Tag Archives: education

WE NEED TO TELL OUR STORIES UNTIL WE DON’T

Have you ever noticed how when something unexpected happens to people, especially if it’s a shock or traumatic in any way, they tell everyone they see afterwards all about it? They also often tell the story again and again to the same people. It can be hard to avoid an invisible roll-of-the-eyes and a silent commentary along the line of, “here we go again”.

However, try to put yourself in their place and imagine that you have, for example, a minor car accident on your way to work. Your car isn’t badly damaged and you can eventually be on your way, albeit now running late for work. The first thing you are likely to do when you arrive is to announce the accident to everyone. Will that be the end of it? I don’t think so. Maybe your neck will start to hurt and you get a splitting headache because you’ve suffered a whiplash injury. You will undoubtedly tell people about this and it will probably necessitate you telling the whole story of the accident over again. You may find that you continue to tell the story of this incident for days or even weeks afterwards.  This is how you process what has happened to you and helps you to get over the shock you have suffered.

A few years ago someone I know ruined Christmas for everyone else. This person has a mental illness and was under a lot of stress but their behaviour was incredibly abusive and had everyone walking on eggshells for fear of setting off another torrent of rage. The end result has been a fracturing of several family relationships. The whole event left everyone feeling battered and shattered. Even now, some of us feel as though our hearts have been lacerated because we’ve had to distance ourselves from this person.

For months afterwards I personally kept telling friends who weren’t there about how it had felt; the shock, disbelief, anger and fear caused by the perpetrator of the abuse.  Eventually we were all able to move on and accept that it was that person’s mental instability that caused their behaviour . However, I am certain that I was only able to do this because I talked about it so many times with close friends, other family members and a therapist. There was something about letting all those awful feelings out that allowed me to let them go, simply because I had acknowledged them and had them validated by people who have listened to me.

So the next time you feel impatient hearing someone else’s story for the second or fifth or tenth time, try to be present with them, make sympathetic noises and don’t offer advice on what they ‘should’ be doing. When they’re ready, they will stop telling their story because they will no longer need to.

© Jane Gillespie 2017

http://janegillespie.com.au/counsellor.html

 

 

Excellent resource for people with cancer

So often the emotional impact of being diagnosed with cancer is overlooked.  I’ve talked about this before but just found this excellent book produced by the National Cancer Institute in the United States: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/takingtime/takingtime.pdf.

Just about everything written in this resonated with me.  I think this publication, or something very similar written by local cancer organisations, should be made available for everyone who has been diagnosed with cancer.

Highly recommended.

Jane Gillespie – google.com/+JANEGILLESPIEHolisticCounsellor

Confession

In my last post I said I was “a veteran of two cancer diagnoses”.  The truth is I am really only a veteran of one diagnosis, not two.  This is because I am only just about to start on treatment for my second confrontation with cancer (and a completely different type) so I’m very much a novice again.

What has confounded me is the degree of shock I felt when told that what was thought to be Keratoacanthoma (KA) was actually squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). KA is a common skin tumour that has traditionally been regarded as benign, but some of these tumours have been seen to transform into SCC. Most KAs resolve spontaneously, but an underlying squamous cell carcinoma cannot be ruled out without removal of the tumor and microscopic evaluation. Mine did turn out to be SCC and the surgical excision could have meant that there was nothing more to worry about. However invasion by cancer in a nerve ending showed up. I am SO glad that I sought an expert opinion on what the pin-head sized spot that grew to the size of a pea in less than a week could be and had it removed immediately! Because of the nerve involvement I was referred to a radiation oncologist and radiotherapy was recommended.

I was really knocked about by this news and couldn’t make a decision until I’d given myself a chance to regroup.   It goes to show how deep the trauma went at my first diagnosis even though that was 19 years ago.  I believe I’m grieving the fact that my world has been turned upside down again and the fact that this is a very common form of skin cancer with little likelihood of there being anything to worry about down the track doesn’t make any difference at all to how I feel right now.

