Category Archives: Living with Cancer

Blog Posts about Living with Cancer


It’s the 1st Wednesday of the month again. That’s when I take part in Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I encourage you to check out their website and even sign up for the IWSG Newsletter. Today I will explore putting a schedule in place for writing. I’ll focus on the genre of self-help as it relates to writing about cancer, as I answer this month’s IWSG Day question:

February 7 question – What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

If you want to have some fun, take a look at the Wikipedia page for the list of writing genres. You may be surprised at how many there are. So, it’s difficult for me, as a writer to choose just one. My favorite thing to write is fiction, especially mysteries. But at this point in time, I write more non-fiction. If I had to narrow it down to a specific genre, it would be self-help. Until I got this question, I never would have categorized writing about cancer that way. It’s interesting to note my reason for writing about cancer is to help people.

Facing CancerMy first book, Facing Cancer as a Friend, How to Support Someone who has Cancer, came about after hearing so many people express how much they want to be there for friends who are diagnosed with cancer, but they don’t feel equipped to help. Many people don’t even know what to say. I was the same way until my own husband was diagnosed in 2012 with stage IV lung cancer. I soon got a crash course in caregiving. We learned what is most helpful, as well as what to avoid when someone tells you they have cancer.

One of the most rewarding things is to get an email from someone or run into someone in person, who says my book or my blog post writing about cancer have made a difference in how they feel when someone they love tells them they have a life-changing disease like cancer. Instead of feeling powerless to help, they feel equipped.

As part of a support group for families facing cancer, we have met countless parents, just like us, who are dealing with cancer. Their number one priority, like all parents, is the well-being of their children. How are they going to help their children through this? No two kids are alike, but they do have a lot in common at the various developmental stages they go through. Understanding the common reactions and what you can do to reassure them can make a big difference in how they cope when their mom or dad has cancer.  That’s why I’m excited that my next book, Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Child Cope with Your Cancer, is on the verge of publication.

Writing about cancer is often painful. But it’s also important to me because of how difficult it has been to learn what I know. It’s cost our family dearly to learn the lessons I share. So early on I decided that I didn’t want to waste it. Hopefully, others will find what I share in my books and my blogs valuable, and it can spare them some of the pain we have felt.

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

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, 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 at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

My Family
The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

 

 


When you or a loved one are diagnosed with cancer, survival tops your priority list. As time passes, you meet other cancer patients. Some of them survive. Some of them die. Learning that one of your friends has died of cancer, always brings with it a sadness–and sometimes, guilt. It’s a phenomenon known as survivor’s guilt.

Encouragement

As a 5-year -survivor of stage IV lung cancer, my husband, Dan, tries to encourage others on their journey. I, in turn, try to encourage caregivers that there is hope. There are new treatments and new tools in the palliative care toolbox to help patients deal with the side effects of cancer treatments. There are also a lot of support groups and systems to help both patients and caregivers.

When it starts going bad.

We recently found out that someone we know “lost her battle with cancer.” I don’t even want to get into the controversy surrounding that statement. I don’t like it much, but for all intents and purposes, it works. We wonder if we lied to them. Why have we had the grace of this time, when others with terminal cancer don’t? Survivor’s guilt rears its ugly head.

In the back of your mind, you wonder if you were wrong to give hope. Did you sell them a bill of bad goods?

How to Support a Caregiver

Comparison

Another thing you wonder is, “Why are we so fortunate when they are going through this hell?” That can place a heavy load on your shoulders, that you were never meant to carry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people diminish their experience of living with cancer, just because theirs wasn’t staged IV. Anytime you are dealing with a cancer diagnosis, it’s scary. Comparison is the devil’s playground. Nothing good ever came of it. So, avoid comparison at all costs.

As a caregiver and spouse, I also deal with the guilt of avoidance.

I tell friends of cancer patients to be there for them and support them. Yet, when survivor’s guilt kicks in, I find it hard to do, myself.

We have a friend, with the same diagnosis as my husband. She’s been through the ringer and lost more than I could ever imagine to this terrible disease. Her husband writes Caring Bridge posts that make me cry every time. In fact, when I get the alert that he’s posted an update, I dread reading it.

It’s so painful –and frightening.
I’m afraid of our future, and I get a glimpse of it in her story.

So I completely understand when people don’t know what to do with our pain and potential future.

Talk to someone.

