Cancer Lifeline’s Facilitators Retreat

A gathering of the majority of our support group facilitators was held on July 22. This group photo was taken to commemorate the event.

Pictured, left to right, top row to bottom row:

Denise Krouse, EvergreenHealth Living with Metastatic Cancer Support Group

Pamela Krueger, Cancer Lifeline Clinical Program Administrator

Ada Pang, EvergreenHealth Breast Friends Support Group

Trenecsia Wilson, Valley Medical Hope in Your Heart & Survivorship Groups

Basha Brownstein, UWNW Women’s Group & Living with Cancer Group

Vivian Foxx, UWNW Living with Metastatic Cancer & Lymphedema Groups

Courtney Zier, Virginia Mason Living with Cancer & Dorothy O’Brien Young Adult

Caregiver Groups

Grace Yang, Dorothy O’Brien Young Adult Cancer Support Group

Keri McLerran, Virginia Mason Federal Way Living with Cancer Support Group

Brenda Joy, EvergreenHealth Gastrointestinal Cancers Support Group

Dianne Graham, EvergreenHealth Bosom Buddies & Overlake Living with Cancer Groups

Tricia Matteson, EvergreenHealth Living with Cancer & Oral, Head and Neck Cancer

Support Groups and UW Valley Women’s Cancer Support Group

Not Pictured but Present: Sandi Johnson, EvergreenHealth Lung Cancer Support Group

We spent the afternoon and early evening together, connecting to one another and sharing about the experience of facilitating the many support groups Cancer Lifeline offers (all groups are currently online).
Our agenda included; a warm-in round of self-introductions, small group breakouts about how facilitating support groups have affected each of us, several renewal practices to support the well-being of our facilitators (guided meditation, nervous system reset sequence, journaling, independent nature walk), a teach-in about the latest developments in psychological science related to support groups, and a discussion plenary about shared topics of interest. We shared a meal in the middle and supported one another as professional colleagues. Each of our support group facilitators is an amazing member of our Cancer Lifeline community and getting to experience natural connections together made for an inspiring experience. We hope to offer connecting retreats to nourish our support group facilitators on a regular, ongoing basis.
Learn more about our 27 cancer support groups. You can also contact us at (206) 832-1271 or through our Lifeline (800) 255-5505 or (206) 297-2500 (Monday – Friday 9 am-5 pm PST) and we’ll connect you to a group.

Cancer in the time of COVID: Resilence is key

On this blog we will dive a little deeper into some of those reactions we may be experiencing and discuss strategies to help deal with them. Next time, we will talk more in-depth about the double whammy of imposed isolation, resulting from cancer and COVID-19.
As if living with a cancer diagnosis wasn’t enough…
When the pandemic hit and created yet another massive shift in our day-to-day lives, it didn’t take long for Cancer Lifeline to jump into action and quickly figure out how to provide our clients with the programs and services they needed now more than ever. Starting in mid-March, Cancer Lifeline’s support groups, classes, and presentations went online! It was a steep learning curve for all of us, but it has proven to be a HUGE success.
While we are all missing the connections inherent in face-to face-contact, an amazing thing has also happened. Cancer Lifeline’s outstanding and robust programming is reaching MORE people than ever! Whether a yoga class, support group, or presentation, new clients are joining constantly. People from all over the state are signing up and attending programs. Clients, new and old, are attending because:
  • No traffic or parking hassles
  • Less energy expended to “log-in” rather than “drive-in”
  • It doesn’t matter where you live
In some ways, it is not a surprise that attendance is increasing, considering that the pandemic has only served to magnify the stress, fear, anxiety, and isolation that is inherent in living with cancer. Not to mention that living with yet another source of uncertainty can feel absolutely overwhelming for many of us. The question then becomes, how do we navigate our collective “new normal?” Especially since the experts are telling us we will probably be at this for some time yet.
In a statement published by the Washington State Dept. of Health, titled: Statewide High-Level Analysis of Forecasted Behavioral Health Impacts from COVID-19, there was text related to resilience that sure sounded familiar…
Resilience can be increased by:
  • Focus on developing social CONNECTIONS big or small
  • Reorienting and developing a sense of PURPOSE
  • Becoming adaptive and psychologically FLEXIBLE
  • Focusing on HOPE
Resilience is something that can be intentionally taught, practiced, and developed for people across all age groups (Hobfall , etal., 2007).
That is exactly what clients say they are able to take away from attending Cancer Lifeline’s programming!
Cancer Lifeline has now put together new and targeted programming to add even more new tools to your toolbox as you navigate the COVID-19 pandemic while also living with a cancer diagnosis. Below are ongoing or new classes and presentations:
  • Addressing Fears of Recurrence During COVID-19
  • Tools for Coping with Anxiety: COVID-19 & Cancer
  • Managing Isolation: COVID-19 & Cancer
  • Regular series classes such as yoga, meditation, coping with stress
  • Specialized offerings including presentations on COVID-19 & Cancer by an Oncologist
You can learn more here or you call the Lifeline:  (800) 255-5505 or (206) 297-2500 (Monday – Friday 9am-5pm PST)
  • The Lifeline is also available if you just need someone to listen, help you sort out your feelings, or if you just need some information.
  • Lifeline chat (instant messaging service) is also available Monday – Friday 9am-5pm and can be accessed through the Cancer Lifeline website simply by clicking the green “We are here to listen” button.
  • Support Groups (all cancers & cancer-specific) meet regularly and welcome new members!
Hobfoll, S. E., Watson, P. J., Bell, C. C., Bryant, R., Brymer, M. J., Friedman, M. J., Ursano, R. J. (2007). Five essential elements of immediate and mid-term mass trauma intervention: Empirical evidence. Psychiatry Interpersonal & Biological Processes, 70(4), 283-315.