I feel as though I’m suffering PTSD all over again.  While I have calmed down a lot since deciding to go ahead with radiation treatment I’m still battling incredible fatigue and a decidedly fuzzy head.  I’ve misplaced my incredibly expensive Bulgari glasses (I’m sure I haven’t lost them; I just can’t find them) and a couple of days ago I did my grocery shopping only to discover when everything had been scanned at the check-out that I’d left my credit card wallet at home and didn’t have enough cash to pay for everything. Sigh…

I’m having to pay attention to everything that I used to talk about when I facilitated cancer support groups.  I’m trying to be gentle with myself and ask for help if I need it but this is much easier said than done!

Treatment starts in just over a week and will continue every day Monday to Friday for four weeks.  I’m not looking forward to it but I know that techniques have improved a lot in the past few years so it’s quite easy to only target the affected area and there’s much less likelihood of collateral damage.

So there it is – another detour on the journey of life that I would never have taken voluntarily but it’s happened and I will get through it with support from incredible friends and family.  And this time around I will let people know what I need so I won’t end up as a basket-case again, like I was last time.

© Jane Gillespie 2013  Author of  “Journey to Me”  www.yourlifecelebrated.com.au

Think About Pink

I just came across this article from the New York Times in an old email folder and thought it well worth posting here.  I wonder if you agree with the author’s sentiments – I do!

______________________________________________________________________

Think About Pink (NYT – November 12, 2010)

By PEGGY ORENSTEIN

A friend of mine’s 12-year-old daughter has taken to wearing a bracelet, one of those rubber, Lance Armstrong-style affairs, that says on it, “I ❤ Boobies.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, vaguely, when questioned about it. “It’s for breast cancer.”

Really?

It’s hard to remember that, not so long ago, the phrase “breast cancer” was not something women spoke aloud, even among themselves. It wasn’t until the early 1970s, with the high-profile diagnoses of the former child star Shirley Temple Black, the first lady Betty Ford and Happy Rockefeller that the disease went public. A short time later, Betty Rollin, an NBC-TV correspondent, published the groundbreaking memoir “First You Cry.” Back then, her grief over losing her breast and the blow cancer dealt to her sex life was greeted with hostility by some critics and dismissed as frivolous. Mammography was just coming into use to detect early-stage tumors. The American Cancer Society was still resisting the idea of support groups for post-mastectomy patients. A woman like Rollin, some said, was supposed to be grateful that she qualified for a radical mastectomy, stuff a sock in her bra and get on with it.

Fast-forward to today, when, especially during October, everything from toilet paper to buckets of fried chicken to the chin straps of N.F.L. players look as if they have been steeped in Pepto. If the goal was “awareness,” that has surely been met — largely, you could argue, because corporations recognized that with virtually no effort (and often minimal monetary contribution), going pink made them a lot of green.

But a funny thing happened on the way to destigmatization. The experience of actual women with cancer, women like Rollin, Black, Ford and Rockefeller — women like me — got lost. Rather than truly breaking silences, acceptable narratives of coping emerged, each tied up with a pretty pink bow. There were the pink teddy bears that, as Barbara Ehrenreich observed, infantilized patients in a reassuringly feminine fashion. “Men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not receive gifts of Matchbox cars,” she wrote in her book “Bright-Sided.”

Alternatively, there are what Gayle Sulik, author of “Pink Ribbon Blues,” calls “She-roes” — rhymes with “heroes.” These aggressive warriors in heels kick cancer’s butt (and look fab doing it). Like the bear huggers, they say what people want to hear: that not only have they survived cancer, but the disease has made them better people and better women. She-roes, it goes without saying, do not contract late-stage disease, nor do they die.

That rubber bracelet is part of a newer, though related, trend: the sexualization of breast cancer. Hot breast cancer. Saucy breast cancer. Titillating breast cancer! The pain of “First You Cry” has been replaced by the celebration of “Crazy Sexy Cancer,” the title of a documentary about a woman “looking for a cure and finding her life.”

