Posts

A Guide to Caring for Each Other: An MPN Patient and Care Partner

A Guide to Caring for Each Other: An MPN Patient and Care Partner from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN Network Managers Jeff and Summer dive into how they care for one another. Although, Jeff is the sole care partner for Summer who is living with myelofibrosis admits to still having to care for him as well. Hear how our MPN Network Managers prioritize care for one another.

“Listen to each other really strongly and help give each other what you need.” — Jeff

Will Telemedicine Mitigate Financial Toxicity for Prostate Cancer Patients?

Will Telemedicine Mitigate Financial Toxicity for Prostate Cancer Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Prostate cancer patients often have financial costs associated with their care. Expert Dr. Leanne Burnham details ways that telemedicine reduces financial toxicity for prostate cancer care — and shares some of her own experience as a cancer patient when she was a doctoral student.

See More From the Prostate Cancer TelemEDucation Empowerment Resource Center

Related Resources:

 

What Are the Benefits of Telemedicine for Prostate Cancer Patients?

What Are the Limitations of Telemedicine for Prostate Cancer Patients?

Dr. Leanne Burnham’s Top Tips for Your Prostate Cancer Telemedicine Visit

 

Transcript:

Dr. Leanne Burnham

So speaking about financial toxicity, let’s just talk about it when it comes to medical treatment in general. Financial toxicity comes in many forms, and I can speak to this a little bit on a personal level, I myself was a cancer patient when I was a doctoral student, and I had to take nine months off of school and do chemo and surgeries, and the whole nine yards and the strain that puts financially on a family depends on what kind of safety guard you have in place ahead of time. When you’re not expecting to get cancer when you’re a young person, it can throw a monkey wrench for sure. And so in my own personal situation, my husband owns a barbershop, and he doesn’t have sick days, right, so if he doesn’t go to work, leave and he doesn’t come home with money. So that time that I was sick, that was stressful on us, because he didn’t necessarily want to call off, but he wanted to call off so that he could be with me, and he’s very concerned after I’m having my treatment, but at the same time, he needs to go to work. And so the stress that that creates for the patient, for the caregiver, that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the healing process, because what we know is that stress kills literally, quite literally, and I’ve published on that topic before. As it pertains to prostate cancer, we know that chronic stress, cumulative stress spread out over time dysregulates your hormone function and leads to all kinds of disease, metabolic diseases, cancer down the road.

So financial toxicity is a real thing, and there are ways that telemedicine can help to mitigate some of that financial toxicity. So, for example, when you don’t have to call off work, let’s say to make your televisit, then that’s a really great thing. When you don’t have to try to find child care so that you can go to your appointments because now at the hospital setting or the doctors’ offices, you can’t bring your kids with you like you used to be able to just…okay, come sit in the waiting room, or come in the room. It’s not like that you can’t even enter the building most of the time, and so a lot of people have to try to find child care if they were going to go to the doctor in-person. But the benefit of telemedicine is you don’t have to do that, so that’s a saved cost. I know myself; I’ve taken televisit appointments during my lunch break while I’m in lab, and that just works out a lot better, it’s not a day that I have to call off work in order to make that happen. The other way that telemedicine can help reduce cost is there can be reduced visits to, let’s say, urgent care or the emergency room.

I can think of a few situations during this quarantine era with my kids even where certain symptoms come up and I think, “Oh, I really need to take him to urgent care,” but I schedule a video appointment with their doctor, the doctor goes over a symptom checklist and says, “You know what, you don’t need to actually bring them in for an appointment, just bring them in and have them do this lab work real quick and just be in and out, and then we’ll let you know if there needs to be a follow-up.” And then most of the time, there doesn’t need to be a follow-up, or there’s just a prescription that’s needed, and you avoid the extra cost of what going to urgent care would have been, going to the emergency room would have been. And you’re reducing your exposure to COVID, which is not a financial toxicity question, but that’s a benefit that telemedicine has as well.

Advocacy Through Various Mediums with an MPN Patient and Caregiver

Advocacy Through Various Mediums with an MPN Patient and Caregiver from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is patient advocacy and how can you advocate? MPN Network Managers Jeff and Summer discuss the various ways in which they advocate. In addition to volunteering with PEN, Jeff actively participates in a support group. Summer who is living with MPN has decided to advocate through her humor. Make sure to watch to see a snippet of her stand-up routine! 

“Our challenge to you is, as a patient find a way to give your knowledge of how you’re handling your disease to others and you too can become a strong patient advocate.” 

Want to connect with Jeff and Summer? Email them at question@powerfulpatient.org or text EMPOWER to (833)213-6657.

