What You don’t Know About Breathing Can Really Hurt You

breathingLosing My Ability to Breathe

Somewhere, between diagnosis and deliverance, I forgot how to breathe. I find myself, at odd moments, holding my breath, not in anticipation or fright, but simply because I have forgotten the rhythm of breathing.

I didn’t even know about my loss until I started experiencing horrible, unexplainable pain in the middle of my chest that isn’t a heart problem (checked that), isn’t a nerve problem (checked that too), or even a lung problem (checked the bellows out and they’re fine).

“You’re as healthy as a person half your age,” the cardiologist told me. If that’s true, why does it hurt to breathe or have my heart beat strong and deep?  Why does my left side swell up?  It hurts to lie down, or stand up?  Why does it happen over and over again?

“Your breathing function is normal,” the internist told me. “In fact, your lung capacity is superior.”  Than why does it hurt to breathe?  Why can’t I take a deep breath without agony?  Walking up stairs is a cruel form of torture.

“Have you ever considered acupuncture?” my family practitioner asked me. Really?  Alternative therapy?  I couldn’t believe a physician was suggestion alternative therapy.

“Well, I do go to a chiropractor and a massage therapist,” I admitted.

“Does it help?” she asked.

“I’m not sure.”  I shrugged. “Sometimes it helps the pain go away if I go in early, sometimes it doesn’t. My massage therapist claims that I have incredibly tight muscles on my left side. It takes her an hour to work through the knots.”

A Different Kind of Specialist

“Do you know how to breathe?” my neighbor and friend asked me. She’s a life coach, and helps people with chronic pain—she’s also a person in chronic pain. “I can teach you how to breathe.”  I reluctantly agreed to go over to her house after work one evening (after my second job–I much rather would have been in bed).

“It’s called diaphragmatic breathing,” she told me. “Put your hand right below your rib cage and try to push your hand out when you breathe.”  I felt silly, but I tried it. “When you breathe shallowly, you decrease your body’s ability handle pain.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”  She launched into the technical reasons why shallow breathing keeps a person from processing pain and releasing endorphins that help the body take care of pain. I thanked her and wandered out of her house, hand on stomach, practicing my breathing while thinking of breathing in general.

Over the next few weeks, while I waited for my pain to go away, I caught myself not breathing. The computer didn’t load fast enough—I clenched my teeth and my breathing ceased its regular, steady rhythm. Three family members with perfectly good hands and arms and backs failed to put their own dishes in the dishwasher—how hard can it be to bend slightly and put a dish in the dishwasher?  I got cut off on the highway—have they stopped giving driving tests?!  Ooops!  My teeth were clenched and I had been holding my breath for who-knows-how-long.

Caregiver, Beware Your Breathing

Somewhere, between diagnosis and deliverance, I had started holding my breath—in fright, in anticipation of the next piece of bad news, in mental pain and agony, in emotional stress. No one ever warned me that a side effect of all that stress would be a loss of breathing. In fact, no one warned me about any of the side effects of a cancer diagnosis. Slowly, every so slowly, I’m putting a name on them and dealing with them. For now, I’ll start with breathing lessons.

 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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Self-Care for Caregivers Involves Learning How to Breathe

breatheSelf-Care for Caregivers Involves Learning How to Breathe

To breathe or not to breathe, this is the question. I know, we all breathe, all the time; otherwise, we would be dead. But did you know that HOW we breathe plays a huge role in our health?

During Pedro’s cancer year, I forgot how to breathe. It took me several years after his stem-cell transplant to actually learn how to breathe again. Unfortunately, my health (both mental and physical) suffered greatly during my years of forgetting how to breathe.

Fear and pain cause shallow breathing—our bodies naturally respond to threats by changes in breathing patterns. The problem occurs when we find ourselves in a constant state of stress—which disrupts our normal breathing.