Sassy retail campaigns have sprung up everywhere, purporting to “support the cause.” There is Save the Ta-Tas (a line that includes T-shirts and a liquid soap called Boob Lube), Save Second Base, Project Boobies (the slogan on its T-shirts promoting self-exam reads, “I grab a feel so cancer can’t steal,” though the placement of its hot-pink handprints makes it virtually impossible for them to belong to the shirt’s wearer). There is the coy Save the Girls campaign, whose T-shirt I saw in the window of my local Y.M.C.A. And there is “I ❤ Boobies” itself, manufactured by an organization called Keep a Breast (get it?).

Sexy breast cancer tends to focus on the youth market, but beyond that, its agenda is, at best, mushy. The Keep a Breast Foundation, according to its Web site, aims to “help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support.” If only it were that simple. It also strives to make discussion of cancer “positive and upbeat.” Several other groups dedicate a (typically unspecified) portion of their profits to “educate” about self-exam, though there is little evidence of its efficacy. Or they erroneously tout mammography as “prevention.”

There’s no question that many women, myself included, experience breast cancer as an assault on our femininity. Feeling sexual in the wake of mastectomy, lumpectomy, radiation or chemo is a struggle, one that may or may not result in a new, deeper understanding of yourself. While Betty Rollin acknowledged such visceral feelings about breasts, she never reduced herself to them. And in the 1990s, the fashion model Matuschka’s notorious photo of her own mastectomy scar (published on the cover of this magazine) demanded that the viewer, like breast-­cancer patients themselves, confront and even find beauty in the damage.

By contrast, today’s fetishizing of breasts comes at the expense of the bodies, hearts and minds attached to them. Forget Save the Ta-Tas: how about save the woman? How about “I ❤ My 72-Year-Old One-Boobied Granny?” After all, statistically, that’s whose “second base” is truly at risk.

Rather than being playful, which is what these campaigns are after, sexy cancer suppresses discussion of real cancer, rendering its sufferers — the ones whom all this is supposed to be for — invisible. It also reinforces the idea that breasts are the fundamental, defining aspect of femininity. My friend’s daughter may have been uncertain about what her bracelet “for breast cancer” meant, but I am betting she got that femininity equation loud and clear.

I hate to be a buzz kill, but breast cancer is just not sexy. It’s not ennobling. It’s not a feminine rite of passage. And, though it pains me to say it, it’s also not very much fun. I get that the irreverence is meant to combat crisis fatigue, the complacency brought on by the annual onslaught of pink, yet it similarly risks turning people cynical. By making consumers feel good without actually doing anything meaningful, it discourages understanding, undermining the search for better detection, safer treatments, causes and cures for a disease that still afflicts 250,000 women annually (and speaking of figures, the number who die has remained unchanged — hovering around 40,000 — for more than a decade).

As for me, I bear in mind the final statement that a college pal of mine who was dying of breast cancer (last October, in the midst of all that sexy pink) made to her younger brother. She was about to leave two young sons to grow up without a mother; her husband to muddle through without his wife. She could barely speak at the time, barely breathe. But when her brother leaned forward, she whispered two words in his ear: “This sucks.”

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As a breast cancer survivor myself I can relate to Peggy Orenstein’s feelings.  While I applaud the efforts of various foundations to raise money to help with research into the causes of, and hopefully one day a cure for, breast cancer I think there is definitely over-kill in the way pink is used to push the message about early detection, mammography and so on.

Where is the support for those (mostly) women who are living with the disease and/or the effects of treatment?  Many people don’t realise that while certain drugs can effectively kill the dreaded cancer cells (at least for the time being) there are often permanent and distressing changes that have to be lived with that impact on quality of life.  But the message seems to be that these people should be grateful that they’ve survived.  As I’m sure they are – but at what cost?

I’d love to see a PINK campaign that acknowledges and validates the reality of life for someone who has or has had breast cancer.  Life definitely isn’t all roses (pink or otherwise) and everyone deserves the recognition that whether you’re on your death bed or simply struggling to get through treatment that will make you better, it does indeed “suck”.  Big Time.