MPN Patient and Caregiver Explain How Colors Impact Their Lives

MPN Patient and Caregiver Explain How Colors Impact Their Lives from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are you conscious of the colors in your home? MPN Network Manager Summer and her care partner Jeff have their respective homes filled with colors that bring them joy. They prioritize mindfulness and positivity as part of Summer’s healthcare journey.

Jeff challenges you to surround yourself with colors that put your mind and body at ease.

Want to connect with Jeff and Summer? Email them at question@powerfulpatients.org

Advocating for Key AML Testing: Advice From an Expert

Advocating for Key AML Testing: Advice From an Expert from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Hetty Carraway, an AML specialist at Cleveland Clinic, shares advice on advocating for yourself when diagnosed with AML, underscoring the importance of asking questions, and including your caregiver as part of the conversation.

Dr. Hetty Carraway is Director of the Leukemia Program at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Carraway cares for patients with acute leukemia and bone marrow failure states. Learn more about Dr. Carraway, here.

See More From INSIST! AML

Related Resources:


 Treatment Approaches in AML: Key Testing for Personalized Care

 New AML Therapies vs. Traditional Chemotherapy: What’s the Difference?

 Understanding Risk in AML: How Molecular Testing Affects Treatment Options

Transcript:

Katherine:

What advice do you have for patients when it comes to asking for appropriate testing and speaking up in their own care?

Dr. Carraway:            

This is so important. I think patients are leery to stir the pot or be difficult. I think coming from a place of inquiry, teach me about this, that, or the other thing, help me understand this, that, or the other thing – I would like you to show me why this decision or talk with me about why this decision versus another decision might be better for me compared to somebody else.

I can’t underscore the importance of advocating for yourself and asking questions about why am I getting this drug? What are the side effects to this drug? What is my prognosis? What is different about my case versus somebody else’s situation? How do I best prepare myself in getting ready for the therapy that I’m about to go through?

Those are all important questions that patients should ask. They should certainly have people, if possible in their family be advocates for them. I welcome that, and I think that that’s a really important part of going through this type of therapy for any patient. Your physician should welcome having your involvement in that. Don’t be shy about that. It’s your health, and any investment in that the most important people in that is inclusive of you and your caregivers. They should be a welcome part of the team.

The Caregiver Impact: A Vital Part of Healthcare

Carly FlumerCarly Flumer is a young woman who was diagnosed with stage I papillary thyroid cancer at the age of 27. She recently received her Master’s degree from Boston University in Health Communication and received her Bachelor’s from George Mason University in Health Administration and Policy. While being diagnosed with the “C” word at such […]

Braving the Caregiver Storm

As I sit here looking out the window at the snow that is beginning to fall, I am transported back to January 2011 when I was 28 and my 35 year old husband was diagnosed with leukemia. I was thrown into a snow storm I was definitely not prepared for nor did I think I’d be in. I had little visibility in front of me as the snow fell and flew all around me. I knew cancer was something that had been around for a very long time, and that the knowledge was out there…but as a young woman, I was standing in my own little snow globe without boots, a scarf, or mittens. I had my marriage that I wrapped around me like a warm coat, and held onto that while I attempted to find resources to guide me thorough this new life of mine.

My days of working full-time, then coming home to relax had been exchanged for quick trips to let the pets out after work, then jetting over to the hospital to spend a few hours with my husband before driving back home to spend a few minutes with my pets before going to bed and starting the cycle all over again. I was exhausted and had to figure out how to get warm, protect myself from the elements and survive!  However hard and unknown it all was, I found comfort in knowing that although I was the only young person I knew to go through what I was, millions of people had done it before and I could too. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but knew I would somehow.

I began to gather resources online by spending hours upon hours late at night on the internet. I looked up financial resources to help with gas cards, how to navigate insurance, disability, and requested all of the brochures possible from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the American Cancer Society. As I gained more knowledge, I felt myself slip into a warm pair of boots, feeling like I had more secure grounding. I was better informed and felt more armed to walk down the road of the cancer journey, despite still not being able to see through the masses of swirling snowflakes and at times, sleet.

I quickly realized that one of the most major parts of this journey was to take care of myself. At first it felt somewhat selfish, as my husband was the patient…however I had to figure out what worked best to keep my batteries charged and running, even when the snowy road threw my tires into a ditch. I started creating blog posts to inform and update our supporters on CaringBridge and Facebook, which allowed me to feel safe, supported and heard, while still having boundaries to not be overloaded via text, phone and email from all of those that wanted to know how things were going. This social support provided the needed warmth on my hands, giving me mittens to keep from getting frostbite from the dangerously low temperatures here in Minnesota.

