Susan Braun’s extensive background in the healthcare and non-profit fields have made her a great addition to the Commonweal team as they increasingly contribute to the end-of-life conversation.
Susan, now Commonweal’s Executive Director, has led The American Society of Clinical Oncology Cancer Foundation, the CURE Media Group, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as served on boards or committees for several organizations, including the American Society for Breast Disease, the World Society of Breast Health, Americorps NCCC, Intercultural Cancer Council, and the ASCEND Foundation.
I had the opportunity to talk with Susan to learn a little more about the organization.
Let’s start with the basics. Could you give us your description of what Commonweal is?
Commonweal is a place where people who are doing work to heal themselves, to heal people, or to heal the planet come together.
Commonweal has a number of programs that focus on healing of people or the planet, with a few that specifically look at end-of-life health and wellness issues:
Overall, what are the specific goals of Commonweal?
To do excellent work in the world to heal ourselves and to heal the planet, and to do that in a way that is compassionate, thoughtful, and meaningful.
How does someone get involved with Commonweal?
We have residential programs that have been going on for twenty-six years, and often people bring spouses or [others] to these; people will get involved that way. We also have a one-week Cancer Help Program that brings together people to experience this healing work.
The New School offers public speakers that people can come to watch. We have started with the New School a series on the End of Life that has brought together another group of people interested in experiencing end-of-life [healing]. There are many points of intersection [where people can come together].
You mentioned the New School series. What are some other ways that Commonweal is interfacing the end of life?
We have our Cancer Help Program, which has been going on for years. That helps people address the pain and suffering, as well as death and dying. And, Rachel Naomi Remen, who heads our Health and Illness Institute, runs a program for health professionals that teaches them how to communicate around the end of life in their work. And, all of the talks at the New School are available online.
Are those available for people to download for free?
Yes, absolutely. We’re here to be of service, so we’re delighted whenever people want to get involved, and whatever services we can offer for free, we do.
Can you describe the Cancer Help Program in a little more detail?
People come from, literally, all over the world to spend a week with us. The ratio of participant to facilitator – there are usually eight participants at a time – is one-to-one. We have yoga, we have massage, we offer fresh organic foods for the participants, we have group support sessions. We also offer a sandtray therapy, which is an exploration technique using symbols to more deeply explore these issues.
While the participants are there, are they on a particular schedule, or do you just offer programs that they can opt in to?
It’s a very structured schedule while they are here. It’s based on a particular process.
I would say the program provides a transformative experience – they learn more about themselves and how to carry cancer throughout their lives.
Is there a difference in how participants go through the program, depending on what stage they are at – for instance, if they are recently diagnosed, or maybe twenty years down the line?
Each person comes to the program for a different reason. Sometimes it’s based on learning and exploring how to deal with this in their lives. Sometimes it’s learning how to say goodbye, if they are facing the end of their life. Their different intentions definitely drive how the program affects them.
Is there anything else that you would like SevenPonds readers to know about Commonweal?
I would encourage people to listen to the New School dialogue series on the the end of life. We are interested – as you are – in expanding the dialogue surrounding the end of life. I hope that they will find it useful and enriching.
You can browse and download from The New School Library here.
Thank you, Susan, for taking the time to talk with us today.
Thank you for having me.
Learn more about Commonweal at their website.