Monday, August 18, 2014

The Family Caregiver at Work

I had a conversation with a new colleague today about caregivers in the workplace. She’s an HR (Human Resources) professional and we were talking about how many people are family caregivers and are working full-time.

It’s incredibly stressful we agreed, and we agreed that HR departments or senior managers need to know the ins-and outs of caregiving simply to better manage this big workplace issue.

The conversation got me thinking.

As the Boomer Bump moves through these next eight years we do know there are more and more people who are caregiving and many of them are in the “Sandwich Generation”—those who are squeezed by caring for children or grandchildren and also for an older adult. It’s so hard.

We do give lots of props and admiration to those folks but –at work—not a lot of really practical help. A few years ago I developed a Caregiver 101 workshop that can be delivered in an hour, or even better an hour and a half and provided in workplaces for employees.

What is especially hard for caregivers at work—even though coworkers and supervisors may be sympathetic is that there is shame attached to family caregiving. Does that sound crazy? It should be crazy. But it’s a reality. Caregiving is still done in relative isolation so folks can easily have the feeling that they should be doing it better. We have the “made-for-TV-movie” mentality that shows family caregiving as such a loving, dedicated, heartfelt thing to do that family caregivers who feel like screaming, spitting or hitting are sure that they are defective. So who wants to talk about—and admit to—that.


So at work we have to head that off. For the employees sake which is a caring and right thing to do—but also for the sake of the department, team and organization. Caregiving employees cost money. A lot of money. They need time off, they are distracted, in pain, on the phone (a lot) and they get burned out. They make work mistakes and coworkers get frustrated. A good employee can go “bad” after just a few months of caregiving. And then everyone loses.

So if you work outside the home talk to your HR department about offering a Caregiver 101 class or a lunchtime caregivers support group. There are guidelines for groups that are facilitated and also for those that operate with no facilitator. If you are a manager or director think about bringing a caregiver workshop into your workplace and make space available for a caregiver support group—weekly or once a month. The benefits will return tenfold to the health of your good employees and to your organization as a whole.

You can contact me at for more information.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Battle with Fighting Cancer

For years I have battled the idea of battling cancer. I fought against the fight and I declared war on the war on cancer. But now I have read an essay that more elegantly--and eloquently--makes the case and accurately describes that rub when women and men are celebrated for their "courage" in "fighting" cancer.

So today, enough of my words. Instead read this heartfelt and heartening piece by Peter Bach in New York Magazines's The Cut:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Be a Better Lover

This line always makes me laugh:  “The reason that so many women fake orgasm is that so many men fake foreplay.”

Yep, it’s both funny and true—and now there is proof.

I’m reading the book, “The Normal Bar” which is an “improve your relationship” book, which is completely based on scientific study and longitudinal research. It’s no one’s theory—rather everything the authors address from marital money to the impact of weight gain in marriage is evidence based.

Since I am super curious about all things sexual I was happy to read the chapter called, “Keeping the Flame Alive” in which the authors report on the results of research about what we really want—“we” meaning men and women. What do women want (besides that perfect black skirt)? And what do men want (other than to be left peacefully alone with the remote on the day of the Masters Golf Tournament)?

Well, here’s what years of couples research has to tell us:

What men want most from their partners:
#1 Sexual diversity (new sexual acts)
#2 Less passivity (more passion)
#3 Sexual noises (more feedback)


What women want from their partners:
#1 Foreplay (more touching)
#2 Romance (more loving passion)
#3 Less predictability (more spontaneity and fun)

Isn’t it helpful to know this stuff? Each of those things can be tried, practiced and learned—and talked about. I’m a believer that sensuality and great sex can be learned and yes, re-learned. Even if it’s been a really long time and even if you are hanging out in CancerLand.

Here's a link to the book:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

We All Have Cancer

I’m reading the book, “Anticancer: A New Way of Life” by David Servan-Schreiber. He was one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders and an accomplished neuro-psychiatrist when, at 31, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His book is about what he learned about cancer, and cancer treatment and cancer prevention.

Some of what he has to say is not new: the importance of exercise, diet, alternative treatments etc. But what is new is his description of roles we play in CancerLand--the patient’s role in his/her own care versus the doctor’s role. He also gives great guidance on how to sort medical info, nutritional info and he writes a lot about the physiological impact of stress. And the stress of cancer. He’s got lots and lots of facts.

But this is the fact that blew me away: “One hundred percent of people have cancer cells in their bodies after the age of fifty.”

100% of us have cancer after the age of 50. We all have cancer. Again: We all have cancer. In some people it develops into tumors or wild growths that become life threatening, in others it does not. But after age fifty we all have cancer cells in our bodies.

That’s wild and powerful information to process when you think about prevention and what it means to maintain your health but also relevant to screening and tests and it’s a great starting point to start wrapping our heads around our consistent denial or mortality and death. Cause that’s the other absolute health statistic: 100% of us will die.

We all have cancer and we will all die. That’s not really bad news. Freedom lives in that last sentence. It makes me think of Mary Oliver’s poem: “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Writing Aids Cancer Recovery

In my cancer and caregiver classes we do a lot of writing. It's not news that writing is a comfort and an anchor but now we have additional evidence that writing about one's cancer experience can effectively reduce pain, fear and trauma.