When I wrote my book, Journey to Me, I was advised to “tone it down”, to take out a lot of what I’d written about what it really was like going through surgery and chemo.  I stuck to my guns though because I was fed up with people pussy-footing around what it’s really like.  I would have handled things a lot better if I’d been better prepared for the shock of seeing how my chest was concave post-mastectomy (having prepared myself for it to be flat), losing my hair (the worst moment was when it started to fall out in the shower and clogged the drain), the humiliation of suffering uncontrollable diarrhoea and having to wash my bedding at 2 o’clock in the morning…

Pink campaigns to educate women about how to reduce the number of people who are diagnosed with breast cancer are all well and good but where are the campaigns to raise awareness of the need for people to know how to cope with the actual disease?

Yes, I did get through it, and that’s a big part of the message I wanted to get out there; that if you do survive you can go on to live a fulfilling life.  But I will NEVER say that I’m grateful that cancer gave me the opportunity to forge the great life I have today.  I would much prefer to have got here without cancer, thanks very much!

And some people, like Peggy Orenstein’s college friend, don’t survive; that needs to be talked about too.   So let’s all push for pink campaigns that address the down and dirty reality of breast cancer and stop pretending that it is less than it is – a truly traumatic time in anyone’s life.

(Journey to Me can be purchased through http://www.janegillespie.net)

Jane Gillespie © 2013

Calling all cancer patients – just BE POSITIVE!

“You just have to be positive and you’ll be okay!”

GrumpyCatNotPositive

How many times have you heard someone say this?   It really, really isn’t that simple.  In fact, to say that to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, even when meant kindly, isn’t helpful at all.

How does it feel to hear this when your life has been turned upside-down, you’re maybe struggling with the side-effects of treatment and in a deep dark hole grieving the loss of your old life or hopes and dreams for your future?  Does this platitude make you feel better?

When I was first diagnosed I experienced emotions ranging from feeling like a failure because I got cancer in the first place, to wanting to smack anyone who told me to ‘just be positive’!

It’s been a popular notion for many years that if you have a positive attitude you won’t get cancer or you can get rid of it or it won’t come back again.  To be told that you ‘have’ to be positive places an enormous weight  onto your already burdened shoulders.

As if it isn’t bad enough just dealing with the physical aspect of cancer treatment, even with a good prognosis it’s absolutely normal question whether you are going to survive.  If you believed that you had many more years/decades ahead of you and now you’ve been confronted with your mortality, it’s perfectly natural to be depressed and frightened.

If you have cancer and start believing that all you need is to be positive, how will you feel if despite the best efforts of your doctors and other health advisers, your cancer doesn’t respond to treatment?  Does this make you a failure?  Does it mean you didn’t try hard enough?  The answer to both those questions is a resounding NO.

It’s vital that you take this misguided belief and chuck it as far away from you as you can.  Imagine you’re on top of a high cliff and the be-positive notion is something you can pick up and hurl out into the depths of the ocean.

There is nothing wrong with being optimistic, which is a very different thing to the popular interpretation of being positive.  Being optimistic still allows for times when you feel afraid or worried.  Whatever emotions you experience are okay; feelings aren’t good or bad, they just are.  If you don’t feel as though you have permission to feel down sometimes rather than up all the time, you run the risk of being stuck in the uncomfortable feelings.  You need to acknowledge these emotions before you can release them.  Pretending by trying to be positive all the time, only makes those feelings stronger and harder to let go.

The best thing to do when you’re feeling depressed, anxious or just plain terrified, is to talk to someone who will listen without trying to fix things for you

Finding somewhere to off-load everything you’re feeling takes the power out of your challenging emotions and you will move to a calmer place much more quickly.

This is where cancer support groups can be very helpful because everyone there ‘gets it’.  To be validated for what you are feeling is the best way to be able to eventually move forward.  Each time you are acknowledged for what you are going through, those feelings become less powerful.

When people tell you that you have to be positive, what they are doing is making it easier for themselves to not have to worry about you.  Guess what, they are coming from fear too.

The best way to respond when someone tells you to be positive is to let them know that this doesn’t make you feel better and in fact is unhelpful.  Perhaps they need to walk in your shoes to fully understand, but most people will back off once you tell them how you feel when they give you this sort of advice.

