Category Archives: Family Relationships


Fear and Guilt

Dan and I first met one another in a Sunday school class ten years ago. We had both been through painful divorces, so starting over was a bit scary. Still, it wasn’t long before we knew that we were meant to marry. It was a whirlwind romance! All too soon, we would find out that even the best of marriages can be invaded by fear and guilt, especially when you are facing cancer. This is a story I’ve shared before. It bears repeating because fear and guilt are things that most people struggle with, including those of great faith.

Our friend, Rick

Back in 2009, The bus company that Dan worked for offered health insurance to its employees, but the policy premiums were too expensive for any of them to afford. Like Dan, his friend and co-worker, Rick, didn’t have health insurance. Rick began to have headaches that wouldn’t go away, and soon developed a strange lump on his sternum. When he finally qualified for a government health insurance policy in early 2009, he went to the doctor. But by then, it was too late. He had stage IV melanoma. He died just three months later.

Dan and I were planning our wedding,

In the midst of the joyous plans, the fear that Dan would one day get cancer, overwhelmed me. What if I lost him? I couldn’t handle the thought of it. I had never in my life experienced a love like ours. What if it was too good to be true? What if he died as Rick did? After all, Dan didn’t have insurance, either. I chalked it up to having just watched what Rick went through. Still, one day as I was vacuuming my living room floor and thinking about our future together, I began to have a panic attack.

Christians aren’t supposed to panic.

Christians aren’t supposed to have anxiety. Right? I had always been told that Christians aren’t even supposed to fear. After all, it says, “Do not fear,” over and over again in the Bible. In fact, it’s said that it appears 365 times in the Bible, one for every day of the year. Knowing this only compounded the problem. I now felt both fear and guilt.

But, I was afraid. I did have anxiety. I was panicking.

Thankfully, I’d fallen in love with an amazing man. When I called him at work, he stopped everything and prayed for me over the phone. He prayed that God would calm my nerves and soothe my heart and give me peace where there had been panic. This was a man worth marrying. so for a time, I put aside my fear and guilt.

We married that fall in our church.

Each of us brought three children to the family. Dan’s were grown and living on their own, and mine were still very young. My daughters quickly thought of Dan as their dad and after we had been married for two years he adopted them, legally.

Our daughter Samantha was so small when we married. She was immediately attached to Dan, thanking God every night for giving her such a wonderful daddy. Her only question was why God had taken so long to bring him to us. She was also very scared that she would lose him. Her biological father left. While she didn’t understand how that could happen, she knew that it was possible to lose a parent and that it could happen again.

She would frequently quiz us about what would happen if we ever had a fight. We assured her that in a good marriage, even if you disagree, you don’t fight. There is a big difference between the two. As time went on, she found out that this was true, and she became more assured in the steadfast love of her dad. She knew that she would always have him.

Three years later, doctors diagnosed Dan with lung cancer.

Lung cancer? How could he have lung cancer? He was healthy. He’d never smoked. I had no idea that 15% of people who get lung cancer have never smoked, and there are many more people who haven’t smoked in years, even decades. Still, it didn’t make sense.

I remembered how afraid I was before we got married. Did my fear, bring this upon my husband and our family? Over the years I reprimanded by people in the church. “Don’t say that you’re bringing a curse upon yourself.” These memories played through my mind like a movie. This is rooted in theology often termed “name it and claim it.” More recently, people have begun to term this, “manifesting.”

This fear and guilt formula is a Christian form of Karma

While I didn’t really ascribe to that particular theology, I had heard it enough times to feel guilty. After all, I’d been so afraid of the very thing that was now happening. Is that what brought this about? As irrational as it was, guilt plagued me for quite some time during my husband’s diagnosis process.

Does God really look at our fear and guilt like that?

Does God wait for one of His children to name their fear, just to visit it upon them? That would be like my child saying she’s afraid of snakes, only to have me put a rattlesnake in her bed. Or, me knowing she’s afraid of spiders, and putting her in a room full of Black Widows. That may sound extreme, but it’s no more so than cancer.  If God is a better parent than I am (and surely He is), then He doesn’t work that way.

fear and guilt

Saint Luke makes this same observation in his gospel.

