Category Archives: Caregivers


When someone is diagnosed with cancer, naturally, the primary concern on everyone’s mind is the patient. As time goes on, the patient’s primary caregiver often begins to experience caregiver burnout.  Thankfully, there are people who take on the task of caring for the caregiver. They are angels in disguise. This series comes from chapter 10 of my book, Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer. Facing Cancer as a Friend is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats.

The Value of a Caregiver: Priceless

An estimated 44 million Americans ages 18 and older provide unpaid assistance and support to older people and adults with disabilities who live in the community.1

The value of this unpaid labor force is estimated to be at least $306 billion annually,2 nearly double the combined costs of home health care ($43 billion) and nursing home care ($115 billion).3

In most cases, the primary caregiver is a spouse, partner, or an adult child. If a patient doesn’t have family nearby, close friends, co-workers, or neighbors sometimes fill this role.

Good, reliable caregiver support is crucial to the physical and emotional well-being of people with cancer.

Who Cares for the Caregiver?

Often, caregivers spend so much time taking care of the patient and the patient’s responsibilities that they forget to take care of themselves, resulting in caregiver burnout. It’s often difficult for them to fit exercise into their schedule. Eating well takes a back seat. It’s common for a caregiver to feel guilty if they take the time to pursue a hobby or just take time for themselves on a regular basis.

Many caregivers have a positive experience. They feel a sense of accomplishment and even joy at being able to help someone they love. Even with the benefits that can come from being a caregiver, many caregivers experience caregiver burnout and stress.

Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling alone, isolated, or deserted by others
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Gaining or losing a lot of weight
  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Becoming easily irritated or angered
  • Feeling worried or sad often
  • Frequent headaches or body aches

Some of the Ways Caregiver Burnout and Stress Affect Caregivers:

  • Depression and anxiety. Women who are caregivers are more likely than men to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression also raise your risk for other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke.
  • Weakened immune system. Stressed caregivers may have weaker immune systems than non-caregivers and spend more days sick with the cold or flu. A weak immune system can also make vaccines such as flu shots less effective. Also, it may take longer to recover from surgery.
  • Stress causes weight gain more often in women than in men. Obesity raises your risk for other health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
  • Higher risk for chronic diseases. High levels of stress, especially when combined with depression, can raise your risk for health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis.
  • Problems with short-term memory or paying attention. In particular, caregivers of spouses with Alzheimer’s disease are at higher risk for problems with short-term memory and focusing.4

Next Time…

The next post in the “Who Cares for the Caregiver,” series will give you plenty of ideas for how to help someone who is caring for a loved one facing a cancer diagnosis or any other critical illness or trial. Be sure to sign up to be notified when I publish my weekly blog post, and for the Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker Newsletter. I’d greatly appreciate it if you shared this blog on your social media so that others can learn how to support those facing cancer.

Now Available!!

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

The Erickson Family

Footnotes:

1 National Alliance for Caregiving & AARP. (2004). Caregiving in the U.S. Washington, DC: Author.

2 National Family Caregivers Association & Family Caregiver Alliance (2006). Prevalence, Hours and Economic Value of Family Caregiving, Updated State-by-State Analysis of 2004 National Estimates (by Peter S. Arno, Ph.D.). Kensington, MD: NFCA & San Francisco, CA: FCA.

3 Arno, P.S. (2006). Economic Value of Informal Caregiving: 2004. Presented at the Care Coordination & the Caregiver Forum, Department of Veterans Affairs, January 25-27, 2006.

4 http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/caregiver-stress.html


Every October I try to predict peak color in the deciduous trees. Then I head off to the woods in St. Francis, Minnesota to spend a few days at Pacem in Terris (Latin for “Peace on Earth”). This year, I went at the perfect time. Taking a break is something everyone should do. Sometimes you may need it more than others. I found that the harder it is to make time in your schedule, the more important taking a break is.

Get beyond the guilt of taking a break.

Taking a break in my hermitage

This can be hard for caregivers. You spend all of your time trying to maintain control. Walking away for a few days means giving up the reigns to someone else. You may worry about how your family will fare without you. You might even harbor subconscious concerns that they can get along just fine without you and that maybe you aren’t as important as you thought.

