Helpful Hints: For Caretakers and Friends

Don't Be A Visiting Jerk 7/30/2015

Imagine you are sitting in a hospital waiting room before a scheduled procedure, waiting to hear your name called by the receptionist. You haven't had anything to eat or drink for more than 12 hours and you are tired, a little anxious and sick of the "hurry up and wait" experience of a hospital.  Someone comes into the waiting room, sits down next to you and begins to eat a burrito.  You didn't realize just how hungry you were until the smell of that burrito hit you. That smell is like a sucker punch to the gut.  When this happened to my husband the word he used to describe this individual was "asshat".

Mad as Hell 1/30/2015

The day after we learned of my husband's cancer diagnosis we tried to resume some of our normal everyday life habits. It felt comforting to do "normal things" like read my Facebook feed. After reading for a while I suddenly got really angry at my friends. I was very upset and felt a ball of anger well up in my stomach because they were posting jokes and silly things. I thought to myself "How can they be telling jokes at a time like this?" It only took a few moments before I realized the ridiculousness of my thoughts. Of course they were posting lighthearted things on Facebook, this was a normal day for them. We had not told anyone of his diagnosis yet and even if we had they certainly had every right to live their lives and post jokes. I was surprised at myself and suddenly embarrassed at my thoughts. However, feelings of anger are a common and normal part of coping with illness.

Gift Giving For The Patient 12/20/2014

With the end of the year and the holidays nearly upon us many of us are thinking of gift giving and when a person in your life has a major illness it can sometimes be challenging to find the right gift. I've recently had two different people ask me for suggestions for appropriate gifts to get for someone with a major illness. One person recently learned of a friend's brain cancer diagnosis and wondered what she could send to the patient that would be useful and comforting. The other person had noticed that an elderly relative with Alzheimer's disease appeared to be declining in the last several months and wanted to know if there were specific gifts she could send that might help the patient feel more comfortable in the assisted living facility as their memory declines. I was glad that they were thoughtfully researching options for appropriate gifts.

Let Me Know If You Need Anything 11/30/2014

Throughout the time that my husband was sick when people learned of his condition they almost always said to us "Let me know if you need anything". It is a common thing people say whenever they hear others are struggling with any health or other life crisis. I'm pretty sure I heard this well over 100 times. Prior to becoming a caregiver to my husband I probably said it as many times to others. It's something that is considered the polite and appropriate thing to say.

Life In The Passenger's Seat 2/28/2014

Being the caretaker of a family member who is coping with a major medical issue presents many challenges. One of the more difficult parts of this experience can be accepting that as the caretaker you are closely connected and deeply involved but because you are not the patient you are not the ultimate decision maker on the patient's treatment or care options. It is very common for a patient to be offered a choice in treatment options with each choice presenting different challenges and risks. It is up to the patient to decide which path feels best for them. Sometimes the patient may feel strongly about one particular option and the caretaker disagrees. Of course it is the patient's right to decide what happens to his or her body and life but whatever choice the patient makes it will impact the caregiver as well.

Sometimes People Say Really Dumb Stuff 7/31/2013

It is surprising how people with really good intentions sometimes say really upsetting things. Many people I know with major health issues tell me about their frustration with the things that people sometimes say to them. Throughout my husband's illness the people in our lives usually said supportive, kind, and helpful things to us. However, I must say that I was surprised by the number of people who said things to us that were rather insensitive, thoughtless, or occasionally downright rude. Often these were well meaning friends and family members who would say something that was pretty much the last thing we wanted to hear. For example, it was quite common when people heard the news of his cancer diagnosis to immediately share the story of someone they knew who had died from cancer. This phenomenon isn't unique to cancer patients; most expectant mothers experience other women suddenly sharing their horror stories of complicated, painful, or otherwise difficult childbirth experiences. It is also common for people dealing with a medical issue to receive tons of unwelcome advice about a "better way" to treat their condition. All of this can add an extra dose of frustration to an already difficult time in your life. While every situation is different and every interaction is unique, there are a few things I've learned in handling this delicate and all too common situation.

Taking Care of the Caretaker 2/28/2013

Being a caretaker for a loved one who is coping with a major illness is one of the most important roles we can ever play in life. Unfortunately most of us fall into the trap of thinking that role requires us to wear ourselves out and neglect our own needs. I learned (the hard way, unfortunately) that it just doesn't have to be that way. Furthermore, it's better for the patient in your life if you take care of the caretaker too.

What Can You Do To Support Your Friend With A Major Illness? 4/6/2012

Most of us just don't know what to do when someone is seriously ill. We want to help. We feel weird and awkward and scared. So: if you have a friend in this situation, what can you do?