“If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13 KJV)

I think it’s true that we do need to watch the things that we say. The words we use are indicative of the condition of our heart. And, the things that we say affect those around us.

“With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10)

We can do great damage without words.

When we speak to our children we can build them up or tear them down. When we speak to our spouse we can build them up here them down. This is why we speak life rather than death.

Fear and guilt are both experiences (whether rational or not). When we feel fear, we need God’s loving help, as well as understanding and support from family and friends. So, did the fear I felt, all those years ago cause my husband’s cancer? No, I was simply a woman in love. Love makes us feel vulnerable,

Parents worry about their children. That’s why we take precautions to protect them. Those worries don’t cause scraped knees and hurts that come even later in life as the children grow older and go out into this broken world. In fact, when God or His messengers said, “Do not be afraid,” in the Bible, they were assurances, not reprimands. It is time to disentangle the fear and guilt that people often associate with cancer.

Perhaps, all those years ago, God had been speaking to my heart through my fear, to let me know what I would one day deal with? Was He allowing me to prepare? Did he want to see my reaction to such a thought? Was He seeing if I could handle it?

I don’t know. But I do know that my husband’s cancer wasn’t a reaction on God’s part to my fear. My Father in Heaven is better than that.

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

Have you experienced fear and guilt associated with a cancer diagnosis? How did it affect your faith? 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 ERICKSONThe Erickson Family

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.


talk to children about cancer

It’s important to talk to children about cancer-even with a “bleak” prognosis. My husband, Dan was stage IV, metastatic, when he was diagnosed. So, we have always been told that his cancer was terminal and that we were buying time. The best we could hope for was that he would be labeled NED, No Evidence of Disease (like remission). It’s especially difficult to talk to children about cancer when you are given such a bleak prognosis.

Our Story

One year into his treatment plan, Dan was declared NED (having no evidence of disease). This is a term used to describe what people think of as a state of remission in certain types of cancer. It means that the cancer is still there, it’s just too small to be seen on a scan.

It’s a wonderful feeling to be NED, even though we’d been told that it was only temporary and that at some point Dan’s cancer would rear its ugly head again. One thing that surprised me was how uneasy I felt, even during that time. The first thing that bothered me was that his scans were now farther apart. Instead of being every 6 weeks, they were every 3 months. What if cancer began to progress just after a scan, and rather than it growing, unchecked, for 6 weeks, it had 3 months to multiply? That question plagued me.

We were counting on God to give us the time we needed as a family, and we were counting on people to pray for us, so I also feared that because Dan was doing well, people would forget that we still needed prayer.

Our kids worried too.

In the back of their mind was always the list of “what-ifs.” It was especially bad just before a scan.

  • What had happened since the last scan?
  • Will we be able to stay the course, or will we suddenly have to learn about a new treatment?
  • What will be the new side-effects?
  • Will we have a new schedule, dictated by the chemo schedule?
  • Will there be another option when this one runs out–because it always stops working at some point.

How to talk to children about cancer:

Young Children

While most young children, will be able to quickly move beyond the cancer once treatment is done and you are feeling better, some children worry more than others and may need continued support. In these cases it is especially important to use care as you talk to children about cancer, giving them the reassurance they need, while still being honest.

Teens

Teens may avoid talking openly about their fears or concerns. They often feel a need to protect their parent by keeping their fears to themselves. It is often easier for teens to discuss their fears with someone outside the family. You can see if they would like you to help set that up with an adult they trust or can feel at ease talking to.
Kids tend to see things just as they are. Once you complete your treatment, life goes back to normal and you begin to look like your “old self” again, they’ll probably think that the illness is over. While you might want to tell your children that everything will be fine, it’s best to let some time pass before you give them any assurances, because unfortunately, cancer can recur or metastasize (spread to another part of the body).

Honesty is the Best Policy

  • Be honest about your feelings, with yourself and with your kids. They may be experiencing some of the same feelings that you are. Be honest about the fact that if the cancer returns, it will mean more treatment, of some sort.
  • During this time, you can–and should be happy.
  • There’s plenty to be happy about, and you can share those things together. Maybe you’re looking forward to not feeling nauseous anymore. If you lost your hair due to treatment, you can enjoy seeing it return (maybe even different from before).
  • Enjoy the moment, even if you don’t know what to expect in the future.

