Advocate Spotlight: Courtney Lozano
Tell us a little bit yourself and how you got connected with the Cancer Support Community.
After earning my Master's Degree in Social Work from Fordham University, I worked with children and teens for 10 years providing counseling and support groups in various capacities. I was first introduced to the cancer world when I began facilitating support groups for children whose parents had cancer. During one group session, we worked on identifying feelings and exploring strategies to cope. I planned a rock painting activity and asked them to decorate their rock and write one word that helps them cope with their parent's cancer. At the end of the group, the words I saw were: Hope, Courage, Humor, Music and Courtney. I will never forget that. I felt like I was really making a difference. In 2016, I saw the job posting for the Cancer Support Community at Holy Name Medical Center. I remember reading it and saying "This is my dream job." They called me for an interview the day after I applied. The job turned out to be everything I thought it would be and more, and I still love my job four years later. Often, when people face a cancer diagnosis, they can feel isolated and alone. As Program Director, I feel like I'm running a wellness center specifically for those affected by cancer. It is so uplifting, inspiring and rewarding to offer these types of programs and see how well our participants respond. I also want to recognize our beloved instructors, many who donate their time and talent to be here. This essential program would not exist without them. Cancer Support Community through Holy Name offers a sense of belonging at a time when patients need it the most. One participant said, "This is my corner of paradise. Coming here replenishes my soul."
How do you stay connected to the community you serve during the COVID-19 pandemic?
During this break from in-person programming, we have developed some inventive ways to stay connected. Our dedicated instructors have been sending in pre-recorded video clips of their classes and other helpful links, which correlate with our usual program offerings. We post these daily on our social media, this way participants can follow along at their convenience and re-watch these clips anytime. This is enables participants to stay connected to their favorite classes and continue to gain support from Holy Name's Cancer Support Community: www.facebook.com/ cancersupportcommunityholyname. Our social media schedule is as follows:
- Monday: Meditation / Movement
- Tuesday: Tip of the Week
- Wednesday: Wellness / Support
- Thursday: Nutrition / Healthy Eating
- Friday: Crafts / DIY Projects
Recently, more and more instructors have also started to brave the virtual world. Participants can now attend interactive classes live, in real time. By engaging in the programs they are so familiar with, they achieve some sense of routine and normalcy during these long days of isolation. Participants have shared that it is reassuring to see the friendly faces of their fellow participants and to hear the caring and compassionate voices of the instructors. Although there was certainly a learning curve associated with these virtual environments, we have received a lot of positive feedback from our participants, who say they appreciate our efforts to stay connected. For those who don't have computer access to our virtual classes or social media, we offer a meditation by phone every Monday where participants can listen in and follow along.
We are also always reminding our participants about The Cancer Support Community helpline, which offers free phone support and counseling for cancer patients and their loved ones: 1-888-793-9355. In addition, Holy Name offers live-stream Mass every day at HolyName.org/Chapel weekdays 11:30 am and weekends 8:00 am.
While Holy Name has been hit hard with an influx of COVID-19 cases, the hospital has been receiving so much love and support from the surrounding community. People are making masks and donating them, having lunches delivered to frontline staff and sending in kids’ drawings to lift everyone's spirits. It is really encouraging to those working the frontlines. To donate go to: helpholyname.org.
Is there one cancer advocacy issue you are particularly passionate about?
When you are diagnosed with cancer, it doesn’t only affect you medically or physically, it affects your emotional well being and that needs to be addressed. Medical care and treatment modalities cannot be the only information the healthcare team discusses; social and emotional support is just as important as medical care. They should go hand in hand. We have to treat the whole person, engaging them socially, emotionally, culturally and spiritually. Our multi-disciplinary health care team at Holy Name Medical Center does just that, connecting with patients to review topics such as nutrition, fitness, spiritual support, emotional well- being and ways to cope both during treatment and through survivorship. It is critical to patient care that we offer options and explore ways to gain support, which can come in many forms - meditation, yoga, journal writing, support groups, peer matching and individual counseling.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is focused on the physical care of patients. But there will be a turning point when the psychological and emotional needs will outweigh the physical challenges and that’s when what we do becomes extremely significant. Psychosocial support has to be an integral part of quality medical care. Facing a cancer diagnosis comes with many intense emotions, not only for the person with cancer, but also for their family members and friends. Caregivers deserve the same level of support, and many times they are overlooked for all they do. Aside from the many medical responsibilities they must handle, caregivers also face household duties such as grocery shopping, meal preparation, laundry and transportation. Finding balance with this new challenging role requires an adjustment, both physically and emotionally. Emotional support options should be discussed both with the patient and their caregiver.
What advice or tips would you like to share with people impacted by cancer during this anxiety provoking time?
Quarantine is physical separation but it does not have to mean complete and total isolation.
- Keep in touch with friends who will lift your spirits. Try to talk about something other than Coronavirus. Staying connected via phone or video chat offers a greater sense of engagement with others.
- Take time to focus on you and give yourself some extra TLC. Move your body, stretch, meditate, and try to eat well-balanced meals.
- Worry about what you can control. We need to be just as intentional about protecting our mental health as we are with our physical health. Excessive news consumption can lead to more anxiety. If what you're watching or reading is more upsetting than informational, limit your exposure to prevent oversaturation. Access www.CDC.gov for updates.
- Engage in activities that create positive energy for yourself. Such outlets include cooking, painting, yoga, exercising, reading, taking a bubble bath, and gardening. Bring some fresh flowers inside - a great way to brighten up your home. Whatever you can do to facilitate a positive centered mindset is worth exploring.
- Cultivate balance. Begin your day with gratitude. Identifying the things you're grateful for can help to clear the mind, calm the nerves and soothe the soul. It's like a reset button to remind yourself of the things that really matter.
Tell us something fun about yourself - any hobbies, interests, or fun facts?
I enjoy spending time with family and friends. I'm originally from Long Island but somehow, thanks to my husband, I've become a Jersey Girl. We live in a lake community and we are a few blocks from the water. We enjoy taking walks and having picnics at the lake. I’m pretty crafty. I enjoy perusing the aisles at Michael's to find DIY projects and crafts to do with my kids who are 4 and 6 years old. I've been listening to a lot of podcasts lately because it's pretty easy to just download something and listen to topics that peak your interest. I have a new-found love for country music thanks to my coworkers who play it non-stop in the office. The friends I’ve made at Holy Name have become like family, we all support each other. They all seem to radiate enthusiasm and positive energy and I can honestly say I look forward to coming to work every day. I'm so grateful for the professional growth opportunities and the personal friendships this position has given me. It has made a positive impact on my life in so many ways.