Coping Strategy #8

Group Therapy!

Group therapy is a great option if you don’t feel comfortable talking to a specialist one-on-one. Group therapy is also much more affordable. Humans are social beings. It’s easy to talk to one another in a group. Also, in group therapy you will feel more secure and less alone compared to alternative treatments. You see other kids dealing with a similar situation. When you start telling your story, the group members will understand your problem and relate to it. Having so many perspectives listen to your story, may even change your perspective in a positive way! After saying your feelings in this group, it will be much easier to communicate with your friends and family on this topic as well.

I have heard great things about group therapy and I recommend it for those who are ready to seek help! Stay positive!

Great American Smokeout

Today is the Great American Smokeout, which was started by the American Cancer Society! The Great American Smokeout is a day where those who smoke, are pushed to take the next steps to quitting. As mentioned in my previous blog post, smoking increases the risk of being diagnosed with Lung Cancer. Smoking also harms those around the smoker through second-hand smoking.

This year, I was blessed to be able to participate in the Great American Smokeout. Students spread themselves out through the central area of campus and held up facts about smoking. It was apparent that such a small gesture made a positive impact on campus.

"Quitting smoking decreases my risk of lung cancer."

“Quitting smoking decreases my risk of lung disease.”

I strongly recommend sharing this post (and the previous post) with those who smoke or with those who have a smoker in their family. Quitting this terrible habit for even one day will benefit the smoker’s body immensely. Happy Great American Smokeout Day!

For more information about the Great American Smokeout visit: http://www.cancer.org/healthy/stayawayfromtobacco/greatamericansmokeout/index

National Lung & Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month! During November, cancer organizations put on events to help fight these diseases and raise funds for research.

Here are a few facts about Lung Cancer to raise awareness:

  • When it comes to cancer deaths, Lung Cancer takes the lead.
  • More men than women are diagnosed with Lung Cancer every year.
  • Active smoking is responsible for 90% of Lung Cancer patients.
  • If one is exposed to second hand smoke on a daily basis, their risk for Lung Cancer increases from anywhere between 20-30%.
  • Those who work with cancer causing agents, such as asbestos, arsenic, and radon, are also at a higher risk of being diagnosed with Lung Cancer.
  • Lung Cancer is often diagnosed through a lung biopsy, sputum cytology, bronchoscopy, mediastinoscopy, thoracentesis, CT scan, or PET scan.
  • Like most cancers, Lung Cancer can be treated though surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Here are a few facts about Pancreatic Cancer to raise awareness:

  • Unfortunately, Pancreatic Cancer has a low survival rate compared to other types of cancer.
  • Family history of this disease, smoking on a regular basis, consuming alcohol on a regular basis, having a poor diet and having diabetes are major risk factors for this deadly disease.
  • Pancreatic Cancer is usually diagnosed through a physical exam, biopsy, ultrasound, MRI, or an X-Ray.
  • Pancreatic Cancer can be treated through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and gastroenterology.

Share these facts about Lung & Pancreatic Cancer with your friends and family to spread awareness and to help prevent these diseases. These types of cancer are extremely deadly, painful, and scary. It is so important that everyone is well-informed about the major facts. Always remember to support all types of cancer throughout the whole year! We are all in this fight together.

Looking at Before and After Pictures

One of the hardest things while coping with this awful sickness is looking back at pictures from the time your parent did not have cancer and immediately noticing the changes that the disease has brought on. It’s hard seeing that transition of your own parent from a healthy and active person to a cancer-stricken patient.

When I look at recent pictures of my dad, I see the cancer in him. I see the wrinkles that came in the last two years; I see the defined cheek bones and sunken-in eyes due to the weight loss; I see the peeling hands and feet from the chemotherapy; I see the cancer. To protect myself from more pain, I try not to look at those.