The Goal…

For people who have an “incurable” cancer, time is the goal, more time to spend doing the things God had called you to in this life, spending time with family and friends, leaving your mark. Remission, NED, stable disease, they are all good, but they are also another place in the timeline when cancer patients and their loved ones take a deep breath that they will hold a while longer. Talk to children about cancer-even if things look bleak.

In our case, we had reason to hope, even though, medically, it looked hopeless. Our hope was in the Lord, Jesus Christ. He’s been our strength throughout this journey. I’m glad we did hope because we’ve had 4 amazing years of memories, to date, that we might’ve otherwise missed.

 Just Released!!

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 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 2018-06-25 07:00:50.


Faith and Cancer

Your children are developing their own sense of self, and their own personal faith. When a parent has cancer, their faith often goes through a period of questioning. How could God allow their mom or dad to have cancer? Where is God in all of this? Is God punishing them? We are often confronted with the question of why bad things happen to good people. People believe many different answers to this question, even within the Christian faith.

Faith, itself is born out of questions.

In the Bible, Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Questions are a matter of not being able to see the end of the tunnel. Faith is what keeps you moving, even in the darkness, believing that eventually, you will reach the light. Faith can make all the difference in getting through life and its challenges. It grounds you, comforts you, and gives you a sense of community support.

Our Daughter, Sam

For the first 3 years of my husband’s cancer, it appeared that our daughter, Sam, either had unshakable faith or enormous naiveté. She was unflappable in her confidence that God would take care of us and that everything would work out. More recently I asked her about it since she was much older and could express her thoughts more clearly. She said, “I always knew that Dad could die, but I also knew that God would take care of us, even if that happened.” I knew then, that it was faith

Of course, having that kind of faith doesn’t necessarily spare someone fear, sadness, frustration, or any of the other many feelings surrounding a loved one’s illness. Recently, my husband was going to California to visit our adult daughter, her husband, and children.  Sam had an awful nightmare, the night before. As a result, she had a total meltdown. In tears, she told Dan that she’d dreamed he didn’t come back from California and that we’d never see him again. She asked him not to go. The reality is that the dream was really a manifestation of her fears about losing Dan to cancer. Thankfully, he was able to comfort and assure her that everything would be okay. He had a good trip and did return to us, safe and sound.

Your Child's Faith

What do YOU believe?

What are your beliefs about this question of why bad things happen to good people? In particular, why do good people get cancer? Is it a punishment for past mistakes or sins? Maybe a testing God allows, like in the book of Job? Is cancer a random event? Your answers to these questions are a reflection of your beliefs and who you are. It’s likely that your children are very aware of these things and have many similar responses to something as earth-shaking as cancer.

Children’s brains don’t fully develop until age 25

This is why it often takes that long before they really get their act together. It also makes it more difficult for them to reconcile their experience as a child of a cancer patient, with what they have always been told or believed about God.

What if you haven’t told your kids how you feel about matters of faith and God. If that’s the case, it’s likely that you’re wrestling with some of these same questions, and that your children won’t have a clear basis for their ideas on faith. It’s okay to tell your children that you’re struggling with what to believe. Again, this is coming from a place of honesty and trust. At that point, it’s essential that you begin to explore these things for your own spiritual well-being.

Your childs faith and your cancerGetting Help

At times like these, it can be a good idea to reach out for advice and help, for yourself and your children. Talk to a trusted pastor or a friend with a faith that you admire and feel you could connect with. They may be able to listen and explain things to you and/or your child.

One word of caution

Often, well-meaning people will tell a child who has lost a parent, “God must have needed another angel in heaven.” This can be very destructive to a child’s image of God, turning Him into the one who took their parent away. It’s better to say, “I’m so sorry for what you are going through,” or “I’m sorry for your loss.”

My Experience

For a long time, I struggled with the question of why my husband would have cancer. It seemed so unfair. I wasn’t angry with God, but what we were going through wasn’t lining up with how I believed the world worked. What helped me come to terms with my husband’s cancer, was faith.  Like my daughter, Sam, I had to trust that things would be okay. That didn’t mean that they would be the way I thought they should be, but that God would have His hand on us through this.

