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Monthly Staff Feature: Healing Hearts Family Bereavement Camp

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CancerCare’s monthly staff feature recognizes the vital contributions of the many client-facing and behind-the-scenes teams that make our free programs and services possible.

This month, we’re thrilled to highlight CancerCare’s annual Healing Hearts Family Bereavement Camp and Cecilia, who works as the Healing Hearts Program Coordinator and has also facilitated the spouse/partner bereavement group in New Jersey and one of the Coping Circle Workshops, “Fostering Resiliency One Day at a Time,” which was for Spanish-speaking patients and caregivers.

What is your favorite thing about your job?
I like working in the bereavement area and providing individual counseling for my clients. I also love going to the Healing Hearts Family Bereavement Camp every year. People find it very helpful to connect with others who are grieving. The bereavement support group I have facilitated has also been lifechanging for a lot of our clients. While it was a virtual support group during the pandemic, a lot of our clients ended up meeting in real life outside of the group. They would always send me pictures. To see people begin the group not having anyone who was going through the same experience and then see them gain this support from other people who know what it feels like to lose a partner was incredibly rewarding. It is good to know that the work you’re doing makes a difference and that our clients have made connections that they’re hopefully going to keep for the rest of their lives.

Could you share an important memory you have of working at CancerCare?
At our Healing Heart Family Bereavement Camp, the younger children are usually nervous or afraid to talk to each other at first. But at last year’s camp, the children attending quickly formed their own separate table and would not let any adults (except for Kathy’s husband) sit with them. I think this was very touching. One of the main concerns that comes up during our intakes with the parents is that their children feel like they are alone with their grief, that they don’t know other kids who have lost a parent or loved one to cancer. Just seeing how they connected with each other so quickly at the camp was really nice to witness.

How has working at CancerCare affected or changed you?
It may sound cheesy, but working at CancerCare really grounds me. I don’t think many people can say that about their job. At the end of the day, we’re human. Working at CancerCare, you see the pain and struggles of those diagnosed with cancer, caregivers and the bereaved. The little things in our lives that might be going on don’t matter as much and it makes you reflect on your priorities and what you’re spending time on. At some point, we will all experience challenges similar to what our clients are experiencing. It’s a constant reminder not to worry about the little things – they don’t matter – enjoy the now, because the future is unknown for all of us.

What is your connection to cancer?
My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer (he is still alive and healthy) and my two grandmothers passed away from cancer. And I enjoy working with children. When a family member, especially a parent, is diagnosed with cancer, the dynamics of the family changes and children notice those changes. I think it is helpful for children to have a safe space to express their feelings about the changes they experience and the ways they are impacted by their loved ones’ diagnosis. We might not think they’re affected by it, that they don’t see that something is changing, but they are aware of it, even if they can’t explain it. I also lost my mother six years ago, which has shaped my interest in working with the bereaved.

What is one nonprofit organization besides CancerCare that you’d like to highlight and why?
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. They work with children diagnosed with cancer and provide support for the parents. They make sure the parents don’t have to pay for anything (and we all know the financial cost of cancer). I think they’re a great organization and I support their mission.

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