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Take a Mental Vacation

Our guide to the best in distractions

image of woman sitting in the sun
U-M research has shown that spending time in nature has a measurable impact on reducing fatigue and improving mental functioning among breast cancer patients.

Cancer care comes with a lot of downtime and a lot of time to think. That's why we've put together a grand tour of our favorite ways to give your mind a mini vacation from the worries that come with cancer.

The Great Outdoors

Take a walk in a park. Sit in a lawn chair in your backyard. Listen to the birds. Plant flowers. Research conducted at the University of Michigan has demonstrated that spending time in nature has a measurable impact on reducing fatigue and improving mental functioning among breast cancer patients. If you're at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, consider having lunch in the courtyard between the center and University Hospital. Take a detour on your way home through the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Just be sure to pack your sunscreen.

A Trip to the Zoo
(Via Scrapbook)

For about four or five days after chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, Kathy Lezotte is wiped out. To get through it, she focuses on the weekends when she gets to see her three grandchildren. With the help of a friend, she also works on a scrapbook for her 3-year-old granddaughter commemorating a trip to the zoo last year.

"We've been putting the pictures together and writing about the trip," Lezotte said. "My granddaughter remembers all of it."

Making scrapbooks is one of many creative options for giving your brain a break. The Cancer Center offers a Complementary Therapies Program that can guide you through various projects to help foster a greater sense of calm and well-being. Options include art therapy, music therapy and creative. (For more on these services, click here.)

image of a rock garden
If you're at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, take a detour on your way home through the Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Click here for more information.

Enchanted Lands

For 8-year-old Naomi Rudolph, who has leukemia, books about horses are her favorite. She likes the movie "Enchanted," too. As children, it's second nature to fall head-first into stories. As adults, we tend to be a little more discerning. Choosing a book or a film can be overwhelming: How many times have you gotten to the video store and couldn't think of a single movie you wanted to see? We've put together some lists to help jog your memory-and to help you ferret out some good stuff you might not have even known was there. View our picks.

For your consideration:

Harper's Magazine is a great waiting-room read. Besides thoughtful, full-length articles, the front of the magazine is filled with bits of entertaining content from other sources-whether it be Mark Twain fables or a police report. These pieces are short and usually give you a glimpse into a world you'd otherwise miss out on. Don't skip the Harper's Index, statistics presented in a thought-provoking way.
image of the Friends Meditation Garden
Steal away to the U-M Friends Meditation Garden. Access it from Level 2 of University Hospital.

Get more "Mental Vacation" recommendations here

Temple of the Mind and Soul

Every person and every moment is different: On one day, a book may be the perfect thing. On another day, meditation may be better. The Cancer Center offers a Guided Imagery program, which teaches patients and caregivers a relaxation technique that combines the imagination with deep breathing.

Prayer may also be a natural choice in quiet moments. As Khadija Begum sits in the infusion waiting room, she handles a string of beads in devotion.

"I pray God takes away my pain, that the treatment is useful, that I get healthy as soon as can be," she said through an interpreter.

Gizmos for the Mental Traveler

For the Music-Lover.
Check out an iPod the next time you visit the U-M Cancer Center. Available in the Patient Education Resource Center on Level B-1, iPods and iTouches allow you to listen to music or other programming, such as National Public Radio podcasts. The iTouch models also allow you to surf the Web via the Cancer Center's guest WiFi service.

For the Game-Lover. If you think video games are just for kids, consider this: Frank Sinatra appeared in a commercial during the 1970s for a video-game system called the Magnavox Odyssey. In the ensuing years, video games have evolved to encompass nearly every kind of challenge. Yes, you can shoot 'em up. But the best games are those that challenge you to use logic to win the game. Lindsey Hardy, who accompanies a family friend to his infusion appointments, prefers racing games.

image of man using an electronic reading device
Doug Dunham brings his Kindle to the Cancer Center to help pass the time during infusion appointments for his wife, Jacque.

"It just helps to pass the time and keeps me more occupied," she said.

For a list of our video game suggestions, visit

For the Reader.
Doug Dunham is a speed-reader who can knock out four or five books in a weekend. When Doug accompanies his wife, Jacque, to her infusion appointments for multiple myeloma, he brings along a Kindle, an electronic reading device that stores up to 1,500 books. The Kindle was a gift from Jacque, who said the device was a matter of practicality: Their bookshelves at home are overflowing. Jacque said she still enjoys the feel of turning pages, but agrees with Doug that the small, lightweight design of the Kindle is a big plus. The Kindle also allows users to adjust font sizes for easier reading.

"For him, reading is relaxation," Jacque said. "That's his yoga."