When experiencing survivor’s guilt, it helps to:

  • Remember that these feelings will come and go. They are just part of learning to cope with uncertainty and the arbitrary nature of cancer.
  • Share your feelings with a trusted friend, Sometimes saying what you’re thinking out loud can do a lot to banish the boogie man of survivor’s guilt. If you can find a support group, you’ll soon discover that you aren’t the only to have these thoughts and feelings.
  • Do unto others. Think about how you would feel in their shoes. You’d certainly never begrudge someone surviving. You want people to survive, even if you don’t. So, don’t feel guilty about surviving cancer or having a loved one who does. Live well and make it count!

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

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, 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.

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

There’s a word that’s unique to the cancer experience. Scanxiety.

Most people are familiar with anxiety. There are many types of anxiety, including (but not limited to): generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobias, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome).

Scanxiety is a form of situational anxiety or acute stress reaction disorder.

Because of the nature of cancer, patients are already experiencing chronic stress, or the stress of demands that seem endless, with little hope in sight for long stretches of time. When you add an additional stressor to this, it can feel overwhelming, leading to physical symptoms of stress and anxiety for the patient, and his or her family members.

The first time you experience scanxiety is when you suspect you have cancer and are in the process of having it diagnosed—or ruled out as a concern.

Stage IV lung Cancer

Our Story

When Dan felt hard, enlarged lymph nodes, just above his left collarbone, we knew something was wrong. The soonest the doctor could see him was three days later. During that time, we looked at all the possibilities, and the most likely cause of his symptoms was cancer.

Upon examining him, the doctor said, “I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but I can tell you that it’s serious.”

It’s cancer. How bad is it? I didn’t dare say what I was thinking, out loud, in that office.

“Do you have any plans this afternoon? Can you stay for more tests?”

Of course, we stayed. Dan was shuffled from one place to the next. The lab, the room where they performed an ultrasound, the x-ray department. Then, we waited. That was our first dose of scanxiety. Within the next two weeks, we would experience scanxiety as we awaited results from CT scans, MRI’s, and a PET scan.  Each test would add a little more information to Dan’s medical chart. Combined, we would learn the full scope of what we were looking at.

What scanxiety feels like:

When scanxiety hits, you experience many of the symptoms of acute stress (1):

  • Emotional distress — some combination of anger or irritability, anxiety and depression, the three stress emotions.
  • Muscular problems including a tension headache, back pain, jaw pain and the muscular tensions that lead to pulled muscles and tendon and ligament problems.
  • Stomach, gut and bowel problems such as heartburn, acid stomach, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Transient over-arousal leads to an elevation in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, dizziness, migraine headaches, cold hands or feet, shortness of breath and chest pain.
lung cancer awareness
Image courtesy of stockdevil at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

These symptoms are focused on one thing:

…the pending results of a scan.

Those results will affect your life to a degree that is difficult for most people to comprehend. Scans can trigger a lot of emotions. If the cancer has been growing and you’ve started a new treatment, you might feel hope and anticipation. “Is the treatment working?”

Ironically, if things have been stable, fear and anxiety can rear their ugly heads. The thought of recurrence is lurking in the back of your mind. “What if the cancer is back? I had a cough last week.”

Oh, yeah. That’s right. I’m on a limited timetable here.

Once diagnosed, many people experience scanxiety again each time they have a CT scan, x-ray, MRI, bone scan, or any other imaging test that will shed some light on whether the cancer is being effectively treated or whether it is progressing. You can’t help but focus on the things that you’ve pushed to the back of your mind. Every scan is a step back into reality.

How long do I have, Doc?

From the results, you learn what your prognosis is. The doctor tells you what your treatment options are. You make decisions. You decide on your treatment plan and wonder how you’ll proceed with the rest of your life.

  • Do you continue to work—can you continue to work?
  • Do you put down the deposit on your annual family vacation?
  • What minor or major life changes will happen as a result of what we learn from the next scan?
  • Will the next scan be the beginning of the end?
  • Will I be able to continue to live as I have been?
  • Is cancer in a new place? What can I expect?

The feeling of a good scan is amazing.

You have a 3-month extension on life. It feels like you’ve been strapped into the electric chair and the governor called.

I’m writing about scanxiety today because this Monday, my husband, Dan will be having two different kinds of scans: a brain MRI, an upper body/chest CT scan. So, we are experiencing scanxiety. If you are a person who prays, it would mean a lot to me if you would keep Dan and our family in your prayers, not only for his health but for our peace of mind, as well. He will find out the results of those scans a few days later when he meets with his oncologist. The days leading up to the scans and following, while we await the results, are difficult ones.

