Category Archives: Family Relationships


recurrence

The metaphor of a rollercoaster is often used to describe cancer, and for good reason. The ups and downs of your emotions, your schedule and the status of your health affect a patient and their family from the moment you suspect there’s a problem. This is especially hard for children, who have far less information than adults do, about what’s happening, They depend on their parents to help them know how to respond to these peaks and valleys. The first thing you can do to help your children through a recurrence of your cancer is to assess how you’re handling things.

The good times

After enduring the hard times of cancer treatment and finally being declared NED, in remission, or even “cancer-free,” you want to celebrate. At the very least, you want to breathe a sigh of relief and go back to life as normal. Thankfully, you are soon feeling like the old you. But still, it’s hard. Every twinge of pain makes you wonder if it’s back. Afterall, everyone responds differently to various forms of treatment.

Just as you rely on your care team, they rely on you to communicate with them in order to catch a recurrence of cancer. Just like the first time you go through treatment, early detection of disease activity is crucial. You dread your return appointments to the doctor. What if they find something?

Then, One day they do

The results of a scan come back and the doctor tells you it’s a recurrence. The rug is pulled out from under your feet. It feels very much like the first time the doctor told you it was cancer. You have the same fears and questions as you did when cancer first came in your life, except now, you’re more physically beaten up from various treatments. You may also be running out of treatment options. Your kids are older and very aware of the difficulties that come with each new treatment plan.

My Tip

We’ve always tried to have another treatment option waiting in the wings so that if the current treatment isn’t working, we know what the next step is. That’s helped us to feel less overwhelmed at scan time. This time, though, we have no idea what happens next.

Keeping in touch with your care team

It’s important that you have a good relationship with your medical team. If you feel you can trust them, it is much easier to walk into the unknown. They’ll help you to know whether side effects are temporary, how long they might last, and if a side effect warrants going off of a drug.

Knowing that you trust your medical team will help your children to feel better about things. It’s a good idea to periodically clarify your goals with your care team.

  • Is your cancer (still) curable?
  • What kind of life extension does your doctor think you can get from a given treatment?
  • What is the plan, if this treatment doesn’t work?
  • How can you relieve pain and other side effects?

All of these are things are important to know as you’re weighing your treatment options. Your children will also want to know about these things, especially if they are school age or older.

Only you can decide what is right for you and your family. Even when the medical options run out, or you choose not to pursue them, you can still have quality time with your family.

A Second opinion never hurts.

Whether you’ve just been diagnosed, or you are having a recurrence of your cancer, it’s your life on the line. That being said, it is very likely they will affirm what your doctor is doing. That affirmation can go a long way toward you feeling comfortable with your treatment and building trust with your medical team. Make sure that you let them know about your goals for treatment and bring a full set of medical records with you.

Be prepared

When starting a new course of treatment, make sure that you have the proper medications on hand to control potential side effects you may experience over the weekend, or in the middle of the night when it’s more difficult to reach your doctor. You don’t need to suffer. There are ways to alleviate the side effects of treatment as well as the symptoms of the disease. In order for your doctor or palliative care specialist to best help you, you need to tell them if you are having problems.

The effect of recurrence on your family

Our daughter, Emily described the feeling of recurrence from the viewpoint Emily Ericksonof a patient’s child. “Can’t he just be okay? I just want him to be okay. It really is a roller coaster of emotions for us [kids} as well. If you have your own issues that you’re dealing with, they become maximized with each recurrence.”

This is true. Examining the impact of recurrence on survivors of cancer and their family members, it has been observed that, “Cancer recurrence is described as one of the most stressful phases of cancer. Recurrence brings back many negative emotions, which are different and may be more intense than those after the first diagnosis of cancer. Survivors and their family members have to deal with new psychological distress.” (1)

Teach your children well

It’s hard to go back to the grind of treatment or change to a new one with uncertain side effects and results. Enduring another course of cancer treatment is quite a lesson in delayed gratification, for your children. It shows them what you are willing to do for a time (now), in the hope of having more quality time with them, later.

Recurrence doesn’t mean it’s the end: Our Story

My husband gets his treatment from the University of Minnesota. When he was first diagnosed, we went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN with the blessing of his oncologist. The Mayo, in turn, said he couldn’t possibly be getting better care. This helped us feel secure with his treatment plan. This made it worth getting a second opinion, even though it didn’t change his actual treatment.

We put on brave faces for our kids. Still, they were crushed when I told them about the scan results. They’d had four years on this roller coaster. During that time, they’d made many friends with parents who have cancer. They had seen some of those friends lose a parent to cancer.

We had a month to absorb the shock. Dan took a couple of short trips that needed to happen before he started treatment again. Melissa Turgeon from the Angel Foundation came to our home with an intern and a photographer and gave us some amazing memories. They made plaster molds of Dan’s hand and of our hands together. The photographer captured those moments as well as some very fun family pictures. We were preparing for the end of those kinds of good times.

Plaster Casts

When I told the girls, they were happy but hesitant to get too excited. One of our daughters said. “We’ve just seen this so many times; up and down, up and down.” The girls were now older and more experienced with this dreaded disease. They knew what was ahead. We had plaster casts made of Dan’s hands and one of his hand and mine together. The Angel Foundation arranged to have a photographer capture our family on film before things changed…again.

Melissa Turgeon from the Angel Foundation made plaster casts of Dan’s hands. Photo by Jim Bovine.

Surprise!

Then, Dan went back in for a pre-chemo CT scan, just to get a baseline of where he was. The cancer that was on the previous month’s scan was mostly gone! So, back on the Tagrisso Dan went.

After 2 years of Tagrisso, the cancer again progressed. Gemzar and Cisplatin were used for a while, but it’s no longer responding to treatment and the University of Minnesota has run out of options for him.

The end of the line?

Having nothing left with which to barricade the door to death is frightening. It can feel like the end of the line. Dan will return to the Mayo Clinic in the hope that they will have an experimental treatment that he can try. The treatment might work, but it might not.

It really is a roller coaster.