It’s especially hard because if you lost your parent (or loved one) to cancer, your most recent and vivid memories are petrifying. You remember the weakness, the throwing up, the change of temper, and all the other chemotherapy affects.  As difficult as it is, it is so important to remember your loved one in a healthy form. It’s going to be a struggle rewinding to a couple years ago, but it will be a healthier way of grieving (or dealing with this new change in your life). Always remember that cancer doesn’t define a person. Stay positive and spread smiles!

Coping Strategy #7

Therapy!

Having a sick parent is tough. It’s also frustrating, sad, chaotic at times, depressing, scary and much more. It’s hard to cope with all of those feelings, while living a life. It’s also a challenge to keep those feelings separate from your school and social life.

I highly suggest talking to someone. It’s too unhealthy to keep all those negative feelings bottled up. Therapy is a great option to let it all out. Saying your feelings outloud to a specialist will help you feel better and more secure. I’m also sure that your parent’s oncologist knows of programs you can join or someone to talk to. You could also talk to your school counselor or any teacher. For that matter, you could talk to any adult that is willing to just listen! Talk to your friends if you don’t feel comfortable talking to an adult. Just talk to someone! You will feel better afterwards.

If your parent is in the hospital or under Hospice Care, they will have social workers for you! If they haven’t already reached out to you, give them a call and see what they can offer to you. Some insurances also cover a few free therapy sessions, so check that out as well.

Therapy can be time-consuming and challenging at times, but the outcome is worth it. Remember to do your research about the therapists near you if you plan on seeking that help! Stay positive!

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

It’s October which means it is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month! National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was created in 1985 to not just raise funds for Breast Cancer research and those fighting it, but to spread awareness. Now, every October cancer organizations put on major events to raise money and spread awareness for this disease.

A few facts about Breast Cancer to raise awareness:

  • Cancer can potentially spread through tissue, blood, and the lymph system. Therefore, it is important to get a PET scan, CT scan, MRI, Ultrasound, or Lymph biopsy if a Mammogram shows a tumor.
  • For those who don’t know what a Mammogram is, it’s an X-Ray of the breast. Although it may have slight radiation, the importance of this screening outweighs the extremely minor effect.
  • Women of 40 years or older should start getting a Mammogram about once every 1-2 years. However, Breast Cancer can be genetic. If you are aware of any family history regarding this disease, health care providers strongly recommend getting the screening done before age 40.
  • Breast Cancer occurs in 1 in every 3,000 women who give birth, mostly in the ages between 32 and 38 years.
  • About 1% of Breast Cancer victims are males and usually between 60-70 years old. Males (like females) can be diagnosed with Breast Cancer at any age. Biopsies, Ultrasounds, MRIs, physical exams, and blood tests are usually the way males test for Breast Cancer.
  • Common treatments include: Surgery, Chemotherapy, Radiation Therapy, Hormone Therapy, and Target Therapy.

I think it is so important to be well educated on not just cancer, but all diseases. I hope this helps you in some way or form. Remember to stay positive and not just support Breast Cancer this month, but all types of cancer throughout the year!

The Pros

When you first find out that you have a sick parent or relative at such a young age, your first thoughts are probably not the best. You might be scared your parent’s life will be coming to an early end. You might be mad at doctors for the diagnosis and even your parent for getting sick. You might feel lonely because most people don’t understand what you are going through and the extent of your pain.

One day you will start looking at the bright side of things. Here are just a few things I discovered when my dad was fighting cancer:

  • I started understanding what sick people are actually going through. Minor or major illness, my respect for cancer patients is extremely high.
  • When I was 16 years old, often times I had to act and think like a 36 year old. I matured to a degree that some adults are not even at yet.
  • My family and family friends really came together at tough times. It’s sad that the time I saw my family most was during a hard time, but I am so thankful for the support. Now, I know I can go to my family or family friends for anything.

One day you will come across some of these realizations, and maybe even more. Try to look at the bright side of every situation and spread the positivity among your family and friends.

