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Cancer Caregiving Journey: Goodbye Summer and ‘Back to School’!

Barbara Baroff Kavanagh, MSW, LCSW

Dear Friends,

For many families, the end of August signals the end of summer vacations, back to school and back to ‘work’ until the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays. Some of us may have taken one more long weekend for Labor Day, but there is that sense already that we are saying ‘goodbye’ to vacations and a break in doctors’ visits or that time at the beach or in the mountains and we are now back to our own cancer routine.

I want to dedicate this month’s blog to young families who are now ‘Living with Cancer’. Regardless of age or ‘circumstance’, being diagnosed with cancer is Life Changing for the patient and their caregiver. Either or both of you may be starting college, a career, a marriage, or all of the ‘above’. Cancer affects the whole family.

I was reminded of the special challenges that young people face when I read the blog of a woman I will call Martha. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35. She had played on her college tennis team, never had a serious illness, ate ‘healthy’, and after graduation, began her career as a teacher in her own hometown. She married her college sweetheart, Tom, who had started his own law practice. They were able to save up enough money, to buy their 1st home and welcomed their 1st child, a little boy, when she was 29 years old, and a daughter on her 32nd birthday.
Life was perfect.

Martha always had her routine annual mammogram during her ‘birthday’ month, September. In the September, of her 35th birthday, her family doctor asked her to come to his office with her husband. And, he said those terrible ‘3 little words:’’ Martha, you have breast cancer’. He also told her that it was treatable and they had caught it ‘early’. But, once you hear the word cancer, everything else is a blur and you wonder if you will live to see your children grow up and your spouse worries how he will take care of his wife, children, job. Most important will she be ‘all right’? And will she be there for the children’s graduations and weddings?

Fast Forward,. This blog is being written as Martha celebrates her 55th birthday. Her son is studying to be a doctor and is engaged. Her daughter is attending college and wants to be a teacher like her mother.
20 years after diagnosis, Martha and Tom are celebrating their life and have been ‘there’ to also celebrate 1st day of School for their children and other highlights in their childrens’ lives and their own. Her blog included ‘thanks’ to her doctors, family and friends who were with her every step of the way. There were many rough times for Martha and Tom during treatment, the photo albums and journal she kept all these years, just in case she ‘didn’t make it’ are a great reminder of what they have been through. Her family can now share these memories and their years of caregiving that inspired her to keep fighting and gave them all Hope!

I Hope that this Happy Story will inspire you too. And, that you will realize that in spite of the age of the cancer patient or caregiver, new research and treatments are now available, and with the support of your caregiving team of family and friends, you too can have a long and healthy survivorship!

My summer has been busy but exciting as I work on my Book, now titled:’ Living with Cancer, a CareGivers Journey.’ I appreciate the feedback of my colleagues, patients and caregivers, and my family, who felt that the title needed to include not just myeloma, but All Cancers.

Please share your own stories and suggestions for my Book. You can contact me at: and


Barbara Baroff Kavanagh, MSW, LCSW

Barbara B. Kavanagh is the Founder and CEO of Arizona Myeloma Network (AzMN). She is a published author and served as faculty for universities including Boston University, Boston College Graduate School of Social Work, and Arizona State University. She holds a master’s degree in Social Work from Boston University and a bachelor’s from Duke University. Her first business, People to People Associates, Inc., a counseling, consulting, and training company, operated for fifteen years in Lexington, Mass.

AzMN is 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization started in 2004 by Barbara and her husband Jack who is a 27-year survivor of multiple myeloma. In 2003, they moved to Arizona to be near the Mayo Clinic for his ongoing treatments. In 2005, Barbara organized the first of many Living with Myeloma Roundtable and Conferences in Scottsdale, AZ. The conference attracted more than 300 attendees annually. All AzMN programs are designed to educate cancer patients, cancer caregivers, oncology healthcare professionals, researchers, and the public on the newest in cancer treatments and how to give and receive the best possible care.

AzMN has delivered hundreds of cancer patient and caregiver conferences throughout the State. Multiple Cancer Caregiver Education Program (CCEP TM) conferences are scheduled in 2018. Conferences are free and open to the public. They provide cancer patients and their caregivers the practical knowledge, skills and strategies necessary to effectively care for themselves. CCEP TM is a customizable program for companies and healthcare organizations that want provide onsite training for employees and constituents.

The Office of the Governor of Arizona recognizes AzMN with a proclamation annually designating a week in March as “Arizona Myeloma Awareness Week.” AzMN is recognized by Great Nonprofits as a “Top-Rated Nonprofit” for multiple years. Barbara, herself, continues to receive awards for her work. She is the recipient of the prestigious Hon Kachina Outstanding Volunteerism Award, The Phoenix Business Journal’s Healthcare Hero Award, the Arizona Rural Healthcare Association Volunteer of the Year award and the 2014 Arizona Business Magazine’s Healthcare Leadership Award for Community Outreach. She was profiled as a Woman of Distinction in the 2016 edition of WOD Magazine. She is featured on radio, television, and in publications.

Barbara and Jack are mentioned in Tom Brokaw’s book A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope. Her books on volunteerism and patient advocacy include The New Volunteerism, A Community Connection; The New Partnership: Human Services, Business and Industry; and Training Volunteers in the New Millennium: An International Connection reflect a life dedicated to teaching and mentoring others to achieve their goals and transform their own lives and those they touch. She is currently working on her next book “Caring for the Cancer Caregiver”. Her intent is to provide practical information on how to navigate the complex world of cancer patient and caregiver survivorship.

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