According to Alan Fogel, Ph.d., in an online article for Psychology Today, “Chronic breath holding and effortful breathing are not healthy because the muscular effort, coupled with the effects of stress on the nervous, hormonal, and immune systems, can impair both physical and psychological function.”

Caregivers can live in a constant state of fright, flight, or freeze. When I thought Pedro might die any given day, I struggled to assure our children that everything would be ok (regardless of the outcome). I struggled to assure myself that things would get better. Seeing a doctor walk out of Pedro’s room (or into it) at an unscheduled time sent my heart racing.

If I would have known more about the importance of the way that I breathed, I could have avoided a lot of pain and agony later on—when all those months of bad breathing turned into a bad habit that chiseled away at my health.

So, if you care for someone, the number one thing you can do for yourself involves learning how to breathe.

Four Steps to Healthy Breathing

1. Remember the numbers. Four-seven-eight. 4-7-8. Breathe in for four seconds. Hold it for seven seconds. Breathe out for eight seconds.Rescue breathing for #caregivers. http://wp.me/p2UZoK-1C3
2. Breathe in through your nose. If you feel like you suffer from chemo-brain by proxy, it probably means you suffer from stress. To regain your ability to remember things, breathe in through your nose when you want to remember something. Scientists recently discovered that breathing in through the nose enhances memory.
3. Breathe to fall asleep. If you struggle with insomnia, try the 4-7-8 breathing technique as you lie in bed at night.
4. Exercise hard on a regular basis. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular aerobic exercise can ward off viral illnesses, reduce your health risks, and keep excess pounds at bay.

Keeping pounds off is vital for caregivers because caregiving takes a big enough toll on our mental health without having to deal with weight gain. Aerobic exercise doesn’t mean you have to join an aerobic dance class (thank goodness—I have two left feet).

Simply engage your large muscle groups, make sure your heart rate increases, and your feel your body start breathing more deeply. I finally purchased a fitness tracker to keep me honest about my effort. You can do this by walking briskly, climbing flights of stairs, running, bicycling, or dancing like a crazy person in your living room.

What other ways have you discovered to relieve caregiver stress?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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Six Tips for Family Caregivers During a Catastrophe

Baby Steps at the Hospital

catastropheThe Family Caregiver’s Guide to Self-Care at the Hospital

“Excuse me,” I interrupted the nurse as she stood at the desk working on charts. “I don’t think Pedro received his pain meds.”

“Let me check,” she replied with a busy frown. “Yes, it says right here that he had his meds an hour ago.”

“If you check your supply, I’m sure you’ll see that he didn’t receive them,” I insisted. I couldn’t believe my bravery—normally, I avoid conflicts at all cost. “The last nurse came in and said she would bring the meds, and then something came up. After that, the shifts changed.”

With a dubious, harried look, the nurse took off down the hallway towards the pharmacy dispensing room. I trailed behind.

Two minutes later, the chagrinned nurse came out of the room with a paper cup full of meds in her hand. “You’re right,” she said, and headed to Pedro’s room.

THIS was why I spent every spare minute in the hospital—to prevent human error from harming my husband. I might not be able to cure his cancer, but I could make sure he didn’t suffer because overworked and underpaid nurses forgot to dispense his meds.

The Slippery Slope of Caregiving

When a family member gets launched into a health crisis, primary caregivers get launched into a tandem trajectory of life changes. Our bodies enter the fright, flight, or freeze state—usually choosing to fight for our loved one.

Within hours, we go through a mental list of everything we will give up or reschedule in order to remain by our loved one’s side until the crisis resolves. All too often, we slip into a state of mind where we believe our presence and participation are indispensible.

Within hours, days, or weeks (depending on the severity of the circumstances) a firm conviction grows in our minds that if we step outside the hospital room, something worse will happen. Our fear keeps us tethered to the bedside of our loved one. Friends or other family members might encourage us to step away and take a break, but we KNOW that if we do, something bad will happen.

