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2 days ago · Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Can Affect Cancer Survivors in Cancer Education Center

shutterstock_232886320Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that is triggered by a shocking, terrifying, or scary event.   We often associate PTSD with war, sexual or physical assault, or a serious accident. Research has shown that post-traumatic stress disorder can also occur with cancer survivors — especially since you’re dealing with a life-threatening medical diagnosis.

This is particularly true of childhood cancer survivors, survivors of aggressive cancers and cancers that require intense treatments.

Some of the symptoms and emotions of PTSD include:

  • Problems sleeping because of intrusive dreams or flashbacks of trauma
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Irritability and anger
  • Self-destructive behaviors, such as drinking too much or taking unusual risks
  • Uncontrolled sadness and crying spells
  • Hearing or seeing things that are not there

It’s normal to have some of these symptoms as a cancer survivor. However, if you’re having disturbing thoughts and feelings for more than a month, if they’re severe, or if you feel you’re having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your health care professional. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse.

Some types of therapy used in PTSD treatment include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy — this helps you recognize the thought patters triggering anxiety and symptoms. Recommendations for strategies to help modify these thoughts are part of this therapy.
  • Psychotherapy — this may include group discussions or individual counseling to work through symptoms and emotions. It can also be helpful to talk to others who are going through similar experiences.
  • Medications — (anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, or anti-anxiety) — this is usually a short-term strategy to deal with extreme depression or anxiety.
  • Support groups — can help with emotional aspects of cancer.  Sharing in a safe place with other people who have similar experiences can help alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety.

Treatment for PTSD can help you regain a sense of control over your life. With successful treatment, you can also feel better about yourself and learn ways to cope if symptoms return. These strategies can help provide skills to cope better with the traumatic event — and move beyond it.

What’s been your experience? Share your thoughts here or head over to this discussion on the topic.

Tue, Jun 11 1:00pm · Self-Compassion…When You Need It Most in Cancer Education Center


While I was growing up my parents would frequently tell me it was “important to treat other people the way you would want to be treated.” Many of us know that wise advice as the “Golden Rule.” Years later, while teaching stress management classes, I began sharing my “Silver Rule.”  This is a slight variation on the earlier well-known phrase. The modification of the guiding principle encourages us to be as kind and gentle to ourselves as we would be to someone we love who’s in a similar situation. Show kindness to ourselves when we are less than perfect? Who knew that would be such a challenge! Many of us have pretty harsh inner critics that raise voices loud and clear when we say, do or think something that we regret, such as:

“What a stupid thing to say?”

“How insensitive!”

“Why can’t I be more…”

Those thoughts can also accompany our feelings about being a caregiver or a patient with cancer. Has your inner voice ever said anything similar to “why are you feeling sorry for yourself when so many people have it so much worse?” or “I shouldn’t have complained about my cancer.  No one really wants to hear about it anyway.”  I’m using those examples because I have heard both of them, but there are so many other situations that we could just as easily name.

The silver rule, or showing self-compassion, would have us respond to ourselves in a kinder, more supportive way.  For example, think of someone you love dearly.  Now imagine they just did or said the same thing you are berating yourself for saying or doing.  How would you respond to them?  Would you use the same words and tone that your inner critic just used on yourself?  Probably not. Take a moment and think about how you feel when you are harshly chastised versus when you are accepted as someone who is human, but may have made a mistake.  Which one of those responses leads to a better outcome?

This week one of the chaplains at Mayo Clinic spoke to us about this topic.  She encouraged us to take a self-compassion break when we are experiencing stressful situations and directed us to a website of Dr. Kristin Neff: https://self-compassion.org/. When we are experiencing challenging problems, the following three steps are helpful to give ourselves a self-compassion break:

  1. Recognize this is truly a painful situation. Many times we do not acknowledge that we are hurting and this is a stressful time.
  2. Recognize that suffering is a part of life. No one escapes difficult situations.
  3. Treat yourself as kindly and compassionately as you would someone else you love.

Old habits are hard to break, but it is possible.  The first step is recognizing that change can happen and it will lead to a healthier, kinder future.  As with all change, it takes awareness and practice.  Are there ways you have started being more self-compassionate?  We’d love to hear your experiences.

Wed, May 29 9:35am · Who Is My Friend? in Cancer Education Center

Thank you, Taka, for your kind words! And I'm happy to hear you are approaching your 20th anniversary – that is great news! Suggestions of what to do in a person's time of need are always helpful. It seems like we should know how to be a good friend, but reminders and kind gestures are very helpful and hopefully will prompt us to take action:)

Thu, May 16 10:35am · Who Is My Friend? in Cancer Education Center

shutterstock_1206609022When working with cancer patients and their families, a common thing I hear is “I’m surprised by my friend.”  People say they are surprised by a friend they didn’t imagine would be present or are hurt by someone, once supportive, who has now “ditched” them.  While it is comforting when unsuspecting individuals “step up,” it can be equally challenging when close friends do not.  It’ s hard to understand why people step away when we are going through a challenging time.  Perhaps they are too busy and stressed themselves to be supportive.  Maybe they have experienced someone else in their life who has, or had, cancer and it brings back painful memories.  The possibilities are endless and are, for the most part, out of our control. One thing we can take charge of is being a good friend to someone when they have cancer. Below are some ideas.

  • Send a card or text to say you are thinking about them.  We don’t receive “snail mail” often and a handwritten note carries a lot of meaning.
  • If they call you…. return their message and do it quickly!
  • When you talk to them or text them, say you’ll be in touch soon and follow through with that promise!
  • Check in with their caregiver to find out what the patient’s (and caregiver’s) needs are.
  • Ask them how they are doing today, this morning, this afternoon.  It is an easier question to answer because it is specific and may allow for more honesty and transparency.

