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Surviving Cancer as a Family and Helping Co-Survivors Thrive

Author: Bondarook & Associates, LLC

Published: 2010-07-15 : (Rev. 2011-06-07)

Synopsis and Key Points:

New Book Helps Families and Caregivers Cope With Cancer - Surviving Cancer as a Family and Helping Co-Survivors Thrive.

Main Digest

University of Arizona Researcher's New Book Helps Families and Caregivers Cope With Cancer; "Surviving Cancer as a Family and Helping Co-Survivors Thrive" Both Inspires and Educates.

When Catherine A. Marshall's father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998, she was as unprepared, as most people are, to deal with such devastating news - regardless of the fact she was a Fulbright Scholar with a doctoral degree and many years of experience working in the field of rehabilitation.

Some 1.5 million people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year, and Marshall was suddenly among the many family members who become their unpaid caregivers. But she didn't have a clue as to what the disease was, let alone how best to help her father."It didn't matter that I was the first in the family to go to college, I didn't feel very smart," said Marshall, editor of "Surviving Cancer as a Family and Helping Co-Survivors Thrive", just released by Praeger, an imprint of publisher ABC-CLIO, LLC. "I knew nothing about cancer and I knew nothing about how to help my father. I only knew I didn't want him to die. I was scared."

Cancer claimed Marshall's father in 2000, and set her on a path of personal and professional discovery that put her in touch with a variety of cancer survivors, caregivers and medical professionals, whose poignant stories about their experiences comprise the book. Marshall, who is a senior scholar with the University of Arizona's National Center of Excellence in Women's Health, and the Frances McClelland Associate Research Professor at the University of Arizona's Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, & Families, says the goal of the book is to encourage a dialog about cancer before families are touched by the disease. "I also want to let people know it's okay not to know how to be a caregiver or to not want to fill that role," she adds.

It is the first in a book series titled "Disability Insights and Issues" that Marshall will co-edit for Praeger with Elizabeth Kendall, Ph.D., a research professor with Griffith Institute of Health and Medical Research and associate director of the Center for National Research on Disability and Rehabilitation at Griffith University, Meadowbrook, Australia.

The book, which is available on Amazon.com and is being marketed to public and research libraries, blends practical information with emotional support and points out culturally sensitive issues that can compound the stress families experience when helping a loved one fight the disease. It has 16 chapters that include information about helping parents understand cancer in children, helping children understand parental cancer, stories about children and grandchildren who have experienced cancer in their families, coping with cancer in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families, and cancer's impact on Latino, American Indian, Asian and African American families. It also provides information about support groups, financial assistance and other untapped resources that can help families cope, celebrate life and thrive.

Medical advances may have postponed deaths and improved the quality of life for many cancer patients, Marshall says, but they've also prolonged the impact on caregivers and families, who can sometimes display post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms requiring their own types of intervention and medical care. "Cancer is shifting from a life-ending disease to being viewed as a chronic illness that results in some type of disability," she adds, intensifying the need for better communication among family members she calls 'co-survivors' and medical personnel with whom they interact.

"Given the pervasiveness of cancer, today it's likely almost everyone will be touched in some way by the disease," says Stephen T. Russell, director of the Frances McClelland Institute and Fitch Nesbitt Endowed Chair in Family and Consumer Science. "Dr. Marshall has produced a truly unique, easy-to-read book that will help people better understand and cope with diagnoses of cancer among family, colleagues or friends. It also will provide health care professionals with valuable insights that can improve treatment programs for patients and their loved ones."

The McClelland Institute, a catalyst for research addressing critical social, emotional and physical issues facing families, is part of the John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences. The institute will be publishing an overview of the key messages in Marshall's book as part of its Research Link series, posted each semester on its website, McClellandInstitute.arizona.edu. Research Links highlight the work of institute staff, which is focused on collaborative, multidisciplinary research and community outreach involving three initiatives: Fathers, Parenting, and Families; Adolescent Health and Development; and an interdisciplinary group of faculty and students at the University of Arizona engaged in the scientific study of Health, Emotion, and Relationships.

Marshall is founder and president of the Women's International Leadership Institute, www.wili.org, a nonprofit organization that benefits low-income women seeking to improve their educational and economic status. She also is a research professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at Northern Arizona University. In 2007, she received a two-year Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for Individual Senior Fellowship, funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Cancer Institute to support her work related to the impact of cancer on families. She has worked in the field of rehabilitation for more than 30 years, and in 1997 was named the National Council on Rehabilitation Education Outstanding Researcher of the Year for her work involving American Indian families, chronic illness and disabilities. As a Fulbright scholar, she studied the needs and resources of indigenous people with disabilities in Oaxaca, Mexico.

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