It’s okay to grieve

While it is best if your kids see you as being in control of your emotions so that they aren’t afraid, it is still okay to grieve. In fact, it is very healthy. You may feel frustrated by the news of recurrence. You’ve done everything that you were supposed to do and now you are back in the chemo chair.

Often, everyone in the family is trying to be strong, leaving others in the family to wonder if they are the only one hurting and if it’s even okay to feel like they do. It’s helpful for families to take some time to talk together about their feelings. It can help each member to know that they aren’t the only one who is sad (or angry or frustrated, etc.) about the recurrence. Then, you can roll up your sleeves and move forward in the way that is best for you and your family.

More…

For more information about how to help your family through your cancer journey, check out my latest book, Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer. It’s available in paperback and Kindle!

Buy it TODAY!

 

 

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. ‘Again’: the impact of recurrence on survivors of cancer and family members.  2010 Jul;19(13-14):2048-56. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2009.03145.x. Vivar CGWhyte DAMcQueen A.

Holiday Stress

Holidays like Christmas usually mean getting together with family. It’s part of what makes the holidays special. But, it can also be stressful. Sometimes family relationships are strained, adding anxiety to the mix. What makes this worse? How can you cope with stress within your family, especially during the holidays? Part of it will depend on personality.

What’s your personality type?

Are you typically:

  • Laid back, able to roll with whatever comes at you?
  • Uncomfortable with changes in your life, even positive changes?
  • Quick to see what could go wrong, and able to find solutions to those problems?
  • Always able to keep a positive outlook, even if that sometimes means avoiding the possibility that something could go wrong?
  • Prone to depression or anxiety, unable to cope with stress?
  • Quick with a joke to lighten even the bleakest mood—even if it’s sometimes inappropriate?

A Chemistry Lesson

Family members are really like individual chemicals. Because a family is comprised of multiple people, each with their own personality and coping mechanism. When different members of a family interact the result is the emotional equivalent to a chemical reaction.

Think about what happens when one person in the family is gone for a couple of days. Have you ever noticed how suddenly the hierarchy in your home changes? Even the volume in the house will change. When our daughter, Summer, began college, she was suddenly gone for over 12 hours a day. The house was suddenly much quieter. On the other hand, when my husband goes camping for a couple of days, our daughters and I get really loud.

Sometimes, like acid and alkaline, people will balance one another out, keeping the family stable. Other times, rather than balancing one another out, the way individuals cope with stress can combine like vinegar and baking soda, and the unstable combination[1] bubbles over.

Stress in families depends on your chemistry

How to Cope with Stress under Pressure

When a stressful situation arises, such as a cancer diagnosis, an individual’s tendencies become amplified. So will a family’s interactive response. Each family is different. The way the Smith family deals with a crisis won’t be the same way the Johnson family does. Yet, these unique systems usually enable the family that’s implementing them to cope with stress in their own way. It’s important to keep your family’s way of coping in mind.

Pray for your Family

The best prevention and weapon against stress is to take it to the Lord in prayer. Set aside time each day to pray, not only for the situation but for the members of your family. Often we want to change the way someone else does or sees things. I’ve found that it’s more helpful to ask God to open my eyes to see others’ perspectives.

Think about how this works within your family. How does each of you cope with ordinary stress? In what ways is this amplified when something major comes up? Can you be more gentle with one another and support each other in healthier ways? Let the answers to these questions help you to have a more, Merry Christmas and get through the crises of life better.

[1] Vinegar, which contains acetic acid. When you add it to baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), carbonic acid is produced. Carbonic acid is very unstable and immediately breaks down into carbon dioxide and water. This carbon dioxide gas escapes causing the “fizz” you see erupting from science fair volcanoes everywhere. If you’ve never done this experiment, try 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 2017-12-14 01:01:16.


Understand Death

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 K for How Kids Understand Death. This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping your Child Cope with Your Cancer.

In a recent post, we looked at Grief in Children from the viewpoint that grieving begins with a loss. It’s important to understand death isn’t the only thing reason we grieve. Unfortunately, for many families, the cancer journey does end in death. What you see in your child as they cope with death will depend largely on their age and how they understand death.

Infants, up to 2 years old

Infants won’t understand death at all, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t affected by it. They know that the parent they loved is no longer there. You may even see an older infant looking for their “missing” parent. Even more than the absence of their parent, infants are affected by the sadness of their surviving parent.

What you can expect to see from your child as they cope with death as an infant up to 2 years old:

  • increased crying
  • irritability
  • changes in sleeping habits.
  • changes in eating habits

Preschool-age children (3 to 6 years)

Children ages 3-6 are curious about death, but they don’t understand death as a permanent condition. It’s common for them to think that someone who’s died is in a state similar to sleep. They may believe it’s reversible and that their parent will wake up. They might even think that if they’re good enough, they can make the person who died come back.

Children tend to center the death (like everything else) on themselves. If they have ever wished their parent would go away or had been “bad,” they may feel guilty and responsible for their parent’s death. It’s very difficult for children this age to put their feelings into words.

As you would expect, children who lose a parent are apt to worry about who will take care of them. They may question whether their other family members are safe, or if one day, they too will die, leaving the child behind. And, like children younger than them, they’re very affected by the sadness of surviving family members.

What you can expect to see from your child as they cope with death as a preschooler:

  • symptoms of regression
  • bed-wetting
  • thumb-sucking
  • acting out in aggression
  • irritability
  • difficulty sleeping

Our Story

I met, fell in love with, and married Dan when my daughters were young. before that, I was married to my children’s biological father. He left us, After that, for weeks, one of my daughters kept saying he had been shot. No matter what I said to try to convince her otherwise, she thought he had died. I took them to our pastor who began to talk to them and asked them questions. He asked her why she thought that he was dead. She said, “It’s like in Narnia. The dad went to war and was shot. The children were sad and the mom cried all the time.” My daughters didn’t understand what divorce was but they had seen in a movie, something that resonated with how they were feeling. They drew their own conclusions from that. This taught me a big lesson about children’s perceptions. This taught me a big lesson about children’s perceptions.