There are ways to manage scanxiety.

The National Institute of Mental Health gives the following suggestions for dealing with stress (2). These can be applied to scanxiety as well.

The effects of stress tend to build up over time. Taking practical steps to manage your stress can reduce or prevent these effects. The following are some tips that may help you to cope with stress:

  • Recognize the Signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
  • Talk to Your Doctor or Health Care Provider. Get proper health care for existing or new health problems.
  • Get Regular Exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and reduce stress.
  • Try a Relaxing Activity. Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises. For some stress-related conditions, these approaches are used in addition to other forms of treatment. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities. Learn more about these techniques on the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) website at (www.nccih.nih.gov/health/stress ).
  • Set Goals and Priorities. Decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload. Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Stay Connected with people who can provide emotional and other support. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.

Footnotes:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml

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

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, 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

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

 


Do you remember the last time you went to the doctor? If it was within the past couple of years, chances are, you were asked to “rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10 with 0 being no pain, and 10 being the greatest amount of pain humanly possible.” What does that even mean?? I’m going to shed some light on this enigmatic pain scale, so the next time you or a loved one goes to the doctor, you can get the best care possible.

Patients hate the pain scale

You are suddenly put on the spot. The nurse or doctor is waiting for you to put a number on what you’re experiencing. It’s the worst pain you’ve ever felt, but is it a 10? It is if you feel like a bear is gnawing on your leg while bees sting your eyeballs and you have your hand caught in an ever-tightening vice. Crazy, right? But that’s a 10. It’s pain that is nearly intolerable. Every once in a while a doctor will see a 10, but the patient is in too much pain by that time to even communicate the number. That’s a 10.

There is the opposite problem as well. I have a relative who was in the hospital in excruciating pain and he was inaccurately reporting his pain at a much lower level than it actually was. Once he understood the pain scale and could express what he was experiencing, the doctors could properly treat him.

Pain scale

Doctors hate the pain scale

Doctors are required to record the number at which you rate your pain along with your vital signs (temperature, oxygen, and blood pressure). That doesn’t mean they like it. They know how subjective the pain scale is. We all know someone who moans for hours about a hangnail. We also know someone who would walk around with a broken bone for days without going to the doctor.

We’re all made different. We feel pain differently, but we also interpret it differently. some people are really in touch with how they are feeling and like to report those feelings to everyone and anyone who will listen. Other people feel like it’s complaining and keep their pain to themselves, not wanting to make a fuss.

The 0-10 scale, itself, is a problem

Then there’s the problem of the scale itself. Most people don’t know what a 7 means. If you were rating a restaurant from 0-10, a 7 would seem okay, but not stellar. On the pain scale, 7 means a lot of pain! Thankfully there are some tools to help you properly assess your pain levels.

The Wong-Baker Faces

Wong Baker Pain Scale

A helpful tool for people who are new to the pain scale is the Wong-Baker Faces. The scale is a visual interpretation of the pain scale, developed by Donna Wong and Connie Baker. It was originally created to help children express their pain. It’s now common to see this scale in emergency rooms and clinics for patients of all ages. It’s intended for self-assessment and isn’t intended to be used by a 3rd party to assess someone else.

Ouchie by Ouchie, LLCApp for pain assessment

There are also apps that can help you track and assess your pain. One example is Ouchie, available (and FREE) through iTunes. This not only helps you to track your specific pain, but it also connects you to an online community of people with your condition and gives you ideas of how to manage your pain. Ouchi is only one example of the tracking apps out there. Try more than one and decide what works best for you.

Imagination and Communication

It takes some imagination to express your pain levels. My bear/bee/vice illustration from earlier is a good example of visualizing the pain to more accurately report it. It takes some creativity, but it can help you to decide, is this really a 10, or is it more like a 7 (the bear without the bees and the vice)?

There’s no substitute for clear, honest communication. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure of how to assess and express your pain levels. Also, having a caregiver come with to appointments is a great way to stay accountable. They see you all the time and can let you know if they think your assessment may need a little retooling.

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

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, 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.

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Prepare for your digital detox

Last week, we talked about boundaries in caregiving, as well as the many hats a caregiver must wear. For friends and family, it can be difficult to know how to help in a situation that feels so helpless. In this post, I am going to look at helping someone who is ill through the eyes of a supportive friend or family member and also through the eyes of a caregiver and patient. Then I will share some simple solutions to care coordination and knowing how to help.