I fell into that trap during Pedro’s cancer year. It didn’t help that partway through the year, his early remission turned into a catastrophic relapse. It also didn’t help that he needed specialized treatment a thousand miles away. To make things worse, other family members lived closer to Pedro’s new hospital—and they, too, felt that their presence provided the only barrier between Pedro’s recovery and certain death.

We came to an uneasy compromise (neither of us fully trusted the other to do the right thing) about caregivers in Pedro’s hospital room. For his entire hospital stay during the worst of his illness, a family member spent the night (and often all of the day) with him.

Of course, my single-minded, hyper-focused dedication ended up harming me. In order to achieve balance and not endanger my own health, I finally made some changes.

Six Tips for Family Caregivers at the Hospital

1. Learn the schedule. Know the daily routine—when the nurses dispense meds and when the doctor makes rounds. Use an app on your phone or a good old-fashioned notebook that gets passed from caregiver to caregiver.Six tips for finding balance as a #caregiver when catastrope strikes. http://wp.me/p2UZoK-1BZ

2. Keep track of meds and adverse drug interactions. Pedro figured out that Zofran (a drug to prevent nausea) actually made him vomit. More than once, family caregivers had to point out to medical staff that he had a reaction and shouldn’t be given the medicine.

3. Take breaks! Every morning I would walk down the street to the local Starbucks. I always went before the shift change and well before rounds or meds (see #1 and #2). The brisk walk and change of scenery did me a world of good.

4. Take the stairs. Walking up 11 flights of stairs several times a day might not seem like self-care. But believe me, the endorphins helped counteract the stress-induced cortisol. Sneak in as much vigorous exercise as possible.

5. Share the burden. I came to really appreciate the family members who spent time with Pedro so that I could keep my job. Their love and participation in the duties made my life easier.

6. Breathe deeply. I know, it sounds self-explanatory. But throughout Pedro’s crisis, I resorted to shallow breathing—which harmed my health. Take time-outs throughout the day to breath deeply and think of things that bring you peace.

I know these all seem like baby steps. When a loved one experiences a catastrophe, baby steps might be all a family caregiver can take. Remember, survival mode takes precedence—and that actually helps you through the initial crisis.

These small steps will help you maintain balance and a sense of control when the world seems horribly out of the control.

 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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Screaming – Five Tips for NOT Screaming

When you feel like you really need to!

While tempting, screaming seldom solves anything.

“Get out of my way!” I screamed at the driver who cut me off. “Where could you possibly have to go that’s more important than me taking my son to the ER?”

“I don’t have time for this!” I screamed in my classroom at the mountain of papers the substitute had piled up for me to grade.

“You can’t have him, we’re busy!” I screamed at the people wanting to talk to my husband about stupid mundane problems at school. “Can’t you see my son is hurting?  Who cares about your trifling issues?”

“Don’t talk to me about your over-active son’s problems!” I screamed at the couple in the elevator. “My son used to be active, but now he might not even live!”

“Don’t joke about me ‘moving in’ when you see me carrying a suitcase into the hospital!” I screamed at the janitor. “This has become my life overnight, and it’s NOT a joke!”

“How can you all keep going on as though nothing is happening?”  I screamed at the world.

“How can you go snowboarding when my son is fighting so hard to live?  Why do you go shopping when my son is being poked over and over?  Why are you renting movies and cracking jokes when my son is in so much pain?  How can you go to school when my son is going through torture?”

I screamed at everyone!

My son. My only son. Fighting for his life while the world keeps going. My precious, precious son.

Wait a minute.

God’s son. His only son. His precious, precious son.

Does God want to scream at us?  “How can you keep going?  How can you keep doing those mundane useless things?  Don’t you realize my son was tortured, poked and suffering?  My only son?!”

But that’s not the kind of God He is. He doesn’t scream at people, just like I wasn’t really screaming at anyone. But I wanted to.

