“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” -Maya Angelou
As the self-proclaimed ‘anti-cancer, cancer foundation’ KWF’s mission is quite unique. Unlike other breast cancer organizations, we do not focus on finding a cure. It’s not that we don’t want one. In fact, nothing would make us happier than if we went out of business due to a shortage of women LIVING with cancer. To put it simply we believe our talents lie elsewhere. And when it comes to a label, KWF is more of a mental health organization than a cancer nonprofit.
We believe that there is immense power in the art of ‘taking a break,’ and it seems we are not the only ones who agree. According to a study conducted by the University of Surrey (1), people are at their happiest when they have a vacation on their calendar. The anticipation alone is quite a mood booster and results in a positive outlook on individuals’ general health, economic status and overall life itself.
To gain a bit more insight into the lives of our cancer patients I (virtually) sat down with Jill Settlemyre, Executive Director of Cancer Family Care. Jill discussed how taking a (fun) break from daily life can help not only cancer patients, but allows the entire family to leave cancer in the rearview. “For a lot of women, to be able to give their families a sense of normalcy means everything,” notes Jill.
Jill’s colleague and Clinical Oncology Social Worker, Mary Ann Heekin later discussed with me how our ‘fun-only mission’ has proven to be a vital part of her practice. “Women naturally are trying to wear too many hats and this [KWF] lets them know that someone really cares about them,” recalls Mary Ann. She went on to explain that although each patient comes to her with a different diagnosis and financial situation one thing rings true for each, the instinctive need to care for others before themselves. That is why the uninterrupted time to do something special for themselves is incredibly significant.
When asked about how many of her cancer patients prioritize fun she replied, “Never. That is why the impact [of KWF] is tremendous at relieving their stress, giving them something to look forward to and teaching them self-care. It is a way for them to have one minute of fun in a cycle of never-ending doctors' appointments and financial stress.”
Just as Mary Ann’s patients are LIVING with anxiety brought on by their diagnosis, the Covid-19 Pandemic has added a new weight for many of our KWF women to carry. That is why it is important, now more than ever, to safely get FUN on the calendars of our recipients. According to a study conducted by the Multidisciplinary Center for Oncology and Traumatology, “20% of cancer patients consider postponing chemotherapy and 5% consider abandoning further oncological treatment during the pandemic despite fear of disease progression” (2). After reading this statistic a past recipient immediately came to mind. A woman who had decided to abandon all chemotherapy prior to her KWF vacation had suddenly discovered a newfound strength from the trip. Upon her return, she made the brave decision to restart chemo and keep LIVING. The vacation had inspired her. And although she passed shortly after, the time away with family gave her a new vision for the life she wanted to craft on her own terms.
That is why when it comes to prioritizing mental health while LIVING with cancer, no one understands how essential that is more than our recipients, like Kandice from Arizona. Kandice recently took a KWF trip to Stinson Beach, California with her husband and recalls the impact that vacation had on her overall well-being.
“It’s hard and mentally challenging every day to fight and stay positive when there are always scans or treatments in your future. No matter how good you feel and even when cancer has not progressed, you still always have a sense that the other shoe at one point, will drop and crush your dreams.
[This gift] is a reminder that you have to be grateful for each and every day that we have in this life. Traveling and making these memories will remain in my heart forever and to share those with my husband will also remain with him. It’s what is most important in our lives at this stage...creating amazing memories. And KWF was the vessel that helped us to create the memories we have from this trip,” Kandice notes.
The Karen Wellington Foundation for LIVING with Breast Cancer is a mental health nonprofit that understands our recipients have a whole world outside of their diagnosis. A life that is waiting to be LIVED no matter the circumstance. When our generous givers make the decision to fuel our mission, they are providing far more than a gift of FUN. They are giving the gift of a break, accompanied by lasting memories and new perspectives that change the lives of countless women and families LIVING with breast cancer.
More information on Cancer Family Care:
Cancer Family Care is a nonprofit organization that helps children and adults cope with the effects of a cancer diagnosis in the family. We are known throughout the Greater Cincinnati region as a force of compassion and strength in the face of cancer-related illness and loss. For more than 40 years, we have provided therapeutic counseling, education, support, and hope to all people touched by cancer. Additional services include free wigs, therapeutic massage and Healing Touch sessions for cancer patients and at reduced rates to caregivers. Our programs are available at six area offices, and to ensure continuity of care, our social workers and counselors are glad to make house calls, when necessary.
1. A study of the impact of the expectation of a holiday on an individual's sense of well-being - David Gilbert, Junaida Abdullah, 2002 (sagepub.com)
2. Study reveals how COVID-19 pandemic has impacted cancer patients' quality of life (news-medical.net)
1. Cancer and Mental Health | Mental Health America (mhanational.org)
2. The psychosocial experiences of women with breast cancer across the lifespan: a systematic review protocol - PubMed (nih.gov)