Rutland Program Helps Cancer Patients Cope During The Holidays

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(Host)  For people who have cancer – or any serious illness – it can be hard to feel joyful during the holidays.

But as VPR’s Nina Keck reports, those who’ve struggled before have found ways to cope.

(Keck)  Cheryl Weseman lives in Orwell.

(Weseman) "This is my first Christmas not being in treatment.  I finished my treatment a year ago for breast cancer."  

(Keck) While she says some people may like to keep an illness private – when she was struggling through chemo last Christmas, she found it easier to let her friends and family know what she was dealing with.

(Weseman) "I don’t like secrecy, I like openness.  So therefore we altered Christmas. It was very low-key. I felt free to stay in my bathrobe some days.   Not moping, it’s just that I’d rather conserve my energy for my grandchildren or for my husband.  And so you have to prioritize what is important for you and let everything else go – all the fluff."

(Ellen) "My name is Ellen – I’m from West Rutland.  I was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2007. I have found music to be healing for me. I play the piano and that first Christmas – with my very, very short hair – I was asked to play the piano in a church in West Rutland and I just felt the need to do that that year and yes it added a little bit of stress to it, but when I was actually doing it, it was very stress-relieving to me. So I think giving of yourself to some degree also helps during that time period."

(Keck)  A nurse by training, Ellen says traditionally, she’s been the one to care and provide for others.

(Ellen) "That’s one way cancer is a gift.  I’ve learned to receive better."

(Keck)  Pam Hooker, a social worker at the Foley Cancer Center in Rutland says that’s an important lesson since most people feel very awkward asking for help.

(Hooker) "People are always saying if there’s anything I can do for you let me know.  The unfortunate thing about that wonderfully generous statement is that the patient – the one needing the help is the one who has to open or knock on the door."  

(Keck) Ellen nods.

(Ellen) "As a patient – sometimes you’re really not sure what to ask for.  It’s difficult – so when the card arrives with the funny thing – or my sister in law sent me a DVD – or someone dropped brownies off out of the blue.  Maybe you weren’t really feeling like eating brownies but just the thought raises you up – that they cared enough to stop by."

(Cheryl) "Practical things that really helped me, were my neighbor called and said – what would be a good day for you, Cheryl, to come over and pick up all your laundry and take it home? Well, that was great.  And she brought it back all nice and clean and folded. But it gave a chance to pull anything out of the laundry that I didn’t want anyone else to see. You now, silly little things like that but those are the reasons that we don’t accept help because we want to retain a little bit of control.  But it’s okay to retain a little control, but to give up some."

(Ellen) "I have one thing that everyone thinks is helpful and actually is helpful at the very beginning – when you’re first diagnosed and your kind of shell shocked. Everyone says stay positive, you have a great attitude.  But you know halfway through chemotherapy when you start to hear that – stay positive that’s really important – you want to sock them.  Because there’s days where you’re not positive and you wallow. And that’s another thing- in terms of getting through the holidays it’s okay to cry. And I think that in and of itself is a good stress relief."

(Keck)  Ellen says she managed to temper her sad days with music.  Besides the piano, she’s a member of a local hand bell choir, and directs her church’s choir.

She says for anyone who feels they’ve lost the joy of the season – because of illness or any other crisis – sharing a passion, hobby or interest might help.

For VPR news, I’m Nina Keck.

(Handbell music)

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