Be aware that your young child may not understand death accurately. Asking gentle questions can be very illuminating.

School-age children (6 to 12 years)

By the time your child reaches the ages of 6-12, they understand death is final. As they get older, they’ll understand death is unavoidable and happens to everyone at some point. Death itself is often perceived by children this age, symbolically, such as a skeleton, the Grim Reaper, or a more religious manifestation, such as an angel or spirit. Children this age will still struggle to talk about their feelings.

They will experience many emotions including guilt and shame, since they may worry that they’re to blame for their loved one’s death. They may also feel anger and sadness. And, most likely, they’ll experience anxiety and fear about their future and even their own death. They’re still likely to worry about who will take care of them. This can bring about feelings of insecurity, clingy behavior.

Children this age are often interested in the specific details of death and what happens to the body after death. This can even be seen when a pet dies. Far from being gruesome, the child may want to see the dead pet and know more clearly what has happened. While adults may feel uncomfortable with this, it’s quite natural, and a part of coming to terms with the death. For this reason, you shouldn’t be overly concerned if the child wants to see or touch their deceased parent.

What you can expect to see from your child as they cope with death as a school-aged child, 6-12 years old:

  • symptoms that their younger counterparts experience
  • trouble in school
  • withdrawal from friends and/or family

Our Story

When our kids were younger, they had a pet betta fish. After about 6 months, Huckleberry did what all fish eventually do, and died. I was concerned that it would upset the kids, so I tossed the fish into the brush outside of our home.

Our daughter became frantic at seeing the empty fish bowl. She cried and cried, demanding to see her little Huckleberry. Finally, I relented and told her where he was. She rushed out in her bare feet, searching through the leaves and branches. Finally, she found him. She looked at him for a few minutes in silence and then returned as calm as could be. She wiped her eyes and returned to playing.

Teenagers (13 to 18 years)

While most teenagers understand death in like adults do, when it comes to death, they don’t behave like an adult. They’ll experience a range of emotions, and don’t have the depth of experience or the coping skills needed to handle them. Teens don’t tend to ask for help. Instead, you’ll need to recognize that they’re struggling.

Signs to watch for in your child as they cope with death as a teenager, include:

  • Lashing out at family members or friends.
  • Reckless and/or impulsive behavior
  • Substance use/abuse
  • Promiscuity.
  • Questioning God, their faith, and/or their understanding of the world
  • Withdrawing from the family to be alone
  • Spending more time with friends (not always a bad thing, but can be an indicator that they are having difficulty dealing with what’s happening)

Because they want to feel independent, teens sometimes want to emotionally and physically separate from their family. They may not be receptive to support from adult family members. It can be helpful to enlist the help of other adults who can help identify when a problem is occurring. Communicate regularly with their teachers, coaches, and pastors who can help during this time.

College Age

Despite being considered legal adults, college-aged children are still developing emotionally. Their brain isn’t fully formed until they are 25 years old. To make matters even more complicated, these are the years when many of them are in college or starting their career. Whether they live on campus, commute, or have decided to work full time, they have a lot that they are juggling.

Thankfully, many colleges have academic and crisis counselors on staff. Students should contact them early on to see what options they have regarding their classes, should a crisis such as the death of a parent, arise. Some schools even offer tuition insurance for a medical crisis. Check with the school to find out details, including any potential issues with their scholarships. Make sure any insurance you purchase will cover the any needed time off from school for your child as they cope with death.

Our daughter, Summer

Summer and Dan August 2016
Photo by Jim Bovin

Our oldest daughter, Summer had already completed 2 years of college by the time she was 18 through a

program the State of Minnesota has known as Post Secondary Options (PSEO). She then transferred to the University of St. Thomas where she would get her 4-year degree.

We knew that during her time there, it was likely her dad would die. How would she cope with that? It’s one thing to deal with the pressures of college when you have a sick parent. It’s a whole other matter to try to focus on an intensive time of studies when your parent dies.

Summer spoke with her academic counselor as well as the student counselor who deals with issues such as grief. She began to assemble her support system at school.

School can be a welcome escape for your child as they cope with death. Or, it can add to the overwhelming feelings they may be experiencing. How your child deals with the loss of a parent will be as individual as he or she is.

Helping your child cope with and understand death

It’s common for surviving parents, family members and friends to worry about how their grief will affect the kids. They worry that their children will be damaged by their own intense feelings about the loss. Because of this, some adults will try to hide their emotions while around children. This is unnecessary and can be harmful in the long run—for everyone.

Children look for cues from adults for how to react to what’s happening around them. There’s nothing wrong with crying or other expressions of intense feelings after a loved one’s death. These are normal expressions of how people feel when they lose someone important to them.

The way you, and others, react to your child as they cope with death through the mourning process, will send a message to them, whether you intend to or not. For example. Telling a child not to cry, can cause them to feel like their feelings are wrong. This denies them the opportunity to work through the variety of emotions they are feeling, related to the loss.

Don’t try to hide your feelings

If family members and friends try too hard to hide their feelings, the child may think it’s wrong to be open about their own feelings. Instead of being able to share their feelings and get the needed support, the child keeps it inside and doubts the validity of their feelings.

Genuine feelings of sadness, tears, and anger are normal reactions for anyone who’s grieving. While acting hysterical may frighten a child, as long as their security needs are being met, seeing your grief being expressed won’t damage them.

In the same way, telling them that they should be more upset can cause him or her to feel guilty. It implies they are a bad person for not responding to the loss “appropriately.” Sometimes, outward displays of grief are delayed, or even suppressed due to mixed signals they’ve gotten in the past about whether or not it’s okay to cry. It’s important that your children understand death is a painful loss and it’s okay to respond to it in a way that feels authentic.

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 2018-04-12 07:00:34.


Joyful

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 J for Joyful Despite Cancer.