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? All sorts of things will run through your head. 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 and prayer chain. 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.care coordination

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.

What can you do?

Finally, we run into our friend at church or in the supermarket. This is our chance to let them know we’d 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, we resort to saying, “Please let me know if you need anything.” We mean it with all our heart. But, we never get a call. Maybe they are doing okay. After all, they haven’t called.

This is how it goes.

As a Caregiver:

You are feeling overwhelmed, but this is your spouse, or your parent, or sibling, or best friend. You love them so much. It’s your job and honor to care for this loved on in your time of need. So, you try to do it all.

Then, you become exhausted.

You start to realize that you might not be able to do this alone. After all, this could be a long road and you are wearing out fast. Who do you ask for help?

Then you see a friend in the supermarket.

They heard from another friend that your spouse is ill and they are very sympathetic. They don’t say it because they are kind, but they can see you are frazzled by all the responsibilities of life and caring for your spouse. Your friend wants to help. They say, “Please let me know if you need anything.” That’s so nice of them.

You thank them and go home.

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

The Problem

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 friend who doesn’t want to make things worse, we hesitate to offer specific help. As a caregiver who doesn’t want to be a bother to others, we hesitate to ask for help, even when it’s offered.

The Solution for Supportive Friends and Family

When you have a loved one who you would like to help, don’t worry about what they might need. Yes, you heard that right! The truth is, half the time, they are too overwhelmed to know what they need. Instead, think about the things you are good at. Come up with three different options. Then let them know. 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 that 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 make an easy decision 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.

An Angel

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! 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.

The Solution for Caregivers

I have several pieces of advice for patients and caregivers. First of all…

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

This week I brought a couple of meals to a friend who is going through cancer treatment. When Dan was on a particularly difficult treatment, she was one of the people who blessed our family with a meal. She said that for two days, she wrestled with whether to ask for help or not. Then she remembered that I told her I’d bring her a meal if she ever needed one. But it was hard. This is one of those times when you have to swallow your fear or pride, or anything else that’s getting in the way of getting help.

Reading as a writerKeep a list

There will be people who will say, “If you need anything, just call. I mean it.” Often at the time, you can’t think of anything off the top of your head that you need. Then, one day your kid needs a ride and you have an appointment, or you’re just too exhausted to go anywhere. Or you need a meal and you’ve been at chemo all day. Or your garage needs organizing so you can get the car in by winter time. The list of needs is endless.

So, make a list of helpers, those people who have offered. And when those needs arise, call, text or email and ask for the help.

Utilize Social Media for Care Coordination

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. T 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 you need more than an occasional 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 specialized care coordination sites, 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.

Living With Cancer A Day in the Life of a Cancer Patient

A few more tips

Don’t worry about cleaning your house.

If you get yourself worked up about how your house looks every time someone drops off a meal or comes to visit for a few minutes, you’ll be more worn out than if you’d have made the meal yourself. People understand that you are tired, you’ve had appointments and you don’t feel well. That goes for caregivers as much as the patient.

Don’t worry about Thank You cards

Say “thank you,” of course. But don’t feel like you have to send a written thank you each time. They understand that you are swamped.

Ask if they would like their containers returned

Often, when people bring a meal, it’s in disposable plastic ware. People usually intend for you to keep it or toss it.  But to be sure you know how to deal with it, ask. That way, you need not worry about whether you’re expected to get it back to them. If you are, put it in a bag with their name on it and return it when it is convenient. A few times, I’ve found Rubbermaid dishes in my closet and wondered where they came from. So, the name helps.

Don’t sweat it!Facing Cancer

The overarching theme here is to not worry about the usual rules of etiquette when getting help. You have other things that are on the top of your priority list and your family and friends understand that.

It is a blessing to be helped, and a greater on to help a friend in need.

In my next post, I’ll share some specific ideas for helping a friend with a life altering illness. In the meantime, check out my book, Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer.

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, 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

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Do we need to “have it all together?”

So many tragic things happen in this world and in our personal lives, that require us to have faith. What happens when the faith we have is imperfect? The truth is that we all have imperfect faith. The good news is that even with imperfect faith, our prayers make a difference.

A Parent’s Perspective

When one of my kids comes to me for help, I don’t require them to have everything in their life together before I respond to their need. If you have kids (of any age) I’m sure you feel the same way. That’s how it is with God. We can approach Him, even with imperfect faith.

