• Making A Difference
• Is Cancer Funny?
• Heart and Soul
by Sara O'Donnell
Our mission statement
mandates that we provide "information, support and advocacy to
those with cancer and their families and friends," so we are constantly
expanding and adding services and programs that will make the journey
a little easier for the person with cancer and the caregiver alike.
At CRCMC, we believe by providing educational and direct service
programs we can offer hope to the people in our communities, however
they are touched by cancer: Hope through education, which can lead
to change, and hope through a reconnection to their own body/spirit
wisdom. Therefore, this Newsletters is focused on the heart and
soul of the CRCMC organization: the Center's volunteers and the
services we offer.
Our services and support
groups are expanding and changing. In addition to the Consultation
Planning program, we now have three support groups on the coast
and one in Ukiah. The cancer support group that meets on the first
and third Thursdays of the month has been reconfigured to include
men. Mary Bradish, past board president of CRCMC, has stepped down
as group facilitator, a position she so generously held for over
two years. Marilyn Hagar, registered expressive art therapist (R.E.A.T.)
and long time CRCMC supporter, is now facilitating this group.
In addition, Marilyn has joined forces with Joan Stanford, R.E.A.T.
intern, to offer a new caregivers support group at the Center.
The Advanced Cancer Support group will continue, facilitated by
Kate Larson and the Ukiah Women's Cancer Support Group is thriving,
led by WeCAN! advocates Nancy Johnson and Mimi Johnson. We plan
to expand our services to inland Mendocino County this year as
Be sure to read the
article highlighting a few of CRCMC's dedicated volunteers. My
only regret is that we are not able to mention all of CRCMC's volunteers,
both past and present. Our fundraising event, "From Paris to Provence," requires
an enormous amount of time and energy and we need volunteers to
make it run smoothly. If you would like to help, please take a
moment to fill out the volunteer form enclosed with this Newsletters.
If fundraising or processing raffle ticket orders doesn't appeal
to you, there are many other jobs available.
Rabbi Margaret Holub's
creative and touching article, "Is Cancer Funny?" connects humor
with healing. Margaret is a member of CRCMC's Advisory Board and
acts as a spiritual advisor to many. I can attest to the fact that,
yes, there is a place for humor in the cancer world. Many times
I have heard the blackest and funniest humor coming from support
groups I have been in. It can be both healing and bonding.
In June, we will once
again hold the community event, A Time For Remembrance. At that
time we reflect on those we have lost to cancer and celebrate their
lives through a reading of names, music and poetry. We are gathering
names now until June. Please send or call in a name to us and we
will hold them in our memory vessel, created by Marty Johnson,
to be read at the ceremony.
I would like to take
this opportunity to say a few words about Tony Rose, who left this
earth on December 14, 1999. In the two years I knew Tony, I never
saw him give up hope. He traveled the world, searching for a therapy
that would work for him. He showed great tenacity and spirit in
in his quest. A little over a year ago, Tony sought treatment close
to home. The treatment worked long enough for Tony to complete
and enter his artwork in the Dancing With the Lotus art show. It
also gave him time to finish his boat and launch it this summer
at Big River in front of a rejoicing crowd of friends. Tony met
death with his support system in place and his friends always at
his side. Just as he had hoped.
We are here because
we see a resounding need in our communities. Please let us know
if there is a service or program you would like CRCMC to provide
and we will work hard to do just that. Thanks to all of you who
have given so generously of your time and money so our friends
and neighbors can receive the information and support they desire
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CRMC offers new
Caregiver Support Group
CRCMC is starting a new support group for caregivers which will be
co-facilitated by Marilyn Hagar, M.A., R.E.A.T. (registered expressive
arts therapist) and Joan Stanford, M.A. and R.E.A.T. intern. Marilyn
and Joan intend to use writing, non-threatening art activities and group
sharing processes. The group is open to friends and family members whose
lives have been touched by cancer.
For the past year, Marilyn and Joan have been leading seasonal women's
cancer groups through CRCMC. Marilyn has a Masters degree in psychology
from Sonoma State University, with an emphasis in expressive arts therapy.
She has a private practice in Mendocino and leads groups and workshops
for both children and adults. Joan received her Masters in psychology
from Sonoma State University in August 1999. She is currently an intern
for registration as an expressive arts therapist. Please contact CRCMC
for times and location at 707.937.3833.
Thursday Support Group Open to Women and Men
The cancer support group that meets the first and third Thursday of
each month at the CRCMC office is now being facilitated by Marilyn Hagar.
This group was originally a women's cancer support group, but due to
the pressing need to offer support to men who have been diagnosed with
cancer, the decision was made to change the format.