The good news is that they can get along. When you come back from taking a break, refreshed and renewed, you will find that your family missed you and is very glad to have you home. That level of appreciation feels pretty good.

Taking a break means taking care of yourself.

As a caregiver, you need to take care of your own health and well being, too. The first step to doing that is to gain awareness of how you’re doing. otherwise, you can be so busy caring for your family that you don’t realize YOUR energy reserves are down to nothing.

Quiet restores your soul.

The hermitage I visit each October is a place of silence. Sometimes the silence is hard for people to get used to. You may spend the first day checking the time, thinking about your usual routine obligations. I actually put the clock in the closet and go to sleep before I do anything. The founder of the hermitage once told me that sleep can be the most important thing you accomplish. Your body and mind heal as you sleep. Interestingly, you burn more calories as you sleep deeply because of how many your brain consumes during that time.

Spending time with God renews you.

Taking a break to hear from God

In the hustle and bustle of caregiving, it’s easy to push God to the side. It is likely that this is the time you most need to hear His voice. Taking a break from the work of caregiving allows you the time to stop and listen. How to best accomplish this will depend on you.

Do you learn best by reading? Read the Bible, other spiritual writing, or even a secular book that speaks to you and what you’re going through.

Does being in nature help you feel refreshed and closer to god? Take a walk. A Stanford Study has shown that taking a walk improves creativity. it gives you clarity of mind that will help you to better see who you are and what you need. You can return from this mini-retreat inspired. You may even have some ideas of how to do things differently in your caregiving journey.

Do you like to pray? I hope so. This is a wonderful way to invite God to speak to you and give you clarity. It can be as simple as saying, “Lord, I really need to know your will in this situation. Please open my eyes to see and my ears to hear what you want me to do/know.” The (and this is key) LISTEN. I simply sit in the silence. Sometimes, I even fall asleep and have inspiring dreams during these times.

You don’t have to go away for days.

Even a few hours of leaving home to get a massage, have coffee with a friend, or take a walk in a local park can refresh you. Find what works for your needs and lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to try something different. You may just find a new way of renewing yourself so that when you return to caregiving, you feel better than ever about what you are doing.

Sometimes it’s good to take a “digital break.”

That’s what I’m going to be doing in the month of January. I’ve noticed that I’m not getting as much writing done as I should be, so rather than spending time on email, social media, and other online activities, I will be writing and reconnecting with my goals for 2018. You will still see weekly blog posts on Facing Cancer with Grace, because I have already written them and will post them automatically, using a scheduler. Even though I may not respond to your comments right away, I will read them and appreciate them greatly. Since I won’t be sharing my posts to social media in January I would appreciate it if those of you who use social media would share my posts. Thank you!

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Originally posted 2018-01-01 07:00:20.


Young Adult Caregivers

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is E is for Exercise Increases Creativity.

Young adults, ages 18-26 take a close second to infants, when it comes to being overlooked and under-supported, as they live with a parent’s cancer diagnosis. To drop them off the radar when they turn 18 is really a disservice to them. Even though their emotional and physical growth has slowed down, having an adult body does not always mean being grown-up. Children continue to develop emotionally and neurologically until they are twenty-six years old. It’s shocking when you consider that many children of cancer patients are also young adult caregivers.

Ages 18-26

The stage of emerging from adolescence to adulthood can be a complex yet exciting time of growth. Young adults are focusing on themselves, their education, career, marriage, and sexuality. Finding out that a parent has cancer during this time can be a huge shock to an eighteen to twenty-six-year-old, especially if they are thrust into the role of a caregiver. They’ve barely finished high school, and have all sorts of plans for their life. They may be transitioning to college.

Young Adult Caregivers in College

Young adults comprise 12–18% of adult caregivers, and the average age of a young adult caregiver is 21 years old.  Many young adult caregivers are attending college. Research has found that caregiving by college students has been associated with:

  • Greater difficulty transitioning to college,
  • Less social interaction
  • Higher levels of stress and depression
  • Stress due to inexperience in fulfilling caregiver duties

Often they have to change what school they were going to attend, take time off, or completely quit college because of their parent’s illness. Their mind (and often their time) is so focused on caring for their parent with cancer that it’s difficult to give school or their job their full attention and effort.