Family Care Conference

When you don’t really know God

I have many friends and loved ones, who don’t have a relationship with God. Some of them believe God exists, but they don’t understand who He is, or how to fit Him into their life. Then, something happens that shakes their world to its foundations. It might be a violent death, a divorce, or a life-changing illness. They often feel like they can’t pray, themselves, either because they don’t know how, or because they feel like they have imperfect faith and God won’t listen to them. Many times they ask me to pray for the situation. I’m always glad to do this.

Imperfect Faith

These requests for prayer are often for a loved one, like the father’s request for his son, found in Mark 9: 14-29.

One day there was a man in a crowd, who came to Jesus with his mute son. This son also had seizures. He said, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And when it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.” The father had even asked Jesus’ disciples to cast it out, but they were unsuccessful.

Imperfect Faith

Jesus how long this had been going on.  The father told him he’d been suffering since childhood. There had been times when he had even fallen into the fire due to the seizures. Then he said, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’.  All things are possible for one who believes.”

To which the father responded,  “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Jesus drove the unclean spirit out.

We don’t need to do God’s job

Sometimes we think that we need to be Jesus, the one solving the problem. Sometimes we think we can’t approach God until we have a complete understanding of spiritual things. We think our faith life needs to be totally together.

I’m not advocating ignoring your spiritual life because God will understand and be merciful.  A rich spiritual life is important. But we will always have an imperfect faith. Who has a complete understanding of God and His ways?

The father in this story was bold. He was saying. “I have imperfect faith, Jesus. I don’t get it, and I’m scared for my son. Help him, anyway. Enlarge my faith in the process.”

Don’t be afraid to approach God with imperfect faith.

If you or someone you love is going through something that requires more than human strength, or if you’ve been distant from God for a long time, and you aren’t sure how to approach Him, I would like to encourage you to begin talking to God. That’s really all that prayer is. There are no magic words or formulas required.

If you have any questions, you can write them in the comment section, or email me personally at heatherericksonauthor@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, 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

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Today we will look at why people blame God for trials and sufferings in life. This is the second post that looks at Job from the Bible to gain insight into suffering.

A few weeks ago, we explored the common (though often subconscious) idea that a person diagnosed with a life-altering illness, such as cancer, must have done something to cause it; smoking, drinking, unhealthy eating patterns, etc. You can check out that post here.

I concluded the post by sharing how to be a supportive friend when someone is going through a trial, rather than one of Job’s comforters, blaming the sufferer. Beyond outward behavior that may or may not have contributed to someone getting cancer, there is often a blame game of another sort—sin and God’s will.

Why people blame God when they or someone they know is suffering  

Job (oil on canvas) by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922)

Let’s return to Job, the epitome of suffering. He’s sitting on a dung heap in sackcloth and ashes, mourning the loss of all he held dear; his family, property, and his health. Job’s friends came and mourned with him for seven days in silence. Then they decided to tell him what they thought was the cause of, and solution to his problems. Job’s friends go into this quite poetically, and more in depth, but for brevity’s sake, here is the breakdown, simplified:

What did Job’s friends understand to be the causes of Job’s troubles?

Eliphaz (4:7-11) = Only the evil receive trouble, the innocent never perish

Bildad (8:1-4) = Job’s children were sinful

Zophar (11:1-6) = Job mocked God by claiming innocence as God was punishing

Where did Job’s friends claim to receive their profound insights?

Eliphaz (4:12-5:7) = He was given a vision from God

Bildad (8:8-10) = from the wisdom of the elders

Zophar (11:7-12) = God’s wisdom in this is beyond Job’s understanding

What solutions did Job’s friends offer?

Eliphaz (5:8-27) = Repent to God and He will restore you

Bildad (8:5-7) = Plead to God, and He will respond. Be pure & upright, and He’ll restore you

Zophar (11:13-20) = Devote yourself to God & put away sin, God will remove troubles

It all comes down to God and why people blame God for tragedy

The book of Job is an amazingly accurate picture of how people react to tragedy within the church, as well as in the world.

Both sin and God’s will have been blamed for tragedy since the dawn of time. Remember the Garden of Eden? When God confronted Adam for Adam and Eve’s sin, the first man retorted, “It was the woman you gave me!”

What Jesus said about why people blame God

One of my favorite miracles in the New Testament is the healing of the man born blind. I think I like it so much because we are able to see the before, during, and after of the miracle.

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.  And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered,

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.  John 9:1-3 New King James Version (NKJV)

There is way more to the story, but the point is that even Jesus’ disciples’ first reaction was to ask who had sinned to cause the man to be born blind. In fact, it was a possibility in their minds that he could have sinned in his mother’s womb, causing blindness from birth!

