A Cancer Christmas Story: The Gift of Community

A Cancer Christmas Story on Breast Cancer Authority

THIS CHRISTMAS WILL BE disheartening for many of us. Our unstable economy, dwindling financial security, home foreclosures, and job losses will not pause for the holiday season. Add health issues to that equation and the result is few, if any, gifts beneath the Christmas Tree. However, there is a bright star in our dark night: community support.

We are bigger than the sum of our problems.

We belong to the community of mankind. Fellowship and help networks filled with resources and hope are available to everyone. So are sympathetic shoulders on which to cry.

As a phone counselor for the R.A. BLOCH CANCER FOUNDATION, I recently received a call from a woman I’ll name Lisa for this blog. Lisa was calling from California. It soon became apparent that this woman, who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer recurrence, needed a whole lot more than just a shoulder for support.

Cancer Christmas Story - Community Filled With Resources

“I can’t start my cancer treatments!” the hysterical voice on the phone cried. “I have to pack all of my belongings because the bank is foreclosing on my home. I’m being thrown out into the street and I have nowhere to go! And, I think I’m dying.”

The sound of the phone dropped to the floor was followed by loud weeping.

My heart sank. I wanted to cry with her but that wouldn’t help either of us. So I patiently waited for Lisa to retrieve the phone and resume her woeful tale. Sometimes listening is the first step in helping.

“I’m the last of my family,” she sobbed. Her father and brother had died of cancer last year. Her mother died two years ago.

Lisa’s dog was her only companion and she was running out of dog food.

“If I start my cancer treatments, I won’t have enough energy to pack, and my things are all that I have left of my family. How can you possibly help me!” she demanded. Good question! How could I assist a woman in such a severe crisis living on the other side of the country? If stress is a killer, why is this poor woman still alive? Is it any wonder she has cancer, again?

“I don’t want to live anymore!” she moaned. “No one can help me.”

I encouraged her to take a deep breath and reassured her that there are indeed resources and contacts available to help her. While still speaking with Lisa on the phone I scanned the internet and found the toll-free numbers for the director of the Cancer Legal Resource Center in Los Angeles, and the name of an attorney who is a two-time cancer survivor and co-founder of a legal network for cancer patients.

Before giving Lisa these phone numbers, I contacted the organizations to be sure they could meet her needs.

The voice that had answered the phone said, “Have her call us. We can help.”

Two days later, I followed up with a call to Lisa, and discovered she had contacted the attorney, and Legal Resource Center. And, a community animal organization had donated food for her dog.
She sounded much better as she prepared for her treatments. We spoke of the statistically increasing chances of surviving cancer recurrence, due to new treatments, with better results, and fewer side effects.

“Call me if you need me again,” I said. “I’m here for you.”

“Will you pray for me?” she asked in a tiny voice?

“Yes, I will.” And I did. The power of prayer is incredibly strong. Ask and you will receive.
I was reluctant to let Lisa go, but realized I had to trust in God, and respect Lisa’s ability and desire to empower herself with these resources.

Unfortunately, Lisa’s story is not the exception during these trying times. Holidays do not take time off from crisis.

Fortunately, her story, has a silver lining. It is the uplifting message that community support is available during times of strife. Just ask.

As a community, we are our sister’s, daughter’s, brother’s and son’s keepers.

A few days after Lisa’s call, I overheard an interesting conversation while standing in a grocery store check-out line.

One lady with a cart full of groceries complained about her financial problems to a second woman who responded with, “If you want to change the way your problems appear, change the way you peer at them.” What a remarkable answer! It reminded me of the movie Dead Poets Society, in which the late Robin Williams played an English Professor who encouraged his students to stand on top of their desks to gain a different perspective on life.

Another helpful way to achieve this change is by not looking at your problems alone.

Like the students in the movie, sometimes we need a guide to help us process challenges differently. A second set of eyes may not be distracted by the smoldering smoke of crisis.

Getting back to holiday basics, and viewing them from a different perspective by remembering the true message and essence of Christmas may also help reduce this season’s stresses.