Our Picks for a Mental Vacation

Books | Movies / DVD's |  Other Media | Video Games | And More


The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant - recommended by Annette Schork, Cancer AnswerLine™ nurse

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini - recommended by Annette Schork, Cancer AnswerLine™ nurse

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander - recommended by Tony Collins, of the Clinical Trials Office

Eat. Pray. Love: One Woman's Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia, by Elizabeth Gilbert - recommended, particular in audiobook form, by Jennifer Lewis, administrative assistant

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee - recommended by Annette Schork, Cancer AnswerLine™ nurse

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger - recommended by Melissa Hill, multi-site clinical research project manager

A New Earth: Awakening Your Life's Purpose, by Eckhart Tolle - recommended, particular in audiobook form, by Jennifer Lewis, administrative assistant

Editor's Picks:

Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell

The Blade Itself, by Marcus Sakey

Public Enemies, by Bryan Burrough

Specimen Days, by Michael Cunningham

Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table, edited by Amanda Hesser

Here Is New York, by E.B. White

Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri

Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosely

Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill

The Devil's Candy: The Anatomy of a Hollywood Fiasco, by Julie Salamon

Civilwarland in Bad Decline, by George Saunders

The Russian Debutante's Handbook, by Gary Shteyngart

State by State, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey

Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand

What It Is,by Lynda Barry

Want more? Newsweek put together a list of 100 books based on 10 top reading lists -- from the New York Public Library to Oprah. Newsweek's Top 100 Books

Movies & DVDs

Fluke - recommended by Lori Pimlott, outpatient office assistant

The Hangover - recommended by Nancy Burke, dietitian

Mama Mia - recommended by Mary McCully, volunteer services coordinator

Remember the Titans - recommended by Annette Schork, Cancer AnswerLine™ nurse

That Thing You Do - recommended by Annette Schork, Cancer AnswerLine™ nurse

Poirot (PBS television series) - recommended by Dorothy Hastings, RN-C

Miss Marple (PBS television series) - recommended by Dorothy Hastings, RN-C

Editor's Picks:

Bourne Identity

Block Party

Bringing Up Baby


Inside Man

The Iron Giant

The Jerk


Midnight Run



The Producers

Sullivan's Travels

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

The Wire" (Television series)


Want more? Visit the American Film Institute's top movie lists.

Other Media

Don't forget your friendly newspaper. Buy one on Sunday and read it all week. The New York Times Magazine, which is part of the Sunday edition, is worth the price of admission alone. Besides the crossword puzzle, you get well-written, in-depth feature stories, an entertaining ethics column and a regular food column that never fails to tantalize. If you've moved from your original hometown, consider ordering a single copy of the Sunday paper by mail. It might be fun to catch up on the news of your old haunts.

You read about Harper's Weekly already. Other titles to check out: The Believer, the newly redesigned Newsweek, The New Yorker, Edible WOW (a Washtenaw-based food magazine),,

Consider subscribing to a news aggregator so you can track the news from your favorite publications via the Web. News aggregators are simple to use and can be linked with mobile devices for portability. Two popular sites are Google Reader and Yahoo News.

Video Games

Editor's Picks


"Call of Duty" franchise


"Fuzion Frenzy"

"Guitar Hero" franchise

"Katamari Damacy"

"Little Big Planet"

"Ratchet and Clank" franchise

"Rock Band" franchise (Play along with The Beatles this fall.)



Remember, lots of video games are available online for free. And, if you have a video game system like Xbox 360, lots of the inexpensive downloads are at least as fun as the brand new $50 titles..


Confused about game systems? Check out these reviews.
Want reviews of the latest games? Visit

More Ways to Take a Break

Dietitian Nancy Burke spends time imagining herself at the ocean, "hearing the waves and feeling the sand between my toes." She also finds that running her dog relieves stress.

"I have found that coming back to my home and sitting in peace and quiet as I clear my mind of any extraneous thoughts and business of the day, provides me with a mental vacation and actually improves my thinking and concentration. It is an easy and free way to take an escape and concentrate on a place (in my mind) that is comforting to me," says Susan Daron.

"I typically play with my puppy outside or work in my garden as a means of de-stressing," says Jessica Doletzky, child and family life specialist.

"I love to play Scrabble!" says Annette Schork, Cancer AnswerLine™ nurse.

"The thing that ALWAYS works for me is listening to my favorite music and/or "dancing it out" (whether seated or standing)! Laughter Yoga is awesome too!" says social worker Toni Spano-English.

"Go for a run. Any type of vigorous physical activity helps," says Laurie Zyczynski, physician assistant. (But always check with your health-care team first to make sure it's safe for you.)

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Thrive Issue: 
Summer, 2009