Give patients room and permission to feel whatever they are feeling – sad, happy, hopeful, frustrated.  In our classes, patients have shared it’s difficult to be told they are brave or strong, when it doesn’t match with where they are at emotionally. Asking questions and listening without judgement is invaluable. Sometimes, sitting together in silence might even be what’s needed most.

What has a friend done for you that you found helpful?  Please share so we can all sharpen our friendship skills!

Connect with others or start a discussion in the Caregiver group or the Cancer group.


Wed, Apr 17 1:08pm · Testicular Cancer Awareness in Cancer Education Center

shutterstock_687296710April is Testicular Cancer Awareness month.  This isn’t a cancer we hear about as much, likely because it doesn’t effect as many people as many other cancers do. Or, perhaps because the highest prevalence is among teens and men aged 15-35 and they likely don’t want to share about the cancer they have THERE.

Testicular cancer is a very treatable and curable cancer, especially when detected early and typically affects only one testicle.  Just under 10,000 males will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year while one in 250 males will be diagnosed in a lifetime.

Here are signs and symptoms to be aware of:

  • a painless lump in a testicle.  An early stage lump would be the size of a pea or marble.  If unnoticed, the lump could potentially grow bigger.
  • swelling or an enlarged testicle
  • a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
  • a dull ache in the groin or abdomen
  • a sudden build-up of fluid in the scrotum
  • pain or discomfort in a testicle or scrotum
  • enlarged or tender breasts

If you notice any of these signs, or have symptoms lasting longer than 2 weeks, it is recommended to see your doctor for further evaluation.

Thu, Mar 28 2:34pm · Brain Tumor Patient and Family Education Symposium in Cancer Education Center


The Mayo Clinic Cancer Education Program in collaboration with Brains Together For a Cure is offering a patient education symposium focusing on current topics surrounding brain cancer.  This education event is for patients, families, caregivers and the public.  Keynote speaker Dr. Terri Armstrong from National Institutes of Health will be joining us from Bethesda, MD.  She is a leading researcher on quality of life studies and symptom management for brain tumor patients.  She will be talking about taking control of your journey and being your own best advocate. Mayo Clinic physicians and staff will be presenting on a variety of topics including treatment options, rehabilitation, coping strategies and more. The event will be held at Assisi Heights Spirituality Center in Rochester, MN on Saturday, April 27, 2019 from 8:15 a.m. – 3:15 p. m.  Click here for a more detailed schedule and registration information.

Thu, Mar 21 10:06am · Forefront: The Latest Edition of Mayo Clinic Cancer Center Magazine in Cancer Education Center

bnr-forefront1Volume 8, Issue 1, March 2019

The Spring 2019 issue of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center magazine, Forefront, has arrived. Features include brief news articles about Mayo Clinic Cancer Center research, video commentary from researchers, and investigator profiles. Click here to subscribe, read this newsletter edition or view any archives.

Director’s message: Expanding our translational research portfolio

The center’s new SPORE grant in hepatobiliary cancer reflects Mayo Clinic’s research excellence.

NCI funds SPORE for liver and bile duct cancer research

Four research projects address the urgent need to improve diagnosis and treatment of liver cancer.

Researchers pursue new strategies of CAR-T cell therapy

Preclinical findings suggest innovative methods to reduce severe toxicity and boost response rates.

Researchers ID gene types behind racial disparities in myeloma

The discoveries may help shed light on myeloma causes and improve treatment for African-Americans.

Vaccine study for HER2-positive breast cancer moves forward

Researchers hope the vaccine combined with trastuzumab can help prevent breast cancer recurrence.

New radiotherapy helps reduce cognitive damage in brain cancer

Hippocampal-avoidance whole-brain radiotherapy plus memantine spared cognition in a phase III study.

Study shows rose geranium oil eases nasal vestibulitis symptoms

Promising results from a small study on breast cancer support the need for more research.

Meet the investigator: Yi Lin, M.D., Ph.D.

In this Cancer Center video, Dr. Lin, a hematologist, discusses her career in cellular therapy research.






Wed, Mar 6 8:53am · Unwanted or Unsolicited Advice in Cancer Education Center


Article contributed by Cancer Education Center staff member Lonnie Fynskov, R.N.

A diagnosis of cancer affects almost everyone at some point in our life, either our own health or that of someone we love. Frequently, a new cancer diagnosis comes with a lot of unsolicited, and sometimes unhelpful, advice.

  • “I just learned about this wonderful thing you should be doing!”
  • “When my aunt was in your situation…”
  • “Have you tried…”

Very concerned and well intentioned people may offer a huge variety of suggestions in an effort to be supportive, but sometimes it actually increases our stress and anxiety. Some suggestions may cast doubt on the chosen treatment plan or they may be just one of many seemingly unending conversations that all deal with this tough diagnosis. What’s the best way to handle this situation?

Despite everyone being different there are some things that seem to be universal. Everyone has the right to decide how much information they want to share about their health status. Even if you know someone has your good health as their priority, you are not obligated to share personal information or verbally respond to their suggestions. If not answering feels awkward, it’s good to have a plan that comfortably meets your needs. Some people choose to be very direct and just politely say they prefer not to talk about their diagnosis or treatment right now. Others may choose to utilize a form of social media to do a mass communication with friends and family as a way to let them know that is how they prefer to share information. Or, some people will take control of the conversation by providing a brief answer, and then change the topic by asking the other person a question. For example, “I appreciate your concern. That’s an interesting idea…And how’s your family doing?” Just like there is not only one way to respond, there is not only one right way to respond. The best technique for you is whatever you are comfortable with that achieves your desired result. These are just a couple of examples. What has worked for you in these situations?