I learned that taking time away for myself whether it be a cup of tea with a friend, taking a nap, a walk or binging a favorite TV show, was what I needed to do to be able to recharge my batteries to be in the right mental and physical space to be there for my loved one. Caregiver burnout is very real, and I often burned the candle at both ends, learning the hard way why self-care needed to be more of a priority in my life.  I don’t think that our supporters and loved ones can fully grasp or understand why it is so important to go to dinner with friends or to a movie or concert (outside of Covid-19 times of course), when your loved one is in the hospital or stuck at home.  What those that aren’t going through what you are in this crazy world of cancer don’t know is how hard it is to balance it all. Cancer is the belligerent relative at the holiday gathering that no one really knows how to deal with or control. They are there for better or worse, and it’s up to you to know how to balance and work with what you’ve been given.  When you take the time to understand and embrace what is….you can feel more at peace in taking the cancer process day by day, if not hour by hour.  You have to let the little things go, your house may not always be sparkly clean and everything may not get done- but the cancer patient has everything they need and you are a more balanced person to support them. Once I figured out how to balance things better, a scarf was wrapped around my neck, and I was better prepared for the snowstorm.

Cancer is definitely not something that is asked for, however with adequate resources, knowledge, social support and the practice of self-care, it is all doable.  I was able to take my experience as a cancer wife, then widow and beyond to create a book to share with the world on how I navigated the cancer world one day at a time, and live today with such thankfulness for the journey that brought me here today. I still absolutely love snow, and am excited for the snowstorm that is supposed to hit this afternoon with 4-7 inches, as I now know the ways to make sure I am storm ready to walk through the journeys in front of me, as you too, walk through your own snowstorms as well.


How to Be a Good Care Partner 101

How to Be a Good Care Partner 101 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 What is the most important aspect of being a good care partner? MPN Network Managers, Jeff and Summer give tips on best practices for being a phenomenal care partner. Jeff breaks down his strategy for managing Summer’s myelofibrosis, including modifying their schedules due to Summer’s fatigue.

Most important tip?
Jeff: “To be a good caregiver, you have to take care of yourself.”

Want to connect our MPN Network Managers, Jeff and Summer? Email them, question@powerfulpatients.org

Care Partner’s Checklist During a Crisis


 

PEN’s Care Partner Network Manager, Sherea Cary, shares her tips for care partners during a crisis:

 

Managing Side Effects – Nausea and Vomiting

This video was originally published on YouTube by The American Cancer Society on July 11, 2019 here.


Perhaps the most common side effects of chemotherapy, and sometimes other treatments, are nausea and vomiting. This video provides tips for how to cope with these incredibly uncomfortable symptoms.

Learn more at: www.cancer.org/caregivers

Fear of Recurrence

This video was originally published on YouTube by The American Cancer Society on November 5, 2018 here.


Did you know that in addition to patients, caregivers may also be concerned about the cancer returning? This is called fear of recurrence. When your loved one finishes treatment and is no longer followed closely by the cancer care team on a regular basis, you may feel anxious. You’ll learn about how to manage those fears through tips on how to better cope with those feelings.

Learn more at: www.cancer.org/caregivers

Stress Management

This video was originally published on YouTube by The American Cancer Society on November 5, 2018 here.


Feeling overwhelmed and juggling multiple responsibilities on top of providing care to your loved one with cancer can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. You might feel as if the weight of world is on your shoulders. Four tips for coping are provided to help lower your stress level and better cope when times get tough. Learn more at: www.cancer.org/caregivers

What You Should Know About Caregiver Burnout and How to Avoid it

Taking care of a loved one can be one of the most rewarding experiences, especially if you have had a great relationship with that loved one. While the overall involvement in a senior loved one’s life as a caregiver might be satisfying and make you feel happy or proud of working together, there are times when it can lead to mental and emotional burnout. After all, you are constantly required to nurture and care for another human being which could cause you to forget to care for yourself, leading to “caregiver fatigue” or also known by the popular phrase, “caregiver burnout.”

According to the National Alliance for Caregivers, on average, family caregivers spend around 24 hours a week providing care for their loved ones. I personally was spending anywhere from 20-30 hours weekly while taking care of my grandmother. It really depended on the week and the needs that came up. But sometimes, it felt like much more time was being spent taking care of my grandmother rather than myself.

What I learned during the process was that the best way to avoid caregiver burnout was to identify when I felt I was going through it. Then, to prevent it. Which led me to highlight some signs linked to caregiver burnout.

