Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How To Talk to Your Ill Partner--More from Diana Denholm

Yesterday's post introduced Diana Denholm author of "The Caregiving Wife's Handbook" a super helpful reference and guide for a wife or partner caring for a husband or intimate partner. Of course--and we've heard it a million times--communication is key. But exactly how do you communicate your needs in a guilt and fear ridden environment like caregiving?

I found an interview with Dr. Denholm in which she gives specifics about how to organize yourself to talk to your partner. Click on the link below to read what she has to say about getting clear with yourself and clear with your partner.

Here's the link:

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Caregiving Wife's Handbook

This is a great book for you or for your friend who is a family caregiver. Yes, there are so many books and handbooks and workshops now for caregivers but still not enough that really attend to the marriage or intimate relationship between patient and partner.

“The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook” is written by Diana B. Denholm, PhD, LMHC. She is a board-certified medical psychotherapist so she covers a lot of ground in CancerLand. She knows cancer and other serous diseases; she knows medical professionals and their roles and perspectives and she knows families and couples who have been and who are in the thick of it. And she knows wives.

Like having a very close friend who is also a caregiver, Diana Denholm talks with us about the fear, anger, resentment and critically how to determine whether your caregiving is keeping your man dependent or if it’s appropriate to his actual needs.

One of my favorite chapters in her book is called “The Big C”…and C doesn’t stand for caregiving or for cancer—it stands for codependence. That’s another unspoken concept in CancerLand where martyrdom is celebrated and burnout rewarded. Not so for Denholm.

I’ll write more about this book and these helpful ideas in the next week.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thornton Wilder's Angels

Thornton Wilder, who wrote the beautiful play, "Our Town" wrote this:

Without your wounds where
would your power be? The
very angels themselves
cannot persuade the
wretched and blundering
children on Earth as can one
human being broken in the
wheels of living. In love’s
service, only the wounded
can serve.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Vacation Time

One of the great tests of romantic compatibility is how you travel together. Not in the first months or even the first year. There is too much "pleasing" going on then and so compromise comes easily. The real marker is in later years. Tommmorow we leave for France and our one big suitcase is on the living room floor. I have been adding to it all week and revising my packing list almost daily. Yes--a list. Actually lists. I have a general list and then sub lists for toiletries, exercise gear, and work related materials: iPad, file system for receipts, tablets and pens and my beloved Sharpies in at least ten colors, and then the cords for all the hardware.

One trip without all the right cords sealed that list into permanence.

John has it all in his head, and over time, tho I have nagged him to try my list system, I have come to see that his system works--for him.

Of course he's a guy so it's two pants, two shoes, six socks, six shirts and six undies and a toothbrush. Alas, I have many small toiletries bags--all clear zip locks, a minimum of lingerie (I bring detergent packets) and for this trip a record breaking two pair of shoes. (I shopped a long time to find shoes that work for both walking and for dress up.)

But those are differences we accommodate. In the bigger arena of travel compatibility we are --much to our surprise--like peas in a pod: We don't rush, we don't like to socialize with strangers; what we bring to read matters more than any shoes or clothes--our most fun discussions and greatest angst is about which books and how many and what can be Kindle versus an actual book. We don't bring cameras; we don't care about pictures--our experiences and memories are inside of us. (It was worth everything we've been thru just to be with a partner who gets that.) We don't care about wine but we do love to eat and we'll go out of our way to try a restaurant recommendation. But we'll go even further a field to find a bookstore that someone said was good. A really good trip means we found three or four new-to-us bookstores and especially new-to-us books.

France promises all of that. So I'll add a few more scarves at the last minute--Paris after all--and then zip it up and go.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

I Can See Clearly Now

“Our deepest wounds are the lens through which we see the world.”—May 1994

I sing along with the radio: “I can see clearly now, the pain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. All of the dark clouds have passed me by. I can see bright, bright sunshiny day.”

That is a song that can bring tears to my eyes. It’s a song about recovery and healing. I am so aware of how my own wounds distort how I see John and how I see myself in this relationship. I know that anyone would be afraid of cancer and that any caregiver fears that the person they love will get sick, sicker, or die. This is not about turning a molehill into a mountain. This is not about turning a stomach ache into cancer. It’s about cancer being cancer and being threatening. But still, but even with that, how much do I lose my --and our --good life to my very old beliefs that I will be abandoned? How much do I assume that will happen because I am not enough? How often do I set myself aside and wait for pain and grief to descend --and when they don’t I go and shake the fear tree to bring some fears so that I can have the familiar terror?

