“When my dad was first diagnosed with cancer, none of us knew what to do.

My dad didn’t want to talk about it and the rest of the family didn’t know what to say.”


Cancer is far more than a disease affecting the patient, cancer affects the whole family and in many different ways. For many families it is their first experience with a life-threatening disease. Initially, they are overwhelmed with efforts to understand technical information about cancer and to make meaning out of what the doctor has told them even as they are dealing with feelings of shock and fear. They have to learn how to interact with the health care system in a more intense way than they ever have before.

As a group, family members are often unclear about how to talk with each other about what is happening to them. In addition, they are inclined to feel protective of the patient’s feelings or, since they are not the patient, they have no right to feel sad, frightened or worried and are reticent to talk about their own feelings and concerns. Family members are most apt to respond by wanting to “be positive”, and by wanting to offer support through advice, reassurance and help. Many families have had limited experience in talking about their feelings with one another. All these factors leave family members wondering what to do and how to help the patient and themselves.

Cancer is often assumed to be life-threatening, it also can be a time that family members feel increased pressure to become closer as a family but also feel the pain of unresolved issues between themselves and/or the patient. They may feel isolated within the family as they attempt to cope and deal with their feelings. Even as the family members attempt to cope with what is happening, they may find their coping efforts are thwarted by other family members. Such a predicament is not unusual for families, but is seldom talked about together.

Parents with young or adolescent children are also challenged when trying to talk to their children about the cancer. Parents want to be open and honest about the cancer, but don’t want to scare their child. They work to find the balance between truthfulness and hope. This is often difficult to do when the parent is juggling doctor appointments, treatment side effects like fatigue and nausea and their own emotional responses to what is happening to them.

Cancer Lifeline’s Couple, Family and Parenting Meetings can help! Families have used the meetings to:

  • Learn about the illness and its impact on the family
  • Make decisions about treatment
  • Talk about their feelings and concerns with their family members
  • Learn about community resources
  • Learn how to get what they need from their doctor and/or health care system
  • Talk about the impact the illness is having on their children and learn ways to support their children

Schedule a Couple or Family meeting by contacting Mary Ellen Shands at (206) 832-1279 or mshands@cancerlifeline.org.


It is time to embrace Fall and the cooler weather. Warm up with our hearty and healthy Zucchini and Tomato Gratin. This recipe from our Cancer Wellness Cookbook is a delicious accompaniment for roasted chicken, turkey or can be enjoyed as a vegetarian supper.

Zuccini & Tomato Gratin


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

2 fresh basil leaves, chopped

½ cup white rice

2 small zucchini, sliced ¼ inch thick

4 medium tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick

1 cup boiling water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup grated Asiago cheese, or ¼ cup grated Parmesan or Romano (using less of these still gives ample flavor)

Cooking Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Put the oil in an 8-inch square baking dish and spread to coat the bottom. Sprinkle the garlic, onion, and basil over the oil. Spread the rice over the top.
  • Layer the zucchini and tomato slices over the rice, and pour the boiling water over the top. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and the vegetables and rice are cooked. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings. Per Serving: 198 calories, 8 g fat, 7 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 50 mg sodium

“So sometimes she’d get sick and that kind of made me worried. Like, ‘Oh,
it’s getting worse,’ you know. I knew she was taking the pills, but I didn’t know.
I thought that was supposed to make her better. And then when she got nauseous
because of it, you know, it kind of made me worry.” (12 year old son)


Many of us believe we can guess what a child thinks about and wants to know when someone in their family has cancer. However, many children have worries and concerns that come as a big surprise to their parents. A child may be unsure about whether it is OK to talk about the cancer. As one 8 year old boy put it, “Well, I was kind of nervous that she might get mad at me for asking her something about the cancer.”

Younger children especially may not have the articulation skills to ask questions or verbalize their worries. This can result in the child creating a “fantasy” about what is happening and what will happen, that is far more frightening than reality. The words of this 12 year old girl underscore this fear, “I wondered if it would end up the same as what happened with my grandma-if (my mother) would die.”

Parents with cancer face many challenges, not the least of which is trying to talk to their school-age child about the cancer. Parents want to be open and honest about the cancer, but don’t want to scare their child. They work to find the balance between truthfulness and hope. This is often difficult to do when the parent is juggling doctor appointments, treatment side effects like fatigue and nausea and their own emotional responses to what is happening to them.

Cancer Lifeline’s Kids’ and Parents’ Group provides children and parents with an opportunity to get support and assistance when a parent has cancer. Kids talk about their experiences through sharing circles, art projects, and puppetry. They also learn ways to take care of themselves. Essentially, kids have a safe place to talk about their feelings, they feel less isolated, enhance their coping skills and increase their understanding of the illness, its causes and treatment.