An article in the journal Health Psychology reports that ASian American woman dealing with breast cancer experienced better recoveries when they were introduced to the practice of "emotional writing."
Qian Lu, director of the Culture and Health Research Center says that the research was focused on specifically writing about the traumatic aspects of the cancer experience.

“Cancer patients, like war veterans in Iraq, can experience post-traumatic stress symptoms. Many times when cancer patients get diagnosed, they face lots of emotional trauma. There’s a sense of loss, depressionanxiety about going into treatment and how they are going to face the future,” said Lu.

While this particular study focused on breast cancer I can easily imagine related benefits for using emotional writing with all cancer patients--and of course with cancer caregivers as well. The hard part, of course, is allowing yourself time--and permission--to write daily but knowing that it is having a health benefit may allow patient and caregiver that permission for toward the healing benfits of writing.

Here is a link to the full article. Take a look and share with others in your CancerLand.

PS. I am always available to lead a class on Writing for Caregivers or Caregiving 101 for your group or organization.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Guest Writer: Laura Orem

 I am very pleased to introduce you to an amazing writer and amazing woman: Laura Orem. Here is her first guest post for "Love in the TIme of Cancer.":

When you receive a cancer diagnosis, it swallows you up in a way that other diseases do not. First, of course, there is panic – am I going to die? But after the first shock, when death seems less imminent in the face of treatment, the question morphs into something else – who am I now?

In May 2010, I was diagnosed with stage 1C ovarian cancer. I had a radical 6-hour surgery to remove my ovaries, uterus, and various other abdominal accoutrements, then another surgery to insert a catheter port in my chest, then four months of intensive chemotherapy. I was physically weakened from the surgeries and wiped out, as almost everyone is, by the chemo drugs.  My mouth turned into a burning cesspit of sores and pain. I lost my hair. I lost my stamina. I lost the subconscious safety net we are born with: the confidence that, while other people must die someday, an exception will be made in our case.

On top of everything else, the cancer surgery threw me into menopause. So, in addition to chemo, I had to deal with violent hot flashes and night sweats. It was miserable. But I came out alive on the other end, with an excellent prognosis. Perhaps, the thought has occurred to me more than once, I should stop complaining and just be thankful to be alive.

Believe me, I am grateful. I had wonderful doctors and nurses; my family and friends – well, what I feel towards them would seem trivialized by any attempt at description. But I am not the same woman I was before cancer. In some ways, this is a good thing. I’m not afraid of much anymore: spiders, other people’s BS, speaking my mind. In fact, these days I’m virtually unintimidatable. In other ways, it’s not so good: I’m physically weaker; I weigh a lot more; and I feel defeminized in a profound way. To put it bluntly, I’ve lost almost all my girl-parts. I used to luxuriate in my own body; now sometimes I drag it around with me like a beaten-up Airstream.

I feel mended, not healed. Deeply grateful for surviving, but deeply changed.

Our culture, having been fed a diet of positive-thinking propaganda from Lifetime movies and organizations like the Susan G. Komen Foundation, wants cancer survivors to be endlessly upbeat and optimistic, to come out the other side more able to stop and smell the roses, to almost be thankful for their disease experience. But I think this does many survivors a great disservice by dismissing their own narratives in favor of a fairy-tale ending.

What happens when you don’t feel positive and optimistic? What if you’re so angry you’d rather decapitate the roses with a pair of scissors than smell them? Cancer isn’t a romantic movie. It’s terrifying and it’s horrible. It grabs you by the ankles and slams you against a rock until you cry out for mercy. I’m wiser, yes, and my cancer has been cured, thank God, but I’ve also lost a lot.

So, after the treatment was over and the clean bill of health issued, when I was standing there with the pieces of the-rest-of-my-life in my hands wondering what shape they made, what did I do? I did what I always do – I wrote about it. Castrata: a Conversation is an heroic crown of sonnets that is presented as a dialogue between the speaker (me) and Carlo Faranelli, the great Italian castrato singer. We have a lot in common, Signor Faranelli and I. Why sonnets? Because for me something as messy as cancer needs a structure to render it manageable as a subject, to move it beyond a primal cry and into, hopefully, art.

Make no mistake, I’m glad to be alive. I have many, many good things in my life: my family, my friends, my animals, my work. I’m basically a happy person. I’m going to live, and I’ve got a lot to live for. But, as one of the sonnets says, “I will name my losses, too.”  To deny this would be unforgiveable dishonesty.  I owe my readers – and myself – nothing less than the truth.

Laura Orem

 Castrata: a Conversation is available for pre-order from Finishing Line Press. Price $12 plus $2.99 shipping. Shipping date Nov. 1.

Click here to reserve your copy: 

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Well of Grief

Those who will not slip beneath

     the still surface on the well of grief
turning downward through its black water
     to the place we cannot breathe
will never know the source from which we drink,
     the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering
     the small round coins
          thrown by those who wished for something else.

  -- David Whyte
      from Where Many Rivers Meet 
      ©2007 Many Rivers Press