Unless you have asked for their opinion or advice no one has the right to give it to you.

And even if you did ask them, you still have the right to say what feels helpful and what doesn’t.

If being honest with these people doesn’t work then whenever you see them I suggest you move away from them as soon as you can.  Surround yourself with people who are brave enough to be with you when you feel depressed or frightened and offer nothing more than their accepting presence.

For those people who don’t know what to do when faced with someone who is distressed, it’s really easy – you don’t have to DO anything!  If you feel you must say something, make it as simple as, “I can see you’re having a tough time today.  I’m so sorry”.

One thing I am positive about is that anyone who can sit with me when I’m in emotional pain, without telling me what to do, is a true friend.

© Jane Gillespie

google.com/+JANEGILLESPIEHolisticCounsellor

How to Make Meditation Doable

We all know that meditation is good for us, don’t we? 

A study in 2005 on American men and women who meditated 40 minutes a day showed that they had thicker cortical walls than non-meditators. What this meant is that their brains were aging at a slower rate. Cortical thickness is also associated with decision making, attention and memory.

A 2008 study on 60 patients with high blood pressure showed that after participating in a meditation-based relaxation program, two-thirds of those people experienced significant drops in their blood pressure.  These men and women were able to reduce some of their medication as a result of meditating.

More recently, another study found that meditation was more than twice as effective as Morphine and other pain-relieving drugs in reducing pain levels.  Although only a small number of people participated in this study, the results are encouraging.

Almost everyone needs to turn their brain off now and then as an escape from the crazy business that we sometimes find ourselves in.

Okay, so I know meditation is good for me and that it can do wonders for me mentally, physically and spiritually. I know a daily meditation practice would be good for me.  BUT, for some reason I still find it hard to commit to a regular practice.  Can you relate to this?

I’ve read many articles and books on the ‘how to’.  I’ve gone to meditation workshops and classes but I still don’t meditate regularly.

Most of the time when I do set some time aside to meditate, rather than feeling relaxing it feels like hard work.  If you can relate to this, then like me, you probably just haven’t found the right way of meditating for you.

I’ve found a few ways to make meditating feel less like work and more like something I’ll do and even enjoy. None of the following suggestions are rocket science and none mean you have to commit to hours of meditating every day.  I hope some of these work for you.

Make sure you’re comfortable.  One of the things I’ve noticed about some of the accepted positions for meditating is that they can be super uncomfortable.  I can’t sit cross-legged at all and stretching my legs out in front of me brings on a numb behind and pins and needles in a matter of minutes.  Try this: 

Lie down.  Yep, that’s it.  Well, do make sure you’re comfy, then close your eyes and see what happens.  You might drift off into a nap or you might just feel like you’re floating and not thinking about much at all.  Guess what? Even if it’s only for five or ten minutes, you’re meditating!  If you find you always fall asleep, try sitting in a comfortable chairMake sure you are well supported so that if you do still drift off you won’t actually fall off the chair.  Close your eyes… (see above).  Experiment with what comfortable means for you.

Try counting a certain number of breaths.  This is a real no-brainer.  Take 50 (or 60 or 100) breaths.  Count them.  Try not to think about anything else.  I find this one works well for me. It gives my mind something to do while my body is just – there…  Hey, I’m meditating.

Use an alarm clock.  If counting your breaths doesn’t work, try setting your mobile phone or a timer for five minutes and meditate until the alarm rings.  You don’t have to worry about how long it’s been or how much longer you should be meditating. Just breathe and try to relax.  Easy-peasy.

Fake it for 10 breaths.  If you feel that you really, really, really need to meditate, but don’t feel like you have the time, just do 10 breaths.  Even if you tell yourself that you don’t have time for ten breaths, if you still feel like you really need it, just do it.  Ten breaths.  That’s all.  When you stop you’ll either feel like it’s done what you wanted or you might actually want to keep going for 10 or 20 more breaths.  When you’re really stressed out, just remember to start with only 10 breaths or you’ll never make it.