Above all, I take comfort in knowing that when my husband does die, whether it is in 6 months, a year, or 20 years, he’ll be in the very presence of Jesus Christ. For us as believers, there is nothing better than that. So, as hard as this journey is, I will rejoice for him on that day.

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 2018-02-26 07:00:13.


What if

Cancer can often feel like a roll of the dice. The unknown can be the hardest part of cancer and its treatment. This causes patients and their families to often ask, what if. One year into his treatment plan, Dan’s doctor declared that Dan was NED (having no evidence of disease). This is a term used to describe what people think of as a state of remission (in certain types of cancer). It is a wonderful feeling to be NED. Still, because Dan’s cancer was advanced and ultimately terminal, we had been told that it was only temporary and that at some point Dan’s cancer would rear its ugly head again.

What If

One thing that surprised me was how uneasy I felt, even during that time. His scans were now farther apart. Instead of being every 6 weeks, they were every 3 months. What if cancer began to progress just after a scan, and then grew, unchecked, for 3 months? What if? That question plagued me.

We were counting on God to give us the time we needed as a family, and we were counting on people to pray for us, so I also feared that because Dan was doing well, people would forget that we still needed prayer. And, at certain times, like when Dan was about to have a scan, or he just wasn’t feeling quite right, a what if would cross our minds.

  • What has happened since the last scan? What if the cancer has progressed?
  • Will we be able to stay the course, or will we suddenly have to learn about a new treatment? What if that treatment doesn’t work?
  • If there is a new treatment, what will the new side-effects be like? What if the treatment is really hard?
  • What if the treatment involves infusions? Are our schedule and routine going to go through another upheaval?
  • Will there be another option when this one runs out (Because it always stops working at some point)?

Kids worry, too

Our kids worried too. In the back of their minds was their own “what if” list. It was especially bad just before a scan.

While most young children, will be able to quickly move beyond the cancer once treatment is done and you’re feeling better, some children worry more than others and may need continued support.

Teens may avoid talking openly about their fears or concerns. It is often easier for teens to discuss their fears with someone outside the family. You can see if they would like you to coordinate a time for them to talk with an adult they trust or can feel at ease with.

Kids tend to see things just as they are. Once you complete your treatment, life goes back to normal and you begin to look like your “old self” again, they will probably think that the illness is over. You might want to tell your children that everything will be fine, but it’s best to let some time pass before you give them any assurances. Unfortunately, cancer can recur or metastasize (spread to another part of the body).

Dealing with the question What if

 

Dealing with feelings of uncertainty

You should be honest about your feelings of uncertainty—with yourself and with your kids. They may be experiencing some of the same thoughts that you are. Be honest about the fact that if the cancer returns, it will mean more treatment, of some sort.

During this time, you can—and should, be happy. When a treatment is ended, there is plenty to be happy about, and you can share those things together. Maybe you’re looking forward to not feeling nauseous anymore. If you lost your hair due to treatment, you can enjoy seeing it return (maybe even different from before). Enjoy the moment, even if you don’t know what to expect in the future.

Our Story

When you have a “treatable” cancer and you respond to the treatment there is every reason to hope. My husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV, metastatic, lung cancer. We were told that his cancer was terminal and that we were buying time. Even though it looked hopeless, medically, we had reason to hope. Our hope is in the Lord, Jesus Christ. He has been our strength throughout this journey. I am grateful for that hope. We have had over five amazing years of memories, to date, that we might have otherwise missed.

Dan’s most recent scan shows that his cancer is again progressing. That means starting a difficult course of treatment, again, and worries about whether or not it will work—and for how long. It’s during these times that I remind myself, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” Matthew 6:34 RSV (1)

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

Footnotes:

  1.  from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Originally posted 2018-02-05 07:00:45.


when you have to watch your loved one suffer

I often write about the practical side of facing cancer. One thing I haven’t written about is what it’s like to watch your loved one suffer. It’s something that people try not to think about. Friends and family who don’t live with the patient 24/7 often miss the drama of middle of the night pain. This is a good thing. It’s not something that anyone would want to see and hear. Yet it falls to a spouse or other close caregiver to be there. This is also a good thing because no one should suffer alone.

What is like, really, to watch your loved one suffer?

The best way I can describe it is a feeling of utter helplessness. You want to make the pain stop, but there is no way you can. “Have you taken your pain pills?”