Young Adult Caregivers

Just getting on their feet

Young adults Caregivers are thinking about starting their career, and sometimes of getting married. Everything they looked forward to is on hold so that they can do the right thing. They may go from being a child to being a caregiver—and they are not yet done developing. They might feel a sense of isolation within their peer groups because it is difficult for their friends to understand what they are going through. Since young adults have a strong need for community, this can leave them feeling very alone. Support can be the difference between young adult caregivers who prosper and those who will struggle.

Helpful Tips for Young Adult Caregivers

  • Seek out guidance and support.
  • Don’t be discouraged when you make mistakes. That is one of the ways you will learn.
  • Find positive role models.
  • If you are starting, or are already in college, make an appointment with your academic counselor to discuss a plan in case the patient’s health begins to impact your grades.
  • If your loved one’s cancer is terminal, address the possibility of them dying during their time at the school.
  • Talk with your financial aid adviser to see how any scholarship or loans will be affected by a hiatus of 6 months to a year, in case you need to take some time off.
  • Check in with your school’s mental health adviser. Even if you are handling things well now, it’s a good idea to know who you can reach out to if things change and you need extra support.
  • Many employers offer mental health services. Set up an appointment with a therapist through your medical insurance plan.
  • You might need to try out more than one in order to find someone who you connect with.

It’s important to get the support you need to get through this time. Remember, you’re not alone, there are therapists, counselors, and even online and community support groups to help you through this.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-28 07:00:13.


The Daily Examen

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is X is for Daily Examen (I know it’s not technically an X word, but hopefully, you’ll forgive me).

As a caregiver, there are a lot of ups and downs each day. People often ask how I deal with that. One way is the Daily Examen,

The Examen is a method of prayer and meditation first practiced by St. Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish priest, and theologian who founded the religious order of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). You don’t need to be Catholic to use this method of prayer and meditation. The Examen is a wonderful way to not only seek guidance from God but also to grow closer to Him each day. This is particularly helpful as a caregiver needing to find the light in the darkness of our, often difficult task.

There are 5 parts to the Daily Examen.

Here is my paraphrase of question I ponder as I spend time in prayer using this powerful method as a guide. I have used language that I am comfortable with. You don’t need any particular words. Instead, feel free to use your own words as you go through the steps of examining your day and your heart.

  1. Open your heart and mind to what God has to say to you about your day, your life and your relationship with Him.

“God, Be with me now as I look back on what has happened today. Help me see things through your eyes and with your Holy Spirit within me. Give me the clarity to glorify you, even when things are hard, and my feet stumble on the path as I walk toward you and beside you.”

  1. Recall to your mind, God’s blessings. What are the positive things that have happened today?

“God, when have you been there for me, today? What are some of the good things that happened? What can I glean from today? Were there people who lightened my load, or made me feel especially loved? Did I experience any moments when I was acutely aware of your presence?”

  1. Reflect on your day.

“Lord, were there times I followed where you led, today? Did show mercy when I could have been hard on someone (maybe even rightly)? Did I show charity in my dealings with others? Were there moments when I was especially aware of your presence? How did that feel? How was the care I gave my loved one, a reflection of your love?”

  1. Seek forgiveness for your shortcomings. We so often fall short. Thankfully, we have a Savior who can restore us.

“Lord, were there things today that I should have done differently. Did I speak too harshly to my child when he wasn’t behaving? Were there times that my weariness got the best of me so that I was unaware of the needs and pain around me? Was, I selfish and untrusting when I wouldn’t share with others what you have so freely given? Lord, forgive me. I am so sorrowed for the times that I ignored the promptings of your Holy Spirit.”

  1. Ask for help in the coming day, anticipating renewal and growth.

“Lord, tomorrow I have a lot on my plate. I’m thankful that you can help me in the times I feel unable to handle it all. Let me be an instrument in your hands. I pray that you will use me in the way that suits you best.”

There are many ways to pray the Examen.

Some people journal through the Examen, expressing their thoughts in prayer through the ink, onto paper. When I was a young woman, I used to journal, beginning each entry, “Dear Lord.” This began a conversation between God and me that continued long after I set down my pen.