How can you feel joyful…

…when a loved one has cancer? When we first learned that Dan had cancer, we were stunned. How could this happen? How could my husband of 3 years, be given a death sentence? I felt devastated, even angry. We went through all those classic stages of grief. I was even disappointed in God. It seemed so unfair. Dan and I had a dream marriage. He had just adopted our 3 daughters. We went on annual mission trips and had our family routines. Why us? Why now? I felt many different emotions. Joyful wasn’t one of them.

In order to stage my husband’s cancer, the doctor ordered a PET scan. While Dan was having the scan, I spent a lot of time in prayer. Then, I decided to call a former pastor of ours. He and his wife moved out of state a year earlier, so we got caught up on what was happening in our lives. He could tell that I was really struggling with Dan’s diagnosis. So, he gave me the best advice that I may have ever gotten. He said,

“Don’t think about what you could lose. Think about what you have.”

Those words changed my outlook and helped me become joyful again, despite Dan’s cancer.

Summer loves it when Dan rubs her feet. Image by Jim Bovine

Our life as a family…

…has always had a beautiful rhythm to it. We have routines and traditions that define us:

  • books that we’ve read as a family
  • praying together
  • going to church together
  • watching a TV series as a family
  • family trips
  • walks/hiking
  • Dan making our coffee every morning and filling the gas tank so that I never need to.
  • get-togethers with Dan’s parents and siblings
  • quiet time in the living room

Those things help make this life joyful. When things are difficult, we hold even tighter to these things, remembering how precious they are. We live in awe of God’s grace. We soak it all in with gratitude.

July 2016

Dan had a scan result that pushed us back into reality. It looked like his cancer was progressing again. I remember being in the car, crying, as I thought of what could lie ahead; all the difficult things that Dan would go through. And, in the end, he would die.

I thought about that, about living without him. Then, I thought about what that would mean for him. He would be in the presence of Jesus. I pondered that for quite a while and it gave me such joy. Dan loves Jesus more than anyone and anything. As much as he loves me and the kids, he loves Jesus even more. To be in His presence would be the most wonderful experience he could have. That gave me the strength to face whatever would come our way.

The following month, for reasons that to this day, baffle Dan’s doctors, his cancer retreated and has stayed at bay ever since. He recently had metastases in his spine, but that too has been healing.

October 2012

When doctors told Dan, four and a half years ago, that he had stage IV lung cancer, we could have stopped living. We could have thrown in the towel, but instead, we chose to live a joyful life in spite of cancer.

If you are facing something that seems insurmountable, don’t give up hope. Instead, think about what you have and trust God with it. Then live your life with joy,

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 2018-04-11 07:00:08.


Caregiver 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 G for Guilt Caregivers Feel.

Are you blaming yourself for things which are beyond your control? Most family caregivers feel some degree of guilt, regardless of how good a job they are doing caring for the responsibilities and relationships in their lives.

Caregivers often burden themselves with guilt.

Caregiver guilt is not only fruitless but caustic. Don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes that are human, making decisions that are unavoidable, and having faults that are imagined.
At a time when you need to be even stronger than you think you can be, you don’t need anyone knocking you down—including yourself!

Doing or saying the “wrong” thing.

I remember in the beginning, trying to balance hope and faith with what the doctors were saying about my husband’s prognosis. I was afraid of everything: What if Dan didn’t take what the doctors were saying seriously, and didn’t follow his treatment plan? Some people insinuated that trusting the doctors meant I didn’t have faith for him to be healed by God. Was my fear standing in the way of his healing?

Dysfunctional Relationships

Many of us deal, not only the potential loss of our loved ones but also with guilt because our relationship with them wasn’t what we wish it could have been. This intensifies our grief and our guilt.
Some rules of thumb about guilt: You can’t ignore this pesky emotion or will it away. Guilt simply is. There’s nothing inherently bad or wrong about feeling it.

There is good guilt and bad guilt.

Good guilt will prompt you to examine your behavior and make any needed changes. If you feel guilty, for example, because you were impatient with the patient you are caring for. The guilt is a reminder to try a little harder next time.

Unfortunately what eats most of us alive is bad guilt. There’s nothing constructive about bad guilt. Bad guilt pops up during circumstances that you can’t do anything about (your parent has to move into a hospice facility, for example). It can even show up when something happens that’s good for you, like hiring a home care nurse.

Caregiver guiltOughta-shoulda-coulda-woulda

For caregivers, this can sound like: “I just can’t put Dad in a nursing home. I should be able to care for him myself like Mom would’ve wanted.” Or, “Why didn’t I push him to go to the doctor sooner? Maybe we could’ve done something more if I had.” This kind of thinking is really common. It’s also not helpful. You can’t go back in time and change things. Even if you could, you might not be able to change any of this. The best thing you can do now is to live in the moment. What can you do, right now? That’s where your focus should be. Things (and feelings) are what they are; stewing in them wastes precious energy.

Don’t discount yourself

Selfless people often feel the most guilt because they work so hard for the benefit of others, even at a cost to themselves. When they finally get around to caring for their own needs, it feels like they’re doing something wrong. If you’ve ever experienced this, take it as a sign that you need to follow increase the amount of care you give yourself. Talk about these feelings of guilt with a friend you know you can trust to support you. Often, recognizing guilt for what it is, helps to drive the boogie man away.

Guilty feelings

You may discover some underlying feelings that have been lurking beneath the guilt. You may experience resentment toward the person you’re looking after. This is common and often is part of the grieving process. You are grieving the loss of things as they once were, and as you hoped they would be. This can result in feelings of anger and resentment. Even though you know that none of this is the fault of your loved one, you may struggle with these feelings. It’s a good idea to see a therapist who can help you work through these feelings, without making you feel more guilty than you already do, for having them. Putting these feelings into words may give you a new perspective.

Be gentle with yourself:

  • There’s no one way a caregiver should feel. Give yourself permission to have your feelings. Your feelings don’t control your actions (not if you don’t let them). Eventually, your guilt will subside.
  • Look for the cause of the guilt: Do you have an unmet need? Do you need to change your actions so that they align with your values?
  • Take action: Meet your needs. Needs are not bad or good; they just are. If you need some time alone, find someone to be with your loved one.