If we can’t figure out why something happened, we chalk it up to God. He must have seen fit to cause this. Maybe He’s trying to teach us a lesson. Maybe He’s chastising us. If we believe that only the wicked suffer, we don’t need to worry about it happening to us. (I wonder what the apostles did to deserve their martyrdom?)

Just World Hypothesis

 

Psychologists refer to this as the “just-world hypothesis,” first described by psychologist Melvin Lerner and colleagues more than four decades ago (ie. “You got what was coming to you”, “What goes around comes around”, “chickens come home to roost”, and “You reap what you sow”).

We always want to know why something bad has happened. We need to feel that life is under control. Our inability to control life completely is one of the reasons why people blameGod when things go wrong.

Just world Hypothesis

He is.

God is definitely in control, but He has also given us free will. Adam and Eve sinned and thus began the world after The Fall. The very earth itself was changed. Death came to the world.

Back to Job’s friends.

They were doing so well–until they started to talk. My first suggestion for anyone who finds out that a friend is facing a trial is to listen rather than talk. Bite your tongue when you feel like adding your suggestions. When a person finds out they have a cancer diagnosis, they need some time to process the feelings and thoughts that change rapidly as more information comes in. It is helpful for them to have a sounding board, and if they trust you enough to talk to you about those deep thoughts and feelings, feel honored.

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, 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

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

In part one of The Who Cares for the Caregiver series, we learned who caregivers are, We also looked at the affect caring for someone who has cancer or another serious illness, has on them. In Part two, we learned specific ways you can help a caregiver. In today’s post, the third and final installment in the caregiver series, we learn about the effect of caring for caregivers.

Hearing Crickets

I’m a very private, introverted person. At the time my husband, Dan was diagnosed with cancer, we hadn’t been married long. I was a stay at home mom and didn’t have many strong friendships.  So when the people found out that Dan had cancer, many calls and texts came to his cell phone and countless caring emails arrived in his inbox.

I got a total of two, so I felt very much alone.

Pe Prepared to help someone in crisis

The Turning Point

That changed when I received an email from my sister-in-law, Marion, on the evening of November 2, 2012. Here’s what she said*:

Praying for you on THIS day, today—

That Dan’s results would be given to you by the end of the day. 

That the results would be so much better than

expected.

That you would be able to get at least an idea of a treatment plan and what to expect in the coming weeks

That you would physically feel the peace of the many, many people praying for you today as you wait,                                                                                                                                        

and that you would end the day encouraged, and filled with hope for your family’s future.

Know that your family is deeply loved by God, by family and by friends. 

Kevin, the girls and I had a family prayer meeting last night for all of you.

I felt loved and cared for

memories

Everything she had prayed in that email had been on my heart and mind. I knew that God had moved her to write to me in my time of greatest need.

It was then that I knew I wasn’t alone. I’ll never forget the way I felt, knowing that someone cared, at a time I felt like no one did. She had no idea what a difference her words would make.

From that time forward, Marion became become my biggest cheerleader and my best friend. She’s been used by God in so many ways to enable me to be a good caregiver for Dan.

Why this caring email was so important

Marion continued to send me encouraging emails.

While she and her family have done many more acts of kindness for me and my family, I wanted to focus on this email. That’s because of the power such a simple thing has, to change someone’s life.

The irony is that at the time, she thought I had lots of support.

As time went on, and I became bold enough to make my needs known, many kind people showed me caring support. but in the beginning that wasn’t the case.

Often, I talk to people who say they want to help patients and caregivers, but they feel like something as simple as a card or an email wouldn’t make a difference. Too often people feel that way and it prevents them from reaching out, to remind those going through a difficult trial that they aren’t alone. I can tell you that it makes a huge difference.

I tell this story to encourage you to reach out to the people in your life who are supporting someone who has cancer, or any other life-altering diagnosis. They need support too. The love you show them can make all the difference in the world.

These suggestions come from chapter 10 of the book, Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer

The kindness of strangers

Caring for the Caregiver

Another reason people don’t call or send caring notes is that they worry they will be a bother. They think the job of caring is better left to close family and friends.

During the Christmas of 2015, when Dan was particularly ill, we received the kindness of strangers. A couple we didn’t know who attended my in-laws’ church, called, asking if they could come to see us. They brought us a poinsettia to brightened our home at a time when the future looked dark.