I wonder if God ever wants to scream.

Five things to do when you feel like screaming (but can’t):

  1. Breathe deeply from your diaphragm.  Seriously, it sounds too simple to be real, but breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth can change your mindset.
  2. Vent to a journal.
  3. Pray—if all you can say is, “Dear God!” it’s okay. He understands the groaning of our heart (Romans 8:26-28).
  4. Praise God—it sounds counter-intuitive, but praise wins over rage, every time.
  5. Phone a friend (a safe friend) and ask if you can vent out loud.
Five tips to prevent you from screaming, even when you feel like it! #caregiving #stress Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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What DO Caregivers Crave?

The Answer Might Surprise You!

caregiver-craveWhat DO Caregivers Crave?

I locked the bathroom door behind me and hurried through my morning routine, keeping a wary eye on my watch. I had just five minutes until the room outside would fill with doctors and interns on their morning ‘rounds’ of the cancer ward. They didn’t actually go anywhere—they met in the repurposed patient room that doubled as a family hangout and place to grab a quick shower.

With three minutes left, I gazed longingly at the bathtub and the clean towel I had grabbed from the laundry cart. Not enough time. Pedro had had a rough night and I had cat napped much later than usual. A fresh layer of deodorant would have to do.

I grabbed my toiletries bag and swung the door open…20 pairs of dignified eyes swiveled in my direction. Mumbling mortified apologies, I scurried through the door into the hallway.

More than anything else, I craved a long soak in a hot bath without the guilt of knowing some other patient’s family member might need the bathroom, too. I craved a night of sleep without the beeps and blips, alarms and nurses checking on Pedro.

Of course, I wanted Pedro healthy and whole again. But nothing in my life up to that point had prepared me for the life of a caregiver. If you know a family caregiver, this list might help you understand what they may crave the most.

Five Things Caregivers Crave

1. Affirmation. Take time to speak words of appreciation for the job that they do—even if they don’t take care of YOUR family member. A simple, “Caregiving is difficult. Your ________ (fill in the blank) is so lucky to have you on their side during this difficult time.”

2. Acts of kindness. Caregivers may not have time in the moment to properly thank you for your deed, but believe me, each act of kindness helps fill the hole of loneliness and isolation. Buy a gift card. Send a note. Reach out on social media. Let the caregiver know that you care.

caregiver-crave3. An hour of worry-free time. At one point in Pedro’s illness, a family friend flew from Montana to California just to spend 18 hours with Pedro. He encouraged me to find a hotel room and to relax. It wasn’t easy for me to step away, but after a long soak in a hot tub and an uninterrupted night’s sleep, I felt ready to take on caregiving again.

4. Activity. The mind-numbing boredom and fear of sitting in a hospital room with a critically ill person can threaten to drown out reason. I entertained myself by bidding for things on eBay with money I didn’t have. Anything to stimulate the mind or the body. Gift a membership to Audible (the patient and caregiver could even listen to books together). Offer to go for a walk with the caregiver.

5. A hug. A virtual hug works, too, if the caregiver lives a long ways away. I went for weeks at a time without receiving a hug from anyone. Pedro’s life hung in the balance and we were a thousand miles from friends and family.

Other Ideas?

Q4U: What can you add to the list if you are or have been a caregiver? Do you know a caregiver that you can reach out to?

Five Tips for Using Social Media for Support in a Crisis

Beware Oversharing and Sharing What You Shouldn't!

How to use social media to raise support for a sick person

To Share, or Not to Share

In the last few years, we’ve seen millions of people, from celebrities to classmates, live their lives out loud on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. But when disaster strikes, how does a person decide what to share and with whom to share the information?