We will talk more about the biggest cause of caregiver guilt in the post, Ideal You vs. Real You.

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 2018-04-07 07:00:44.


Critical Family Members

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 C for Critical Family Members.

I am fortunate to have a close family who is very supportive, but critical family members are a common source of stress for caregivers.

Critical Family Members

As a caregiver, you are likely stressed and at times feel underappreciated and unsupported. You may also be dealing with caregiver guilt. Having critical, family members can be especially difficult. What can you do when someone disrespects, discounts or just plain aggravates you?

Don’t respond immediately

Your gut reaction will likely only add fuel to the fire. Instead, consider what was said. Was there any truth to it? Often the most hurtful things have an ounce of truth in them. Check your pride at the door.

Then, consider the source. It’s often nothing personal. They might be insecure, so they criticize others as a way of feeling better about themselves. Does these critical family members have a reputation as someone who loves a quarrel? Do they start an argument with everyone? Then that’s just his or her way. So, even though it’s irritating, don’t take it to heart. Think about the fact that they are probably pretty lonely since people avoid them. That will help you see them in a more sympathetic light.

The Direct Approach

Rather than waiting for things to get even more uncomfortable, talk to critical family members about their concerns. This is best done privately so that they don’t get defensive and/or put a false face on things. It’s important to approach this from a place of empathy, rather than confrontation. Make it your goal to find out what their concern is. Think about what they must be going through in this cancer journey, as well. Hopefully, you will be able to share your feelings with them, too. Who knows, you may just walk away from the table as friends.

Listen with EmpathyCritical Family Members

This is especially important to do if the criticism is delivered in a respectful way. No one is perfect, including you. Maybe you can learn something by hearing your family members out. Perhaps you will gain new insight into what they are going through. This will require empathy. Consider the fact that most criticism is born out of fear. What does this family member fear? Even if your mother-in-law is difficult to deal with, in general, her son’s cancer diagnosis might make her act more critical or hostile. She might be afraid of losing her son and of being pushed out of the remaining time he has left as well as the decision-making process. There may not even be any basis for these feelings, but they are still very real to her. By becoming more understanding of these things, you may not change the behavior of the family member, but you can reduce the negative impact it has on you. You can begin to be more sensitive to the things family members are feeling at this time.

What if they don’t sound respectful?

Then, it’s important to hear the words that they are saying? We often become very sensitive to the way people say things. Sometimes we come to expect that someone is critical of us when they aren’t. Try giving someone the benefit of the doubt by listening to the words they say rather than for any underlying tone. “Tone” is highly subjective and easily misinterpreted. The next time you think your cousin is being sarcastic when she says, “I love your new curtains,” say, “Thank you,” with a smile and leave it at that. This becomes even more important when it comes to matters of caregiving. You may need to politely respond while trying your best not to let things escalate. Let comments made by critical family members run off of you without sticking like water off a duck’s back. Life is too short to stew in the stuff others toss at you. It’s not worth it. Still, there is no denying that words can really hurt.

Walk away

When all else fails, avoid critical family members. This is especially easy to pull off when you are at a large gathering, but not so easy when they start calling, or worse—start calling everyone else to try to turn them against you. If you haven’t already, this is the point at which it is imperative that the patient speaks their mind. There should be no doubt in family members’ minds as to the patient’s approval of the way you are doing as his or her caregiver. The sooner it is cleared up the better. If the patient becomes too ill to deal with this, you are on your own. That’s not a good position to find yourself in.

Note:

Always make sure the patient has a health care directive and has shared its contents with the rest of the family. Make sure it is notarized and on file with the patient’s health care provider in case the patient is ever unable to communicate their needs and there a conflict over medical decisions. At that point, if you are the proxy, it will be up to you to ensure your loved one’s wishes are honored.

It’s stressful when a loved one has cancer. It’s common for family members to at times disagree with one another. Thankfully, it rarely becomes a serious issue that can’t be worked out by sitting down for a heart to heart.

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 2018-04-03 07:00:12.


Anger and Grief

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 A is for Anger & the Grief Process.

When someone you love has cancer…

You grieve. Anger is very often one of the early manifestations of that grief.You may think of grief with the death of a loved one, but grief is a response to loss. This could be the loss of your health, your job, a relationship, or a lifelong dream.

For patients, caregivers and family members, grieving begins the moment you realize that you or a loved one has cancer. There is a big shift in the story you pictured for yourself. The outcome may not look anything like you had hoped or imagined. Even if your cancer isn’t terminal, there is a lot to grieve when you or someone you love has cancer. It often brings a laundry list of losses with it.

Common losses:

  • Time: Sometimes a caregiver has to devote all of their time to caring for the patient.
  • Anticipated Grief: As you are caring for your loved one, you’re acutely aware that you may lose them.
  • Activities: A health crisis can mean no longer living as you once did. This is true for caregivers as much as for patients.
  • Lost Dreams: After a cancer diagnosis, life no longer looks like the one you had planned. It will never be the same again.
  • That, in itself, is a tremendous loss.
  • Finances: Often the patient and/or the caregiver have to stop working. This loss of income means fewer opportunities and
  • more financial stress.
  • Stability: Each family member is experiencing grief in their own way. While the patient is usually shielded from this, caregivers frequently have to help everyone manage this experience.

What’s behind the Anger?

Anger is one of the most common reactions to intense stress, such as the kind experienced in the face of a serious illness. It helps to consider what is behind this emotions and how to express it in a healthier way.
Feeling angry is a normal reaction to cancer. It feels unfair. People get angry when something is unfair. You may even be angry with the person who is sick. This can lead to feelings of guilt. Often, anger is covering up deep-seated sadness. Talk with someone about the things you feel cancer has taken from you and your family. Sharing these things with someone else can be an act of empowerment.

