Helping Hands for Caregivers

When cancer strikes, a patient’s loved ones need assistance, too

November 1, 2011

Seth Rogen, right, plays an unlikely cancer caregiver for his best friend in “50/50.”

Even if just one person gets the diagnosis, a whole lot of people end up confronting cancer. Everyone close to the patient — family, friends, co-workers — has to grapple with an altered reality along with new responsibilities.

The recent movie “50/50,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young man with a spinal tumor, depicts very different ways of handling these changes. His girlfriend is overwhelmed, his mom overbearing. His best friend (played by Seth Rogen) seems to be using the situation to get laid.

No matter how people react to becoming caregivers, they can benefit from the growing number of resources designed to help them handle their emotions and plan their actions. “We give people a place to come together to say you’re scared, and you’re angry your life has been turned upside down,” says Paula Rothenberg, president and CEO of Hope Connections for Cancer, one of several programs available in the D.C. area for both patients and their loved ones. Here’s a guide:

When Life With Cancer was founded in 1987, there was virtually nowhere else for families to turn to get information and assistance after a cancer diagnosis. That’s changed, but the services here (and at Life With Cancer’s satellite locations) are unparalleled. There are more than 50 offerings each month, all co-facilitated by an oncology nurse and a social worker — and all free to anyone who walks in the door. That includes a caregiver retreat on Nov. 5 (10 a.m.-2 p.m.), with Marc Silver, author of the book “Breast Cancer Husband” (and Express’ TV columnist).
Life With Cancer, 8411 Pennell St., Fairfax; 703-698-2526.

Set back in the woods, and designed to look like the interior of cozy house, Hope Connections for Cancer invites visitors to take a seat in its living room to participate in free weekly support groups (including one just for caregivers), mind-body classes (yoga, Pilates, energy healing) and educational workshops. Don’t be surprised to hear laughter — as well as tears — Rothenberg says. As “50/50” reminds viewers, humor can make the healing process more manageable.
Hope Connections for Cancer, 5430 Grosvenor Lane, #100, Bethesda; 301-493-5002.

Walking into the newly remodeled and expanded Smith Center for Healing and the Arts requires passing through the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, emphasizing Smith’s use of the arts as a way to promote health. The schedule’s packed with nutrition workshops that take advantage of the space’s demonstration kitchen. Programs are either free or low cost to encourage community involvement, and ones that aren’t specifically targeted to cancer patients and caregivers are welcome to anyone who’s interested.
Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, 1632 U St. NW; 202-483-8600.

Although The Mindfulness Center isn’t a cancer-specific program, its classes and services — which include meditation, massage and counseling — are geared to individuals looking to improve their wellbeing by tapping into natural ways to heal. Coming up on Dec. 11 is a two-part cancer caregiver workshop ($49 for one part, $89 for both) led by Liz Goll Lerner. Part one deals with the nitty gritty of navigating resources. Part two focuses on the experience and emotions. “It’s very depleting to be living more than one person’s life,” she says.
The Mindfulness Center, 4963 Elm St., Bethesda; 301-986-1090.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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