and perhaps be a changed person on a deeper, more authentic level.

So, where are you on your cancer journey roadmap? What have you learned about yourself on this journey? What will be different about your life? I’d love to hear your responses.

This cancer journey description is based on information from ©The Cancer Journey.

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Start with values instead of resolutions

About the author: Dr. Jill Mitchell is an oncology-certified, licensed clinical social worker with Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers in Colorado and  volunteers on the oncology advisory council for MyLifeLine.org. Jill has a doctorate in Medical Anthropology and has spent the past 10+ years counseling or doing research on people’s experiences living with cancer. Most recently, she has been piloting a post-treatment group intervention (based on some of the principles mentioned in this blog) to help distressed survivors find greater peace and vitality in life.

Welcome to 2015! As we enter the New Year, many people start it off with a list of resolutions. For some with cancer, the idea of having resolutions or setting goals (beyond just getting through treatment) feels overwhelming or unreasonable.

As an oncology social worker, I often see people who are afraid to make plans for life outside of treatment, while they are in treatment, due to the fear of having to cancel or postpone, or due to fear that they will disappoint themselves or others if they don’t complete what they plan to do. Even for post-treatment survivors it can feel daunting to set goals or make plans again because the world can feel so much more unpredictable or you may feel a little disoriented about who you are and what you want your life to be about.

So here’s a little exercise to consider for the New Year:

Instead of starting with a list of resolutions, goals or tasks, consider starting with clarifying what it is that you value most in life. To get at this, set aside some time and jot down your stream of consciousness reflections regarding the following:

  • When was the last time you felt most joyful and vital?
  • When do you feel most at peace or whole?
  • What gives you a deep sense of purpose in your life?
  • When do you feel most like the person you wish to be?
  • Think of the people you admire or appreciate most in life. Are there certain values that they express that you would like to develop more in yourself?
  • What do you most fear losing? And how might your fears also point to what you most value in life?
  • How do you wish to be known by the people you love, your community, or the greater world, now and in the future?

Once you’ve clarified and written down what it is that you value most, only then begin to write some specific goals that you can tie directly to your values. The key here is to start very small and doable.

  • What behavior might you engage in the next hour that would enact your value(s)?
  • What might you do before the end of the day that would enact your value(s)?
  • What might you do within the next week that would enact your value(s)?
  • What might you do within the next month that would enact your value(s)?
  • What might you do within the next six months that would enact your value(s)?
  • What might you do within the next year that would enact your value(s)?

For example, if one of your core values is to spend more quality time with your loved one, you might commit to calling them in the next hour to just let them know you’re thinking about them. You might turn off the TV and cell phones and plan to have a quiet dinner by candlelight. You might plan a hike or an evening out with them before the end of the week, etc.

Now this practice isn’t always as easy as it initially seems! Beware, that when you start to focus on what you authentically value, a lot of other voices (both inside and outside of your head) may start contradicting what you wish to support in yourself. For example, you might know that you authentically value taking time to nurture yourself through slowing down and committing to less, but just as you start to say no to other commitments that don’t fit your values, feelings of guilt and an internal voice that says “you’re not doing enough” may start getting louder! When these challenging thoughts and feelings come up (and they will!) recognize that they are a normal part of the process, that it’s okay to accept that they’re there, AND that you have some choice in whether you put your energy toward what you value or toward those doubting voices. If, at times, you neglect to finish what you had hoped to, instead of berating yourself, try inviting self-compassion and a willingness to recommit in the next moment or next day.  With compassion and patience you will likely find that this practice gets easier over time.

Ultimately, when we start with clarifying our values (versus just our goals), we foster flexibility with how we engage with and find fulfillment in the world. This flexibility in turn increases not only our resilience in the face of cancer or other unpredictable challenges that come our way, but also our joy and sense of vitality in the world.

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