“Yes.”

“Would you like me to run you another hot bath with Epsom salts?”

“I just took one. As soon as I got out the cramping began again.”

I hold him and pray a silent prayer for the pain to subside. I believe this is the best thing you can do when you have to watch your loved one suffer.

He attempts to pull on some compression stockings to help his circulation and stop the painful cramps, but his toes are so sensitive from the neuropathy that it feels impossible.

I begin looking for compression stockings with zippers and no toes to help. Instead, we settle on purchasing a contraption off of Amazon that helps people get their socks on. While it won’t help him tonight, it may in the future. It’s surreal to be shopping online while my husband is crying in pain.

He tries to lie down again. Within a couple of minutes, he jumps out of bed, crying out in pain and frustration. He slams his hand against the dresser in an uncharacteristic show of anger.

“We should call the 24-hour nurse line.”

“No.” He doesn’t say it, but he thinks they will tell him to go into the hospital. I know that’s what he’s thinking. While it’s important to respect their wishes, it’s also important to feel fully informed and supported during those times when you must watch your loved one suffer.

I look up a website that does into great detail about leg cramps. I read it aloud so Dan and I can brainstorm together.  “Are you taking calcium every day?”

“Yes. And magnesium and potassium.”

“How about fluids? You slept most of the day. Maybe you’re dehydrated. You should have a Gatorade.”

“Then I’ll be up all night, going to the bathroom.”

“At this point, you’ll be up all night with cramps. Try rubbing some Biofreeze on your legs.” I hand him the bottle of the most magical analgesic rub we have.

He takes it and goes into the bathroom while I grab my phone and his wallet. I pull out his insurance card and dial the 24-hour nurse line. He grumbles in irritation as he hears me on the phone. I tell the nurse the problem as well as the things we’ve done so far. “I guess I just want to know if there’s something we’ve missed, something that could help him.”

The nurse asks

“Does he gets labs done when he goes to the doctor?” The next lab appointment isn’t until mid-December, a month away. But, he does have an appointment with his palliative doc in less than a week.

He can hear our conversation and chimes in, “I could schedule a lab appointment before I see Dr. N. I really should have my port accessed, anyway.”

The nurse encourages us to discuss these cramps with the palliative doctor. “She could prescribe a different muscle relaxer that may work better. And his electrolytes may be off, even though he is taking supplements.  It could also be something with no known cause. Sometimes we just can’t find a reason.” She gave me hope and then dashed it.

I got off the phone and again encouraged Dan to drink a Gatorade. “Red or orange?”

“Which one tastes better?”

“They both taste amazing. They’re Gatorade,” I put a positive spin on it. He chose a red one and eventually settled in for the night. When sleep finally arrives at three in the morning, we are both so grateful.

This is the account from a recent late-night episode (late November). We’ve had countless in the last 6 years. Some involved nausea, while others were due to dizziness or trouble breathing. Neutropenic fevers have pulled us into the emergency room on several occasions. All of these long nights were filled with the terrible feeling of helplessness. In those times I wish I could take his place. But I can’t.

If you ask a professional…

How do you deal with having to watch your loved one suffer? They will often suggest a mindfulness technique, such as meditation or a breathing exercise. I think there is merit to this, but in the moment, it is completely counter-intuitive. My husband is hurting and I’m going to focus on my breathing? Unfortunately, we often have to do what doesn’t come naturally.

It might be unrealistic to expect a caregiver to practice mindfulness when they are in the middle of a night like I’ve described. But, it can still be helpful at other times, such as during chemotherapy, while they are doing okay, but before the side effects of the chemo kick in. This can build up your reserves and steel your nerves for what’s to come.

After a tough night

When the worst is over, mindfulness and self-care practices can help you recover. It’s important to take the time to care for yourself. It may mean calling a family member or friend to give you some respite time. Allow yourself this very important time. It isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.

It hurts to watch your loved one suffer. That pain is the price of love. There are ways to bounce back from this pain, both for you and your loved one. That’s what resilience is. In the next few posts, we will look at how you can be more resilient no matter what cancer throws your way.

Have you ever had to watch your loved one suffer? What helped you through that time? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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


Daisy Letters

Do you have a child in your life in need of encouragement? There’s a young girl in England who would love to help by sending one of her Daisy Letters!