Hospital Partner Spotlight: Halvorson Cancer Center at EvergreenHealth – Sue Smiley

Cancer Lifeline salutes EvergreenHealth, our longtime Eastside hospital partner. Sue Smiley is a member of the Evergreen staff and has been Cancer Lifeline’s champion for many years. We are grateful for Sue’s tireless efforts and innovations as CL’s programs have evolved. Our thanks to Sue for taking the time to answer our interview questions.
How long have you been with Evergreen and what is your title?
I have been at EvergreenHealth just shy of 30 years. My title is Radiation Oncology Manager. In that role, I’m privileged to serve on many committees focused on delivering cancer supportive care services to our community. The Cancer Lifeline partnership with EvergreenHealth has been part of my responsibilities for over 15 years.
How important is Cancer Lifeline to the local cancer community?
Research and experience show that people living with cancer benefit from supportive programs that address the emotional and physical challenges of cancer. Cancer Lifeline’s programs are evidence-based and provide a comprehensive set of supportive services for individuals and families living with cancer.   EvergreenHealth’s purpose is “working together to enrich the health and well-being of every life we touch.” Working together brings cancer supportive care close to home.
When did you first start coordinating with Cancer Lifeline and our programs? How have things grown over time?
It all began around 2004, when I met with then Executive Director, Barbara Frederick, to talk about the possibilities of bringing Cancer Lifeline services to the Eastside Community.  Within a short few months, Cancer Lifeline opened an Eastside facility in the Eastgate area of Bellevue, offering a few support groups and classes.   In 2007, we began a new chapter with moving the program to the campus of EvergreenHealth.  Working together, we were able to expand programming to meet the needs of patients living on the Eastside.  In 2012, EvergreenHealth’s cancer center moved into new spaces and in a new partnership with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. The new facility provided dedicated space for Cancer Lifeline classes and support groups, which included adding Gentle Yoga and Cooking demonstrations.
How do Evergreen patients learn about Cancer Lifeline? 
 We have information inserted into every new patient packet and the staff/providers receive training and ongoing updates to CL programs which allows them to talk with their patients about the resources available for supportive care services.
What observations do you have about the benefits of CL programs?
While both organizations have had to come to grips with providing services during a pandemic, we both knew that cancer care and support will and must continue. The feedback received from the clients attending support groups, classes, and special events is so positive that we knew we must find a way to continue on. Cancer Lifeline is just what the name says. It’s a lifeline to so many people during one of the toughest times in their lives. Fortunately, for EvergreenHealth, we have the best partner to meet this need.
How is the quality of the programs maintained?
Cancer Lifeline taps into many ways for client and partnership feedback. Cancer Lifeline conducts its own regular client surveys and receives regular feedback through debriefs with the professional facilitators. Also, CL staff meet with Evergreen’s cancer support services staff to receive their feedback/recommendations which guide program growth and development.
How are new program ideas generated? 
While I have not personally facilitated a class or support group, many EH staff have either provided facilitation or was a speaker at one of the classes. My role has been to work with CL staff to develop on-going programming which includes the conveyance of new ideas.   By our suggestion, Cancer Lifeline helped to meet our patients’ needs to provide site-specific support groups. Since 2012, CL offers site-specific support groups for those living with Metastatic Cancer, Lung Cancer, Prostate Cancer, GI Cancers, Breast Cancer, and Oral Head and Neck Cancers.  Expanding to site specific groups allows for relevant topic discussions along with emotional support. We currently offer 8 Support Groups.
What changes have you noticed since Cancer Lifeline moved all our programs online?
CL responded very quickly in the best way possible since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, we have learned that offering only onsite programs may actually be limiting participation. We have seen an increase in the number of patients participating in online support groups, which may become the best option for the future.

