From the Desk Of: Catherine Thomsen, Program Director
More than surviving
Acknowledging that crises come in all forms
I am writing to share an update with you about our focus on our breast cancer survivorship projects and partners. I want to start, however, reflecting on this time of so many personal and communal disasters around California. Even for those of us not immediately affected by the latest fires (or shootings, etc.), they can have a great impact as we worry about those in that area, are reminded of past losses or fret about where it may happen next.
For the 2 weeks before Thanksgiving, the air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area was unhealthy. Yet Gina, one of the wonderful volunteers at the Women’s Cancer Resource Center, was more concerned about people who lost their homes and were evacuated to Chico where the air was much worse. Thinking of others and being appreciative for what we have demonstrates our humanity. We are particularly grateful for the thousands of firefighters and emergency responders who work so hard at personal risk to save the lives and property of others. Our profound thanks to them all.
Not long before the fire broke out in Paradise, two of ZBC’s staff went to the Latino Health Forum at Sonoma State University. It was just over a year since the fires caused so much devastation in and around Santa Rosa, and the theme was recovery and resilience featuring a new program for healing population-wide trauma in the area.
That community is using the Center for Mind-Body Medicine’s (CMBM) model to help with the psychological trauma many are still experiencing following the fires. They are teaching local leaders to assist others and address the stress, depression, and burnout that so commonly occur among those in the caring professions trying to help others and still dealing with their own losses. CMBM uses mind-body medicine, self-expression and small group support. While many of their techniques—meditation, guided imagery, yoga, exercise and biofeedback—seem uniquely suited to Californians, the program has helped people of many cultures, from Kosovo to Haiti and Israel to post-Katrina Louisiana.
Many of these methods have been found to be quite helpful for people with breast cancer and those who love and care for them. Even when caught early, the cancer diagnosis and treatment can be physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and financially traumatic. Over the past few decades, scientists have found that many people who no longer have any evidence of disease continue to suffer after finishing active treatment.
Breast cancer survival
Often people think that the end of cancer treatment is a time to celebrate and that everything will be the same as it was before. Those who have had cancer, however, frequently tell us they feel lost or abandoned and that their lives have changed in many ways; they are adjusting to a “new normal.”
For more than a year, ZBC has been exploring ways to educate and empower people diagnosed with breast cancer to do more than survive. As part of our efforts to develop a campaign that will help reduce risk of recurrence and boost physical and mental health and wellness, we are working with breast cancer survivors. In collaboration with scientists from Kaiser Permanente Northern California, we recruited diverse women from their breast cancer survivorship study (Pathways) to form a Community Advisory Board (CAB). These women from the Sacramento area to the peninsula, are learning about the Pathways research and ZBC’s process for developing educational materials. CAB members are helping us take survey results and evidence from Kaiser and other experts to figure out how we can best help survivors through this transition. This includes some of the mind-body techniques they are using in the Santa Rosa area.
We are also planning to engage survivors through the Women’s Cancer Resource Center and our other partners to test and refine the messages and materials that we create. With the assistance of many who have had cancer and those who love and support them, we will develop a campaign that will inform and empower those who have had breast cancer to thrive and do more than physically survive.
CAB Members and Staff: Ila Wold, Linda Felix-Monroe, Maria Sierra-Bell, Paula Coombs, Penny Dougherty, and Sandi Domingue (Not pictured: Arlene Yee, Cassandra Falby, Martha Tuma, Stacey Tinianov); Catherine Thomsen, Janise Roh, Julie Munneke and Virginia Pozo)