Cancer Christmas Story - A Message of Hope

Christmas is a message of hope, joy, love and survival against all odds, in the form of a new beginning based on faith; a homeless infant born in a barn during extreme life threatening crisis who has only a manger for a crib and barn animals for physical warmth. His parents have little more than the clothes on their back. However, they are all blessed with the cloak of faith that hides them in plain sight, keeps them toasty on cold nights, and embraces them with credence. Their needs are met.

Christ did not receive piles of expensive gifts like X-box or the latest I-phone. He received a roof over his head, and one small heartfelt gift from each of three wise men.

In keeping with the true tradition of Christmas, my husband and I have decided not to exchange Christmas gifts this year. We have all we need, and want for nothing. Instead, we are going to give gifts to children in need within our community like the Shelter for Battered Women. Most communities have at least one, because this problem is so prevalent.

This year try something different to get back to the basics of this holiday; dare to view Christmas from a different perspective, that of the Wise Men, and discover if it is truly better to give than to receive.

The internet is rich in local and world-wide resources for anyone in crisis. And it is at your fingertips. If you know anyone in crisis, please share this article to help them during the holiday season and beyond.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanavos Breast Cancer Authority ContributorKathleen (Kat) O’Keefe-Kanavos is a TV Producer/Host of Wicked Housewives On Cape Cod and Author/Lecturer of the award winning, International bestseller, Surviving Cancerland: Intuitive Aspects of Healing which promotes dream therapy for wellness and patient advocacy and connecting with inner guidance for success in health, wealth, and relationships.
(all photos are owned by the author)

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Yikes, it is the Holidays and I have Cancer and No One is Talking about It

Breast Cancer Holiday To Dos ListBy: Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer and a licensed psychologist.

Will it be my last? I am doing pretty well. Treatment is coming along but it is my first Holiday Season living with the knowledge that there is this aggressive invader in my body. What am I to do? Sound familiar? Identify?

Living with a cancer diagnosis is not for the faint of heart. And the Holiday season only amplifies the reality that you have come face-to-face with your own mortality. This diagnosis like none other slaps you into the reality that life is not forever for anyone, especially your life, as you are actively fighting for it. I found it helpful during my treatment to keep my life as “normal” as possible. So here are a few to-dos that might be helpful.

  • Do decorate but do not go over board. Your energy is needed to heal.
  • Do buy your favorite foods even if they don’t taste quite the same.
  • If you are one of those who loves to cook or bake then choose a favorite and make it.
  • If you send out a Christmas letter then focus on the positives of the treatment process and use the letter to tell them what you need to hear from them this coming year. The reality is no one knows what to say and often say nothing in order to not say the wrong thing. So include a little paragraph that says something like this:
      “I know the C word makes everyone nervous and afraid. Thank goodness Cancer is not contagious and you can’t transmit it by talking about it. Do not be afraid to ask me, “How are you doing?” Don’t be afraid to ask me, “Do you want to talk about it?” Or “What do you need?” I have good days and bad days and often times I don’t know what I need but it feels good to be asked. And what I need to hear from you most is: “I don’t know what to say or ask, but I am wanting you to know you are important to me, what can I do?”
  • If you love shopping, go at off times when everyone else is at work.
  • Listen to great Christmas music and if you get bored or teary with it, then switch to music you really love. Don’t be afraid of your tears. Tell your journal how you are feeling and what you are experiencing.
  • Watch holiday movies. Go to a play or live performance.
  • Get outside. Bundle up and walk around the block or drive to a park. A change of scenery always feels good.
  • If you are too weak to drive have someone take you to see Christmas lights.
  • Buy an adult coloring book to color in as the days turn into weeks and weeks into months. Coloring can be a useful and fun activity that keeps your mind from worrying so much.
  • Drink tea. It is a wonderful healing ritual.
  • Wear your favorite and most comfortable clothes.
  • And if you are traveling for the holiday on trains or airplanes consider wearing a mask in addition to keeping hands clean to help protect from others’ germs. These are not full-proof measures but the extra steps do help.
  • And, best of all, give yourself permission to NOT do anything you don’t want to do. If you hate wrapping presents, switch to gift bags only. If you hate cooking, order your holiday meal. Pamper yourself.