Catching up with Ben Hicks, Cancer Lifeline’s Board Chair

Recently we had a chance to connect with Ben Hicks. Ben is a relationship manager with The Commerce Bank of Washington. Prior to becoming our board chair, Ben served on our finance committee.
When did you first become involved with Cancer Lifeline? I joined the board almost three years ago now. I attended a Breakfast With Friends event the year prior, but joining the board is when I went all in.
How long has The Commerce Bank of Washington been connected with Cancer Lifeline? The Commerce Bank has sponsored events and provided leadership for well over a decade and I actually think we are getting pretty close to two decades together.
As board president, what changes have you noticed that give you hope for Cancer Lifeline going forward? There is a lot to this question. Overall, the organization has just grown. We are working with more hospitals, we are providing more services to more people, the Board now has over 20 active members, our Advisory Board has done a tremendous job expanding the Patient Financial Assistance Fund, and the staff has everything running better than ever. That growth gives me the greatest hope.
What have you learned about yourself during this time? Self-reflective questions are always my favorite. I’m not going to answer and instead recommended that we all watch It’s a Wonderful Life. There are so many people struggling right now and I think that movie can really lift some spirits. It also emphasizes that when you do good for others, others will do good for you. I’m so grateful that I get to play a very small part in Cancer Lifeline and the return of good to me has far outweighed the good that I have put in.
Learn more about Cancer Lifeline’s current progress, check out our 2019 Report to the Community.

Meet Cancer Lifeline Volunteer Gayle Ward

How did you first learn about Cancer Lifeline?
I worked in Nursing Administration at Northwest Hospital and participated on the advisory committee. There I learned about Cancer Lifeline and its programs which filled the needs of cancer patients during their short time in the hospital.
Why did you decide to become a volunteer? I was impressed by Cancer Lifeline’s mission. As a cancer survivor I wanted to pay it forward for all the kindness I received during my treatment. I wanted to help people overcome the anxiety and fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis and help them regain a sense of control.
What’s the best part about answering/making calls on the Lifeline/Lifeline Chat? Being able to listen and support people as they sort through their feelings and fears. To quote Dorothy O’Brien: ‘No one should go through this alone.’ I have talked with people from all over the country. Small towns with little resources and big cities too large to navigate. They have all touched my heart and reminded me why I continue to volunteer.

CL Presentations at this year’s Pierce County Cancer Survivorship Online Conference August 5th

On Wednesday, August 5th three of Cancer Lifeline’s facilitators will be presenting at this year’s Pierce County Cancer Survivorship Conference. Held online this year, the Conference is now open for registration.

Here are the Presentation Descriptions along with speaker bios.

LIVE SESSION | Coping With Cancer When You Are On Your Own with Nicole Taylor

12:30 PM – 1:15 PM

Navigating the impacts of cancer be very overwhelming even when you have a partner or family to support you. For many, managing a cancer diagnosis when you are on your own can feel isolating and untenable. Come learn about ways you can get the support you need and how to connect to others with shared experience.

