Category Archives: Family Relationships


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.


survive the holidays

Surviving the holidays can be difficult when you or someone you love is literally trying to survive the holidays. This almost always means the celebration will look different. I’ve put together a few thoughts and tips to give you a leg up.

To survive the holidays you must first accept that things will be different.

You won’t be participating in the cookie exchange or Christmas caroling. Things that were once fun, are in this new reality, exhausting. Even if you do have the energy to do them, they may zap your reserves so that you’re left burned out. One of the best things you can do is to recognize that the holidays will look different this year—maybe from now on. That’s okay. Change is a part of life even when cancer isn’t. It stinks that cancer is the reason for this change, but accepting it will make the holidays much easier to enjoy.

To survive the holidays you must prioritize

On your quest to survive the holidays this year, make a list of everything you would like to do. This puts it all in one place. Now, pull out your calendar. Get a good grasp on what you are already obligated to do in the next month. Is there anything you can cancel?

What can you add? Don’t add it yet. Just get the vision of what you have to work with in regards to your time. Think about how you feel at the end of each day. Some people still have plenty of energy and others are ready to drop by 6 PM. With all of that in mind, look at that list of things you want to add to your schedule. What can you cut? What should stay? Do the things that you want to keep as part of your holidays fit into your schedule? If so, add them to your calendar.

Also, are there things that don’t feed your soul? This is the year to drop them. You don’t have to put up the lights on the outside of your house this year. You can go for a drive through a neighborhood with especially nice lights to get the twinkle in. A couple of years ago we bought an artificial tree during a great sale. I had always balked at the idea of an artificial tree, but it was getting too hard to deal with a real one each year. We even bought scented sticks that make the tree smell real. Now, we get just as excited setting up our tree as we ever did a real one. This has simplified life.

To survive the holidays, get help

Are there things you can delegate this month? Can a friend take your kids caroling? Can you ask your children to decorate the tree this year (if they are old enough)? Shop online, rather than hitting the stores. All of these things will reduce the amount of energy you have to expand.

Where will the family celebrate?

Often, it’s difficult to go out of town for the holidays when someone in your family has cancer. This might mean having family come to you. That doesn’t mean the work should come to you. If you choose this option, let everyone know that you will need their help. Make sure everyone knows that you can’t have people stay at your house at this time.

Survive the Holidays

What about the meal?

Make a list of thing you need help with, including what you would like for meal items. One way of doing this is to take care of the turkey and ask visitors to bring a side item. A couple of people can bring pies. Even if guests are coming from out of town, they can pick up prebaked pies and sides from the local store. Some people avoid cooking altogether by having the meal catered. In order to organize this, use a mass email or an app like Facebook Messenger to delegate menu items. Have someone bring plastic plates and utensils so there’s minimal clean-up.

If you are going to survive the holidays you have to be honest

Family and friends often have a hard time getting used to the fact that you are dealing with cancer. It can be difficult for them to envision how much this affects your life. This is especially true if the patient is able to carry on as if they are fine, even if it is with great difficulty. This amazing acting job can bite you in the end. Let everyone know that even though it will be harder than usual, you still want to celebrate. You just need some help to make that possible. Hopefully, they will be more than happy to help.

Answer the question

People will ask if there is anything you need help with. So often we say, “No, but thank you for asking.” Why do we do this? They wouldn’t ask if they didn’t want to help. Be prepared to answer the question. Have a list of things you need to have done, ready. What can be delegated?

Know when you need to say “no” so you can survive the holidays.

Are you tired? Lay down. The party can carry on while you rest. Remember to budget your time and space. Have a room that’s just for you. This is important when you go visiting, also. Ask the host if they have a spare room where you can lay down if you need to. Discuss this with them ahead of time so they can be prepared.

Make Memories

This year you can do more than survive the holidays. You can thrive during this festive season. Take lots of pictures and video. Embrace the joy and even the sad feelings that come with this time of year. Be there for one another and give thanks for the good things. Be gentle with one another—and yourself.

What is one thing you plan on doing differently this year? Please share in the comments.

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


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.

Originally posted 2018-08-06 07:00:01.


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.

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