Grief and AngerIt’s Okay to Feel Angry

It is a valid response during the grieving process. Feeling anger doesn’t make you a bad daughter, husband, sister, etc. or that you’re not coping well. It makes you human. Unfortunately, the expression of anger can often be destructive with shouting, cruel words, or even physical violence. Most people lose any feeling of security and safety when someone is showing out-of-control anger.

Express your feelings rather than act them out.

Yet, it’s important to fight the instinct to stifle your feelings. They need to be recognized. Not only is hiding your feelings exhausting, but it also sends a signal to your family members that they should do the same thing. That’s why it is important to express these feelings in a constructive, healthy way. It’s important that you don’t take these feelings out on the people around you. They are hurting too.

How to release your anger

Find healthy ways to release the anger. This could be something physical, like walking or some other sport. It could be something symbolic, like writing down the things about cancer that make you angry and then burning the list (in a safe, controlled way). Immerse yourself in a hobby. Pray.

You can be angry without falling apart.

These feelings won’t last long. There are many other emotions you will experience as you grieve. They are all ways of fine-tuning your feelings. Be gentle with yourself and your loved ones and you will get through this a stronger person in the end.

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 2018-04-01 07:00:33.


Talk to Kids about Cancer

How do you talk to kids about cancer?

It’s not always easy to talk to kids about cancer (especially when it’s their mom or dad who has it). But it is important. One of the things that can make it hard to talk to kids about cancer is that they often keep their feelings hidden. One reason why they do this may surprise you.

Protecting their ParentsTalking to kids about cancer

As kids grow, they become more aware that their parents have fears and feelings of their own. When a parent is diagnosed with cancer, kids will try to ease their mom and dad’s stress by keeping their own worries to themselves. It’s their way of protecting their parents.

Unfortunately, this can cause a child’s imagination to run wild. They can end up thinking things are even worse than they are. And, that’s hard to do when you are dealing with cancer.

 

“Horriblizing”

A friend of ours has a perfect phrase for this. He calls it horribleizing. We horribleize things when we don’t have all the facts and our mind leaps to the worst possible outcome. Adults are great at this. Kids are even better!

The best way you can prevent this is by communicating well with your child. That doesn’t mean you have to tell them all the details. In fact, you shouldn’t. But, you do need to give them the information they want in honest, but broad terms. How do we do that when they aren’t expressing their concerns?

You might be surprised by how easy it can be to talk to kids about cancer.

  • Turn off the TV and other distractions. Talk to your child when it’s just the two of you. They will be far more likely to let down their guard when they don’t feel like a sibling will laugh at them or another parent will get upset. If you need to, take them out for lunch. People talk when they eat. It’s their social instinct. It’s much easier to talk to kids about cancer while eating an ice cream sundae.
  • Start by asking, “What kind of feelings/thoughts are you having about this?” or, “Are you feeling a little scared?”
  • When talking to your children, avoid giving them a worst-case scenario because they will grab it every time. For example, you wouldn’t ask your child, “Are you afraid that I’m going to die?” While they likely are, it’s far better to bring it out in a gentler way, such as asking, “What kind of things are you afraid of?”
  • Ask your child what questions they have. This is open-ended, but still, requires an answer.
  • The conversation doesn’t need to end after you answer one question. Your child might just be starting to open up to you. Follow up by asking, “Do you have any other questions?”
  • Medical play is a great way to talk to kids about cancer. It alleviates the fear of the unknown, by introducing some of the tools doctors use that might seem frightening at first.

Talk to Kids about Cancer

Here are some more tips for finding out what’s on their mind:

  • You might worry that when you talk to kids about cancer, it will make them think about frightening things. The truth is, they’re already thinking these things. Talking will bring their ideas and fears to the surface where you can examine them in the open, together.
  • Say, “I recently read that some children feel . What you think about that?” I did this once and was amazed by the answers my children gave me. For the first time, I learned many of their fears. It helped me to communicate with them and be sensitive to the things they felt most deeply.
  • Don’t push. Let them tell you what’s on their mind in a way and time that is comfortable for them.
  • Sometimes, doing an activity like coloring helps kids to open up. Their conscious mind in concentrating on the relaxing activity, allowing their subconscious thoughts to come to the surface. Make this a light conversation from which you can glean their thoughts about what’s happening.

Empathize

Often, once a child knows about their parent’s diagnosis, each appointment will bring a measure of anxiety. This can be a teachable moment for your child. You can start by talking about your own anxieties, in a way that can encourage a calm, soothing conversation. Validating your child’s feelings can be so empowering for them. When they’re allowed to express them, you’re essentially saying, “Yes I’m sure you’re worried and that’s okay. I’m worried too.”

Here are some other things you can say

“Today I’m going in for a special test that will let the doctors know how I’m doing. I’m wondering if you might have any concerns about this.”

“I know that I’m a little worried, so I thought you might be worried too. Should we talk about our fears and worries?”

“I’m going to go to the doctor to put together a plan. We’ll figure this out together. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.”

“We’re walking side-by-side in this. I want to take care of you too”

This can be very reassuring for your child. It will often ease their concerns since they can trust that you won’t keep them in the dark. They can, in a sense, put their fears on a shelf. They’re still there, but they’re in their place.

Talk to Kids About Cancer

What to Avoid

What you’ll really want to avoid are the curt, dismissive assurances that people often give.

Some examples of phrases to avoid are:

“Your Mom will get better soon.”

“Don’t worry everything will be all right.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine.”

What Not to Avoid

No parent wants to have this difficult conversation with their children. It can be tempting to try to brush the whole thing off as no big deal. Whatever you do: Avoid avoiding.

It’s also HOW you say it

People tend to speak rapidly when they’re nervous. They get repetitive when they feel anxious.  “Fast paced, repetitive responses never dig into the nitty-gritty of the truth and can make a child feel completely dismissed. Dismissive comments reinforce the idea that cancer is taboo and that we shouldn’t talk about it.