While praying through the Examen is ideal at the end of the day, you don’t need to wait that long. You can also Examen your heart in the middle of the day, reflecting on how things have gone so far. You can use this method after a difficult (or wonderful) situation such as a family meeting. Much can be learned by looking at complex relationships interacting, through God’s eyes.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-27 07:00:47.


Unrealistic expectations and Parental guilt

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is U is for Unrealistic Expectations & Parental Guilt.

Parental guilt is part of having kids. It comes with the job. You first feel it when you make decisions about feeding, Breast or bottle? You may feel guilty about your decision to either go back to work or to stay home with your baby. Education decisions such as where your child will go to school (or if they will be homeschooled) make matters even more complex, And, almost always, finances tug at those “guilt strings.” It’s hard to balance life in the best of times. Adding the roller coaster of cancer to the mix makes it nearly impossible. At the root of this parental guilt are unrealistic expectations.

When you or (your spouse) get cancer

Parental guilt hits an all-time high on the guilt-o-meter. You’ll feel it every day.

Here are just a few of the things that add to that parental guilt :

  • Finances are even tighter than before.
  • Time is stretched to its limits.
  • Your new schedule, filled with appointments and blocks of time overtaken by fatigue, completely alters your family’s way of life.
  • Your child may need to change (or even drop) certain activities because of finances, fatigue and scheduling conflicts.
  • You’re exhausted and often, crabby. Sometimes you say things you wish you could take back.
  • Little Mary can’t have friends over very often because you need the house to be quiet so you can rest.
  • Baking brownies for little Johnny’s scout troop won’t happen anytime soon.
  • You forget to plan dinner more often and end up eating take-out four nights out of seven.
  • As if that’s not enough, you begin to wonder about what your child’s future will look like after living with a parent who is fighting cancer.

More to Mum

Louise at More to Mum wrote a post called “Mum Guilt: Revealing the Standards You Impose on Yourself.” In it, she defines guilt:

“Guilt is the feeling we get when we don’t meet the standards we’ve set for ourselves.”

If that’s true (and it is), we have a lot more control than we think, over whether we feel guilty, or not. The control lies in examining and changing our unrealistic expectations. How do you do that when everything feels so overwhelming?

Louise at More to Mum has graciously allowed me to share her infographic called, “Working Through Mum Guilt,” (or parental guilt). It’s self-explanatory, but to get the most out of it, check out her site, and especially this great post.

Mom to Mum Guilt

 

 

Find your routine

Building a regular routine is one of the best ways to give your children a sense of security and stability. This can be very comforting for all members of your family. You can utilize something as simple as a weekly board game or a TV show that you can share as a family. It could be a meal that you share on a regular basis. Praying as a family is a wonderful tradition that will not only comfort your family but will also pass on your faith values and be a reminder that you are not alone. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t go as planned.

Sometimes unexpected detours take you right where you need to be.

 

When it’s hard to commit

It’s hard to commit to an activity when you worry you might let people down if you can’t make it. Seek out low-commitment opportunities for your family. Talk to whoever is in charge of the activity. Let them know your situation. They will be able to put your mind at ease. They’ll also understand if for some reason you miss, or need to drop the activity altogether, in the future.

A full calendar?

Every member of your family is involved in activities outside of your home. From church activities to music lessons, these are all good things. But, there are times when these things are more of a burden than a blessing. During different seasons, reassess your activities. Some activities should be cut, some continued, and some replaced by other activities that are a better fit for your family.

Living With Cancer A Day in the Life of a Cancer Patient

When there’s an activity your child wants to participate in, but it doesn’t fit your family’s schedule, there’s a possible solution. Ask family and friends for help. This can be hard. That’s where the next tip comes in.

Kick pride aside!

In the beginning, it can be hard to accept help when it’s offered. Know that this is a temporary situation. When anyone offers to help you out say, “YES!”

It can be even harder to ask for help. I learned to ask for specific help when things were particularly difficult (like when Dan was on an especially hard chemo regimen). This included asking for meals and help with transportation for our kids when there were scheduling conflicts. It was an enormous blessing for our family to experience the generosity of friends and family. By being direct, you are helping friends and family who want to help you but don’t know what you need most.

