Gilda’s Club Westchester has received national attention for a recent pilot study of time-limited skills-based workshops geared toward family caregivers and breast cancer survivors. CEO Melissa Lang, DrPH, MPH and Director of Outreach and Program Development Miranda Dold, LCSW had the opportunity to present on the trainings at the American Public Health Association national conference recently in Boston, MA.
“At Gilda’s we recognize that support can look different to different people as they navigate through their cancer experience,” says Melissa. “As an individual’s situation changes, so might their needs. It’s important we continue to expand our programs to provide a wide variety of psychosocial support.” In addition to our support groups and educational components, we are now offering distress screenings, short-term one-on-one counseling, and new skills-based trainings. Here, people living with cancer will be able to find the support that best fits their needs.
Adapted from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a formal treatment modality, the six-week skills-based workshop series taught individuals how to manage and cope with the emotions and stress of living with cancer using mindfulness, emotion regulation and distress tolerance skills. Because these DBT stills have never been used in a cancer treatment setting, we were thrilled to conduct our pilot under the guidance of Sarah Reynolds, PhD and Elizabeth Cohn Stuntz, LCSW-R,BCD, both trained in DBT.
The feedback we received from our participants was overwhelmingly positive. Survey results indicated that participants found the workshop to be useful and that it provided them with a “toolbox” of skills. Additionally, participants from both groups felt equally able to learn and implement the skills and reported that the skills were adaptable beyond their cancer experience.
At the conference, Mandy shared Jackie’s story. A year after being cancer free, Jackie went to a routine oncology appointment expecting to get the go-ahead for the doctor to remove her infusion port. To her disappointment, Jackie’s oncologist suggested keeping the port in for another year. In her own words:
“I immediately thought she was betting against my survival. Why hadn’t she prepared me for this disappointment? Normally I would have starting crying and become inconsolable, but I didn’t. That night I emailed her a short but direct message, ‘Was the fact that she did not recommend the port removal indicative of my chances for recurrence? And could we agree to test my blood every three months, between my checkups?’ She agreed to the blood tests and revisiting the removal discussion at my next checkup. I know that without the workshop I would not have been equipped to examine my thoughts and moderate my emotions in the same manner that I was able to. And of course I would have had a much less satisfying outcome as well.”
We are looking forward to now implementing two time-limited workshop series each year in the fall and spring, as an expansion of our programs. “It was exciting to share our findings with the APHA,” Says Miranda. “It really highlights the value of time-limited support and also the value of empowering cancer patients and caregivers with the specific skills to assist them throughout their cancer journey.”
*Participant’s name has been changed