“This can leave them thinking, “I shouldn’t ask my mom and dad questions. I should protect them. can be a role reversal, where the mom and dad want to protect their children and the children want to protect their mom and dad.” (Melissa Turgeon)

A Better Way

Instead, a healthier way to talk to kids about cancer is to ask, “How much do you want to know? Do you want to know it all, or are you the type of kid that just wants the facts?” Asking this question, you’ll hear from the child what they want to know. “You can ask the child who wants to know everything, “Do you want to come to the clinic appointment with me?” Sometimes your child will say, “No, just give me the basic facts of what is going on.” Other times they’ll say, “I’m going to be a doctor when I get older.”

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 2018-03-26 07:00:58.


Ways to Offer Help when a Friend has Cancer

Have you ever gone to the store, or a restaurant and struggled to decide between all of the great options in front of you? It’s a common problem known as “choice overload.” This term was first introduced in the book, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler in 1970. With all of these great options, choosing becomes overwhelming. It takes longer to make a decision and often the decider gives up, altogether. This is really simplifying Toffler’s theory but it’s one of the reasons why many cancer patients and caregivers decline offers of help from friends and family members. Today, I will share how to overcome choice overload and find ways to offer help when a friend has cancer using multiple choice care coordination.

Where the burden of support lies

Usually, when someone is in need of help, we expect them to ask. It seems simple enough. People do it every day. Unfortunately, something as overwhelming as cancer can completely shut down a person’s normal ability to strategize and plan how to cope with the situation. All of their attention is focused on the medical aspect of cancer. The diagnosis process is intense. Often the patient is asked to make many appointments for test after test. They have to learn all about a disease that they likely know little about, and then make decisions about which course of treatment to pursue. At the same time, life goes on with its obligations of work, parenting, and other activities.

While it would make sense to ask for help, it feels a bit like trying to get the carnival ride operator to stop the Tilt-a-Whirl so they can get off. Instead, most patients and caregivers hope that things will soon settle down so that they can regain their balance.

As a Supportive Friend or Family Member:

When you hear that someone you care about is facing cancer or some other life-altering illness, you want to somehow help. The question is, how? What are some ways to offer help when a friend has cancer?

  • You also experience a bit of choice overload. There must be so many things that your friend needs. how can you fill the void? You wish you could just make it better, but you can’t. You might wonder how anything you think of to do, could make any difference at all.
  • It’s common to assume they must already have a lot of help. There is probably some organized system in place complete with a meal rotation, prayer chain and other ways to offer help when a friend has cancer. It’s easy to feel like you would just be one more person underfoot. Maybe they already have enough meals or rides.
  • Then, there’s the question of offering the help. You want to let them know you care and that you’d like to help, but, how? What if you say something “wrong?”
  • There is also a bit of mystery surrounding the home life of someone so ill. It’s easy to picture their home as a somber place of silence. What if you call and the ring of the phone wakes your friend from a much-needed nap? We’d sure hate to bother the caregiver who, as I wrote about in the last post, may have collapsed with exhaustion. So, we put off calling.

When you offer to help

Despite all of these mental obstacles to the ways to offer help when a friend has cancer, you run into your friend at church or in the supermarket. You don’t say it because you are kind, but it’s obvious that they are frazzled by all the responsibilities of life and caring for their spouse. This is your chance to let them know you would like to help. But, how? Maybe you’ve heard that bringing a meal is helpful, but you don’t cook. You try to think of something else they might need help with, but never having had cancer, you just don’t know. So, you resort to asking, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Nearly always, your friend will shake their head and say, “No. I can’t think of anything right now, but thank you.” Or they will say what I often do. “Please keep us in your prayers.”

Whew! That was easy. You feel like you dodged a bullet. They know you care. Just to seal the deal you say, “Please let me know if you need anything.” You mean it with all your heart. But, your friend doesn’t call. Maybe they are doing okay. After all, if the needed anything, they would have called. Right?

Wrong

Patients and caregivers are feeling overwhelmed, Caregivers, in particular, feel like it’s their job to care for their loved one. So, they try to do it all. Then, they become exhausted. Eventually, they realize they might not be able to do this alone. After all, this could be a long road and they’re wearing out fast. Who can they ask for help?

Then you see you at church or in the supermarket. You heard from another friend that their spouse is ill and you are very sympathetic. You want to help and ask if there is anything you can do. They search their overwhelmed brain, knowing that there must be something, but at the moment, they can’t think of anything. How can that be, they wonder. You say, “Please let me know if you need anything.” That’s so nice of you.

They thank you and go home.

They think, again about how nice it was that you offered to help. What could they ask of you?  They hate to ask for a meal (especially caregivers who are wives). After all, you work a full-time job and have responsibilities of your own. And while a caregiver’s to-do list is a mile long, they couldn’t ask you to help them take their car in for maintenance, or clean the garage as winter is setting in. Surely, you weren’t offering to help with that kind of thing (even though those responsibilities are weighing on them).

Some Problems

I come from Minnesota where we have the phrase “Minnesota Nice.” Sometimes we can nice ourselves out of the very thing we need.  As a caregiver who doesn’t want to be a bother to others, we hesitate to ask for help, even when it’s offered.

Most people will approach the patient, not the caregiver when they think of ways to offer help when a friend has cancer. Sometimes a caregiver would gladly accept the offer but the patient declines it, thinking it’s not really necessary. Often patients don’t realize everything a caregiver is juggling. To minimize this miscommunication, if you really want to help in some way, check with both the patient and the caregiver. This is important, even if you don’t know the caregiver as well (or at all) as the patient. This will really speak to the sincerity of your offer and will surely touch the patient and caregiver’s hearts.

Ways to offer help when a friend has cancer

When you have a loved one who you would like to help, don’t get derailed trying to do just what they need. Yes, you heard that right! The truth is, half the time, they are too overwhelmed to know what they need. Instead, follow these three steps and you will be able to help:

  1. Think about the things you are good at.
  2. Come up with three different things you can do for your friend to lighten their load or brighten their day.
  3. Then say, “I’ve been thinking about you so much, lately. I would really like to help. Here are 3 things I can offer.  Would any of them be helpful to you?”