Even more, they brought the love of Christ. They listened to us and prayed for us. When they left, I felt so filled with hope in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation. While they entered our home as strangers,  they left as friends.

Our Daughter, Sam

While researching for my upcoming book, Facing Cancer as a Parent, I interviewed my daughter, Sam, who was 14 at the time, about what it’s like to have a parent with cancer. I asked what surprised her the most about our experience.

She said, “How much people have supported us, I knew people would be there for us, but it has really been amazing, how wonderful they’ve been.”

Remember that it’s not just the patient who is blessed by your support and care. It’s their family as well.

This is my challenge to you:Facing Cancer

Brighten someone’s world with just a few moments of compassion. consider caring for a caregiver. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture (but it can be). Something to let someone know you are thinking of them in their time of need can mean a lot. If you need help with ideas, check out part 2 of this series. It gives some specific ways to show a caregiver that YOU care.

Want to go deeper?

Get my book, Facing Cancer as a friend. This series was adapted from Chapter 10. I cover loads of topics ranging from how to talk to someone with cancer, practical ways you can show your support, gifts, and much more. If you’d like to read a recent review, check it out here, on one of my favorite blogs, WordDreams.

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, 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

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

 

 

*Reprinted with permission


Caregiver Burnout

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, naturally, the primary concern on everyone’s mind is the patient. As time goes on, the patient’s primary caregiver often begins to experience caregiver burnout. In this series of posts, we will look at who cares for the caregiver. Those people who take on this task are angels in disguise. This series comes from chapter 10 of my book, Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer. Facing Cancer as a Friend is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats.

The Value of a Caregiver: Priceless

An estimated 44 million Americans ages 18 and older provide unpaid assistance and support to older people and adults with disabilities who live in the community.1

The value of this unpaid labor force is estimated to be at least $306 billion annually,2 nearly double the combined costs of home health care ($43 billion) and nursing home care ($115 billion).3

In most cases, the primary caregiver is a spouse, partner, or an adult child. If a patient doesn’t have family nearby, close friends, co-workers, or neighbors sometimes fill this role.

Good, reliable caregiver support is crucial to the physical and emotional well-being of people with cancer.

Who Cares for the Caregiver?

How to Support a Caregiver

Often, caregivers spend so much time taking care of the patient and the patient’s responsibilities that they forget to take care of themselves, resulting in caregiver burnout.

It’s often difficult for them to fit exercise into their schedule. Eating well takes a back seat. It’s common for a caregiver to feel guilty if they take the time to pursue a hobby or just take time for themselves on a regular basis.

Many caregivers have a positive experience. They feel a sense of accomplishment and even joy at being able to help someone they love. Even with the benefits that can come from being a caregiver, many caregivers experience caregiver burnout and stress.

Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling alone, isolated, or deserted by others
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Gaining or losing a lot of weight
  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Becoming easily irritated or angered
  • Feeling worried or sad often
  • Frequent headaches or body aches

 

Some of the Ways Caregiver Burnout and Stress Affect Caregivers:

  • Depression and anxiety. Women who are caregivers are more likely than men to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression also raise your risk for other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke.
  • Weakened immune system. Stressed caregivers may have weaker immune systems than non-caregivers and spend more days sick with the cold or flu. A weak immune system can also make vaccines such as flu shots less effective. Also, it may take longer to recover from surgery.
  • Stress causes weight gain more often in women than men. Obesity raises your risk for other health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
  • Higher risk for chronic diseases. High levels of stress, especially when combined with depression, can raise your risk for health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis.
  • Problems with short-term memory or paying attention. In particular, caregivers of spouses with Alzheimer’s disease are at higher risk for problems with short-term memory and focusing.4

Next Time…

The next post in the “Who Cares for the Caregiver,” series will give you plenty of ideas for how to help someone who is caring for a loved one facing a cancer diagnosis or any other critical illness or trial. Be sure to sign up to be notified when I publish my weekly blog post, and for the Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker Newsletter. I’d greatly appreciate it if you shared this blog on your social media so that others can learn how to support those facing cancer.

Footnotes:Facing Cancer

1 National Alliance for Caregiving & AARP. (2004). Caregiving in the U.S. Washington, DC: Author.

2 National Family Caregivers Association & Family Caregiver Alliance (2006). Prevalence, Hours and Economic Value of Family Caregiving, Updated State-by-State Analysis of 2004 National Estimates (by Peter S. Arno, Ph.D.). Kensington, MD: NFCA & San Francisco, CA: FCA.