Nicole Taylor is relatively new on staff, but not new to Cancer Lifeline, as this is where she went for support when diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the young age 34. Wanting to help others navigate through treatment is what brought her to working with local and national cancer nonprofits that offer emotional support and education to those living with cancer and their loved ones for the past 15 years. She is passionate about education, outreach, engagement, and collaboration in efforts to offer more comprehensive support services to as many people as possible. She is the proud mother of an 18 and 21-year-old, is married to her High School Sweetheart, and has recently started her own Urban Farm in her backyard that includes three hens.


LIVE SESSION | Benefits of Laughter – Dr. Carrie Horwitch

2:00pm – 2:45pm, Aug 5

It doesn’t matter if it’s real or fake, research shows laughter to be truly powerful medicine for strengthening the immune system, reducing cortisol levels, increasing growth hormone levels, endorphins, and much more.

Carrie A Horwitch is a board-certified internal medicine physician. She is also credentialed as an HIV care specialist from AAHIVM. Dr. Horwitch graduated from the University of Arizona, College of Medicine. She completed her Master of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Her current position is at Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington where she is a primary outpatient physician. She is a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington Dr. Horwitch’ s interests are HIV care, STDs, laughter in medicine, emerging infections and public health, ethics and professionalism, high-value care and graduate medical education. She is a certified laughter leader through the World Laughter Tour since 2007. She is on the wellness committee at Virginia Mason Medical Center and promotes laughter as one technique of wellness to health care workers and patients. She is the author of Death of my Uterus and other humorous events.


LIVE SESSION | Managing Information Overload – Meg Sweeney, MSW, LICSW

1:15 PM – 2:00 PM

Wed Aug 5, 2020

In today’s world information is coming at us from many different sources. Come learn ways to tactfully manage the information overload that can come with a cancer diagnosis.

I’m endlessly inspired by the human spirit. Despite obstacles and crises, people do their best to cope and be brave in the face of hardship. But sometimes difficulties are too great, our coping mechanisms limited or time-worn, and we yearn for a new way to experience ourselves, to find relief. Therapy can provide emotional support, new skills and insights, and clarity about our strengths and the unique gifts we have. I obtained a Masters in Social Work from the University of Washington in 2003. I’ve done extensive post-graduate studies in Spirituality and Meaning and obtained a certificate in Psychodynamic Counseling. My experience includes over fifteen years working with chronic illness, end of life, cancer, Alzheimer’s, caregiver concerns, ADHD, stress, depression, and panic I approach my work with a focus on enhancing strengths, client goals, and fostering skills in mindfulness/compassionate self-awareness.



Meg Sweeney,

A Message to the Community

Cancer Lifeline is an organization who serves vulnerable populations impacted by cancer. We are deeply saddened and disturbed by recent events. We stand firmly against all acts of hatred and racism. We stand in solidarity with people of color who are angry and hurting right now because of blatant abuses of power. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are two of the most recent in a long list of individuals whose lives were stolen by injustice. We grieve with their families.

We understand that systems of oppression including racism, sexism, capitalism, and ableism, among others, create and reinforce health disparities that affect people of color disproportionately in the U.S. The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on these disparities that have existed for too long.

Our small but impactful role in combatting these disparities is our Patient Financial Assistance Fund to help cancer patients who are most in need access treatment and services and our online resources available to everyone.

It is our hope that recent events will lead to lasting change in our country.


In solidarity,

Cancer Lifeline Staff & Board of Trustees

Mary Ellen Shands, Recipient of the 2020 Barbara Frederick Award

Mary Ellen Shands is this year’s Barbara Frederick Award recipient, an award that is usually made at our annual signature fundraiser, Breakfast with Friends; however, given the health crisis, this year it was made at a Zoom staff happy hour.

Before she retired on March 31, 2020, Mary Ellen Shands sat down with us to talk about her 25-year history with Cancer Lifeline.

When did you first get involved with CL?

In the early 90’s I was first asked to provide an in-service presentation for the Lifeline Volunteers on the grieving process.  That led to an offer to join the staff in 1995 because the Family Support Program was growing rapidly, and Ellen Zahlis needed help with Kids/Parents Group and Family Meetings.


