Creating Home Away From Home:
10 tips for finding comfort when visiting Ann Arbor for treatment
1. Bring a piece of home with you.
Pack photos of family -- and don't forget the
pets. If you have a favorite pillow, bring it with
you, says Barb Rose, a U-M Cancer Center
social worker. Ask your kids or grandchildren
to draw pictures for you to decorate the walls
of your room or temporary apartment.
Marilena Hatzistamou has traveled farther than most
U-M Cancer Center patients, but the issues she
encountered as she uprooted her life to undergo
treatment are not unique.
Learn more on our Finding the Basics web page
2. Get your bearings.
If you were home, you'd know where to
buy toothpaste or stock up on groceries. Stake
out the nearest drug stores, grocery stores and
Target™. Consider stocking up on fresh fruits
and vegetables at Bello Vino, a local market
and Cancer Center supporter. Talk with a
volunteer at the Level B2 Courtesy Center or
visit our online resource guide at mcancer.org/
thrive to find the basics.
3. Ask for help.
When people say, "If there's anything I can
do," they mean it. Consider a community
fund-raiser to help pay for lodging expenses,
Rose said. Ask for volunteers to help in keeping
up appearances at your home while you're
away: The grass will still need to be cut and the
snow shoveled. If you have kids, ask family or
close friends if they wouldn't mind babysitting
to give caregivers a break. Anything you can
do to relieve nagging worries about day-to-day
life will allow you to relax more and settle in.
4. Get on camera.
Marilena and her mom shared a meal
every day with dad George Hatzistamou, even
though he was still in Greece. Using video
cameras connected to computers, the
family was able to see each other and
talk via Internet services like Skype
and iChat. Granted, because of the
time difference, George was eating
dinner while they were eating breakfast, but
it helped just to be able to see home, Marilena
said. George, who wasn't able to visit Ann
Arbor until July, also felt more connected.
"It was weird," he said, adding that because
of the teleconferencing he felt like he knew the
place where his wife and daughter were staying
without ever having been there before.
5. Become Web-savvy.
Communicate with family and friends via CarePages, a free Cancer
Center service. CarePages allows families to post updates on the Web
that extended family and friends can follow online. It can help eliminate
the need to make several phone calls to repeat the same news. The Web
site also allows family and friends to send messages of support, which
can be a nice boost when you're in the thick of treatment. Try out this
service in the Level B1 Patient Education Resource Center or in the
Level 1 Patient & Family Center.
6. Join a support group.
Marilena was skeptical about support groups, but she went anyway.
What she found was a group of people with similar concerns -- people
who could understand what she was going through. "It turned out it
really helped," she said. "It's a good way to get to know people when
you don't know anyone in the area, too." For more information, visit
our Finding Strength in Others web page.
If you're up to it, break up the days with a little exploration. Ann Arbor offers good food and
shopping as well as beautiful nature trails.
7. Get to know Ann Arbor.
Take a walk on a nice day through the Nichols Arboretum, just
around the corner from the Cancer Center. Have lunch in Kerrytown,
a charming shopping district. For Marilena, walking Briarwood Mall
was a nice way to get out and about -- although she only went in the
last hour before closing so that her compromised immune system wasn't
exposed to crowds. Vist the Courtesy Center for maps and directions. Or, visit the web site for
Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce.
8. Cook a good meal.
If you have access to a kitchen, cook your favorites. Kathie made
a point of continuing to cook Greek food at the hotel. Their room
featured a window overlooking a small pond, so Marilena and Kathie
would playfully imagine it to be like home. "We'd say, 'Come have
coffee on the veranda,'" Marilena said.
9. Divert yourself.
Never got around to seeing last year's Oscar-nominated films? Always
wanted to watch Ugly Betty, but never had the time? Catch up on your
pop culture. Consider a subscription to a DVD-rental service like
Netflix, which will deliver DVDs to your door. Brush up your Scrabble
skills or pull out that deck of cards. Take a Cancer Center Art for Fun
Class. Read those novels that have been on your list. The Ann Arbor
District Library offers borrowing privileges to patients who will be
staying long term.
10. Remember, you're still you.
Continue activities you pursued at home.
If you have children, take an active role in
monitoring school progress, Rose said. Before
Marilena was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease,
she regularly read the Harry Potter stories
aloud to her mother, who originally wasn't too
interested in the series. Marilena lent different
voices to each of the characters, making it feel
more like a stage show than a simple reading.
The two finished the series and started it
over again while in Ann Arbor.
A few months
ago, Kathie wrote a letter to Potter author
J.K. Rowling to tell her how much the books
meant to them. Shortly after, a package arrived
containing a quill pen to inspire Hatzistamou
to stay in touch with friends, a Tri-Wizard
Tournament Cup as a medal of valor and a
hand-written letter of thanks from Rowling
(left). "Harry Potter's been our lifeline," Kathie said. "It's really kept us together."
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