All Posts By

Mark Myers

New Year’s Goals and Grief

by Carleen Newsome, LPC, CPCS, ACS Clinical Director at The Summit Counseling Center

If you have experienced a major loss this year, the last thing that may be on your mind is New Year Resolutions or 2019 Goals. It is possible you are still in the midst of grieving, and just when you feel you have taken a step forward, you wake up feeling you have taken five steps backward. Maybe the goals that were important to you before your loss hold little importance to you now. For many of us, New Year Resolutions often include losing weight, and concentrating on losing five pounds may seem ridiculous to many on the heels of losing a child or spending a year in and out of the hospital fighting for your child’s life. So, should we just forget about goals this year and give ourselves a break? Possibly. But I would like to suggest an alternative look at goal setting with grief in mind. Goals, when appropriate, can help us stay healthy and resilient in our deepest grief. Here are five goal setting ideas specifically designed with grief in mind.

Allow yourself to lean into your pain for defined and limited time periods.

It is important to lean into our grief at times, allowing ourselves to experience sadness and name the things we are missing. In fact, it is even okay to feel sorry for ourselves. We may ask, “Why did this happen to me when others seem to skate through life with minimal trauma.” Leaning into our grief allows us to move effectively through the stages of grief. Avoiding our emotional pain can contribute to feeling stuck and hopeless in our grief. On the other hand, simply leaning into grief can become overwhelming. An appropriate goal for 2018 may be to find “the middle ground.” Give yourself permission to lean into grief but give it a time limit. For instance, you may decide to stay in your pajamas and cry on the couch one morning. Allow it, but plan to get dressed by noon and meet a friend for lunch or go to the grocery store.

Practice self-soothing techniques during difficult emotions.

On those mornings when you allow yourself to grieve until noon, head to a designated spot in your home where you keep distress tolerance tools. Have a basket filled with items that can soothe your emotions as you experience them. Practice soothing all five senses. In the basket put a plush blanket, hot water bottle and your child’s favorite stuffed animal to soothe your sense of touch. Include a scented candle, essential oils, and your favorite scented lotion to soothe your sense of smell. Find other items to soothe your sense of sight, taste and hearing. To be most effective, keep them together in one place and use one item for each sense simultaneously.

Take a shower and get dressed each day.

Whether you intend to leave the house or not, plan to shower and get dressed each day. An appropriate goal would be to do that each morning even if you plan to binge-watch Netflix. Put a limit on your grief and accomplish something each day that gives you a sense of Mastery. A sense of Mastery is the feeling you get when you push yourself and accomplish something that in turn makes you feel better. This is one of the first steps in lifting depression and it is called Behavioral Activation. Behavioral Activation means that instead of waiting until you feel better to accomplish something you push yourself and end up feeling better as a result. A sense of Mastery may come from something as simple as making a few important phone calls or writing a block of thank you notes. It is definitely easier to accomplish something after you have taken a shower and dressed.

Identify three things each morning that you value.

Although there may be mornings where you would rather not face the day, turning our minds to those things that we value can create a different mindset for the day. Sometimes this practice is called gratitude journaling. Because I believe it is hard to be grateful when you have experienced the death of a child, I like to call this practice acknowledging the things that are going right in the midst of our loss. What is going right? It could be that the air is crisp and the sun is shining. It could be that a friend called last night and it was a comfort. It could be that I slept through the night. Focusing on these small gifts helps us navigate grief and become more resilient.

Give of your time and talents where you can.

We know that focusing on the needs of others and feeling that we have made a positive impact gives our life purpose and meaning. Having purpose and meaning increases our life satisfaction. It does not take away our grief but it helps us create a new normal and allows us to begin to create a life worth living. It is not a surprise that so many people who have lost their child find a way to give back to their community. Giving back honors the child, keeps their memory alive, and allows us to positively impact the pain of someone else who may be going through a similar event.

 

These may not be your typical New Year Resolutions but they certainly are life transforming, loving, compassionate, and healing! I challenge you to try them and find at least one that would make a positive impact on your life this year.

A Survivors New Year’s To-Do List

by Lillian R. Meacham, MD

It is important that childhood cancer survivors focus on staying healthy after cancer. Here are some helpful tips to consider:

1. Make your appointment to visit a cancer survivor clinic. Survivor visits begin when you are two years past the completion of cancer treatments. If you have reached this milestone, talk to your oncologist about a referral to the Aflac Cancer Survivor Program. In the cancer survivor clinic, you will be educated about your risk for any late effects which might be side effects from your cancer treatment. You will also be checked for those side effects through labs or screening tests. You may see an oncologist, an endocrinologist, a pediatric psychologist, and a social worker. The number of providers you see is based on your health needs. If you already attend survivor clinic, be sure to make your appointment for 2019.