You don’t need to be perfect—no one is.

It’s important that you cut yourself some slack. It can be difficult to balance the needs of you, your spouse, and your kids. You’re doing the best that you can, and whether they say it or not, your kids realize it. Kids are resilient.

 

My prayer as a caregiver and a parent: “Lord, don’t let this be wasted.”

Bonus Tip!

Let go of the little things, like having a tidy house. If you’re used to having everything in its proper place, this can be tough. If your house looks like mine does, right now, you’ll love this one! Housework can wait.

Let go of the belief that your house needs to be tidy. Instead, be satisfied with keeping it clean. There’s a difference. Right now, I have 3 baskets of clean laundry sitting in the middle of my living room floor. My desk has so many stacks of paper on it that I write in the living room with my laptop. There’s nothing tidy about that! But, at least it’s clean. Clean is important, especially when you consider the fact that cancer treatments often suppress the patient’s immune system. So, germs aren’t a good thing to have to hang around. But, the toys on the playroom floor aren’t hurting anyone (unless you step on one). The same goes for yard work. Let it wait or let someone else do it.

By setting realistic standards that are right for you and your family, you can let go of the unnecessary guilt that interferes with your joy and freedom. You have enough to worry about. Don’t add parental guilt to it.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

 

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Originally posted 2018-04-24 07:00:58.


Time Management

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is T for Time Management & Cancer.

One of the things that I was surprised by when my husband was diagnosed with cancer, is how out of control our calendar became. We used to have this nice big calendar that hung on our refrigerator. It was always pretty full but under control. Within a couple weeks of my husband finding those enlarged, hardened lymph nodes along his collarbone, we realized that we needed to completely revamp our time management skills.

In the Beginning

In the beginning, everything that wasn’t a medical appointment had to go.Dan was being diagnosed and we needed to be as flexible as possible. After all, we were racing the clock in the hope that we could learn what we were dealing with and fight it while it was still curable. That flexibility with our time management meant we would grab any opening the clinic had for tests, biopsies, scans, and consultations. Dan was diagnosed, staged, and had a treatment plan within two or three weeks, which is really quite fast.

Time Management and Treatment Schedules

Things did calm down a bit after that, but with each new treatment, we had to again change our time management. Initially, when you start a new treatment, you study up on what you can expect.

  • What’s the administration schedule?
  • What are the probable side effects and when can we expect them to kick in?
  • Will those side effects taper off? If so, when?
  • Will the side effects get worse as the drug builds up in his system?
  • What drugs will be used to counteract those side effects?
  • What are the side effects of those drugs?
  • How often will he have scans?
  • When will we know if the treatment is working?

These are all questions that we are still asking about Dan’s latest treatment plan. Often each round is different than the previous one, so you need to remain flexible. Because we still aren’t sure of the answers yet (2 rounds in) we are still tweaking out time management skills.

One example of this:

Dan had gotten several Gemzar drips when suddenly he had a terrible reaction. This meant an unexpected trip to the emergency room and steroids to get the rash he had under control. We wondered if he would even be able to continue his treatment. He was, but they had to make some changes. One of those changes is removing the drug Neulasta from his treatment plan. This drug boosts white cells, protecting him from a serious illness. This could mean more trips to the emergency room and definitely warrants using care with going out in public.

Several years ago he was on a treatment that dropped his white cells. He developed Neutropenia with fevers that sent him to the emergency room weekly. He could no longer go out in public. This meant no work and no church. The kids and I needed to be careful as well. We lived in fear of unwittingly bringing some virus home that would send him to the hospital. Time management meant always being willing to cancel our plans. It was easier just to plan on staying home.

For me as the caregiver, Dan’s isolation meant that it was up to me to take care of transporting the kids to appointments and activities. And with three daughters, one with special needs, I was kept hopping.

Time management

So, How DO I Do It?

