How Her ‘Cancer Family’ Helped One Young Adult Through Treatment

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By Christina Dixon Cancer turned my world upside-down overnight. I had just graduated from college, moved to Boston after finishing undergrad at Washington and Lee in Virginia, and started my dream job on an interest rate derivatives sales desk.  Suddenly, instead of working, spending time with my friends, and playing sports, my life was filled with PET scans, chemotherapy, and pain management to treat stage IVB Hodgkin lymphoma. I was just 22 and facing my mortality in a very real way. From the very beginning, I decided I wanted as much good as possible to come from cancer. I did not want to …

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Lou Dittami, Lover of Platelets and Patriots, Honored for 600 Donations

By this time of year, most New England Patriots football fans are familiar with head coach Bill Belichick’s style of avoiding all talk of championships to focus solely on his team’s next opponent. The same words could ring true for Patriots fan Lou Dittami – who recently passed his 600th  bi-weekly platelet donation at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “I’m not worried about passing 600, only about the donation I have coming up,” says Dittami in true Belichick fashion. “That’s the one that could save a patient.” Given his devotion …

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Employee Elves Bring Holiday Cheer to Dana-Farber Patients

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For many, the holiday season is a time of gift-giving, warm meals, and celebration. But, for families with limited financial resources who are dealing with cancer treatment, the holidays can be overwhelming and stressful. That’s where Ellen Casey-Magleby and Deborah Toffler, MSW, LCSW, come in. Casey-Magleby, program administrator for Social Work, and Toffler, director of Patient and Family Programs and Services, lead Dana-Farber’s Seasonal Giving Program, which provides holiday support to current Dana-Farber patients and their families in need of financial assistance. The program is fueled by Institute employees and external donors, with the goal of giving patients gift cards …

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Summer Camp Gives Nurse Insight into Challenges Facing Patients’ Children

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Erin Silva, RN, BSN, has formed very strong connections with her adult patients at Dana-Farber/New Hampshire Oncology-Hematology (Dana-Farber/NHOH) in Londonderry, New Hampshire. However, the 30-year-old oncology nurse rarely saw the full impact of cancer on their children. After a stint at summer camp, she has a much better idea. Silva spent a week in late August as nurse for the MIT chapter of Camp Kesem, a non-profit, student-run organization that offers free camping experiences to children ages 6-16 whose parents are living with or died from cancer. “Kesem” means “magic” in Hebrew, and the network of 63 Kesem camps throughout …

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How a Navy SEAL Veteran Helps Kids with Cancer

Adam LaReau has seen courage. The 34-year-old Navy SEAL combat veteran spent 11 years serving his country, and has seen courage in the actions of his fellow SEALS and through the children of fallen comrades who must learn to grow up without their fathers. Now living in Boston, LaReau has found a way to channel these two examples of bravery. Through a nonprofit program he started called One Summit, he is pairing up SEALS with young cancer patients from Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center and other hospitals for a day of indoor rock climbing activities in which confidence …

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Post-Traumatic Stress and Cancer

Many associate post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, with veterans returning home from war, or those involved in similarly violent scenarios. But PTSD can occur after any life-threatening traumatic event – including a serious illness like cancer. “It’s common for cancer patients, even if they don’t have full-blown PTSD, to have some of the symptoms of it,” says Fremonta Meyer, MD, of Dana-Farber’s department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, who notes PTSD rates among cancer survivors are slightly higher than the general population. Symptoms of PTSD include re-experiencing the traumatic event, usually in the form of flashbacks or nightmares; avoidance; …

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Google+ Hangout: Coping with Cancer as a Young Adult

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Karen Fasciano, PsyD, director of the Young Adult Program at Dana-Farber, recently joined young adults with cancer from across the country for a Google+ Hangout to discuss the challenges of facing cancer as a young person. “Cancer is different when you are building your adult life,” said Fasciano. “[Cancer] can cause high levels of emotional distress – sadness, anxiety – which can be somewhat overwhelming. Often young adults need help coming up with new coping strategies.” Heidi Floyd (@followheidi), Bret Hoekema (@brethoekema), Allie Morse (@allieemorse), Renee Nicholas (@reneenicholas), Alex Niles (@alxniles), and Tara Shuman (@tarashuman) joined Fasciano on July 30 …

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Five Tips for Managing Stress During Cancer Treatment

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Everyone faces stress from time to time, but a cancer diagnosis can be particularly challenging for both the patient and the family members. “For many of our patients and survivors, they experience a great deal of stress related to their diagnosis, treatment, or fears of recurrence,” says Eric Zhou, PhD, clinical psychology fellow at Dana-Farber’s Perini Family Survivors’ Center. “But they also have general life stresses on top of that, like family, finances, and work, that don’t go away just because they’re battling cancer.” Zhou, who leads Dana-Farber’s Survivor Stress Management and Relaxation Training (SMART) workshops, provides some tips on …

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Helping Patients with a Few Good Laughs

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As patients come through for their MRIs and CT scans, MJ Murphy, RN, BS, has roughly 15 minutes to sit and talk, discuss treatment, and hear updates on friends and family. It’s not much time, but Murphy always tries to coax a smile. “I love referring to the friends and family in the waiting room as the patient’s ‘fan club,” Murphy says. “It’s a small thing, but it makes them laugh.” Murphy, who is a nurse in Dana-Farber’s Department of Imaging, knows the importance humor during a time of high stress and anxiety. In 2004, she was diagnosed with melanoma. …

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Cancer Between the Lines

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Young adults often have their sights set on the future, anticipating college, working at their dream job, or traveling. One place they don’t plan to be is in an infusion chair undergoing cancer treatment. Cancer disrupts everyone, but especially adults age 18-34 who are growing into adulthood and starting careers and families. The Young Adult Program at Dana-Farber works to help combat these unique challenges by providing emotional support from professionals, and by creating a special community. This resource also helps patients interact with their peers for support. One challenge young adults face is communicating what they are going through …

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