Meetings are held at the CRCMC office located at 45040 Calpella Street
in Mendocino. The group meets from noon to 1:30 p.m.. Transportation
is available by contacting the Center at 937.3833.
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by Sara O'Donnell
CRMC's Executive Director
In today's world, when a person hears a diagnosis of cancer from a
medical provider, often he or she is sent home with a bewildering array
of treatment options to ponder. No longer does the physician make the
decision, disregarding input from the patient. This is a good thing,
but it also throws the patient into unknown territory. Medical language
is foreign to most, and the treatment direction may be unclear to many.
Last year, CRCMC received over 200 requests from first-time callers.
Those requests varied according to each person's need. A newly diagnosed
woman with breast cancer may have many questions, that when answered,
will lead her to an informed decision: Surgical options; mastectomy,
lumpectomy, reconstruction? Radiation? Chemotherapy? Acupuncture and
herbs? A newly diagnosed man with prostate cancer may face similar
decisions: Surgery? Watchful waiting? External-beam radiation? Radiation-seed
implants? Chemotherapy? Nutrition and Supplements? These are not small
decisions to make.
The final decision is the patient's, and that can be a lonely and
frightening road to walk alone. That is where the trained staff and
volunteers at CRCMC come in. We understand the importance of making
an informed decision; many of us have stood at the crossroads and needed
assistance in finding our own direction. Through our personal experiences
and training, we are able to provide this assistance in several ways:
Our lending library is brimming with up-to-date information; our public
access Internet service is open Tuesdays & Wednesdays 9 a.m. to
4 p.m., or by appointment; we have a peer referral network, matching
people with similar diagnoses and treatment plans. We are here to listen.
We do not give medical advice. We do not encourage a particular course
of treatment; that is for you and your medical provider to decide.
What we want to provide you with is a light for your treatment path.
This past year many have chosen to participate in our Consultation
Planning program, which gives participants a tool to facilitate patient-physician
communication. Currently we have five trained consultation planners
in Mendocino County who are ready to assist participants with mapping
out their questions and concerns in flow-chart form. (Ayn Ruymen, CRCMC's
new office manager, is a trained consultation planner). One participant,
after her planning session, said, "I had a sense of clarity about the
direction I was willing to go with treatment that I didn't have before."
Patient navigation services, like Consultation Planning and the Peer
referral network, provided by trained advocates, are at the center
of the services we provide. The feedback we have received from both
medical providers and patients has shown that an advocate is beneficial
for all parties. Dr. Kathleen Persky, a surgeon in Ukiah, says she
values the "insightful and caring approach" of CRCMC, as well as its
advocates. "CRCMC is taking care of the very important physical and
psychological needs of our cancer patients at the time of diagnosis
and afterwards," Persky says. She continues to send people to the Center
from all over Lake and Mendocino counties.
Nancy Johnson has provided the bulk of the advocacy services to our
inland residents for the last five years, as a volunteer. She has worked
hard during her off-hours to assist women in navigating the medical
system and is a valuable asset to the women she serves as well as to
the medical offices she visits. She is one of CRCMC's advisory board
members and will soon be the Women's Cancer Advocacy Network (WeCAN!)
coordinator. The transition from volunteer to paid staff member can't
happen soon enough. Currently, we are writing grants to insure that
inland Mendocino County will have a full-time patient advocate in place
We at CRCMC believe it is important for you to be an active participant
in your healthcare choices; whether it is deciphering the incredible
array of treatment options, or learning how to ask the questions. We
want to offer you, your friends and loved ones, the possibility of
a partnership with CRCMC to help facilitate your decision-making process.
We are here to light your way, with information and services. And,
always, to listen.
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by Angela Knight
Delia and Ken Rightmier
Photo courtesy of the Rightmiers
Sometimes it's the little things that can make all the difference
in the world.
For Delia Rightmier, it was the small sign that hangs outside the
Mendocino Cancer Resource Center's office. She says she saw it while
she was out walking one day and thought about volunteering, but first
she had to "get up the nerve" to go in and ask if she could help. When
she finally made it into the office, the first thing she said to the
CRCMC office manager was something about not wanting to ask people
for money, but she added, she would do just about anything else. And
for the past two years she has. This former teacher and cancer survivor
has done everything from driving people to Ukiah for radiation treatments
on a regular basis to training to become a patient advocate for WeCAN!
(Women's Cancer Advocacy Network).
Delia's family history of cancer, and her own bout with it, might
explain some of the passion she feels for volunteering at the Center.