First of all, I got a good planner. I had always used a calendar for time management in the past, but those tiny boxes just didn’t cut it. I bought an At-A-Glance Planner because it had plenty of room to write down my daily obligations and appointments. Plus, I could see my entire week in one spread. Every night I look at the next day’s schedule—plus the rest of the week so nothing pops up and surprises me. Also, once a week my husband and I have a time management huddle. We look at one another’s calendars over coffee to prevent any scheduling conflicts. If one comes up, we decide how to work it out. Sometimes that means asking for help from family or friends. There have been times when we’ve used the CaringBridge task planner to ask for a volunteer driver.

When things get hectic, I clear my calendar of everything non-medical. From there, I fill in things if I feel like can handle it. This really takes the pressure off by removing the feeling of obligation.

How you do it will depend on what works for you and your family. It takes a bit of experimentation to find your new groove, but you will do it! I’d love to hear about your time management tips.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-23 07:00:01.


Sleep

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is S for Sleep Problems when You’re a Caregiver.

I’ve always been a nighttime person. I used to blame it on working the night shift as a nursing assistant when I was younger, but my night owl habits go back even further than that. Still, I was always able to get enough sleep. Then my husband was diagnosed with cancer and that changed. In the early days, when we were waiting for test results to come back, I laid awake staring at the ceiling, wondering what the future would hold. When we knew it was cancer, grief set in, making it impossible to relax.

The Effects of Electronics on Sleep

I filled the quiet, nighttime hours with books and video games that I could really immerse myself into so I wouldn’t have to think about my own life. All of this was understandable. It was even okay for a little while, but it didn’t change anything—except my sleep habits. Blue light made falling asleep even more difficult than it had been before.

It can be difficult to forgo electronics in the evening. If you can’t shut them down early, you can at least minimize their impact on your ability to sleep by using a blue light filter. I highly recommend a free one called f.lux. I used it and it has helped me tremendously. You can even try different filters and color schemes to see what works best for you. You can download it for free HERE.

Eventually, I did a digital detox and it really improved the quality and the quantity of my sleep. You can read about it on my website, Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker.

Sleep

His Side Effects Affected My Sleep

Then Dan began treatment, and we had to adjust to the side effects and how they affected our sleep. Yes, I said “OUR sleep.” He had terrible night sweats, early on. When he woke up and went to the kitchen or the bathroom. I would jump out of bed and quickly strip the sweat-soaked sheets off, and replace them with dry ones before he returned. By then, I was wide awake from the rapid sheet-change and I would have to try to fall asleep, all over again. This often happened 2-3 times each night. There were also nightmares that woke Dan with a start, and me along with him. He had nights of tremendous pain. Later, he had trouble breathing and I couldn’t sleep for fear something would happen to him while my eyes were closed. It was all very irrational.

Sleepless in Minneapolis

With these poor sleep habits, my own pain levels skyrocketed. My patience plummeted. Eventually, I saw a sleep specialist who did a sleep study on me. He decided that I was in a difficult position as a caregiver and for that reason was suffering from insomnia. He said there really wasn’t much he could do about it other than give me a sleep aid, which came with its own set of issues. I said thanks but no thanks and went home.

There is Hope

There are things you can do to make getting sleep easier. Some of the best advice to be found is on a website called Tuck.com. It’s not likely that you will sleep the way you did before you became a caregiver, but getting a good night’s sleep whenever possible will help you cope with the daily pressures of caregiving—and life in general.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-21 07:00:56.


Progressive Muscle Relaxation

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is R is Relax : Progressive Muscle Relaxation

There’s a cycle you go through when you are under stress. Your muscles tense up, you get knots in your shoulders and a sore neck. Often these tight muscles cause you to get a tension headache. This only adds to your stress. By learning to relax your muscles, you can break the cycle, relieving tension and reducing stress. Progressive muscle relaxation takes a little bit of practice, but it is well worth the effort. It’s an extremely useful part of your relaxation routine. And it’s completely free.

Atmosphere helps Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Especially in the beginning, it is best to practice progressive muscle relaxation in a quiet, place of solitude. Make sure the temperature of the room you’re in is comfortable. Soothing instrumental music at a low volume as well as some candles can be very relaxing. Lie down on a comfortable surface such as a mattress or floor mat, or sit in a comfortable chair if lying down is impractical. Ensure that you won’t be interrupted. You could easily fall asleep by the time you’re done, so if you have someplace you need to be, set an alarm.