Cancer Does Not Mean Death

Throughout my blog, I have mentioned the death of my father. However, I would like to make it very clear to my readers that cancer does not mean death. Cancer survival rates depend on many things such as the diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and so much more. I strongly believe cancer survival rates shoot up with positivity, hope, and faith within the whole circle of family and close friends. I also believe the reason my dad did so incredibly well during his first year and a half of chemotherapies was because of the positivity not only that he had, but every single one of our close friends and family members had.

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, death crossed my mind multiple times. It’s like you’re always living in fear. It’s also completely normal to have these thoughts. You always think that you’ll come home from school one day and your parents will sit you down and tell you that the treatments aren’t working as well as they should be. I always tried not to think about it and stay in high spirits through the thick and thin. If it started creeping through my head, I would start thinking about how my dad was such an amazing person and an amazing person like that doesn’t deserve death at a young age. But then again, no one deserves death at any age.

Try not to think about the future so much. Focus on the present. Do everything you can to help your parent get through this. Even if it’s the smallest deed, like just sitting there with them during a chemotherapy session while they fall asleep would help them immensely. Being happy around a sick person helps an infinite amount, trust me.

Sometimes we have to put ourselves in our parent’s shoes. Of course my dad never wanted to see me cry. He never wanted me to think that his cancer was stopping my life. He hid his pain from his loved ones around him, especially myself, my mom, and my sister. He didn’t want to be a burden. No sick person does. So, be elated around them. It’s truly a win-win situation and it will help their prognosis. Fight the cancer with your parents and spread the positivity within your circle- don’t let death be associated with your cancer story.

Coping Strategy #6

Go to Sleep Happy!

Like I mentioned in blog posts before, sleep is very important! Everyone just  performs better at daily tasks with their full amount of sleep. I think it’s really important to go to sleep happy (or as happy as you can be under the circumstances). Before you go to sleep, think of atleast three things you’re thankful for. I recently started doing this and it’s been helping me.

If someone made you unhappy that day, try to let it go or even confront them to get it off your chest. Finish all your goals for the day to feel accomplished and ready for the next day.

Go to sleep in a positive mood. Don’t fret over the little things. Be thankful for what you have. Sweet dreams!

Getting Through the Day

Sometimes when I wake up in the morning I feel like laying in bed all day and just looking at pictures of my dad and crying.  And sometimes during the day I feel like crawling into bed and doing the exact same thing.

Here are just a few things that get me through the day:

1. Knowing my dad is watching over me- I know that whatever I’m doing is making my dad happy. He wouldn’t want me to completely stop my life and sit home and sulk. As much as I would like to do that, it’s important for me to grieve in a healthy way.
2. Connecting my dad to every part of my day- I love celebrating my dad’s life and bragging to everyone on how cool and loveable he was. If I was in a conversation with someone I feel comfortable with, there’s a high chance I’ll bring up my dad and an amazing memory to go with the conversation. Talking about him with the right people makes me feel better, but not all teenagers are comfortable with that.
3. Doing it all for my dad- In my eyes, everything I do I do it for my dad. He’s my motivation in life. From the smallest goals to the largest tasks, I see my dad at the end of every destination.

Take everything step by step and day by day. Appreciate the little things in life. And of course, always keep your family as your number one priority.

Coping Strategy #5

Music!

Listening to music is beneficial. Having creative lyrics to listen to helps find yourself and explain those feelings in a way that you could not have put in words. Not only is listening to music helpful, but writing music is a great creative outlet to help cope with hard circumstances. Music lowers stress and anxiety levels. The stress hormone, cortisol decreases with music, leading to a more positive mood and outlook on life. Through research many psychologists have found music therapy helps build self-esteem, confidence, and cognitive functioning.

My dad and I loved playing guitar together. I will always cherish the memories of us sharing our enthusiasm for the instrument. Over the last few years, my guitar madness has diminished as school took over my life. The few times I still play the guitar, it calms my emotions down and brings back amazing memories of my dad. Playing an instrument is therapeutic- you get to forget what’s happening with your parent’s cancer and you focus on your music.

