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Talking to kids about cancer

What do I tell my kids?” 

This is often the first question I’m asked by a parent with a new cancer diagnosis.  One of the most important things for parents to remember is that they know their children better than anyone else and they love them more than anyone…they can trust themselves to do this well.
 
Beyond that general reassurance, however, there are some practical tips for talking with children about a cancer diagnosis. 
 
Prepare for the conversation 
 
Think about your goals for the conversation.  What does your child need to know?  How you can help your child understand what’s going on?  How do you want your child to feel after the talk?  Who should tell your child you have cancer and can the person talking to your child stay relatively calm?
 
When and where should I have this conversation?  You don’t have to wait until you have all the answers.  Be prepared to ...

Style '14 Fashion Show Benefit

Northwest Hope & Healing, a non-profit organization supporting women battling breast cancer, is hosting the 12th Annual Fashion Show at the Showbox in SODO on Thursday, May 1, 2014.
 
More than 30 breast cancer survivors will be modeling spring looks from several Seattle boutiques. Proceeds from this event benefit the Northwest Hope & Healing’s Patience Assistance Fund at the Swedish Cancer Institute, which helps provide everyday basics such as groceries, childcare and emergency rent for women battling breast cancer.
 
Northwest Hope & Healing has been supporting Swedish Cancer Institute patients since early 2000 and is deeply rooted in our community. We are proud to support this event and hope to see many of you there!

Is it ok to laugh with cancer?

“Is it okay to laugh?”

The question caught me off guard for a moment, then its meaning sunk in.  She was really saying, “Cancer is serious stuff, my breast has been cut on and radiated, and you’ve given me cancer fighting poisons in my veins. My hair has fallen out, food tastes funny, and I’m on a first name basis with the muzak at my insurance company. I’ve done my crying, but is it appropriate to laugh at it all?”

I remembered back to an intimidating nurse critiquing a tape of my very first patient interview during my second month of medical school. Her eyes were sharp and piercing and her brow furrowed as she watched the tape. Half way through she stopped it, turned it off, and said, “You are flippant…. I don’t much care for it.” My heart sank, and then she continued without a smile, but with a twinkle in her eyes, “but it works for you, so don’t mind me and keep on doing it.”

I believe that humor is therapeutic. Of  course, that is not a new idea. The saying, “laughter is the best medicine” did not originate with Readers Digest. The biblical record states, “A merry heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit drieth bones” (Proverbs 17:22). I don’t know that a merry heart will add time to a cancer patient’s life, but I know that it will add life to the time that they have.  

We don’t know a lot about the physiological effects of humor. It does ....

Grieving and the holidays

A cancer doctor is very familiar with the anxious and fearful grief that accompanies a diagnosis of cancer. We are less acquainted with the lonely and empty grief that is experienced by those left behind when our patients die. However, when I wear my hospice medical director hat, I am privy to those struggles, and knowing that the loss of someone close is particularly difficult during the holidays, I have chosen to divert from subjects I am more familiar with and rely on the experts at hospice to help me present a meaningful discourse on grief during the holiday season.

For the bereaved, the joyous holidays trigger emotions of great conflict. Every act of preparing for the holidays, once a time of cheer and anticipation, becomes another stabbing reminder of ones loss. The demands of family and friends, always a bit stressful around Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year, now are overwhelming, both physically and emotionally. Traditions, designed to create love and family unity, now seem empty and may even create divisions among the grieving. Even successful celebration may bring on a deep surge of guilt for enjoying the holiday alone. And those who have no physical or emotional reserves left for thanksgiving or joy making, may feel great pressure to “get on with their life, and join in the fun.”

It has been suggested that the key word in grief is “permission.” The bereaved need permission from themselves, and from family and friends, to grieve as long as necessary and in any way that works, remembering that what works may not always be the same. It means permission to only do what you can. A turkey and all the trimmings may just be too much this year. Eating out may be perfect. Having someone else do dinner may be better yet. 

Permission may also be needed to change some timeworn traditions. It must be recognized that ...

Resources and social support for dealing with cancer

Here at the Swedish Cancer Institute (SCI), we understand that individuals cope in their own unique ways, and that receiving personalized education and support is important in the healing process. For this reason, the SCI is devoted to providing complementary supportive services for newly diagnosed patients, those undergoing treatment, and those who have completed treatment, as well as their caregivers.

The SCI offers programs that promote education, hope, and healing. Many of these programs are offered free of charge, while others are offered on a sliding scale. These integrated care programs include:

  • American Cancer Society Patient Navigation: The American Cancer Society Patient Navigator helps patients find resources related to financial assistance, transportation, access to wigs and prosthetics, and much more.
  • Art Therapy: Art therapy is a confidential, supportive, and individualized experience for examining health issues through visual and verbal self-exploration.
  • Cancer Rehabilitation: Cancer rehabilitation integrates medical management of cancer treatment-related side effects with a variety of exercise therapies.
  • Health Education: The Swedish Cancer Education Centers offer complementary educational materials, innovative learning opportunities, and patient education classes.
  • Genetic Counseling and Testing: Genetic testing is available for individuals to determine their risk for developing certain cancers.
  • Massage Therapy: Massage therapy may help with cancer-related pain, fatigue and nausea.
  • Naturopathic Medicine: Combining modern science with natural remedies, naturopathic doctors are available for consultation and treat¬ment through coordination with the patient’s oncologist.
  • Nutrition Care Services: Nutritionists are available to help patients and caregivers make healthy dietary choices during cancer treatment.
  • Psychiatry: Psychiatrists help patients and caregivers maintain the emotional and mental well-being needed to cope with stresses of cancer.
  • Oncology Social Work: Licensed oncology social workers provide patients and caregivers ongoing counseling and assistance.
  • Support Groups: Support groups for patients and caregivers are offered weekly, creating an environment for people to share their feelings with others going through similar experiences. 

Patients often hear that it’s important to find a strong support system during and after treatment; this may include a partner, sibling, parent, child or close friend. These are ...

Service animals help support people with MS

On October 21, 2013 the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Swedish Neuroscience Institute hosted a meet and greet with Buddy Hayes, national speaker for Canine Companions for Independence.  Buddy, as she prefers to be called, is a military veteran and the owner of Stanford, a handsome Labrador Retriever service dog given to her by Canine Companions for Independence.

Canine Companions for Independence is the largest national nonprofit organization provider of assistance dogs in the United States.  Canine Companions proudly provides assistance dogs to people in need completely free of charge.  They use hundreds of volunteers around the country and an expert team of professionals to deliver a service that allows people to continue living active and independent lives with the help of a professionally trained dog.

Stanford has been taught to make Buddy’s life easier and safer.  For example, Stanford can help open doors, turn lights on/off, pick up dropped items, and pull her lightweight wheelchair if needed.  One of the very practical lessons a dog is taught is to go to the bathroom on verbal command.  To obtain a service dog, one must ...

Therapy and rehab for stroke survivors

Stroke survivors often encounter physical, cognitive or emotional challenges after their stroke. Rehab helps stroke survivors relearn skills that are lost when part of the brain is damaged.  Participating in physical or occupational therapy can be extremely beneficial in assisting patients and their families in the recovery process.

Physical therapists commonly examine, evaluate, and treat stroke patients, facilitating progress towards restoring function, reducing pain, and preventing further injuries or complications.  This therapy is a form of exercise treatment to help with mobility, strength and general function based upon the individual’s needs.

Occupational therapists focus on occupations or activities are meaningful to the individual. They develop individualized care plans that may include adaptations for how to perform tasks, changes to the survivor’s surroundings, or helping individuals to alter their own behaviors.  These plans are designed to ...

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