Signs leading to caregiver burnout

The following signs point to caregiver burnout:

  • Tiredness and a lack of energy for activities that you could, previously, easily perform.
  • Having trouble sleeping.
  • You no longer enjoy activities, specifically hobbies, that you loved.
  • Relationships with loved ones start to become strained.
  • Frequent headaches and/or body pain.
  • You are easily irritable.

The above list of signs isn’t exhaustive but contains the most common signs that caregivers start to experience prior to or during burnout. While the above list is specific for emotional burnout, physical burnout is also important to avoid. Most caregivers face it from having to carry their senior loved ones from room to room or up the stairs or not getting proper sleep.

It is vital that our loved ones utilize technology that is available to them such as wheelchairs, canes, and even stairlifts for elderly persons to take that burden off of yourself. You can help with this by making a list of mobility or technology devices that can benefit both of your lives and take the stress off of your body. While your senior loved one may not be very keen on the idea of using mobility devices (not all are), you’ll need to reason with them why the device is a necessity for them and yourself. Hopefully, they’ll end up understanding the needs of both of you.

In any case of burnout, as soon as you start to experience the signs, it is important you take a step back and analyze why you may be burning yourself out. You need to ask yourself the following:

  1. Is being a caregiver for a loved one too much for me to handle while keeping my job and other responsibilities?
  2. Am I overly consumed with looking after a loved one that I no longer take time during the week for myself?
  3. Am I not eating well or finding time to exercise? This can take a toll on you both mentally and physically.
  4. Do I still have a healthy relationship with my loved one? If you feel like you don’t, for whatever reason, then this could be causing you extra stress. Not to mention, your loved one might be feeling the stress as well.

These questions will help narrow your problem leading to burnout so you can avoid and rectify it. Most caregivers do the following to avoid or combat burnout:

Take breaks

You alone may not be able to provide full-time support for a loved one. At times many caregivers are juggling family and a job along with providing care. This, of course, is a lot to juggle and usually leads to stress and mental/physical breakdowns especially when taking care of a loved one going through a long-term recovery. Which is why you need to take breaks and at times, seek the help of professional caregivers or other family members to assist you. It doesn’t have to be every day but taking a break two to three times a week can make a huge difference and help prevent burnout.

By taking time out for yourself, you can also improve your relationship with your loved one. Personally, a break allowed me to focus on myself, which made me less absorbed on just my grandmother. I usually exercised or spent time with friends which kept me grounded.

Before I started to take breaks, I felt I was more irritated and disgruntled from time to time with my grandmother, mostly because I felt I was not getting time to do anything but take care of her. But by taking some time off from my caregiving responsibilities, I no longer felt this way which definitely made our relationship better. Even she started noticing that I was acting happier and my overall outlook about the situation was then positive.

Talk to family members or other caregivers

Humans find comfort in discussing their problems. Just the process of venting helps us get a lot off our chest. Which is why caregivers should look towards family members and other caregivers to talk to about any problems or additional stress they may be taking on. It doesn’t necessarily have to be to seek a solution but just to vent their feelings out so you stay refreshed and grounded.

I sought refuge in a friend who was also taking care of a loved one who recently went through a stroke. We would talk 2-3 times a week to listen and comfort one another. By sharing my thoughts with others, I let go of a lot of steam that I would normally store.

Most of it was just things I had to let go of, but of course, keeping it in did hurt the relationship I had with my grandmother. The more I got off my chest while talking to family and other caregivers, the more comfortable I was. Especially while talking to other caregivers because it made me realize that others also shared similar feelings and I wasn’t alone. This helped me to refocus my mindset with a positive outlook and created a stronger, deeper connection with my grandmother.

If you find yourself experiencing the signs listed above or you already believe that you have caregiver burnout, know that you aren’t alone. The best thing you can do is try to find what works for you to better your mindset. Maybe you don’t feel like you’re the issue and that your loved one is causing the exhaustion. Whatever the case, take a step back, analyze the situation, and find a route to channel your emotions. Don’t assume this is an overnight thing, consistency is key to constructing a relationship and removing negative energy.

F Words in Rare Disease

A dad I know recently posted a photo and shared his excitement on Twitter about a new set up for his bike with a trailer for his son. Its overall purpose being an opportunity to do more stuff together as a family. I wholeheartedly shared in his excitement as I too had been putting money aside to find more opportunities for my own family to get outdoors more. Both of us are parents of children who were born with a rare diagnosis. Our kids have different rare diagnoses, but like all families we are eager to connect with the greater world around us and share it with our kids however we can.