Get Comfortable

In the beginning, you will need to be prompted as to what you should do next. If you are comfortable, you can have a friend or spouse read the prompts. Or, you can record yourself reading them. Similar routines can be purchased or found online. It will only take doing the progressive muscle relaxation routine a couple of times.

Progressive muscle relaxation focuses on one group of muscles at a time. You will tighten each muscle and hold it for about 20 seconds before slowly releasing it. Concentrate on the releasing the tension slowly. As you do, focus on the sensation of relaxation. You will begin with your facial muscles, and then work down the body, one muscle group at a time until you reach your toes.

The entire routine should take about 15 minutes. Practice it once to two times a day. Once you have completed the routine, you can either go about the rest of your day, refreshed and renewed, or you can take a nap. It’s a great way to relax before falling asleep at night.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation script.

If you are recording this or having someone read it to you, it should be done in a soothing voice. Allow about 20 seconds to pass after the instruction to “hold,” before moving on to the instruction to “relax.”

  1. Start by relaxing your face. Let the stress of the day melt like wax until it each part of your face is completely free of tension. Begin with your forehead Wrinkle your forehead and then raise your eyebrows. Hold; then relax.
  2. Now Close your eyes tightly. Hold; then relax.
  3. Wrinkle your nose and flare your nostrils. Hold; then relax.
  4. Push your tongue firmly against the roof of your mouth. Hold; then relax.
  5. Scrunch your face. Grimace. Hold; then relax.
  6. Clench your jaws. Hold; then relax.
  7. Now move down to the neck. Tense it by pulling your chin down to your chest. Hold; then relax.
  8. Squeeze your shoulders up to your earlobes. Hold; then relax
  9. Tense your biceps. Hold; then relax.
  10. Tense your forearms and clench your fists. Hold; then relax.
  11. Arch your back. Hold; then relax.
  12. Expand your chest. Breathe in as deeply as you can. Hold; release the breathe slowly and then relax.
  13. Tense your abdominal muscles. Hold; then relax.
  14. Next, tense your buttocks and thigh muscles. Hold; then relax.
  15. Tense your calves pointing your toes. Hold; then relax.
  16. Flex and pull your toes up as if trying to make them touch your knees. Hold; then relax.
  17. Now mentally scan your entire body for any area that doesn’t feel completely relaxed. Without moving or tightening any muscles, imagine the tension being released even further.

Benefits for Caregivers

By relaxing in this way, you can reduce stress, tension, and even pain. This is important as a caregiver because those things often affect our ability to function. The great thing about this is that once you learn this routine, you can use it anytime and anyplace (within reason). You can even do this in your car on a lunch break. Lean the car seat back and in 15 minutes, you are refreshed and ready to go again.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-20 07:00:47.


Quality of Life

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is Q for Quality of Life

People often talk about quality of life when it comes to health concerns. Decisions about treatment must take quality of life into account. Patients often decide to discontinue cancer treatment based on concerns about quality of life. What is quality of life? Is there a set standard for it? In today’s A to Z post, I propose that each person has their own standard–and often their perception of what constitutes quality of life will change.

Quality of Life in an Iron Lung

In 2007, I say a news report about the company that made the replacement parts for the iron lung. They were no longer going to make the parts. The newsman interviewed Dianne Odell, a woman who had spent 60 years of her life in the 7-foot long tube that kept her breathing. She had lived a full, and (to her) a wonderful life, despite being confined to the iron lung.

She died a year later after a power outage. People around the world mourned. I did, too. Even now, all these years later, I have tears in my eyes as I write this. Her life made an impact. I would recommend looking her story up on the internet.

Often when someone is enduring something that is way out of our comfort zone, we say, “I could never handle that.” The truth is that you don’t know what you can handle until you have to. Life in an iron lung is something that I could never have imagined. So I was stunned when I learned that many people lived fulfilling lives in an iron lung.

“It feels wonderful, actually, if you’re not breathing well. When I was first put into it, it was such a relief. It makes all the difference when you’re not breathing,” says Martha Ann Lillard, another woman who lived most of her life in an iron lung. (1)

Quality of Life
By Photo Credit: Content Providers(s): CDC , via Wikimedia Commons

Quality of Life with Cancer

Our lives changed dramatically when my husband, Dan found out he had cancer.  Since then, Dan has gone through dramatic changes in his health many times. With every new treatment came new side effects. They were extremely hard to cope with. Beyond the short-term side effects, Dan also experienced long-term changes to the quality of his life.