What were your responsibilities at CL? (Note: Mary Ellen Shands retired from Cancer Lifeline on March 31, 2020).

I managed the support group program, which entails recruiting, training, and supervising facilitators for  29 SG’s that meet each month.  I also conducted Family Meetings, attended Cancer Committee meetings at our partner hospitals, and presented outreach programs to providers at those sites to be sure they know and understand the programs CL offers at their site.  My role evolved over time, when we first moved to the Dorothy O’Brien Center in the winter of 1999/2000, offering support groups as part of our programming was not even on our radar!  I clearly remember the day Barbara Frederick came over to my desk and asked me how I would feel about supporting a client to help put a support group together.  We (Barbara, Ellen Zahlis, and I) had thought the hospitals were meeting that need, but one by one, clients began asking us to include support groups in our program offerings.  The Support Group Program grew bigger and bigger with each hospital that contracted with CL for psychosocial cancer support services!


Tell us what it was like when all of Cancer Lifeline’s programming fit on one 8-1/2×11 sheet of paper.

Well…Patient and Family Emotional Support Programs at that time did not include support groups.  The primary PFEST programs were the Lifeline, Family Meetings, and Kids/Parents Group.  However, we did also hold a relaxation & stress management class and an exercise class at the Good Shepard Center and at Seattle Central Community College.  We did not have the Center then but worked from an office in the 2nd & Seneca Building downtown.  When the “dream” of having a Cancer Lifeline Center became a reality, and we moved to the Dorothy O’Brien Center, that’s when the Creative Expression Program came into being (with Basha Brownstein being hired) and we started holding lots more exercise & health promotion programs (hired Lisa Talbot!) and began offering yoga & stretch and strength and nutrition classes here at the center. Additionally, around this time we formalized the Therapist Referral Program and I began building the Therapist Referral Database.


What is the biggest change over time?

So, so, so many changes… I would say the continuous and ongoing “shift” in job responsibilities.  As we grew, my job description grew, then when it was at a tipping point, I would offload some things to others. Then we would grow some more and the cycle would start all over again!  Also, as with all small organizations, decisions tend to be made as a  “group” with input from everyone.  As we grew, that was just not feasible!  Additionally, when you start out, everybody does everything, including washing beer glasses from the annual Brewfest Fundraiser we used to have at Union Station to helping my husband paint the very first Cancer Lifeline Room at Northwest Hospital (Barbara asked him if he would do the painting…and who could say no to Barbara?!)


What shifted when you had your own cancer diagnosis?

Before joining Cancer Lifeline, I had worked in psychosocial oncology for almost 20 years, including working as a hospice nurse for many years.  When I first learned about the four needs that Cancer Lifeline built all their programming around, I was thrilled.  From my experience, needing solid, evidence-based information about cancer, having someone to talk to who could just listen to you sort and talk, feeling included and not isolated, and above all feeling some sense of control were indeed the needs that patients and families needed!  I loved delivering the “Four Needs” lecture during Lifeline training or out in the community when asked to talk about Cancer Lifeline’s programs and services!

Having said that, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago I had to make the mental shift from caregiver to care receiver.  In 2018, when I was diagnosed, I had been a nurse for over 40 years, it has been my calling my entire life. Caring for others will always define who I am as long as I am on this earth…so, making that shift was very hard for me. This played out in different ways since the moment I saw my pathology report.  One of the first thoughts I had was, “OK…get a grip, you   have to call my husband but you have to be calm…don’t freak him out”.  The second thought was “oh good god, this is gonna be devastating for our kids. Again… “stay calm, the last thing anybody needs is for you to look like you are falling apart.”

The third thought was “OMG, how many times have I listened to others say the exact same things” that are now going through my mind. I understand cancer in a whole new way because I am part of the club now, I understand how desperately you do not want to burden those you love with fear, worry and concern.

I understand now, from deep down inside of me, the agony of waiting week after week for test results before you can land on a treatment plan.  The things that go through your mind are the stuff of bad television dramas.  Will my daughter have to deal with this if I have the breast cancer genes, what if the tumor cells are more aggressive than originally thought and I do have to have chemo, what if cancer cells are escaping from my breast and invading other parts of my body as we sit here doing nothing?  Why should my journey be any different than my sister’s who was just told her breast cancer has metastasized to her lungs and bones?  And of course…how long will I really have to live now that I have cancer?  The unanswerable questions, uncertainty, the inability to plan what you will be doing the next week or next month, and feeling totally and completely out of control of your life are CRAZY MAKING!