3 Arno, P.S. (2006). Economic Value of Informal Caregiving: 2004. Presented at the Care Coordination & the Caregiver Forum, Department of Veterans Affairs, January 25-27, 2006.

4 http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/caregiver-stress.html

 

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, 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

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Have you ever heard the term, “Job’s comforters?” If you’ve ever experienced a tragedy, especially one with your health, you’ve likely gotten a dose of what Job’s friends dished out to him.

Job was a blameless and upright man (Job 1:1) who got caught between God and the devil. Satan thought he could get Job to turn on God, but God knew Job’s heart, as he knows all of our hearts. He trusted Job enough to allow Satan to do his worst.

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes. (Job 2:7, 8)

Now that you have a picture of just a portion of the tragedy that hit Job, let’s look at how Job’s friends responded.

In the beginning, Job’s friends did all the right things.

They made an appointment to come and mourn with him. When they got there, he was so ill that they didn’t even recognize him. They sat with him for seven days nights, and no one spoke a word to him because his grief was so great. I find this to be a tender moment. They were allowing him time to grieve and have the comfort of their presence. That’s being a good friend.

Then Job spoke. “I wish I’d never been born!”

Have you ever had a friend who told you she was going through a divorce, or his kid was doing drugs, or she was diagnosed with a chronic illness, or his doctor just told him he has cancer? What do you say to that? It feels like you should say something—but what?

Family Care Conference

Eliphaz was the first of Job’s friends to give his thoughts on the matter.

“Don’t take offense at this, but I just need to say something. Yes, you’ve done a lot of good things in your time, but it seems to me that you must have done something to deserve this. I was praying for you the other night, and the Holy Spirit told me (Job 4:12) that you aren’t trusting in God, but rather earthly things. Your sin caused this.”

Really???

This is an all too real a scenario, for people facing cancer.

That’s why I wrote Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer.

In Facing Cancer as a Friend, I address what to say, what not to say, end more importantly, how to use your talents and gifts to bless the people in your life who have cancer.

Some things are more stigmatized than others.

When my husband was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, we were quickly immersed in the cancer blame game. “Did he smoke?” Was the immediate response 90% of the time when we told people that he had lung cancer. I soon began to add the tagline, “and, he never smoked,” whenever I told someone about his cancer.

This bothered me, though. After all, are we saying that smokers deserve to have cancer?

The smoking stigma is reflected in research spending.

Job's Friends and Smoking

In a 2012 analysis by the National Lung Cancer Partnership, it was reported that each year, nearly 157,000 Americans die of lung cancer, and 39,970 from breast cancer. Yet, far fewer research dollars are spent per lung cancer death—$1,490 versus $21,641 for breast cancer. (A Sick Stigma by Charlotte Huff, Slate.com)

Other Cancers

For other cancers, behaviors such as eating habits, alcohol, and stress are often called into question. While lifestyle is definitely a major contributor to all illnesses, including cancer, it isn’t appropriate to talk about these conjectures regarding a patient, unless you are the patient or their doctor. To do so, is either gossip or just plain tacky, depending on who you are speaking with.

Alcohol

The reality is, people are just trying to make sense of a senseless disease.

Job’s friends aren’t the only ones to engage in the, “how did this happen,” sleuthing. To this day, we can only guess at the cause of Dan’s lung cancer.  Radon is the top guess, just because it’s statistically most likely. But when and where did he get the radon? Who knows? One in three homes in Minnesota has an unsafe level of radon.

Dan has lived a “good, clean,” life. But, what if he hadn’t? Can you imagine all of the second-guessing that a cancer patient does at that point? We sometimes joke that he got cancer from the polluted air in Egypt. Really, it’s more of the same, “How could this happen?”

A skin cancer patient will look back on that sunburn from 2 years ago and curse the fact that he didn’t use sunscreen like his wife had nagged him to.

Someone with liver cancer will wonder if it was all of the partying she did back in her college days. Or, was it the acetaminophen she takes daily for chronic headaches?

We want to know why.

Cancer is such a complicated disease. Until it touches you, directly, you don’t have a lot of reason to gain an in-depth understanding of it. Social-media “science” only adds to the confusion. It’s horrible to think that bad things could happen to good people. It causes a sense of dread in all of us. After all, that would mean we aren’t immune. So, we try to conjure up a reasonable explanation for the cause of the illness or tragedy. Otherwise, how do I know it won’t happen to me?

When we do this, we are acting more like Job’s friends than supportive friends.

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, 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

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

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