By Tara Moser, LCSW, RPT-S and Reina Lombardi, LMHC, ATR-BC
Cancer-the diagnosis no one wants to hear in regards to their or the health of someone they love. It is impossible to escape being affected by this disease.
The leading cause of death in the United States is related to cancer of all types. It is an equal opportunity illness. It comes in myriad forms. It does not discriminate. We are all susceptible and at risk. Our families and friends as well.
The first step in combating cancer comes in the form of education and prevention. Our best tool is to participate in recommended screenings for early detection, which offer a greater chance for effective treatment. Your primary care physician is your best ally! Keeping him/her up to date on your family history and any change in your health will help with proper screenings and detection.
According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, breast cancer is among the most common type with an expected 235,000 new cases to be expected in 2014. An estimated 12.4% of American women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime.
There are specific healthy behaviors associated with a decreased risk for breast cancer such as healthy diet, regular exercise and limiting alcohol consumption.
While preventative measures can help decrease risk, the one risk that cannot be controlled is genetic pre-disposition. Women with a history of breast cancer in their family are advised to work with their doctor to create a preventative screening regimen, which may vary from those without a family history, to maximize the chances for early detection.
Terminal and life-threatening illnesses affect both the body and spirit. A diagnosis of cancer can be as terrifying for the patient as it is to his/her family and friends. All involved may experience a broad range and intensity of emotions from diagnosis through treatment through outcomes of remission or death.
The way in which each individual copes and processes this experience will be different and unique to that individual. Life experiences create our coping skills. Some people may shut down and withdraw from social engagement, others may don a mask of bravery and appear unaffected, and others may appear irritable and act out in anger.
Coping while fighting this illness, or witnessing and supporting someone you love battle this disease, can be challenging and feel overwhelming. One of the best life lessons is to create a routine of self-care. This is especially important for care-givers, as their health and well-being are needed to be able to care for the loved one fighting to survive the illness.
Self care comes in the forms of emotional and physical needs. Emotional self-care consists of activities that refill, replenish or recharge your spirit such as attending spiritual or religious services, meditation, reading, coffee with a friend, utilizing your creating through art or play, attending a support group, and/or counseling services. Physical self-care includes working out, ensuring proper nutrition, and routine sleep schedules.
It is common to be at a loss of words when talking about your own situation of cancer, your caretaking of a friend/family member with a cancer diagnosis, or approaching a friend or family member who is helping to care for a family member with such a diagnosis. A good rule of thumb when asking questions and making statements is to avoid those that place blame on the individual with the disease. It is not only unhelpful, it is hurtful.
If a person engaged in behaviors or worked in environments with increased risk for cancer, the individual and their family are aware and are not going to benefit from reminders regarding the link between the two.
Focusing on what one can do to help the individual and their loved ones cope–in the present–will go a long way. Statements that reflect empathy, demonstrate support, and are free from judgments are generally considered to be helpful and appreciated. Questions that seek to find ways one may be of help or assistance in such times are of benefit. For individuals fighting this illness alone, extending an offer to assist with simple routine tasks they may not be physically capable to complete can help alleviate much stress for that individual. Tasks such as walking the dog, taking the garbage can to and from the curb, or picking up groceries can feel overwhelming and to someone undergoing chemo and/or radiation treatment.
Cancer is part of our lives, no matter how hard we try to run from it! Preparing ourselves to be proactive and prepared is critical!
Tara Moser, LCSW, RPT-S specializes in working with children, adolescents, and families. She has a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Central Florida, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of Florida (#SW8379), and a Registered Play Therapist Supervisor through the Association for Play Therapy. Tara also specializes in Play Therapy with children 2 -18 years old, as well as incorporates pet-assisted play therapy into some of her clinical work utilizing her two dogs Abbey and Bode.
Tara has worked in a variety of therapeutic roles including foster care, non-profit family counseling, non-profit individual counseling, elementary school based counseling programs, adolescent drug prevention/intervention, behavioral therapy with autism, domestic violence counseling, and supervised visitation, in addition to her private practice.
Tara’s counseling approach is client centered in that each session is unique to meet the client’s needs and utilizes tools that are most effective for the client such as play, music, pets, and art. More often with the younger children, non-directive and directive modalities of play therapy are utilized. Cognitive-behavioral approaches and family system approaches are also utilized.
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Tara Moser, LCSW, RPT-S