Music is a great escape from the real world. It lets your brain take an imaginative route away from your parent’s cancer.

The Comparing of Grandparents

When you tell people you have a sick parent at the age of 12-18 years most people don’t know how to react, especially your friends that are the same age as you. Many of them will compare your parent’s diagnosis /prognosis to their grandparent’s because that’s how cancer touched their heart. I personally had a lot of problems with this. Although my heart truly goes out to anyone touched by cancer when their grandparent was the victim, often times children have a closer bond to their parents than their grandparents. Your friends are going to tell you, “I know what you’re going through. My grandpa/grandma had cancer.” They don’t know what you’re going through. You do not have to depend on your grandparents as much as your parents. You do not have the same bond with parents as your grandparents. (Unless you live with your grandparents, then I would understand how that is relatable.)

If your friends are telling you they know how you feel because of their grandparents sickness, just let them think that. This is not anything to worry about. They are just trying to help you and support you. You are going to come across many people who don’t understand you. Majority of your acquaintances  won’t even come close to knowing your pain, but know that everyone is trying to help you get through this. Don’t fuss over the small comments that make you upset. Instead, be thankful that people are trying to support you.

Do Something for Yourself

During the time my dad was sick, I was so busy taking care of him, I stopped taking care of myself. I realized I needed to start doing something for myself before I go crazy.

Having a sick parent is a lot to deal with, especially as a teenager. You already have other problems like, focusing on the SAT’s, relationship scandals, friend drama, and so much more. No matter what struggles you are overcoming it is important to do something for yourself. Take at least half an hour of your day to do something that makes you happy, genuinely happy. You could start a new hobby, learn a language, exercise, anything. You could go for a bike ride in your neighborhood or start an art project. Breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and general exercise all help you relax. If you don’t have time to start a new hobby or do something for yourself, definitely do something that will help you relax. Try not to think about your cancerous stricken parent for half an hour of your day. Take your mind off the stress cancer brings. As hard as it is to forget something that big, you have to remember you have your whole life ahead of you and this is just the beginning of all the curve balls life will throw at you. It’s important to learn how to cope with these curve balls by doing something for yourself!

Life Changing Moments

After my dad accepted his life was coming to an end, he was fighting just to see my sister and I graduate. He told his oncologist to do whatever it takes to keep him alive until June 20, 2013 (the day of my graduation). Four days after my dad passed away my sister graduated from The George Washington University. Five weeks after he passed away I graduated high school. It was one of the hardest days of those 5 weeks. As I was walking across the stage receiving my diploma, the superintendent of the school district shook my hand and said, “Your dad is so proud of you.” Walking down from the stage tears started falling from my eyes. Despite the high number of family members and friends that came to see me graduate, the only person I really wanted there was my father. At that moment, it hit me. I’m not going to have my dad at my college graduation, my wedding, the birth of my children, and so much more. I also realized he will always be with me-my dad will be in my heart even if he’s not physically there.

If you are in the sad situation where your parent’s life is coming to an end or you lost a parent due to cancer at a young age, know that your parent wanted to be at every single life changing moment. Whether it’s your first day of preschool or your first day of your new job, make sure to keep your parent in your heart. It’s going to be hard doing so many things without them, but it will have to become a new norm. Appreciate your loved ones while you can and make as many memories as possible because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I hope you find a way to get through events of your life while dealing with the hardships of the “C word”.

Giving Back to the Community

Cancer is a scary word. It’s even scarier when it’s in your life and effecting your parent in the most negative way possible. One month after my dad was diagnosed with fourth stage cancer, I started a Relay for Life team for the youth of my city. I educated others on cancer (specifically Colon) and healthy diets as well as fundraised for American Cancer Society. Years later, I am still involved and always will be.

To cope with having a sick parent, it may help to give back to the community. Get involved in community walks, like Relay for Life. One could even start a club or team at their school. There is so much someone could do to help change the life of cancer patients and their families. You could volunteer at a hospital, sell your art work and donate the money to a cancer research lab, or just spread the word about the importance of doctor visits and screenings.

