Cancer is devastating. For the patient and for the whole family. A typical scenario involves a young mother. Her husband is traumatized. His world has collapsed. He is too young to even fathom the possibility of death. His wife is – was – vibrant, full of life. He can’t even utter the D- word. And amid the horror of grappling with what cannot – please, G-d, please – will not happen, he also has to cope with homework, laundry, the full gamut of running a home.
And the kids? They are utterly confused, terrified to leave their home each day. Some will sleep in the hallway outside Mommy’s door somehow feeling that their presence will ensure Mommy’s being there in the morning. Others are afraid to step outside on the ground for fear of stepping on someone who has died. Guilt, anger, terror, dread, confusion all entangled inside a vulnerable, bewildered child.
The staff at Ezer Mizion has long known that it is not only the patient but the whole family that is in need of guidance and support. Periodic fun-filled retreats enable the family unit to be strengthened in a structured environment geared to their physical and emotional needs. The Guest Home for Families with Cancer allow the family to live together in a lovely apartment during treatment to avoid lengthy and tiring traveling from various parts of the country to the treatment centers. It is there that they and local families are able to benefit from the many forms of therapy available. A favorite of the junior set is Animal Therapy at Ezer Mizion’s Petting Zoo where even the littlest can help care for a cuddly puppy or a furry rabbit. Many of the teens gravitate to Music Therapy where they can join Ezer Mizion’s lively band. Parents, teens and youngsters all find security in the Emotional Therapy available to help them cope.
It is certainly understandable that the family members are in need of support. What is less understood are the needs of the staff members who witness and accompany the families in their struggles on a daily basis. They are driven by a sense of mission to ease the plight of .these suffering people. They really care. For the staff, their encounters with patients and families can harbor a constant threat to the personal and professional-self experience. They are in intense daily contact with patients and their families and exposed to difficult experiences connected to coping with serious illness, uncertainty, anxiety, death and profound loss.
Exposure to such threatening and traumatic situations requires ongoing intensive guidance and support, geared primarily at strengthening staff coping modes and averting formation of secondary traumatization. It is with this goal in mind that Ezer Mizion has established weekly Staff Guidance meetings.
The goal of Staff Guidance is to create a “safe space” where issues can be raised, a place to gain tools for dealing with these ongoing intensive encounters, which combine coping with the illness and its ramifications in the present, while addressing ingrained responses and life experiences that impact the staff from their own past.
In the course of our Staff Guidance sessions, we engage in reaching an understanding of processes, expand ability to accept and empathize with the patients and their families, develop solutions to match needs, promote staff-level thinking, unite the staff and enhance their capacity for collaborative work. The most significant contribution that emerges is the development of the staff as a working team and empowerment of their ability to provide a professional, empathetic, and humane response for these fragile victims of life’s most challenging crises.
Ezer Mizion provides services to over 660,000 of Israel’s population annually in addition to its Bone Marrow Registry which saves the lives of Jewish cancer patients the world over.