How Daisy Letters Began

Beginning at the age of 6 months old, Leanna spent much of her life in the hospital, fighting cancer twice. Her response to her personal trials was to help other kids who were facing difficult circumstances. She began the non-profit, Daisy Letters, with the goal of brightening up the day of the children who are going through tough times.

Leanna does something rarely done anymore.

She sends handwritten letters of encouragement. The effect is amazing! Anyone can nominate a child or teen, between the ages 0-19 years to receive one of Leanna’s Daisy Letters. When I heard of Daisy Letters, I went to Leanna’s site and nominated our daughter, Emily. Emily was really struggling with what was happening with her dad’s cancer. Having Asperger’s only added to the difficulty of expressing her emotions in a healthy way. I could see that she was very sad, but I didn’t know how to reach her. I filled in the online forms explaining why Emily could use a dose of encouragement. A few weeks later, a letter arrived from the UK. Emily looked at it with wonderment. Who could have sent it?

A few weeks later…

a letter arrived from the UK. Emily looked at it with wonderment. Emily wondered, “Who could have sent it?” as she examined the letter with international postage. I don’t know what Leanna wrote, but it meant a lot to Emily. She had an extra bounce in her step after that. She still has the letter sent across the sea, by another girl her age, who she has never met, but who cared enough to write.

Leanna says, (in her beautiful British accent) “I know how hard it can be struggling with illnesses, or being in hospital for long periods of time, or having a bad day where life is tough. I would have loved to receive a letter to encourage me, and so I want to be able to do this for other children and teenagers. A handwritten, personal letter can mean so much to the recipient, and with words of strength, encouragement, and care, I want to bring a smile to people’s faces and hopefully brighten up their day.”

She is certainly succeeding!

If your child, or a child you know could use that kind of encouragement, go to the Daisy Letters website to nominate them. If you’d like to help Leanna, you can donate stationery, envelopes, or money to be put towards stamps, and ink cartridges. Send her a message in the reply section on her site, letting her know you would like to help. She will respond, letting you know the best place to send your donation.

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

Originally posted 2018-01-29 07:00:59.


Ring Theory Circle of Support

The Ring Theory-Finding Your Circle of Support

The Ring Theory was created by breast cancer survivor and clinical psychologist, Dr. Susan Silk Ph.D., and arbitrator/mediator, Barry Goldman. The gist of it is this: Comfort in. Dump out. Who you comfort, and who you “dump” your grief on (in other words, who comforts you) will determine what circle of support you reside in.

Take out a piece of paper. In the middle of the page, draw a small circle. Label it with the patient’s name. The patient is in the center circle of support because the patient is the center of their cancer universe. It is everyone else’s job to support them. No one is allowed to dump on the patient. What does that mean?

The Patient- The Center

When Karen, a breast cancer patient was no longer able to bring meals to neighborhood functions or help with the kids’ school activities, people remarked at how hard it was without her, since they depended on her. Often, people say things like this to let the patient know they are important. However, this added a new layer of guilt to Karen’s shoulders, even though that was never the speakers’ intentions. So, don’t say anything to the patient regarding the effects of his/her cancer on you. Instead, listen to and comfort the patient. It’s about them—not you.

Circle of Support for a Spouse/Caregiver

What about their spouse or caregiver? They’re next in line for support. Draw another circle around the “patient” circle.  That’s the “spouse/caregiver” ring.  Only the patient is allowed to dump The spouse or caregiver. Anyone else should listen to and comfort the spouse or caregiver. So, it’s about the caregiver/spouse too—not you.

Circle of Support for Other Immediate Family Members

Next, draw another circle around the first, which will represent the immediate family. Immediate family can vent to anyone other than the patient and the spouse/caregiver.

One thing to note is that immediate family can vent with one another. They all share the same concerns and are able to comfort one another in a unique and special way.

Circle of Support for Extended Family, Friends, and ColleaguesRing Theory of Cancer Support

Draw a fourth circle around the immediate family circle. This one represents extended family and close friends.

A fifth circle will represent colleagues and friends. Each subsequent circle of people is a little more distant from the patient and their situation.

You never want to dump on or vent to someone in a circle closer to the patient than the circle you’re in.  For example, a friend would not dump on a parent or a spouse. They could, however, talk to another friend, or someone outside of the situation.