Create new memories for next year. Having cancer is a real bummer but do not let it control you and your mood. You are still alive right now and use this time to make the most of it with your loved ones. None of us are immortal. We will all die. We do not get a choice about that. But we do get a choice about how we live and what we create while we are here. Never allow self-pity to steal your joy. Find something to enjoy everyday. Give back. Call a friend who is down and cheer him/her up. Look for ways to make a positive difference in the lives of people around you. You may have cancer but that does not mean your entire identity has changed. Don’t let cancer own you. Live your life the best possible way and get determined to enjoy this Holiday Season regardless. Turn up that music now!

Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

Doctor’s HOLIDAY Advice For Cancer Patients And Survivors

Holiday Advice For The HolidaysDr. Robin Dilley, Author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey With Breast Cancer and a licensed psychologist.

The HOLIDAY season comes at the best time of the year, starting in fall and finishing in the heart of winter. It is the best time of the year, because it is my favorite time. The weather changes and the colors of fall dance in the crispness of evening dusk and then snow falls and purifies the debris of hot summer months. From Halloween until Valentine’s Day there is a HOLIDAY to look forward to with opportunity for plenty of hallmark moments.

However, the HOLIDAY season can be marred with ghosts from times past that you need to clear out in order to celebrate and take every opportunity to be fully alive in the HOLIDAY season. One good way to do this is to write journal letters to the people or memories that have scarred your HOLIDAY mood. Write a letter to the people or memories that haunt you and burn those letters in a fall bond fire. But don’t stop there. Write a new letter to yourself for every letter that you just burned. This new letter is a letter of declaration. Declare to take back the joy, mystery, and excitement of this time of the year and describe in detail in the letter how you are setting yourself free and specifically celebrating the HOLIDAY season this year. This letter of declaration is your bill of rights to enjoy your life without the haunting of past memories. This is most important for us as cancer survivors. If you are currently challenged with a certain cancer and are wrestling with treatment and recovery the HOLIDAY season can be shadowed with fear and life and death thoughts. It is very important that you rally to claim this time of year for yourself and your family. HOLIDAY’s can be the best memory making times of your life. In order for that to happen you must drop the “should and have-to” demands of society and simply enjoy the presence of festivity and connection that this time of the year provides.

So, cancer survivor’s and current patients get out your pen and paper and write your letter of independence today. Do not let cancer shadow or shatter your HOLIDAY this year. You may not have control of the outcome of your current cancer story, but you can control the way you celebrate this time of the year just because you are still here and this is an opportunity to enjoy.

Hallmark and commercialism have over-burdened and over stimulated many of you with all of the commercial glitz of consumerism. HOLIDAY’S can becoming burdensome surrounded by clouds of should and have-to. Do not allow commercialism to ruin the enjoyment and zest that can be yours during this magical time of the year. Learn to own what your HOLIDAY thoughts and dreams are and execute the HOLIDAY the way you want to do it. For instance, choose the HOLIDAY you enjoy the most and celebrate it fully the way you that brings you the most enjoyment. If Halloween is your favorite HOLIDAY then full celebrate it. Give HALLOWEEN gifts if you want and put it in the card: “Happy Halloween. I just love this holiday and since I can’t do both Christmas and Halloween I am gifting you now and hope you will enjoy this just as much if you were opening it on Christmas morning.” It is okay to have boundaries and not have to do all of everything for the HOLIDAY. If you are overwhelmed with other people’s expectations, you are the only one that can change that. I promise you they won’t change it for you.