A petite silver-haired woman with expressive brown eyes, Delia says
she approached her treatment for breast cancer in the same way she
trained to run 12 marathons, by focusing on the goal. In this case,
the goal was getting better. Delia brings that same determination and
spirit to her volunteering efforts, says Sara O'Donnell, CRCMC's executive
For Ken Rightmier, Delia's husband, his initial volunteer effort at
CRCMC was due to his need to become involved in the community and keep
busy. That involvement has grown from the occasional little project,
to acting as a back-up driver for Delia, and completely rewiring the
CRCMC office. "Whenever I call him," says Eva Brown, CRCMC's office
manager, "Ken just puts on his overalls and comes on down." His latest
endeavor, in between working on their two-story home and volunteering
at the Botanical Gardens, involves building a much-needed set of bookshelves
for the office.
Ken, who recently relocated to Mendocino with Delia from Plumas County,
says he understands the need for a strong support network because of
his experience dealing with his wife's cancer diagnosis and treatment.
We "supported each other" during that time, he says, but access to
a local cancer facility and a support group might have helped.
Joyce Gilbertson, recently elected to the CRCMC board of directors,
says when she first moved to the coast two years ago, she assumed the
community was too small for a cancer resource group. She explains her
first inkling CRCMC existed came when she attended a lecture by Sandra
Steingraber, which was sponsored by CRCMC. She recalls being introduced
to an impressive woman with a mischievous smile. "There's something
about Sara," Joyce laughs.
The Center and Joyce are a perfect match according to Sara. Joyce,
a former oncology nurse who worked primarily in acute-care hospitals,
has chosen not only to volunteer in the office one day a week, but
also serves as a much-needed referral source. In her spare time, she
is working on creating complete, concise and up-to-date cancer information
binders for the CRCMC library.
Joyce was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. She says after
the diagnosis she received five requests for volunteer help from breast
cancer action groups; she couldn't imagine how all those groups got
her name. Before she moved from the Bay Area, she became involved with
the Community Breast Health Project in Palo Alto, she says, because
it was a way to work on her own healing and use her nursing skills.
Like Ken and Delia, Joyce says she views her volunteer work at CRCMC
as a way to get involved in the community. But she says she gets more
out of volunteering than she gives. "It's a privilege to have this
opportunity," she says.
Chuck Hinsch says he regards the recent opportunity to help his friend
Tony Rose through the dying process as one of "the most beautiful experiences
I've ever had." But it wasn't an experience that was reserved for Chuck
alone. Many members of the coastal community came together to assist
Tony in the last few weeks before he died. The involvement started
as a trickle, Chuck explains, with only a couple of people bringing
Tony food and checking on him during the day. However, before he died
on December 14th, over 40 people, coordinated by Liz Helenchild and
Chuck, had cooked for, comforted, nursed, laughed and cried with Tony
in his small house in Mendocino. Some people brought soup. Some shared
a meal with Tony. Some spent the night next to his bed. Some gave him
morphine shots. It was an outpouring of love and commitment from the
community that Chuck will never forget, he says.
CRCMC relies on the help of the community to accomplish the work it
needs to do. Sara says she has called on Toni Lemos many times over
the years to work on CRCMC's bulk mailings. Jill Stroup, after putting
in a long week at the Cafe Beaujolais in Mendocino as a chef, has willingly
come in and processed countless raffle orders for the last 3 years.
There are many other volunteers who are willing to clean someone's
house, drive people to the doctor, distribute Newsletterss or do whatever
needs to be done.
Sometimes it is just takes a couple of people who are willing to commit
to perform one seemingly small task or volunteering a few hours a week
that can and does make all the difference to someone who has cancer,
an organization like CRCMC, and ultimately, to the community we live
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by Rabbi Margaret Holub
Many months ago when I was first asked to write this article I made
a dumb joke to the person who asked me: "I don't know what to write
about. Maybe I should write about cancer jokes." And she said, poker
faced, "That sounds great." Being a bit of a connoisseur of silliness
of every kind, I'm aware there are jokes and schtick about every human
difficulty imaginable. So I was wondering if there are any "How many
cancer patients does it take to change a light bulb?" jokes, not to
mention jokes and stories that might actually be funny. I was thinking
not only about light bulb jokes but also about the more private kind
of joking around, things that people with cancer might laugh at with
their friends and families and caregivers. I haven't heard any, and
that itself is interesting to me. Actually I admire very much the will
to survive that is often expressed in jokes, both the recountable kind
and the idiosyncratic stories where "you just had to be there." I imagine
there must be a treasure trove of cancer humor, because, for many people
I know who are dealing with cancer, that spirit of resistance is so
vivid. It just has to bubble up in the silly and irreverent now and
Comes time to actually write, and I'm thinking about this more and
more. Mostly I'm thinking, "Why did I ever sign up for something so
ridiculous?" So I decide to do a little research. I call my friend
Shelly, who is an oncology nurse at a big hospital in New York, and
a person with a great laugh and a nice sense of the dark side besides.
