Learning to talk: 8 tips for coping with social pleasantries in a difficult time

Talking.fwFrom the Spring 2008 edition of Thrive, Heather Jose, author of Letters to Sydney offers tips for talking with people about their diagnosis.

It’s part of our Puritan heritage: We just don’t know how to talk about the bad stuff in life. It’s easier to keep mum than to express compassion. Often, when some people try to express concern, they end up blathering on inconsiderately about really awful stuff – like how frightened you might be or a great-uncle who died of cancer. Here are some tips for coping. They can help keep your conversations with friends and acquaintances out of the weeds. Continue reading

Maintenance therapy for a longer life

Maintenance therapy patient

Mimi Norwood with her dog Mai.

When Mimi Norwood was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia in 2010, she worried about preserving her independence. She lives alone with her dog Mai, has a house to take care of and supports herself teaching sociology at Washtenaw Community College. Maintenance therapy with minimal side effects helps Mimi keep her cancer in deep remission.

Her cancer, CML, is a slowly progressing blood and bone marrow disease. The first line of treatment was a daily dose of a chemotherapy drug called Gleevec. The drugs Tasigna and Sprycel were approved for patients whose diseases progressed or were intolerant of Gleevec. These drugs are taken for as long as the disease remains in remission. Unlike older chemotherapy, Gleevec does not cause long-term organ damage so people can take it and lead normal lives.

For patients with certain cancers, maintenance therapy is an effective way to use an ongoing, less intensive program of chemotherapy to help lower the risk of your cancer coming back after it has been treated. Most maintenance therapy will not only prolong the duration of the original remission, it will also increase Continue reading

Happy 25th anniversary, Cancer Center! One long-term patient describes how his cancer was cured.


Clark Charnetski looks back on his cancer, part of our Happy 25th anniversary series at the Cancer Center.

Name: Clark Charnetski

Birthdate: Jan. 17, 1942

Diagnosis: Bladder Cancer

U-M Doctor: James Montie, M.D.

Age at diagnosis: 54

In the spring of 1996, Clark Charnetski had a backache. Initially suspecting a urinary problem, an X-ray with dyes found a tumor. Within a few hours, he had an appointment with James Montie, M.D., who diagnosed bladder cancer. That summer, Charnetski underwent chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor before surgery.

“Chemo at the time was very difficult,” he says. “I was really sick, especially Continue reading

Home-based cancer treatments are a welcome option

Patient Michelle Johnson

Heading to the hospital or clinic for your cancer treatment takes time, costs money in gas and pulls you away from your regular life, sometimes for days at a time. What if you could receive inpatient-like hospital services in the comfort of your own home?

Home-based treatment options are a reality for many patients, including Michelle Johnson, who used U-M Home Care Services for post-surgery care, chemotherapy and radiation to treat esophageal cancer.

“If I had to sit for two or three days in the hospital’s infusion center every week, it would take an emotional toll on me. With my home chemo, it enables me to do things I want to do,” Johnson says.

Home Care nurses visit her several times a week to help with her PICC line, change dressings after surgery, and oversee and disconnect an infusion pack she wears for 46 hours straight every other week.

Worried you won’t be able to manage home-based treatments?

“One of the reasons home care runs so smoothly is that so many procedures have been standardized and coordinated between HomeMed and the U-M Cancer Center,” explains Nurse Manager Debra Kovacevich, R.N., from U-M HomeMed. “With such high standards of hospital care, it is easy to transfer standard processes to home care.”

Many resources are available to help patients, including:

  • Patient education materials
  • Home Care nurse visits
  • 24/7 number to call about infusing drugs in the home, as well as concerning signs and symptoms
  • A guide to home care services

Get a complete list of Home Care services and read more of Michelle’s story in Thrive.

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When cancer changes your looks, the makeover starts inside

A cancer center patient who lost her hair due to chemotherapy treatment

Kate Muir opted not to wear a wig.

As if confronting a life-threatening illness isn’t challenging enough for cancer patients, treating that illness often means coming face-to-face with changes in physical appearance, too. Baldness. Scarring. The loss of a breast. The loss of a limb.

When one’s health — or life — is at stake, do appearances really matter? According to Claire Weiner, L.M.S.W., a social worker in the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s PsychOncology Program, that’s one of the first questions many patients — male and female — wrestle with. Weiner and the other members of the PsychOncology team are quick to remind patients that it’s normal — not vain — to be concerned about how we look.

When it comes to coping with that new face in the mirror, a strong sense of self-worth and a solid support system are invaluable.

Kate Muir (pictured above), who is currently in treatment for breast cancer, remembers looking in the mirror at one point and seeing “an alien, not someone I knew.” Eventually, she says, she was able to deal with the changes.

“In my family today, who you are is based on what you do, what you speak, what you feel — not on how you look,” she says. From the very start, Muir’s family encouraged her to go out just as she was. Her son, who lives in Ann Arbor, told her, “Who cares? No one cares how they look in Ann Arbor!”  Continue reading “Keeping Up Appearances: When cancer changes your looks, the makeover starts inside”.

We’ve also got a list of resources to help support you and provide products to help:  “Keeping Up Appearances:  Resources”.

If you have questions or would just like to talk to someone, contact Cancer AnswerLine™ at 800-865-1125 and one of our cancer nurses will help.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share?  Please let us know by posting in our comments section.

Creative Control: Art therapy offers artistic freedom and empowerment to people with cancer

Art therapy offers artistic freedom and empowerment to people with cancer

"There are a lot of things going on outside of a patient's control, and although my doctors give me choices once in a while, they're the ones who know the right way. Art therapy is a great environment to make my own decisions." -- Linda Westervelt (pictured)

Linda Westervelt enjoys making her own choices. Too often as a cancer patient, however, she has to leave decisions about her treatment and health in the hands of her doctors.

But when Westervelt participates in the art therapy program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, she’s in control.

“It’s nice to make decisions in art therapy, and it’s a good outlet for that,” Westervelt says. “There are a lot of things going on outside of a patient’s control, and although my doctors give me choices once in a while, they’re the ones who know the right way. Art therapy is a great environment to make my own decisions.”

U-M offers one-on-one art therapy sessions for cancer patients and survivors, led by Margaret Nowak, the Cancer Center’s art therapist. The sessions are designed to help patients increase self-awareness and cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences.

Nowak says that the dynamic of these sessions allows patients control they sometimes lack in other aspects of their lives. Sessions begin with a discussion about the patient’s health and well-being, and from there, Nowak helps direct patients toward an artistic avenue of their choice.

Read the rest of Creative Controlor check out our art therapy video casts and try it for yourself!  If you’re a patient, please call 877-907-0859 to make an art therapy appointment or to get more information.

Have you tried art therapy?  If so, please share your experiences with us!