Frances Baumgarten

Adversity: Battled breast cancer twice

Advocacy: Co-founded the nonprofit Center for Cancer Counseling in Southern California

“I felt that if I could help another patient or their family navigate through this journey, how could I not help? I tell everyone that asks me how I can do this work . . .  I’m here and I’m alive, so how can I not?”

Frances Baumgarten experienced first-hand the impact a parent’s cancer can have on a family when her stepfather died of lymphoma while she was in graduate school. She later saw it in her own children, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, and 1994, and observed how her daughters reacted to her illness. Counseling children and families during her postdoctoral work at Children’s Hospital of Orange County further highlighted to Baumgarten the devastating impact of cancer on not just the patient, and parents, but the patient’s entire family.

When Frances completed her cancer treatments in 1994, her oncologist encouraged her to begin counseling other patients through the trauma of a cancer diagnosis. She began seeing patients and their families and soon formed the nonprofit Center for Cancer Counseling (centerforcancercounseling.org), in Newport Beach, Calif. Her goal with the center was to provide any patient and family dealing with cancer a place to receive therapy and assistance in coping with the disease. A portion of her practice involves counseling children, of all ages, who have a parent with cancer. She counsels the parents, too, often encouraging them to write letters of advice to their children that can be read after they are gone – allowing them to continue parenting following their passing. Baumgarten illustrates this approach in her novel “Losing Mom,” which follows 8-year-old Stella and her four older siblings from the day of Mom’s cancer diagnosis through her decline, death and beyond.

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