Healing what’s within
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Claire Havenstein woke up on Saturday morning, suited up in a comfortable outfit, slipped on some tennis shoes, and headed toward the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. By 8 a.m., she was ready to tend to anyone who asked for her help.
Nine years ago, Havenstein couldn’t have done this on her own due to her struggles with breast cancer. But by hosting an education tent at various cancer walks, she hopes that she can make a difference in the lives of those about to encounter the emotional journey ahead.
Havenstein’s efforts align with a philosophy that several organizations, such as Project Hope and Candlelighters of Southwest Florida have embraced — that by focusing on a patient’s emotional needs, volunteers can help lessen the burden that cancer causes from within.
Havenstein recalls a time when she was the one going through cancer treatments and having to fight the emotional baggage of it all.
“People who have cancer are survivors,” Havenstein said. “You go from day to day, and you become very focused on what the important things are in life. You don’t know initially whether you will make it or not.”
Project Hope is one such organization that is devoted to relieving the stress of individuals dealing with cancer.
“It is a wonderful program,” said Dara Leichter, Lee Memorial Health System’s breast cancer navigator.
Project Hope uses material to make unique totes that are then filled with “comfort gadgets, “ such as pillows, that individuals can take with them to treatment and “comfort music” for people who have recently been diagnosed. Leichter said that these bags do a lot for women battling cancer.
“It’s little things like that, that people don’t think about,” she said.
The bags are funded by donations and sewn together by volunteers.
Klair M. Snellbaker, the executive director of Candlelighters of Southwest Florida, became involved with the organization after her child was diagnosed with cancer. She recognized the lack of support that was available for families of children battling cancer.
“Having gone through the experience with my child, you realize you have something to give to others to make it easier,” she said.
Candlelighters provides children with cancer the opportunity to interact with each other and share their feelings, fears and hopes for the future.
This organization also partners with local students and musicians, who visit children in the local hospitals and provide their talents by signing or playing their instruments for them.
Alix Gates, 20, a music performance major at the University of Florida, likes to play her cello when she visits children at Shands.
“I think it helps them not think about what is going on,” she said.
Gates has likewise felt the repercussions of cancer and is familiar with the emotional impact cancer can have on a family — her grandfather lost his battle with cancer and her mother has gone through treatment twice.
“The music helps them enjoy life and lets them know people are thinking of them in their time of need,” Gates said.
Dr. Nancy Troast, who practices internal medicine in Fort Myers, knows how hard diagnosis can be for a patient.
Troast provides patients with an abundance of information up front about their diagnosis, to prepare them for, potentially, the worst.
“We certainly give people statistics,” she said. “We try to make it less of a shock.”
To assist patients with the emotional aspects, Troast recommends that her patients bring along family members and friends for support. Statistics show that people do better with sickness when loved ones are nearby, she said.
Although Troast stressed the importance of education and regular checkups, she believes that the best way to prevent diagnosis is by living a healthy lifestyle.
“Prevention, prevention, prevention,” she said.
For many, the journey of cancer may be more emotionally than physically exhausting, and that’s why organizations such as these, that are doing something to help the internal turmoil of those struggles, are so important.
“You can’t take away their pain,” Snellbaker said. “But perhaps saying the words ‘I know how you feel’ can make a lot of difference.”