Then for the rest of the HOLIDAYS choose one part of the HOLIDAY to truly participate in. For instance if you live near family and have to do HOLIDAY meals on Christmas morning, afternoon, and evening as well as a big celebration on Christmas eve, you know that already. So rather than resist it, pre-plan and prepare what you are going to take, organize it and have it off of your to do list. As a result of these obligations, trim down on other HOLIDAY have-to obligations and learn to say no to the cookie exchange and last-minute wrapping and gift buying. Sometimes, you can be your own worse enemy. Family expectations are tricky and you do not have to take an all or nothing stance. Resisting your mother-in-law’s expectations is a waste of your mental and emotional energy. Just pre-plan around her expectation and do your family obligation with a joyful attitude and the have-to becomes an act of love and service. That is the true spirit of the HOLIDAY season. It becomes your Christmas gift to her even if she is too busy to notice. You know and that is all that matters.

It is up to you as to how you choose to celebrate this HOLIDAY season and if you take ownership you can actually have the best HOLIDAY ever, regardless of HOLIDAY ghosts or your physical health at this time. You are more than your cancer. Do not let cancer define you or your HOLIDAY this year. If you need help taking ownership of this festive time, then seek out the help of a mental health professional that values living in the midst of any situation. May you look forward to the opportunities of mystery and magic during this awesome time of the year.
Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

Holiday Vegan & Sugar-Free Cookie Recipes For Breast Cancer

Healthy Cookie Recipes For Breast CancerBy: Breast Cancer Yoga Staff.

Here are 2 delicious cookie recipes that you can make for a family member who is undergoing cancer treatments and can not eat traditional holiday sugar cookies. We suggest decorating the cookie box or basket in holiday colors. Always use organic ingredients when possible.

No Bake Chocolate Coconut Balls

Ingredients:
1¼cup coconut flakes, shredded, unsweetened
4 tablespoons cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup chocolate chips*(recipe below)
1 banana, mashed
½ teaspoon chocolate liquid stevia
9 dates, pitted, chopped

Directions:

  1. Blend one cup of the coconut flakes with the banana and cocoa in a food processor.
  2. A small amount at a time add the chopped dates to the food processor.
  3. Once thoroughly combined until smooth mix in the stevia, vanilla extract and salt.
  4. Place mixture into a bowl and stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Place the ¼ cup of coconut flakes onto a plate.
  6. Make 14 small chocolate balls from the mixture then roll them into the coconut flakes. Refrigeration is not necessary, but if you are not eating them right away I would keep them in the fridge to stay firm until you are ready to eat.

No Bake Chocolate Coconut BallsNaturally Sweetened Dark Chocolate Chunks

Ingredients:
4 ounces- 100% cacao, unsweetened [Ghirardelli baking bar]
4 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3- 5 teaspoons Wisdom Natural 100% Natural Stevia Sweetener Powder

Directions:

  1. In a microwaveable bowl melt the chocolate, vanilla extract and the oil in the microwave for about a minute or over the stove on low heat until completely melted.
  2. Stir in the stevia powder.
  3. Taste it and see if it is sweet enough for you. If not increase stevia by 1/4 teaspoon until it is to your liking.
  4. Pour the chocolate liquid onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
  5. Spread with a spoon to smooth. Don’t spread the chocolate too thin.
  6. Freeze for about an hour.
  7. Break into chunks.
  8. Makes about 2 cups.

(Recipe From SugarFreeMom.com)

Vegan Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies For Breast CancerSugar-Free Vegan Peanut Butter, Oatmeal and Banana Cookies

Ingredients:
1/3 cup peanut butter
2 ripe bananas (overripe is fine)
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp almond milk
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 ½ cups quick cooking or rolled oatmeal
dash cinnamon (optional)
1/4 cup flour

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, mash bananas with a fork until smooth.
  2. Add peanut butter, soy milk, vanilla and maple syrup and mix well.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined.
  4. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 13-16 minutes at 350 degrees, or until done.

Note: Watch out for added sugar! This recipe is only truly sugar-free if you used unsweetened peanut butter and unsweetened almond milk, so read the ingredients list and look for almond milk that says “Unsweetened” right on the label. (Recipe From Jolinda Hackett of AboutFood.com)

Dawn Breast CancerAbout Dawn Bradford Lange:  Co-founder of Breast Cancer Yoga. Dawn is making a difference with Breast Cancer Yoga therapeutic products designed to support you emotionally and physically during breast cancer . We want to give you the attention and personal service you need so please email us at info@breastcanceryoga.com if you have questions.