Use CDs.  These are useful guides that can take you to a calm place.  Some might just have music that encourages your brain to go into alpha mode (baroque music is great for this).  Others might be guided meditations where you are asked to visualize maybe going on a journey or imagine being in a place that is especially tranquil for you.  The presenter’s voice will constantly bring you back, if you find your mind is drifting off on thoughts of what’s for dinner or how much ironing you’ve got to do.

Keep experimenting.  Try as many different ways as you can to find what makes meditation something you are drawn to doing regularly.  If you’re not meditating on a regular basis right now, it’s only because you haven’t found a method that works for you; that makes you want to do it.  I promise you, when you find one or several methods that you actually enjoy, meditating will be easy.

www.janegillespie.com.au/counsellor

Codependency

Codependence is an emotional and behavioural condition that affects a person’s ability to have healthy, mutually satisfying relationships.  It is also known as “relationship addiction”; people with codependency often form relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.

Most codependents come from dysfunctional families.  In these families problems that exist are not acknowledged.  Family members don’t talk about or confront the problems and as a result, they learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs.  They focus on simply surviving and develop behaviours that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions.   They are unable to confront uncomfortable situations with others because confrontation can lead to emotions boiling over and that is too frightening to contemplate.

A co-dependent person will place the health, welfare and safety of everyone else before their own.  By doing this they lose contact with their own needs, desires, and feelings of self worth.

Co-dependent behaviour

People who are co-dependent always look outside themselves for things or others to make them feel better. They find it hard to be authentic, hiding behind a mask that they eventually come to believe is real.  The truth is they have no idea who they genuinely are.  They gravitate towards relationships with other dysfunctional people; those who may be addicted to drugs or alcohol or suffer from mental illness.

They invariably take on the role of caretaker in any relationships they have, but the caretaking eventually becomes compulsive and defeating.  Codependents often become ‘martyrs’.  Wives cover up for alcoholic husbands; mothers make excuses for wayward children; or a father might never show his son or daughter that antisocial behaviour has consequences, but instead pulls strings to keep them out of trouble.

Codependents like to be in control, believing that if everyone else would just change and do what they tell them to, everyone’s lives would be wonderful.

Codependent people tend to:

  • Have an over-developed sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  • Confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
  • Do more than their share, all the time
  • Feel hurt and/or resentful when people don’t recognize their efforts
  • Have an unhealthy dependence on relationships. The codependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship, to avoid the feeling of abandonment
  • Exhibit an extreme need for approval and recognition
  • Feel guilty when asserting themselves
  • Have a compelling need to control others
  • Not trust themselves and/or others
  • Fear being abandoned or alone
  • Find it difficult to identify feelings
  • Be rigid and have difficulty adjusting to change
  • Have problems with intimacy/boundaries
  • Suffer chronic anger (often unrecognized)
  • Be dishonest in communications
  • Have difficulty making decisions

Some questions to ask yourself if you think you might be co-dependent (NB: only a qualified professional can make a diagnosis of codependency; not everyone experiencing these symptoms suffers from codependency.)

1.  Do you avoid arguments at all costs?
2.  Are you always worried about what other people think of you?
3.  Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?
4.  Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you?
5.  Are other people’s opinions more important than yours?
6.  Do you find it hard to adjust to changes at work or home?
7.  Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends and not you?
8.  Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?
9.  Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?
10. Have you ever felt inadequate?
11. Do you feel that making a mistake reflects badly on you?
12. Do you find it hard to accept compliments or gifts?
13. Do you feel humbled or ashamed when your child or spouse makes a mistake?
14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?
15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?
16. Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss?
17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?
18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?
19. Do you have trouble asking for help?
20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?

If you identify with several of these symptoms or are dissatisfied with yourself or your relationships, you might consider seeking professional help.

How is Codependency Treated?

Because codependency is usually firmly based in a person’s childhood, treatment often involves exploration into family of origin issues and their relationship to today’s destructive behaviour patterns.  Treatment can include education, experiential groups, and individual and group therapy through which codependents rediscover themselves and identify self-defeating behaviour patterns. Treatment also focuses on helping patients to get in touch with feelings that have been buried during childhood. The goal is to allow them to experience their full range of feelings again.