Ultimately, the decision should rest squarely in the hands of the person who is sick. In the case of an ill minor, the decisions rests in the hands of the parents. While our first impulse might be to log on to to Facebook and announce “#Cancer sucks, and Bobby has it”, it’s probably not a good idea. Especially if ‘Bobby’ is your husband and you haven’t discussed it with him yet. Or even worse, if ‘Bobby’ is your cousin’s child and your cousin has no idea that you’ve announced his child’s medical condition to the entire world.

When my husband, Pedro, received a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma almost 14 years ago, Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t even finished high school and Jack Dorsey had yet to create Twitter or tweet about anything. Social media consisted of emails and local gossip.

When we broke the bad news to family and close friends, we either did it in person or called them. We emailed others who we thought would like to know about the diagnosis.

At first, it was easy to keep people informed about Pedro’s fight. Gossip and the occasional phone call did the trick. Unfortunately, when his condition worsened and we had to travel over a thousand miles away from our local support network, information sharing got complicated.

From Mild to Wild

Phone calls to our local pastor and my parents (who had moved in with us to take care of our young children) kept people informed of our prayer needs and Pedro’s ongoing condition. Unfortunately, this word-of-mouth method of passing on information resulted in rumors of Pedro’s eminent demise (though no fault of either our pastor or my parents)—prompting one of my daughter’s classmates to say to my daughter, “Hey, when your dad dies your mom can marry my dad then we’ll each have two parents.”

About this time, I purchased a laptop computer that I carried with me and kept hooked up to the phone line in Pedro’s hospital room (wireless was relatively new). In this way, I could send out emails with up-to-date alerts as to how Pedro fared. Unbeknownst to me, many people forwarded my emails to their friends, and before I knew it I got emails from strangers in other states and even countries asking to be added to the email list or just dropping me a note to let me know they were praying for Pedro.

Also unbeknownst to me, someone back home started a fund to help our family out. The fund allowed our girls to visit two times during Pedro’s illness—once at very short notice when the doctors advised that the family gather to say their goodbyes.

Social media has undeniable power and clout and it can play an important part in helping you, the caregiver, maintain your sanity (it’s much easier to write an update than it is to answer numerous phone calls) and build a community of boosters who will support you during your season of caregiving.

Five Tips for Using Social Media in a Crisis

1. Decide who will keep people informed.

Have a discussion with the person who has cancer and ask them what they want. A close friend who had helped us during Pedro’s illness received a cancer diagnosis several years ago, and she chose to act as gatekeeper to information (her husband had no interest in social media, while she already had a presence online).

2. Choose a social media source for sharing information.

One of my former students enlisted her entire Facebook network to cheer her on in her fight against breast cancer. Other friends from a different generation have chosen to form private, invitation-only groups. The following resources should prove useful:social media

  • Caringbridge.org offers free, personal and protected sites where family members can visit and leave messages of support. The personal site creator can share blog posts and approve those who want to join the site. Caring Bridge also offers a support planner that caregivers can use to organize family and friends who want to volunteer.
  • Facebook.com offers a free social media account. Be judicious with this powerful tool, and pay close attention to privacy settings unless your loved one wants the entire world to know about his/her latest bout with vomiting. You can also use this tool to start a private group.
  • Lotsahelpinghands.com is another free service offered to caregivers. Its primary purpose is to match volunteers with those in need and to help caregivers build a community to help them in their season of caregiving.
  • The phone tree, an old-fashioned but effective method of communicating whereby you enlist the help of several key people who commit to calling people on a list when there is a need to ask for help, prayer or give information. Many faith communities have a phone tree system in place—if you are part of a faith community, check with the leaders to see how the phone tree works.
  •  Email updates still serve as an effective way to keep key people informed.
3. Set boundaries and guidelines.

In retrospect, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. Neither Pedro nor I minded that people from around the world knew about his condition. Whether they were Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or atheist—it felt wonderful to know that people cared. Depending on the wishes of the person you are caring for (or, in the case of a minor, the wishes of both parents), you can limit access to the information you share. Do this by controlling who sees your posts or by including a note at the beginning of each email asking that those who are privy to the information not pass specific information on to others.