Circle of Support for Lookie-Loos

Lookie-Loos reside on the outer edge of the rings. These are people who have nothing at stake. They are the grocer or the guy that visits your garage sale, someone from church who hasn’t spoken to the patient or caregiver in months, or someone who happened to come upon the patient or caregiver’s blog.

Lookie-Loos can keep their thoughts to themselves. They aren’t allowed to dump on anyone, but they can offer comfort. In fact, many times, a lookie-loo has been a great source of encouragement to our family.

It’s Etiquette that Works in any Crisis

Hopefully, this explains in a nutshell, the etiquette of who to comfort (anyone who is hurting), and who to dump on (only people in a circle larger than yours—and never the patient).

Dumping or venting is anything that isn’t solely and directly supportive. Remember the adage, “It’s not about me.” While it may affect you, dumping on anyone in a circle closer to the patient than you are, can be seen as insensitive, selfish, and tacky, even when said with the best of intentions.

By the way, this works for any crisis someone may go through, health, financial, marital, etc.

This information and more is found 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 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 2018-01-22 07:00:36.


Grieving During the Holidays

While the holidays are meant to be a time of joy and family gatherings, when you are faced with cancer, there is a real mixture of emotions that come at this time of year. That’s because whether you or a loved one currently has cancer, or you’ve lost someone close to the disease you will feel the full effects of grieving during the holidays.

Our Story

We discovered my husband’s stage IV lung cancer at the end of October, just a couple of days before our 3rd wedding anniversary, a couple of weeks before his 52nd birthday, 3 weeks before Thanksgiving, 2 months before Christmas, and then 2013, the year he would statistically die.  In 2 months’ time, we trudged through all of these days that we would normally celebrate. Yet, we didn’t feel like celebrating. Without saying it out loud, each member of our family wondered if this would be the last time we had together on any of those occasions.

Our daughter, Summer, described it as feeling like everything had to be perfect since it could be the last. Of course, nothing is ever perfect, least of all family get-togethers. This can lead to frustration and disappointment, which are really due to the underlying emotions of grief.

Grief Amplified

Grief during the holidays is like that of other times of the year except amplified. While everyone else is getting into the holiday spirit, you may feel more alone than ever. Sometimes this is because you’ve lost someone you love. Sometimes it’s because you’ve lost the way things used to be and no one seems to understand.

Don’t Worry About “Getting Over It”

All too often, people feel the need to “get over it”, so that they don’t ruin the day. It’s important to allow yourself to feel these emotions, even on special occasions. This means taking some time. You may want to journal about your feelings. If you are grieving during the holidays, the loss of a loved one, you might want to get together with a friend or family member who would like to share memories of your loved one.

Set Limits

It’s not only okay but also important to set limits. If you have always had Christmas at your home, see if you could join someone else’s holiday meal. Sometimes a change in setting can be helpful for eliminating the disappointment that the traditions in your home are changing.

Grieving During the Holidays

During the holidays of 2012, even though my husband was still alive, everyone in our home was still grieving. During that first year, things were made even more difficult by the new revelations about his health that were coming in with each new test result and doctor’s appointment. We were on a steep learning curve as we adjusted to his new treatment and its side effects. Those closest to us were in pain as well, while folks on the periphery of our lives sometimes said insensitive things in their attempts to encourage us.

I’ve also spoken to many widows who have told me that the 2nd year was actually harder than the 1st after losing their spouse. That’s because so many kind people were there for them the first Christmas they experienced as a widow. The 2nd Christmas, many people assumed that things were okay. There is no time clock for grief.

When You Have Young Children

If you have children, it’s important to talk to them about their expectations and concerns when it comes to special occasions. They are grieving as well. Eliminating longstanding traditions altogether can be very painful for them and isn’t necessary. In fact, this time of year can be a time for them to work through the feelings they may have but haven’t spoken aloud.

It’s important that your children know that it’s okay to cry and it’s also okay to laugh, even while you are grieving. They will learn this best by seeing what you do. Special occasions are a time for remembrances and for new traditions. A mixture of both will help you as you navigate the waters of grieving during the holidays.

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 ERICKSONThe Erickson Family

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

 


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.

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