Don’t get hung up on the number. Maybe you only have one thing. That’s okay. Three is the maximum because anything more will turn an easy decision into a hard one. The beauty in this is that you can do something you are good at, and it may be just what they need. I call this multiple choice help.

Ways to Offer Help when a Friend has Cancer

 

Out of the Box ways to offer help when a friend has cancer

We have a friend who when we were moving, said, “I would really like to help you but I don’t cook. I do organize well, though. I know you are moving. Could you use my help packing? I could even bring boxes.” She was an angel from heaven! Afterall, who offers to help someone move? Only an angel.

Never feel like the thing you offer is less than what someone else may do to help. You are lifting a burden in your own special way. By offering specific help, you are also giving that person explicit permission to take you up on it. They will know you aren’t just trying to be polite.

Utilize Social Media for Care Coordination

While you likely won’t need to worry about the specific coordination of help (unless that is one of the ways to offer help when a friend has cancer you want to follow through on). But it is a good idea to find out which of these systems if any, that your friend is using.

We are more connected than ever by the internet. There are wonderful tools that you can use to facilitate getting help. My favorite is Caring Bridge. Many people know that it gives you the ability to update family and friends on your condition by writing a journal entry. It also has a planner. You can put anything you need help with on the planner and your friends sign up to help with any task that works for them.  I particularly like that you aren’t limited to meal requests.

If your primary need is a regular meal, Take Them a Meal is the perfect meal coordination site.

Another care coordination site is Lotsa Helping Hands. I personally didn’t find it as easy to use as Caring Bridge, because we had already built up a community on our Caring Bridge site. But if you are new to this, Lotsa Helping Hands is worth checking out.

While there are sites specializing in care coordination, some people choose to use Facebook, either just posting to their personal page, or by creating a specific page or Facebook group for the patient. Using Facebook, they can update friends and family as well as ask for help when the need arises.

And of course, there is always the good old-fashioned phone tree. This requires someone to coordinate the calendar and mobilize people, but it gets the job done. It’s also perfect for prayer requests.

A few more ways to offer help when a friend has cancer

  • Don’t feel unappreciated if they don’t send you a “Thank You” card. While that would normally be Facing Cancer as a Friendproper etiquette, understand that they are swamped, and greatly appreciate your generosity and thoughtfulness.
  • Try to bring meals in containers that you don’t need to have returned. Let them know that they can keep them or throw them if they are disposable. That way, they need not worry about whether they’re expected to get them back to you. If you do need a crockpot or other container returned, schedule a time when you can come to pick it up. Also, put your name on it.  A few times, I’ve found Rubbermaid dishes in my closet and wondered where they came from. So, the name helps.

It is a blessing to be helped, and a greater on to help a friend in need. Check out the many ways to offer help when a friend has cancer and more ideas, in my book, Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has 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


Grief in Children

This past month, I’ve been working on getting my upcoming book Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Child Cope With Your Cancer, published. At the same time, we have been trying to navigate our children through yet another setback in their dad’s cancer journey. There is a section of the book which focuses on grief in children. Because of what we are going through, this section of the book was especially difficult to write and edit. It was also especially important.

What is Grief?

“You may associate grief with the death of a loved one, but any loss can cause grief, including the loss of a relationship, your health, your job, or a cherished dream.” (Help Pages.org Grief and Loss)

Most people think that grief is something that they’ll deal with when someone they love dies. In truth, the process of grieving begins at the moment you realize you of a loved one has cancer. This is a huge shift in your life when the story you pictured for yourself changes. The outcome may not look anything like you’d hoped or imagined.

“Life will never be the same. You can never go back to that day before the clinic visit when you learned you had cancer.” -Melissa Turgeon, child life specialist with the Angel Foundation.

When a family learns that a parent has cancer, everyone’s routine changes. Some people are surprised when they see grief in children. Consider that there are some very practical losses your child will experience or anticipate, such as:

  • A very active and involved parent can suddenly become ill and need to sit on the sidelines.
  • A caregiving parent may suddenly devote all of their time to the patient-parent, leaving the kids with a sense of loss.
  • Our 18-year-old developed a keen awareness that it was unlikely her dad would ever walk her down the aisle or hold her babies.

Did that last one surprise you?

Brain development continues until children reach the age of 26. Unfortunately, grief in children ages 18-26 is often unrecognized. Grief in children looks different depending on the age and stage, as well as the personality of the child. Often, grief in children is manifested by physical symptoms like stomachaches and headaches. In fact, these signs may even be more prevalent than tears or anger.

It’s important to acknowledge the deep and profound loss each member of the family is experiencing. How this looks will be different for each person.

 

It’s easy to misinterpret the symptoms of childhood grief. While grief is as individual and unique at the person who experiences it, there are some common reactions and behaviors that are often seen in grieving youth.

Signs and symptoms of Grief in Children :

  • Physical complaints like headaches or stomachaches
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Lack of emotions (even about the death)
  • Separation anxiety
  • Feeling protective of parent and/or family members
  • Worrying about the safety of loved ones
  • Feeling responsible for the death (thinks that in some way he or she caused the death)
  • A change in behavior at school
  • Falling grades, hard time concentrating or paying attention, seems to “daydream” more
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Changes in appetite
  • Regressing (acting younger than they are)
  • Acting overly responsible for their age
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in friends and usual activities, even pushing away old friends
  • Worrying about another death occurring even their own death

A Different Schedule

Research has shown that grief in children and teens also happens on a different schedule than in adults. Because they don’t have the same cognitive capacity as adults, they can’t maintain a deep level of grief to the extent that adults do. Instead, children will show their grief off-and-on, in waves, over a period of many years. As a child grows older, grief will bubble up at different periods in life. When they reach new developmental stages or important milestones such as first dates, graduations, proms, and birthdays, the grief will rise again.

Seeking out youth grief services early on in a parent’s cancer journey can be very helpful. At this time, the support system that you’ve assembled, including professionals, family, and friends will be essential to ensuring your entire family is able to process their grief and continue to live despite the pain each person is feeling.

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 2018-03-12 07:00:01.

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