To get involved with Relay for Life visit:

http://www.relayforlife.org/?gclid=CJT3hYux7rgCFRDZQgod4BcASg

Coping Strategy #4

Pet Therapy!

During such a hard time in your life it’s important to have your escape and your “me time”. Something that may help you is pet therapy. It helps your emotional, social, and cognitive functioning while releasing stress. Remember that your family is going through a whole lot of pain and stress, so it is important to support them as much as possible.

In my family, it was time for me to gain an indefinite amount of independence and control my emotions to help my family in every possible way. I always felt like I had to hide the emotions the “C word” caused because I thought it was more important if I were my parents’ support system. Only in the past few weeks I realized I had the right to feel the way I do. I started doing things for myself. Sometimes I just randomly go to the dog park (without my dog, because he’s so big I can’t handle him) and watch the dogs play because it makes me happy. Sometimes I just sit next to my big, furry four-legged friend and my worries go away. Sometimes (more like all the time) I look at pictures of my dog because he’s so cute and no matter how sad or mad or angry or frustrated I am with the world, he’ll always bring a smile to my face.

Pet therapy not only helps us kids with a parent with cancer, but it helps our sick parent too. My dog, Duke and my dad were best friends. My dad called Duke his son and made jokes referring to how he liked my dog better than his two daughters. I strongly believe during the two years my father was sick, one of the things that kept him motivated to fight the cancer was Duke. Duke had a positive effect on my dad that no one will forget. Dogs sense when something is wrong. Usually when my dad walked in through the front door, Duke would greet him by jumping on him and licking his face. During the last three months of my dad’s life, Duke knew my dad couldn’t handle his jumps anymore. When my dad was in Hospice Care, Duke would calmly sit next to him and not bother a single soul. (Duke is about 115 pounds and one of the most jumpy, friendly, rambunctious dogs ever. For him to just sit is rare.) I wish I could thank Duke for everything he’s done for my dad.

The Hypnotist

About two weeks after my dad passed away I had no choice but to finally attend school. In my AP Psychology class we had a hypnotist come in and educate our class on various things in the field and even hypnotize someone to forget their biggest fear. The first day she lectured us she brought up how she could ‘cure’ cancer by hypnotizing the patient. She showed us a book about how hypnotization cures cancer. I found it quite inconsiderate. My eyes automatically were full of tears. Fortunately I had my best friend sitting right next to me. She asked me if I was okay and I just nodded. Unfortunately we were sitting in the front row. It took everything in me to not jump out of my seat and hit her. She started saying insulting things like, “Those who have cancer can’t handle the stresses of life. Us healthy people fight off our abnormal cells. Only the weak get cancer.” She kept going on and on. By this time, tears were running down my face. I simply got up and left the room. Everyone in my class saw me crying and leave. My teacher followed me out and hugged me. She apologized for the hypnotist’s crude behavior and explained that she’s never mentioned cancer before. I went to the bathroom, wiped my tears and faked my smile until school was over.

Thankfully the hypnotist was only there for about 4 days. On her last day lecturing us she asked the class to each write 1-2 sentences on what we’ve learned. I wrote her a full page letter about the negative feelings she caused during such a hard time. It was as if  a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I realized I had the right to be offended, especially when it comes to such a touchy subject.

I’m not saying I’m against hypnosis for cancer patients. You should definitely tell your parents to try it if they want! I’m just against people with a negative outlook when it comes to cancer. Cancer can come upon anyone, not just ‘the weak’. School gets really hard when cancer has touched your heart and all your peers speak of it in a rude manner. They’ll never realize their manner until cancer touches their heart, but let’s pray that won’t happen.

If someone offends you on the subject of cancer, let them know your feelings. It’s more painful to bottle up bitter feelings that will make you more emotional when your life is already a roller coaster of pain.