2. Find and review your survivor healthcare plan. If you have already been to survivor clinic, review the survivor healthcare plan you received in clinic. The survivor healthcare plan will outline the cancer treatments you received, the late affects you are at risk to develop, and how the survivor team plans to check you for any late effects. If you have any questions about what you find in your survivor healthcare plan, jot them down and bring them to clinic with you. If you can’t find your survivor healthcare plan, check Cancer Survivor Link online! If you are registered for Survivor Link at www.cancersurvivorlink.org, each year when you come to the Aflac Survivor clinic the team will upload the newest version of your survivor healthcare plan to your electronic record.

3. Learn a new self-management health skill. If you are an adolescent or young adult, work on a new survivor skill. A parent of a younger survivor could help him or her choose and develop a skill. This could be the survivor calling to make the clinic appointment, making the co-pay at the time of the appointment, or downloading the survivor healthcare plan from SurvivorLink. You may choose to know the names and doses of your medications or call in the refills this year. There are many skills that need to be learned, but if you learn them one at a time you will have them all down in no time.

4. Be sure to keep seeing your primary care provider for normal child and adolescent medical care and visit your dentist twice a year. Sometimes there are so many specialty doctor’s visits, it is hard to fit in the “normal” visits, but they are important too. You want to keep your primary care physician up-to-date on your health so he or she can take care of your routine medical needs. Also, don’t forget to get your teeth cleaned and eyes checked.

There are several skills a young survivor needs to learn to maintain health. By working to master one or more of these skills in the coming year, you will be setting yourself on the right path to a healthy life after cancer.

A Year-End Reflection

Reflection

It’s what we all do at the end of the year, right? Memories we’ve shared with family and friends from the past year flood our hearts and our minds. We choose the joyous ones and hold them close for a lifetime, and we try desperately to endure the ones less joyous…while praying that the new year will be easier. And, that it will be filled with opportunities for celebrations and positive growth.

Growth is a really beautiful thing! Especially in the world of childhood cancer research.

Reflection + Recognition = Growth

As we all begin to reflect on what was 2018, I wanted to share some of the exciting news surrounding The Carter Martin Fund at CURE Childhood Cancer. The end of December marks halfway though CURE’s current fiscal year. In only 6 short months Carter’s Fund has raised an astounding $87,000!

Reflection + Action = Hope

In November we held the inaugural Piggy Bank Bash in Savannah which was a huge success! For those of you who don’t know the details of Carter’s story, in the final days of his life he asked me to get his piggy bank and said, “Mom, give all of my money to childhood cancer research so no other kid has to suffer like me.” At the Piggy Bank Bash guests were invited to take home individual CURE piggy banks allowing them to serve as a reminder that children with cancer need change….they need change in their treatment options that provide better outcomes and cause fewer life long side effects. Our Savannah team poured their hearts into this event, making certain that no one in the community will want to miss the Piggy Bank Bash next year!

It is with tender hearts that those of us at CURE Childhood Cancer recognize the reality of the many children who were diagnosed in 2018, those who continued to endure treatment, and also the sweet, young lives that we lost over the past year. Our hope lies in the children who were declared disease free, those who are survivors, and most importantly, the ones who are being offered different treatment options through the Precision Medicine Program at the Aflac Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. This program is CURE Childhood Cancer’s largest grant to date that envisions personalized, non-toxic and curative cancer therapy for all children. 2018-2019 marks year two of our $4.5 million commitment, which has already produced measurable results since its inception.

Reflection + Hope = A Cure

Reflection… cathartic in seeing how far we’ve come and crucial in making a plan for what we still need to do. Over time that reflection will yield a great reward, knowing that we have made a difference in the lives of children with cancer.

Upon further reflection of what Carter Martin wanted, no more kids suffering, we say let’s continue the fight. It is our greatest honor to fight this fight with you.

Thank you for partnering with us in these efforts and for your generous contributions to The Carter Martin Fund over the past year. Every penny out of your piggy banks counts and we appreciate your continued support of this cause. We wish for YOU and your family a wonderful holiday filled with health and happiness.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Leigh Ann