After explaining my basic question I ask Shelly: "Do you ever hear
your patients making jokes about their situation?" There's silence
on the other end of the phone. Finally she says, "Nope." Now I'm silent.
So she says, "Let me think a little further. Um... nope." She goes
on to tell me that there are laughter therapies. "You mean like you
make an appointment and the laughter therapist comes into the room
right after the occupational therapist?" "Well, not really," she says,
and tells me that at Sloan Kettering, where she used to work, the halls
were full of clowns. Usually the clowns were there for pediatric patients,
but sometimes they'd come and see adults as well. A phenomenon that
sounds rather un-funny, and in fact distinctly scary, to me.
It occurs to me that this is the computer age and I should do some
research online. So I go to the Hotbot and type in "cancer+jokes." I
have to admit, even as I'm typing, I'm hoping no one can see what I'm
doing. It just feels profane to put the two words together. Apparently
the search engine thinks so too, because I get joke sites and cancer
sites but nothing that brings them together, but in the service of
knowledge I forge ahead. Yahoo finally offers up a charming cancer
humor page (with an apt disclaimer about how this might not be helpful
if you've just learned you have cancer).
My husband Mickey is about the funniest person I know. When I first
met him ten years ago, he was two years this side of having vocal cord
cancer. In the first year of whatever it was we were doing that they
used to call courtship, he developed another nodule. It was a terribly
scary time, and frankly, I don't remember any laughter in those months
at all. So the other day I was asking him whether he remembered anything
funny about his cancer experience. He began to retell a story I've
heard a number of times, from his first bout, his first day of radiation
therapy: He goes to the radiation oncologist's office and sits in the
waiting room. Finally someone opens the door and says, "Follow me,
Ralph." (Mickey's name, as it happens, is "Mickey," but the radiation
doctor's name is Ralph.) The nurse or receptionist or whatever he is
sits Mickey down and begins to take a history. In the middle of the
interview, with all its intimate questions, another worker comes into
the room and says to the guy that's talking to Mickey, "You want to
finish up or go to lunch?" And the first guy hands the second the clipboard,
says, "Here, you do it," and walks out. The punch line of the story
is that some minutes later, when Mickey is laying on a table, a metal
prong with a piece of wax or something on the end is lowered into his
mouth, pinning him to the table in terror. A day or two after he has
angrily fired this doctor and is recounting this whole horror story
to the new one, the new doctor exclaims, "Oh, my god, Dr. Jones still
uses a bite block?"
This story, like the cancer clowns, I actually find more scary than
funny, but Mickey thinks it has some laughs in it. So, I asked him,
how soon after it happened did you start seeing this experience as
funny? As I suspected, not until he was well away from the clutches
of Dr. Jones and feeling like he was going to survive the radiation,
not to mention the cancer.
As it happens, the day Mickey and I were talking about cancer and
humor, we had each recently spent a night with a man we know who is
dying right now of cancer. Both of us have been moved by our time with
this person, someone we like very much, though we don't know him well.
Particularly as he moves closer and closer to his final passage, time
in his company becomes more and more awesome. Thinking about him keeps
us awake at night, and we open our eyes in the morning and mention
his name. As friends and friends of friends and Home Health nurses
move in and out of this man's home, caring for him, I've heard and
spoken every kind of beautiful, loving, reassuring phrase. There has
been little laughter that I can recall.
Which leads me to a theory, if you like, a bit of a conclusion from
a tiny bit of very unscientific research. Jokes and schtick emerge
not only from the will to survive but also from a kind of ironic distance
from the center of events. What makes something funny is often looking
from the outside at a situation and seeing it differently than do the
people in the middle of everything. It's dual perspective, a word or
an action taken out of its obvious context, is what makes it funny.
Hence the Cancer Online folks advice to wait until you have some distance
from the first shock of a cancer diagnosis before tuning in to their
Cancer has a way of reaching out and including everyone. There is
something so fundamental, so literally cellular, about the disease
process of cancer that it is unusually hard to find ironic distance
from it. It's hard to have a dual perspective. For one thing, you never
really know that you don't have cancer. It could be in any of us at
any moment, even if we won't find out for years. Even aside from this
literal aspect, there is something about the unfolding of cancer within
a person's body that is so awesome, as well as upsetting and dangerous,
that it has a way of connecting soul to soul and making distance difficult.
I guess I've learned from this excursion into cancer humor something
about another kind of beauty that emerges from this illness, a connective
quality, an awe-inspiring aspect. Maybe it doesn't lead to a lot of
joking around. But I still wonder. Maybe when I see you at the post
office you'll come up and whisper to me, "Hey, I've got a really terrible
one. You've just gotta hear it..."
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