4. Get the word out.

Bad news travels fast, so this should pose no problems. Set up an automatic response to all emails informing people that you will be unavailable for a time. Direct them to your caringbridge site for further informaiton (remember, YOU can control who joins sites or groups). You can also prepare a statement and link to text back to those who text you for updates. The same goes for voicemail greetings. I hate talking on the phone, so I’d much rather leave a voicemail message asking people to check out the Internet site.  This frees me up to focus my attention on my loved one.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for specific things.

The power of social media in creating a support system lies in your ability to ask. Generous people will respond.  Ask for specific things. At one point, Pedro’s white blood cell counts weren’t going up at the same time he had a blood yeast infection. I shot off an email asking people to pray that his white blood cell count would go up. Ask for volunteers. If you need someone to take you to the airport or a doctor’s appointment, or babysit your children, don’t be afraid to ask.

Don’t let fear keep you from reaching out to others. If you have other ideas about creating a community of support, please share them with us by commenting below.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week.

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer–just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

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Don’t Judge People For Where They Park

You Don't Know Their Story!

parkHating on the Cheaters Who Park in Handicap Spots

I used to steam internally when I saw a perfectly healthy person park in a handicap spot. “What is WRONG with that person?” I would mumble. “Don’t they understand that they could get fined for parking there?”

Of course, what I really meant didn’t sound as nice, but I usually had kids in the car with me, so I filtered myself.

parkAll of that changed when Pedro had cancer. His weight dropped from a healthy 190 to an emaciated 130. My brother-in-law helped me get a temporary permit to park in handicap-designated spots.

I would hang the placard on my rearview mirror whenever I took Pedro to doctor’s appointments or the pharmacy. But twice, I felt deep shame because I became that healthy-looking person exiting or entering a car alone whilst parked in a handicap spot.

The first time occurred when I had to take Pedro to the emergency room at the hospital. He couldn’t even walk to the door without assistance. The doctors admitted him, and when I had to leave a day later, Pedro remained for further tests.

Because of my harsh internal attitude towards ‘cheaters’ who parked in handicap spots, I cringed when I got in my car. I wondered if people judged me, a perfectly healthy person with the temerity to park in a handicap spot.

The Weight of Guilt

The second time it happened, I said something. I had flown into San Francisco, rented a car and drove to a different hospital to pick Pedro up. This time, witnesses saw me park in the handicap spot, and my guilt compelled me to explain.

“I have to pick my husband up, and he can’t walk,” I said to the group of people walking past my car as I go out. They gave me odd looks and continued on their way—I doubt they even realized what I spoke of.

Ever since then, I have squashed my inner Judgy McJudgerton each time she squawks about the rudeness of healthy people who park in handicap spots. “You don’t know their story,” I remind her. I have learned to smile with compassion rather than scowl with condemnation.

After all, I don’t know the story of why they park where they do.

Five Tips for Finding Hidden Humor in the Hospital

hidden humor

Hidden Away in Area 51

I held the clean pair of hospital pants up to show Pedro, and shook my head in disgust.

“Pretty big,” he said with a lopsided grin—lopsided because one half of his face didn’t move due to paralysis from cancer.

“Both you AND I could fit in these puppies,” I exclaimed. “That seems to happen a lot on the weekends.”

We laughed at the mental picture and then Pedro said, “I’m ready.” He slowly sat up and swung his bacon-thin legs over the edge of the bed. (more…)

Celebrate the Victories (no matter the size)

Never underestimate the power of small, or large, medical victories!

Never underestimate the power of small, or large, medical victories!

We cannot discount the simplest and most appreciated blessing during any prolonged medical fight!  This (posted above) sort-of-poem-but-mostly-celebratory journal entry was the first time Andrew achieved the status of remission.  It was a chemo induced remission and came after about a month of the fight with leukemia.  That first month was hell.  This journal entry was victory.  It signaled that the three and a half year battle could now begin.