 

Thanksgiving: An Opportunity To Take Inventory Of Our Lives Blessings

Give Thanks For Our Lives BlessingsThanksgiving provides each of us an opportunity to take inventory of our lives and truly list our blessings. Thanksgiving has a way of opening the door of our hearts and souls to others, allowing the spirit of generosity to permeate to each other.

But the happy face of Thanksgiving does not always fit. For breast cancer and other cancer survivors this time can be bitter sweet, especially if you are currently in treatment or wrestling with bad news on how your treatment is going. If you are having a difficult time emotionally or physically then this holiday can present some challenges. Rather that asking you to hide those challenges and pretend that you are just thankful to be alive, I am giving you permission to be honest with yourself and others. There is a trick to this honesty because as you probably know by now, honesty is not always well received by the general population. Most people just do not know what to say when you say you are in treatment for cancer. It is not that they are selfish, inept, or rude. They just don’t know what to say. As a result they end up saying something like, “hope you feel better soon.”

Here is my Thanksgiving advice for you:
The bottom line no one knows if he/she will be alive this time next year. Now, by telling you that truth, I have just leveled the playing field. You are really no different than your neighbor who seems to be happy-go-lucky Mr. Good Guy. The difference is that you are aware you are now mortal. That reality allows you to make a difference this Thanksgiving in ways other people can’t.

Here are some things to do as a result:

  1. Make a list of your friends, family and acquaintances. Be mindful as you do this by getting out a large notepad or even beautiful stationary. Spend time listing these people.
  2. Next, ask yourself, “Who would be my best ally or friend on this list if I allowed myself to be vulnerable with him/her?” Imagine yourself calling that person and asking them to come visit with you for a little bit. If they live far away ask for a time when you can have a brief but meaningful conversation with them on the phone. I know your anxiety is rising because I am asking you to do something for yourself. Take a breath and relax a bit because I am going to ask you to do something for all of those other people on your list in a minute. However, you must learn how to take care of your difficult emotions first.

Here is a brief script you can practice saying to the one person that you chose to be your friend on the list:

Susie (the name of your person) I am reaching out to you today because I trust you and believe I can be honest with you. You have shown me over our time together that you are genuinely interested in how I am doing. To be truthful with you, I have never really known how to answer that question. But today, I just need you to know that I am having a difficult time right now. This Thanksgiving is feeling overwhelming and I am sad. I hurt and my treatment is not going very easy right now. Because, I know you have cared about that in the past, I am letting you know that now in the most honest way I can. It feels better just to say the truth to someone. I know there is nothing you can do Susie to change anything I am going through. I just needed to get it off of my chest. Thanks so much for listening to me.”

See, that wasn’t so bad was it? That was an exercise in reaching out to get your needs met and allowing a friend to be there to listen. In most cases sharing with a friend at this level of honesty will help you feel a little better.

Now, look at that list of people. What do you know about each of them? Ask yourself, “What would I say or do for them if they were in a difficult spot this Thanksgiving?” Asking yourself that question will help you get out of your box and into his/her box, making you aware if it is not cancer, it is usually something.

Depending on your energy level, here are a few suggestions of some action you can take:

  1. If you a person of prayer, you can offer a prayer for each of them.
  2. If you have the energy and the contact information you can call them and tell them, “Happy Thanksgiving. I am just thinking about you. Hope you have a wonderful day.”
  3. You can send a note or you can just keep the list handy and look at it often to remind yourself that we really all are in this together, one way or the other.

The last suggestion for this Thanksgiving is for you to do something this day to distract yourself from you. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on your fear. Any activity out of the ordinary will help you get your mind off of yourself and be thankful that even though you have cancer you still can do some activities and be valuable to others along the way. Be thankful for that and enjoy what you can. Let go of the rest.

Dr. Robin Dilley

Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

 

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