Category Archives: Family Relationships


Joyful

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

How can you feel joyful…

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

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

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

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

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

Our life as a family…

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

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

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

July 2016

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

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

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

October 2012

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

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

Resources

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

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

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

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

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

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

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

 

 

Originally posted 2018-04-11 07:00:08.


Caregiver Guilt

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

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

Caregivers often burden themselves with guilt.

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

Doing or saying the “wrong” thing.

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

Dysfunctional Relationships

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

There is good guilt and bad guilt.

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

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

Caregiver guiltOughta-shoulda-coulda-woulda

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

Don’t discount yourself

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

Guilty feelings

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

Be gentle with yourself:

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

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

Resources

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

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

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

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

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

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

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-07 07:00:44.


Critical Family Members

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

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

Critical Family Members

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

Don’t respond immediately

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

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

The Direct Approach

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

Listen with EmpathyCritical Family Members

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

What if they don’t sound respectful?

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

Walk away

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

Note:

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

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

Resources

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

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

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

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

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

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

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-03 07:00:12.


Anger and Grief

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

When someone you love has cancer…

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

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

Common losses:

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

What’s behind the Anger?

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

Grief and AngerIt’s Okay to Feel Angry

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

Express your feelings rather than act them out.

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

How to release your anger

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

You can be angry without falling apart.

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

Resources

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

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

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

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

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

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

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-01 07:00:33.


Talk to Kids about Cancer

How do you talk to kids about cancer?

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

Protecting their ParentsTalking to kids about cancer

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

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

 

“Horriblizing”

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

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

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

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

Talk to Kids about Cancer

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

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

Empathize

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

Here are some other things you can say

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

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

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

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

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

Talk to Kids About Cancer

What to Avoid

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

Some examples of phrases to avoid are:

“Your Mom will get better soon.”

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

“It’s fine, it’s fine.”

What Not to Avoid

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

It’s also HOW you say it

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

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

A Better Way

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

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

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

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

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

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

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

 

Originally posted 2018-03-26 07:00:58.


Ways to Offer Help when a Friend has Cancer

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

Where the burden of support lies

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

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

As a Supportive Friend or Family Member:

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

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

When you offer to help

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

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

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

Wrong

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

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

They thank you and go home.

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

Some Problems

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

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

Ways to offer help when a friend has cancer

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

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

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

Ways to Offer Help when a Friend has Cancer

 

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

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

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

Utilize Social Media for Care Coordination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

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

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

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

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

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

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

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-07-16 07:00:13.


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.

A to Z Challenge Survivor

Newsletter

Find out when I post a new blog.

Archives

Categories

Grab a copy of Facing Cancer as a Friend!

Get the Memory Maker’s Journal

%d bloggers like this: