It's no secret to anyone who knows me that maintaining mental wellness is a huge part of my life. It's a constant balancing act, one that requires a strong external support system and a lot of honesty, self-awareness, and patience. Everyone has stress or trauma at some point in their lives, so even the generally healthy can benefit from practicing self care. Sometimes life hands us a huge plate of stress and it's good to be equipped to handle it. So when I heard about Mallory Casperson and her new website, I was instantly curious. What is Lacuna Loft? How could I educate others about its purpose and benefits? Then I remembered there this little online magazine that I write for once in a while...

Casperson moved to Champaign to start her undergrad work in 2004 and has lived here ever since. She entered graduate school in 2009, just after her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She met the man who would become her husband that spring, and by that fall, her mother's health began to deteriorate. Casperson spent half of her time in St. Louis, serving as her mother's caregiver, and the rest of her hours as a full-time grad student.

After her mother passed away, life threw a few more curveballs at Casperson and her then fiance:

A few months later though I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. My husband and I had wanted to get married that summer but with treatments and my mother's death, there was just too much going on. We did, however, start actively planning our wedding. I took that summer (2011) off of school to finish my treatments and found myself so utterly bored! The frustration and chaos of that time caused a massive change in my daily habits.  I have much more respect now for self-care and having a work/life balance.  I have learned some "calm" hobbies and that it is ok that I am not back to 100% yet in my energy levels or work habits.

When I left graduate school this past August, it occurred to me that there may be a space in the cancer advocacy community for some of the lessons that I had to learn in such a slow and painful manner. I started looking around and discovered a handful of great organizations active in the young adult with cancer medical/healthcare advocacy arena but... no one was helping address some of the lifestyle management sides of things; the reality of slowing down a busy, young adult lifestyle. So Lacuna Loft was born!


Smile Politely: State your name and business!

Mallory Casperson: My name is Mallory Casperson and I have founded a new resource called Lacuna Loft. It is an online community geared towards young adults dealing with cancer or long term illness, as patients or caregivers.

SP: How did you come up with this idea? It sounds great!

Casperson: During my last year of undergrad, my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She underwent chemo and radiation and a number of clinical trials. When her health really began to deteriorate during my second year of graduate school, I spent about half my time at home with my parents, helping as a caregiver, and the other half of my time at school. Near the end of that semester, though, I moved home full time. Being a caregiver is really really stressful. I was newly engaged and planning a wedding, and, though my mom seemed excited about it, it was about the last thing from my mind. My department was supportive for a while, but they rarely have to make allowances for life events like this. Graduate students just aren't normally in an age group that experiences caregiving for a parent. My mother passed away that winter and just a few months later, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma.  

My department was forced to make even more allowances for me, as I took more time than normal to finish my Masters degree, and needed to enforce more of a work/life balance for myself. I took a summer off of school to finish my treatments and discovered that I literally had NO calm hobbies. I was used to running marathons and being a super busy graduate student. Without school and being active I had to redefine myself. It took a while and was a pretty painful process, learning who this new person was. I eventually discovered calm things that I liked doing and became more comfortable with who I was when I was actually making space for me (instead of working all the time). I returned to graduate school, finished my Masters degree and started on a PhD. My brain just wasn't able to be as "in it" as I had been before though. I couldn't finish as much work in a day...and stress continued to really take its toll on me. I eventually left graduate school and started dreaming about what I could do in the meantime.  

I started thinking about the writing I had been doing in the previous few months and my new love for lifestyle blogging, crafts, and sharing experiences with other [cancer] survivors. Through all of this, Lacuna Loft was born! I've tried to combine the lifestyle blogging world with my own experiences with learning to slow down a previously busy, young adult life. Learning how to adapt to a new, calmer day-to-day was very difficult for me, and I hope that Lacuna Loft helps make it an easier transition for young adults dealing with crisis.

SP: That all sounds so stressful! It's almost MORE anxiety inducing to slow down when you're used to go go go!

Where does the name for your group come from?

Casperson: Lacuna refers to a blank space or a missing part... a hiatus of sorts. Loft seemed like a cool place to hang out. I wanted Lacuna Loft to be a safe place where one could come and recover while learning to thrive. Where someone would want to stay a bit, hang out, and learn to live vibrantly during their hiatus.

SP: What kinds of services and support does Lacuna Loft provide?

Casperson: Lacuna Loft offers a variety of things for the young adult in crisis. We have a blog with daily (Monday-Friday) content on a myriad of issues...cooking during chemo, personal stories, survivorship, low-key DIY activities, exercise during illness, tips for family and friends, caregiving, alternatives to late nights, and so much more. These articles are written by a variety of people from differing perspectives. A mom with a child with cancer does some writing for the blog, along with a physical therapist, a young adult who suffers from migraines, a pastor, a caregiver, and myself (a survivor and a past caregiver). We are always looking for more voices if anyone is interested!  If someone IS interested in writing a bit with us you just have to email [email protected] and we can go from there!

In addition to the blog we offer a continually updated list of other resources found around the web and the country. The website also has a journal prompt sign up form, where people can request to be sent a journaling prompt once a week to help ease some of the anxieties and worries in their lives through writing. Lacuna Loft has an online shop where care kits for patients or caregivers can be purchased...and trust me, these are not your grandmother's gift baskets!

SP: How can people get a kit?

Casperson: If people are interested in purchasing a kit they just need to head to our online shop. Right now, all proceeds from the kits feed directly back into the website. People can also contact Lacuna Loft and create their own registry wishlist! Items from Lacuna Loft's shop, as well as from around the internet, can be added to a personalized and private shop. These items can then be communicated via email or social media directly to the patient's or caregiver's family and friends. In this way, the social network of the patient or caregiver doesn't have to worry that they don't know how to help or that they aren't sure what items might be beneficial for the young adult going through crisis in their life.

SP: What an amazing idea! It's simple and I bet people would be so happy to have a tangible way to help a loved one!

Casperson: Lacuna Loft wants to make the transition into a new day-to-day as easy as possible for the patient or caregiver involved, as well as their support system. In the future we'll be adding weekly videos and podcasts to the website!

SP: That all sounds great, and I hope that our readers will take a look! Everyone needs help sometimes or knows someone in need of a hand.