Yet, through all of this, we continue to live life as fully as possible. It is more precious to us than ever. I asked Dan about his thoughts on this.

“I’m satisfied with less. My quality of life has maybe diminished, but I still have a purpose. It’s harder to do the things I want to do because of pain and nausea. I’ve lowered my expectations and made peace with the lower quality of life.” -Dan Erickson

We’ve experienced this dichotomy of holding so tightly to a life filled with pain and illness. We have made changes in our lives to accommodate the new normal.  For example, we maintain a fairly loose schedule in case Dan doesn’t feel up to doing something as planned. Our activities are usually pretty low-key. Thankfully, we’re both content with that. Perhaps the key to seeing the quality of your life lies in contentment.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnote:

  1. Daily Mail UK ‘It feels wonderful, actually’: The polio survivor who has lived inside an iron lung for 60 YEARS. By Daily Mail Reporter |

Originally posted 2018-04-19 07:00:34.


Plan B

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is P for Plan B – A Change in Plans.

Vows

My husband, Dan and I were recently talking about the fact that most people don’t really believe their wedding vows. They are standing before the minister (or whoever they choose to officiate their wedding). There beside them is the person they love most in the world. Their friends and family may even be watching this moment. The bride and groom often have overcome a few hurdles to get to this point. From this time on, they will be moving forward and upward. At least, that’s what they think! They vow to have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death when they part. What they are really saying is “For better, for richer, in health, we will live.” Anything else is plan B.

Not what we planned

When I married my husband in 2009, we had all of the hopes and dreams that any newlywed couple has. It was the second marriage for both of us. We each had three children. His were grown and mine were still very young. The girls instantly thought of him as their dad, and he adopted them in January of 2012.

When you have all of your hopes and dreams suddenly ripped from your hands, it can be shocking. It’s easy to see why one of the first things people in this situation feel is denial. I remember thinking that there was no way Dan could have cancer. We’d already been through a lot prior to meeting each other, falling in love, and getting married. He had just adopted my daughters a year earlier. We made short-term mission trips a regular part of our lives. He was pastoring a church. God wouldn’t let this happen to us, right?

Then, test results start coming back.

Facing Plan B

Once you get beyond the shock and denial, you can begin to figure out what life is going to look like with cancer in the picture. This is plan B. It’s the best you can do with the worst situation. You take all of your assets, your support system, your medical team, finances, time, your skills, and your drive and arrange them like pieces on a chess board. You defend your king and try to think three moves ahead whenever possible.

Plan B requires flexibility

You always have to be willing to change your plans. Appointments can change with little or no notice. The way a cancer patient feels can change like the weather, only it’s less predictable. People you are counting on might have to back out at the last minute. When these changes happen you need to be ready to change, too. It requires emotional and mental flexibility as much as the ability to make these changes. You have to take it all in stride. Try not to get too discouraged. It’s bound to hit you, but don’t let it keep you down very long.

It isn’t the “booby prize

Recently my husband had to change treatments. He went from a very easy treatment with very few side effects to old-fashioned, hardcore chemo. As he was reading about this on some cancer forums, he came across an entry that said, “Don’t think of chemo as the booby prize. It works.” Right now, chemo is our plan B. Whether your plan B is life with cancer or a lousy treatment option, it isn’t the booby prize. It just might be what you need to get to the next, best thing.

Martin Luther King Jr.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Someone played a recording of this speech by Dr. King, at a monthly caregiver group I attend. The man who played it told us to replace the word “street sweeper” with the word “caregiver.” Even the most difficult jobs can be done in such a glorious way. That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. You just need to be dedicated.

Your Plan B Assignment.

Life with cancer is never the life you plan. The truth is, we can’t really count on life turning out as we plan. At some point, we end up facing plan B. When that happens, finding a way to accept plan B, and even see some of the blessings of it can bring you a lot of peace.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-18 07:00:33.

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