My own kiddo is going to be thirteen this year, and we are at a turning point in the discussion of overall health. We are off-book and off script as there’s nothing that clinically describes this age range for his specific diagnosis. Anecdotally, he seems to be following his own trajectory for some inexplicable reason deviating from other children I know with this diagnosis. I’m at the hospital more professionally than I am as mom of a patient which to some audiences the reaction is, “Yay! Your family gets a break! So everything is fine now, right?”. The reaction from fellow parents of palliative patients is, “I’m so sorry”, because they realize the fight is over. That life is going to do whatever it is its going to do. The hospital is still there if you need them, but your frequent family vacation time at “Club Med” is to be replaced with a new family dynamic and new identity as take a go at life more on your own.

Health care is quickly deviating from textbook, generalized care to something highly individualized. This in theory is a great concept but is extraordinarily multifaceted in its impact on patients affected by rare disease. As someone who manages a support group of over 800 patients and caregivers from my home province, I find a deep desire to ask in some capacity whether we are prepared for the pace of advancement. A long-term goal I have in mind is to create a biopsychosocial assessment of the needs of families. For now, I can say for as much new information as I bring to the proverbial table, it’s so often met with, “How do I fit this into my complex world?”.

I hesitate to use the term ‘finding balance’ at all, because if there’s one thing I think many of us rare patients and families experience is more of a need to manage random health chaos. The status of my own family can shift on a dime and you have to learn to be very much ok with that because you have no other choice than to.

So how does one even begin to manage understanding how to frame your life and all the decisions you have to make? For a little over four years, I’ve been working as a parent researcher and engagement facilitator with a focus on the subject of childhood disability. One concept we often speak on is the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability Health. A simplified version of a very technical document is called “The F Words in Childhood Disability”. Now these are concepts that I wish to argue merit for as a way to create form to thoughts and efforts that you are probably doing already. At the same time, it can become very validating and empowering to realize that current evidence points to the fact that you are already on the right track. These are ideas upon which a potential framework can be created in your own mind as to goals that can be accomplished, or a way to weigh decisions that need to be made. We are often so focused on the burdens of disease, that we need a compass of sorts to point us back to the idea that life is happening around us and time can often be a precious commodity. They are six words that reflect the story that’s unique to you or your family and nobody else.

Function

There is often a need to perform tasks in ways unique to their own abilities. If independence in some areas can be fostered, we need to be able to honor that.

Family

Family isn’t always about people you are genetically related to. People react to the idea of illness very differently and in some cases, you need to seek community and “family” elsewhere. Regardless, the people in your life that you surround yourself with are people that are important to you. It’s important to listen to them as they know you best.

Fitness

As a post-cancer “spoonie” myself, I often bristle a bit on this subject. Between my own struggles with energy and the physical impact of caregiving, I’ve found it difficult to find the energy to be healthy. However, your story isn’t my story and in reality it can be intensely difficult to find ways to be healthy. In the area of rare disease, I think health becomes a broader term by definition: overall health takes on many forms be it mental or physical health. We often term health as some sort of fitness guru Instagram aspiration, but sometimes overall improved health comes from even the tiniest of steps and even the little efforts deserve to be celebrated in a huge fashion.

Friends

Existing around peers can take on many forms, and in order to do so sometimes we need to be brave and reach out to others for more accessible ways to connect with friends. What can’t be ignored is a human being’s overall need to connect with other people as we learn and grow together.

Fun

In a world that can be taken up so much with appointments and treatments, its so important to stop every now and then and have fun, be silly, briefly escape the world and just plain live. Fun can take on so many different things.

Future

So much definition of future is often left to the financial planners of the world in regards to careers, academics and whatnot. Sometimes the future is only planning ahead 15 minutes at a time or a week from now. As hokey as it sounds, with age I’ve begun to see the value and emotional weight the phrase “one day at a time” holds in my life. I’ve been asked more times than I can count as to how I picture my family’s future. My response remains that I really am not gifted with that luxury, ask me what I’m working on for tomorrow.

I have seen these terms be threaded through my life in so many ways. Sometimes you are only focusing on one F word at a time and there’s no judgement in that at all. I like any other mom am someone who struggles with whether or not I’m doing a good job. I think the gauge by which I measure this is probably unique to my own personal story but I know that I am not alone in this feeling. I feel though with the F words, I have a more confident platform to stand on not to be his voice but to be his microphone. There’s so much I can’t control in life but as his mom I want to help him own every second as his life to live. So in celebration of birthday number 13, we’re taking “fun” as our next goal and bought a bike trailer too! I know he’ll love it.