Hinsdale nonprofit aims to reduce cancer patients’ stress

Stress — many people feel it at some point every day. But for people with cancer, the stress can be greater and possibly more harmful.

“Stress harms all of us,” said Valerie Piazza, a counselor and program manager at the Wellness House in Hinsdale.

People feel stress from their jobs, their relationships, running a household, traffic.

“When you add cancer on top of that, it can affect people in ways that seem insurmountable,” Piazza said.

When someone learns they have cancer, “it impacts almost all areas of their lives,” Piazza said. “They fear what will happen to them physically; how it will affect them financially; how it will affect their relationships. Their mortality is probably their biggest fear. We need to give them the tools to deal with that stress.”

Some people tell Piazza they bury their stress by staying busy constantly during the day.

“The next question I ask is, ‘How are you sleeping at night?” Piazza said. They almost always reply “terrible.”

“All the thoughts that were pushed down during the day surface at night,” Piazza said. “And everything feels worse at night.”

Wellness House, a nonprofit organization that offers free counseling, exercise, nutrition and other programs for cancer patients and their caregivers, has started an introduction to stress reduction course on Thursday afternoons.

Organizers call it a 12-week sampler, with a different instructor presenting a different stress management technique each week. The methods include yoga, breathing techniques, art, guided imagery and the Chinese practices of tai chi and qigong that involve posture, breathing and mental focus.

Not all techniques will work for everyone. The goal is to find the method that works best for you, the one that you will stick with, Piazza told a group of seven individuals who attended the first session.

Different experts do the presentations each week, so participants can determine with whom they feel comfortable.

Wellness House offers sessions in each technique on an ongoing basis, for those who then want to pursue a method in more depth.

A woman from Willowbrook, who attended the introductory session, said she already knows keeping a journal is not helpful for her.

“I’m forcing myself to try other things,” said the woman, who didn’t want to give her name because her employer does not know she has cancer.

Jerry Craig of Burr Ridge is attending the introduction course because “stress management is the last leg of what I need to do.”

Craig underwent surgery and radiation after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003. In 2010, the prostate cancer returned and he developed bladder cancer. Since then, he has converted to a vegan diet, and exercises two hours a day. He is in remission from both cancers.

“A lot of the books I read about a healthy lifestyle (advise) you do exercise . . . nutrition and deal with the stress in your life,” Craig, 66, said. “That is probably the most difficult part and the part I haven’t done yet.”

He does not want to spend months trying various stress reduction techniques, which may or may not be effective for him.

“I need to be a little judicious with my time,” Craig said. “I am hoping this class will help me decide which is best.”

He noted yoga and tai chi may not only help him manage stress, but also improve his flexibility, a component that is missing from his exercise routine.

People may still join the introduction to stress reduction class, which is held from 1 to 2 p.m. every Thursday through March 27 at the Wellness House, 131 N. County Line Road, Hinsdale. It’s not necessary to attend every session, but the organizers recommend it for optimal benefits. Registration is required. Call (630) 323-5150 or visit www.wellnesshouse.org.

Introduction to stress reduction Jan. 23: Tai chi and qi gong Jan. 30: Expressive arts Feb. 6: Writing towards wellness Feb. 13: Healing touch Feb. 20: Expressive arts Feb. 27: Reiki March 6: Exercise March 14: Breath work/guided imagery March 20: Yoga March 27: Putting it all together


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