A cancer diagnosis can leave patients and caregivers feeling emotionally, physically and economically drained. Marci Schankweiler, Founder of For Pete’s Sake Cancer Respite Foundation discusses the benefits of a holistic approach to improving the quality of life on both sides, while getting a break from cancer.
Traynham: With more than 1.5 million new cases of cancer diagnosed each year, it is estimated that family caregivers make up 7% of the U.S. population. And while caring for loved ones, caregivers themselves are at risk for both harmful mental and physical health consequences. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. Joining me is Marci Schankweiler, founder of For Pete´s Sake Cancer Respite Foundation. Marci, welcome to the program.
Schankweiler: Thank you. Good to be here, Robert.
Traynham: Let´s start off first with the name "For Pete´s Sake." What does that mean?
Schankweiler: Well, my first husband was Pete, and he actually passed away from cancer when he was 30, and --
Traynham: Such a young age.
Schankweiler: It was very young. And, you know, the organization focuses on young adult cancer patients and their families. So many people, like in the ages -- The average age is like the mid-30s. So he was diagnosed and experienced a respite vacation, and we recognized the significance of that and the impact on his outlook on cancer and myself as a caregiver, and hence, the organization was launched.
Traynham: For the sake of our viewers that are watching at home or perhaps on their smart device, what is a respite vacation? What do you mean when you mention that terminology?
Schankweiler: I would call it transformational time. It´s time to really refresh, relax, rejuvenate, reconnect, you know, and recognize that, you know, you do have the power over cancer to address the emotional, the psychosocial, and the spiritual needs that come along with the diagnosis. We´re very good at treating, you know, the physical piece of it, but For Pete´s Sake really concentrates on the more nebulous pieces.
Traynham: You know, Marci, you touched on something that I want to focus on. The way I look at it, this is two sides of the same coin. On one side, it is the cancer patient. It is about his or her well-being and so forth. The flip side of that coin is also about the caregiver, and the anxiety, the stress, whatever you want to call it that they´re also experiencing, as well. How does your organization tackle both from a holistic perspective?
Schankweiler: So, we actually allow both the patient, the caregiver, and potentially small children if they have children, to take a break, to really kind of --
Traynham: To take a break from what?
Schankweiler: To take a break from their everyday routine of what cancer has done. I mean, since the day of the diagnosis, cancer has defined who they are, what they do. And we actually give them this piece of time where they both are really removed and in a very, very comfortable environment with no financial worries whatsoever, and we really just say, "This is your chance to take a break and to recognize that -- the significance that you have with one another in your own relationship," and the importance of that in treating the emotional side of cancer and talking about your fears and, you know, your worries, and the future and what that potentially holds for them.
Traynham: Marci, I know a few years ago, you and your organization did some groundbreaking research, if you will, that focused on four core areas. What are they? And what is the research?
Schankweiler: So, we started in 2014, and we had about 10 years of data prior to that that was very qualitative, and we really tried to quantify it. So, the four areas we´re looking at is strengthening family relationships, you know, and team building. When someone gets diagnosed with cancer, it´s just not the patient. It´s the caregiver. It´s the surrounding people. It´s the community. You know, it can be neighbors, colleagues.
Traynham: That whole environment.
Schankweiler: Yeah, so it´s strengthening that whole relationship, with the patient at the center. The other one is improving channels of communication, so, the channel of communication between potentially a mother-son, patient and caregiver, you know, caregiver and doctor. You know, there´s a lot of different communication channels that have to be open so that there is, you know, some discussions that can take place about what is happening and how people feel, you know, as they´re going through what could be a very long journey. Third area that we looked at was patient compliance with future treatment. When they come back from respite, are they willing to, like, go through a procedure with less anxiety? You know, are they willing to maybe try a different protocol that may be more helpful, you know, and really looking at that piece and trying to quantify that. And then the fourth area is just the joy and mental break and what that mental break can do to the outlook that you´re gonna have when you come back. You know, what is the impact of really just taking some time and focusing on who you are and who you love rather than cancer, and where that will ultimately lead, you know, really throughout the rest of the journey, so...
Traynham: Marci, thank you very much for sharing your story and also for starting this organization. And for the viewers at home that are rushing to get a pen or perhaps maybe to write this down on their smart device, the website is...
Traynham: Say that one more time.
Traynham: Marci, thank you very much for joining us. We really appreciate it.
Schankweiler: Thank you for having me.
Traynham: And, of course, thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Robert Traynham.