The concurrent group for adults, the Parents’ Group, provides an opportunity to talk about the challenges of parenting a child when a family member is ill and to share the experience with other adults having a similar experience. Additionally, parents learn skills to help them to respond to their child’s expressed concerns and worries as well as changes in their child’s behavior. A mom who had attended the group had this to say about the benefit to her, “I told my kids all about my upcoming surgery, and it went really well! It went much better than I thought it would. And I owe it all to all of you.”

Please contact Mary Ellen Shands at (206) 832-1279 to reserve your place for our upcoming Kids’ and Parents’ Group.

Our board member, Tina Nole with Twisted Scholar is the producer of UW Medicine’s Pulse Podcast. She shared a recent episode with us which featured a discussion about Palliative Care. Palliative Care is a specialty service that provides an extra layer of support for patients and is appropriate at any age and at any stage of a serious illness. Tune in to Pulse Podcast as guests Darrell Owens D.N.P., A.R.N.P., Randy Curtis, M.D., M.P.H. and our friend Debra Jarvis discuss this wonderful service.

This fall Cancer Lifeline will present “Palliative Care: An Important Component of Cancer Treatment” at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland. Contact info@cancerlifeline.org to request a class catalog. Registration opens on August 26th at www.cancerlifeline.org.

Outpatient Palliative Care



Facilitator:      Stephanie Mehl, RN, MS

Date & Time: Thursday, September 26, 6:30-8:30 pm

Location:        Cancer Lifeline, Dorothy O’Brien Center, 6522 Fremont Ave. North, Seattle, 98103


Join us for this moving and thought provoking film, followed by a discussion with time for questions and answers. “Motivated by their personal experiences with loss, two long-time friends – one a hospice worker and the other a teacher- present a powerful and inspiring film on the American struggle with communication and preparation at life’s end. Consider the Conversation examines multiple perspectives on end-of-life care and includes interviews with patients, family members, doctors, nurses, clergy, social workers and national experts from around the country. The film’s goal is to inspire dialogue between patient and doctor, husband and wife, parent and child, minister and parishioner. This is not a story about death; it’s a film about living life to its fullest.”

Call For Voluneers

September 20, 2013

“Those who make compassion an essential part of their lives find the joy of life. Kindness deepens the spirit and produces rewards that cannot be completely explained in words. It is an experience more powerful than words. To become acquainted with kindness one must be prepared to learn new things and feel new feelings. Kindness is more than a philosophy of the mind. It is a philosophy of the spirit.” Robert J. Furey, Author


Call for Volunteers

Position:  Lifeline Volunteer

Location:  Offsite from your home workspace

Our 24 hour telephone Lifeline provides emotional support and resource referrals for all people living with cancer through all stages of the cancer journey: patients, survivors, friends, family members, caregivers and co-workers.  Volunteer must be comfortable listening to profound emotions and have ability to be a good listener, able to provide non-judgmental support to others, and understand that listening does not equate to giving advice or fixing.


Volunteering Requirements:

  • Volunteer  must have access to the internet and a phone to connect remotely to the  Lifeline
  • Respond to calls on the 24-hour Lifeline with emotional support and resource information to clients, including registering clients for Cancer Lifeline programs.
  • Helps clients register for Cancer Lifeline classes using web based registration program
  • Fill out call logs and other required reporting
  • Participate in four Lifeline in-service meetings per year
  • One year volunteer commitment
  • Advance notice (2-3 months) of plans to leave Lifeline Program

Training Requirements: You will need to participate in a 30-hour weekend training program on October 5, October 6, October 19 and October 26.  After training, you will be asked to take up to four daytime shifts per month:

Mondays:  1pm – 6pm

Wednesdays:  9am – 1pm

Fridays:  9am – 1pm

Fridays: 1pm – 6pm Saturdays:  1pm – 6pm

Sundays:  9am – 1pm

If you are interested in volunteering for this very important work, please contact Meghan Wilkins Melanson at Cancer Lifeline. She can be reached at mwilkins@cancerlifeline.org or 206-832-1296.


Fall is the time when the vast majority of employers, including most of the areas’ largest, hold their annual workplace giving campaigns. Some even start a little early, such as UPS, which started in July.

The exception to this rule is that the following companies have spring/early summer campaign dates: Virginia Mason Hospital, Seattle Seahawks/Sounders FC , Seattle Times, Fisher Communications, Target and Pemco.

While United Way of King County is appreciative of all gifts. they do ask that you pledge $30 or more  to keep administrative costs low. Remember, in addition to gifts through United Way, you can always make gifts directly to Cancer Lifeline!

To find out when your employers’ workplace giving campaign starts contact your Human Resources department or your campaign coordinator.

If you have any questions about how to designate Cancer Lifeline on your workplace giving form, please call Jeanne Lamont at 206-832-1273 or JLamont@cancerlifeline.

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