Caregivers and loved ones of caregivers – take every moment and every chance to celebrate victories along the way. (tweet this)

-the ability to eat food instead of a feeding tube

-an hour off the breathing tube

-the first step in physical therapy

-the first week clean from drugs

-the first trip home

-the first word spoken

-the first smile

Celebrate.  It’s a huge, unexpected blessing to let go, to smile, to laugh and to celebrate!

Celebrate the victories, it makes the battle easier! #write31days #caregiving via @caregivermom Click To Tweet

Check out the series 31 Days of Unexpected Blessings from Caregiving!

Proof that You are NOT Alone

A true friend comes alongsideYou are NOT alone (even if most days it feels like it).

One of the most incredible circumstances in my caregiver recovery happened one summer when I received an email from the professor of a writing workshop class I wanted to take at Walla Walla University. She informed me that even though I had applied late, someone had cancelled and I would be able to attend the class.

When I walked into the workshop the first day, I sat down next to Carol, the only person I knew—a high-school classmate of my husband’s that I had a nodding acquaintance with from attending Pedro’s class reunions over the years.

Several days later, the workshop leaders gave us a writing prompt, and at the end of the free-write, we had to exchange papers with a neighbor. I felt a little embarrassed about what I’d written because it seemed a little personal and maybe just a bit whiny. I shrugged and handed it to Carol, and she handed me her paper.

It didn’t take long for tears to pop out of my eyes, and then her quiet sniffle caught my attention. Here we were, two grown women, mostly strangers, instantly bonding with the other’s words because we saw ourselves reflected in someone else’s story.

If you’ve ever gone through a wilderness experience, you’ll know the importance of the manna God sends you—the daily bread that keeps you going as you cling to the One true thing that will sustain you through your wandering.

And although we know that God is there, ready to sustain us and keep us through our trials, meeting someone else who has traveled a similar journey feels like a miracle and a pair of comfy, broken in jeans all at the same time.

Carol is my manna and my pair of comfy jeans—in addition to being the other half of Blessed (but Stressed). We live thousands of miles apart, but manage to keep up with each other through instant messaging, emails, and class reunions. Ever since our class together (she, too was on the waiting list and got accepted at the last minute), we’ve been sharing our stories with each other. It feels so good to know that I am not alone (nor crazy).

I’m excited to introduce to you another voice from the caregiver trenches. Jenni DeWitt who blogs at Genuflected, recently published her inspirational story Forty Days: A Memoir of Our Time in the Desert of Childhood Cancer. As I read her book, I felt like I had sat down next to a nodding acquaintance and by the time I finished I had found another friend who understands the caregiver journey.

If you’ve been on a wilderness journey (through cancer, mental illness, or long-term illness of a parent), you’ll come away from reading the book with a shared sense of “Whew! I’m not alone!”

You are NOT alone, my friend. Find other #caregivers and share your stories. Click To Tweet

You’ll also enjoy this book If you love reading inspirational stories about how God has guided other women through their greatest fears, or if you’ve felt like you’ve been wandering around in the desert of isolation.

A portion of the proceeds from the book will go to fund cancer research, but Jenni is doing even more—she’s participating in a fundraising walk to raise money and awareness for childhood cancers. If you’d like to support the cause, you can help her by making a donation.

Forty Days Giveaway

Enter to win your own copy of Jenni’s book, and make sure you drop by her website Genuflected.com to find out how her son Cooper is doing.

Jenni’s story inspired me this week–what has inspired YOU? You’ll find more good books to read over at Mary’s place where she hosts a link up for book reviews :).

Inspire Me Monday Instructions   Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community: 1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please). 2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment. 3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer–just do it! Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :). I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememonday. Join us! (tweet this) So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us. Take a moment to visit the other hostesses, too: Angie, Cindy, and Denise.