A Mother and her Two Daughters

05 October 2011

Never Lose Spirit at UAMS

Last night was another wonderful evening celebrating more hope for cancer patients at UAMS Rockefeller Cancer Institute. 

My first contact with the Cancer Institute was in the mid-90s, when Dr. Suzanne Klimberg hired me to help Rep. Josetta Wilkins pass the Arkansas Breast Cancer Act.  And after almost two-years of working on that project, I thought I knew everything there was to know about breast cancer.  But in February 2010, I found out I was wrong. 

Not long after my own diagnosis, I quickly figured out that the diagnosis of cancer and the aggressive treatments that follow oftentimes wreak havoc, not only on your body, but on your psychological and emotional state as well. 
  • There’s anxiety and fear that can often transcend into depression.
  • Depletion of normal energy levels along with erratic sleep patterns.
  • Pain management issues often associated with different treatments.
  • Drug therapies with powerful side-effects, like Neutropenia, neuropathy, bone density loss, dehydration and more. 
  • Major weight change and total loss of hair, which can definitely impact the body image.  It’s difficult to feel physically appealing when you look less like a human, and more like a naked mole rat. 
  • Some patients experience a change in appetite, or can no longer tolerate their usual diet after surgery or during treatment.
  • Difficulties at work, maybe even with family.  And for parents with cancer, we worry about our children, and then worry about the worries our children have about us. 
  • Some of us realize permanent changes to our bodies post surgery, changes that will be with us forever. 
  • Mounting bills, health insurance disputes and tough financial issues.
  • Well-meaning friends who advise us about cancer-fighting foods, spices, vitamins, supplements, organic teas, and miracle elixirs found online. 
  • But certainly the greatest challenge is our fear of dying, and quite possibly having to make peace with leaving this earth before you had planned. 
  • And for survivors – there’s the constant worry about relapse and having to go through this all over again. 

 The bottom line is this:  Fighting cancer is not for the faint of heart.  It can be overwhelming, all encompassing.  We find ourselves involved with so many physical and emotional issues that are new.  And most of the time all we need is some medically sound advice; someone to answer our questions, new coping skills that will give us strength and renew our spirit of hope. 

Of all the issues mentioned, the good news is this.  There is a professional at my cancer center, UAMS, who can help with every one of them.  But for a patient at a huge medical facility, sometimes it can be difficult to find them

The initiative launched Monday night is called Never Lose Spirit – a renewed focus on patient support services intended to address the emotional, physical and lifestyle changes associated with a cancer diagnosis.  Through the sale of a beautiful glass sculpture designed by Hendrix graduate and Pine Bluff artist James Hayes, hopefully we will accomplish two very important things:
  • Re-package existing services found at UAMS to help patients better navigate themselves through the many services offered.  UAMS is more than a multi-disciplined health care center, and all patients have the luxury of a plethora of medical and psychological resources.  We just need to make sure that patients know how to find them. 
  • Offer even more patient services that deal with the whole being.  I envision this Institute soon employing patient navigators and offering classes on nutrition, meditation, relaxation, journaling and more – all of them complementary therapies that can help us maintain emotional health during the fight. 

Here’s a link to the initiative, including the ability to purchase one of these lovely glass sculptures to support our efforts. 

The UAMS Rockefeller Cancer Institute is a powerful force when it comes to fighting cancer.  And with many thanks to the financial underwriting of this initiative by Judy Tenanbaum, Vince Insalaco, UAMS and the Rockefeller Cancer Institute will soon become known not only as the very best in terms of cancer treatment, it will become known as the very best in patient support services, as well. 

With many thanks to UAMS and the Rockefeller Cancer Institute leadership team.  Here’s to their vision for treating the whole patient!  

01 October 2011

A Survivor’s Update

Wow, it’s been such a long time since I posted on this blog. Many friends and family have mentioned it to me, some have even been a little scolding.  However, all has been well, and I’ve become re-engaged into my more normal world, meaning I just haven’t made the time for this blog.  But today I have a few things to share. 

First, about my health – it’s good!  I continue to battle side effects from the medicines I take, but who’s complaining.  I don’t have cancer.  Tolerating fatigue, pesky leg bones, some vision problems and dry mouth is nothing compared to cancer treatment.  And with a few adjustments to my lifestyle, I’m tolerating all of them just fine. 

Second, my girls are good.  In fact, I am proud to share with you my oldest daughter Allyson’s recent accomplishment in the world of breast cancer advocacy.  Last year after Little Rock’s Runway for a Cause, Allyson said to me, “I can do that in St. Louis.”  And she did, and has been working on this event for over a year.  Already a volunteer with the Siteman Cancer Center in STL, Allyson and her sorority sister Hannah Vargon presented the idea “Celebrate Style”, a high-energy fashion show to benefit their Young Women’s Breast Cancer Program. This inaugural event, held on Friday, September 16, welcomed over 200 guests in a night of connecting fashion and philanthropy in the ultimate celebration of survivorship. Here’s a photo of three generations of “Sells women” celebrating style and cancer survivorship.  But more than anything, we were absolutely celebrating Allyson and her penchant for community service.  Cousin Paula even flew in from San Antonio and attended with her daughter Cousin Casey who now lives in St. Louis.  It was a very successful event, a wonderful weekend for sure. 

Speaking of my cousin Paula Callaway, when we returned, I received an email from her about a plea from Women’s Health magazine asking breast cancer survivors to share their story.  Paula encouraged me to send mine, so I did.  And guess what – my story was selected and now I’m in it.  Who would have ever thought I would be in a magazine about health.  But I love this photo with my girls, and honored to be in this breast cancer feature with so many other strong women who are fighting the good fight.  Thanks Paula!  Here’s the online link.  Also take a minute to read the other stories too.  They are inspiring. 

And finally, this coming Monday marks the launch of a new program at my beloved UAMS, at the Rockefeller Cancer Institute.  Working with the leadership team and other volunteers at the Institute, we will bring enhanced patient support services that will address the emotional, physical and lifestyle changes associated with a cancer diagnosis. Classes for patients and caregivers, in addition to consultations with nutritionists, pharmacists and social workers are part of the program in development.  Fighting cancer is multi-faceted, so it’s very exciting to work with a team of cancer specialists so dedicated to the whole person.  More about this come Monday or Tuesday. 
I’ll close with this quote from one of my favorite women in history – Eleanor Roosevelt.  Indeed what a strong woman she was, a full of character and love for mankind. 

The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences. 
I’m living and loving and tasting life these days.  While my body may be slower and my days shorter (due to more sleep), I’m no longer afraid.  Instead, I feel blessed that I have learned much and loved more as a result of this cancer experience. 

What was it that Nietzsche said?  What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger?  Well, I am stronger, and more grateful.  Thank you friends!  Love you all . . .

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