Enough already. It’s about woundedness and beliefs. I am a woman of faith and I believe in God but these beliefs are something else. Maybe this is a kind of blasphemy—I have created Gods of Woundedness that I worship and serve before my God of love. Oh God, I am ready to relinquish this belief in the false Gods and let you love me now.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Weddings and More Weddings

This year we have been so happy to be part of a number of friend's weddings. I think we have been to five weddings since January--each one lovely and special--each with a different style and feel. And each one celebrating the marriage of people we like so much. That is what makes a wedding really fun to attend.

And the dancing of course.

Saturday we were at the Pruyn House for Dan and Libby's wedding and the dancing --and the wedding--was wonderful. It was also a treat to be at the same place that we were married. It's a beautiful historic site in Latham, New York--with a historic house, antique barns, old schoolhouse and stunning gardens. We arrived before the wedding on Saturday so we could have a moment in the old school house where we were married.

Then we watched Dan and Libby be married and we loved watching their families--amazingly blended and reconfigured families that totally inspire belief in second and third acts--and then we danced.

I hope we are invited to lots more weddings just so I can keep dancing with John.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Would You Prefer Cancer Or Alzheimer's: Discuss

Oh, here is a topic for endless debate. Pour the wine, get out the ice cream and round up your friends. If you had to choose--if it was within your power to choose--would you choose Alzheimer's or Cancer?

No, it's not really as if we get to choose but it's looking like there is some genetic choosing going on. USA Today released the story yesterday.  Thank you to reporter Karen Weintraub. Longitudinal research now suggests that there is a link between the two diseases and it is an inverse correlation.

People with Alzheimer's had a 43% lower risk of developing cancer than those without Alzheimer's. And those with cancer had a 35% lower chance of developing Alzheimer's than those with out cancer. The USA Today story reports that several scientists and multiple studies led to this conclusion. It is very intriguing. The length of the studies ruled out the so-called simple explanation: that someone with either disease didn't live long enough to get the other but that is not the case. The "Protective factor" clearly exists.

So, really can you imagine having to choose? Your choice may depend on how closely you have lived to people with either disease. Alzheimer's is less painful in a sense--no surgery, chemo, side effects etc. But look at the pain for the family. On the other hand while cancer gives you a degree of conscious control and choice there is, as we know here in CancerLand, so much pain.

There is another bit of information in this article that must get our attention. Weintraub reports that "Alzheimer's is expected to triple over the next generation and become a huge social and financial burden....Alzheimer's is a disease that is going to dwarf every other disease..."

It makes one pause and perhaps find a tiny bit of gratitude for cancer.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Survivor Card

Yesterday in a business setting, a woman-- a complete stranger to me--said, “I’m a breast cancer survivor.”

All day I thought about that and wondered at her need to describe herself that way. I don’t know if she’s married, a mom, has cats, belongs to the Libertarian party, hates the sound of chalk on a blackboard but I know about her breasts and her health.

What I also know is that this experience has so colored her life that it has become her identity. That seems as great a tragedy as the surgeries and treatments she has been through.

Many years ago a therapist who was trying to help me with the thoughts and behaviors that kept me stuck, said to me, “Play another card.” She explained that we are all dealt a hand of cards--maybe 7 to ten cards each –and it includes both good stuff and hard stuff. But, she said, some people just play the same card over and over. “Look at your hand,” she said, “and play another card.”

I wanted to say that to the woman—whose name I don’t know but who believes that the most important thing about her is breast cancer, “Please, for the sake of your life, play another card.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Soul of All Living Creatures

I am reading this wonderful new book by Vint Virga, D.V.M. a  distinguished expert in veterinary behavioral medicine. Yes—behavioral medicine for animals. You know by now that there is nothing silly about this specialty. Veterinary Behavioral Medicine is a branch of animal medicine and while I knew that Dr. Vint Virga is at the top in his field I didn’t know until reading this book that he is also an incredibly compassionate and compelling storyteller.

The subtitle of  “The Soul of All Living Creatures” is: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human. And, if you are an animal lover, you might say, “Well, duh, been saying that for years.” And yes you have. We talk about unconditional love and patience and having our own hearts opened wide by the creatures we love. But Virga goes beyond that and shows –in his gentle but powerful teaching stories—how animals—cats, dogs, horses—can teach us about mindfulness and intuition and generosity.

So maybe, like me, you buy lots of self-help books about mindfulness and intuition and you go to workshops on the same topics—here is a new way to get a very visceral lesson: spend time very quietly and very close to an animal. In his book Virga explains exactly how he watches and discerns the needs of the animals he is consulting on.

In this beautiful book Virga takes “therapeutic” and “companion” animals to a new level of consideration. I could feel my own anxiety slow down and my breathing deepen just reading about his work with the soulful creatures that he cares for.