I now “get it” and understand at an even deeper level what happens the moment you find out you have cancer.  You need to make sense of what you have been told, you need INFORMATION  to understand all the details of the test reports and what the doctors are telling you.  You need to talk and sort it all out with someone who can LISTEN, not try to reassure you or minimize your concerns AND not judge you for sounding inarticulate, anxious, and confused.  You need to know you are not ALONE, that there are others who wake up in the middle of the night muttering, “but what if…” who feel as scared and upside down as you do! And above all, …you need ways to take some CONTROL back…because any sense of control evaporates the moment you find out you have cancer.


What’s next for you?  

I am not retiring completely, I will continue my research work at the UW School of Nursing, developing, evaluating, and disseminating programs to support families living with cancer.  I am able to do most of this work from home which will simplify my life quite a bit.  AND, of course, I will always be available to do contract work for Cancer Lifeline, whether it is subbing in for a Support Group facilitator or doing a Family Meeting!


Some time ago three words “Strength. Dignity. Hope.” were added to the Cancer Lifeline logo? Of those three words, which resonates the most for you?

Hope definitely resonates the most for me.  There is always something to hope for and hope is what keeps us getting out of bed each morning.  I have come to believe that hope exists on a continuum, what we hope for changes over time, and what circumstances we find ourselves in, but hope is what keeps us going.  When it comes to living with cancer, we may hope to be cancer-free, or hope for treatment to work or for it to end!  At the other end of the spectrum when cure is not within our reach, we may hope for the best quality of life, for open and loving communication with family and friends, for adequate pain control, and sometimes for a peaceful death.


Beth Brooks, Recipient of the Karl & Ellen Zahlis Inspirational Award

The Karl & Ellen Zahlis Inspirational Award was made to Beth Brooks, Cancer Lifeline’s Director of Development & Marketing. This award was established in 1988 to honor Karl & Ellen who have provided inspired leadership and creativity at all levels as volunteers, board, and staff.

Beth joined the Cancer Lifeline staff in July 2018 as the Director of Development & Marketing. Alongside the board and the executive director, she raises Cancer Lifeline’s contributed revenue through fundraising events, individual contributions, and grants. With the guidance of the board’s marketing committee, she has helped elevate Cancer Lifeline’s visibility through enhanced digital marketing and advertising.


Janell Gilmore, Recipient of the Dorothy S. O’Brien Volunteer Award

The 2020 Dorothy S. O’Brien Award is awarded to Cancer Lifeline Volunteer Janell Gilmore.  This award was established in 1990 by an anonymous donor as a tribute to Dorothy and her belief in the importance of self-determination and empowerment.

Janell comes into the Center, week after week, with a smile on her face and a determination to touch the lives of those affected by cancer. She meets every client with patience, compassion, and understanding and that is so valuable to those calling our lifeline, whether they are simply registering for a class or calling for support.

And she’s a snappy dresser!

Janell joined the ranks of Lifeline volunteers after completing the training in September 2018. In no time at all, she signed up for a regular shift on the phones and is now a weekly Lifeline volunteer.

“I found out about Cancer Lifeline through a catalog in the oncology department at EvergreenHealth. There was a presentation at Northwest Hospital that I was interested in, so I attended.  I was very impressed by Basha Brownstein, Community Program Manager for Cancer Lifeline, who facilitated that presentation,” says Janell.

“I was looking for a volunteer opportunity.  One day, I took a field trip over to Cancer Lifeline and rang the doorbell.  Basha answered, and gave me a tour.  I wanted to be like her—making a difference.   As one whose life has been changed by cancer in ways that I never wanted, I wanted to be able to help others whose lives have also been altered.

“The best part about making and answering calls for me is that it’s an indirect way for me to fight back against cancer, by touching the lives of others who have been affected by it.”

Learn more about volunteering opportunities at Cancer Lifeline.