A lot of change and growth is necessary for the codependent and their family. Any caretaking behaviour that allows or enables bad behaviour or abuse to continue in the family needs to be recognized and stopped. The codependent must identify and embrace his or her feelings and needs. This may include learning to say “no”, to be loving but tough, and learning to be self-reliant. People find freedom, love, and serenity in their recovery.

Hope lies in learning more. The more you understand codependency the better you can cope with its effects. Reaching out for information and assistance can help someone live a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Suggestions for where to get help:

The Meadows Treatment Centre, Arizona, USA

Bridge to Recovery, Kentucky and California, USA

South Pacific Private Hospital, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Malvern Private Hospital, Melbourne, Vic, Australia

Gats Counselling and Treatment Services, Adelaide, SA, Australia

Set Yourself Free Programs, based in Sydney Australia but available via Skype

CoDA (Co-dependents Anonymous), worldwide

Al-Anon, worldwide

Books:

“Facing Codependence” and “The Intimacy Factor”, by Pia Mellody

“Codependent No More” and “Beyond Codependency”, by Melody Beattie

(c) Jane Gillespie 2012

http://www.yourlifecelebrated.com.au

CARING FOR SOMEONE WITH CANCER

You will probably suffer from both physical and emotional exhaustion before too long if you are the main carer for someone with cancer. The first thing you must do is ask for help.

Life goes on even while you are caring for the sick person.  Kids still have to do their homework, clothes still need to be washed and ironed, bills need to be paid, gardens need tending, bathrooms need cleaning and shopping and cooking have to be taken care of.

Other family members and friends are usually only too willing to do what they can, but sometimes they don’t know what they can do, so make a list of things that you know would help you.  They will be grateful for your suggestions.  Some things on this list might be:

  • baby-sitting
  • cooking (and freezing) meals
  • providing transport for medical appointments
  • taking children to weekend sport
  • offering to sit with the patient while you do other things
  • mowing the lawns and/or weeding garden beds

Make sure some of those other things include ‘time out’ for you, for example:

  • go to a movie or a concert
  • meet a friend for coffee or lunch
  • go for a walk in the park

It serves no purpose if you fall in a heap. 

You must take care of yourself if you are going to be able to care for anyone else.

Now is the time to call in all favours.

You need to be guided by what the cancer patient wants and always try to respond openly to conversations that they initiate. Never, ever say to someone who tries to tell you that they are afraid of dying that they ‘mustn’t talk like that’.

Talking about fears doesn’t make them happen and it’s much healthier to get those feelings out into the open.  And if the cancer is terminal, it’s really cruel not to let people talk about what it means to them to be coming to the end of their life.  If necessary arrange for someone (minister, trusted friend, professional counsellor, etc.) to facilitate a meeting so that you can talk about these big, scary things without it feeling like it’s going to end in disaster.

You really need to de-brief your fears, exhaustion, frustration and so on – all those emotions that are raging through you, that you can’t and don’t want to share with the person you’re caring for.

Attending a support groups of other cancer carers can help take away feelings of isolation; “nobody else understands what it’s like for me”. It is liberating to hear that others sometimes feel  overwhelmed, despairing, terrified and yes, even furious with the person who has cancer.  No one there will judge you (it’s easy to guess that you’re doing a pretty good job of that yourself!) and it helps to know that all those feelings are a normal reaction to an incredibly stressful situation. I believe it is vital for carers to have somewhere to debrief what their life is like, away from the person they are caring for, so that they can be completely honest about what is going on for them without having to worry about hurting anyone else.

In Sydney, Life Force Cancer Foundation runs weekly support groups for carers in the Inner West and for patients & survivors in the Eastern Suburbs and Inner West.  http://lifeforce.org.au/support-groups/

I also recommend that you talk to hospital social workers to find out what other assistance is available.  Because the system is so stretched, help usually isn’t offered unless you ask for it.  Be the squeaky wheel and insist on seeing the relevant social worker.

This is always going to be an extremely challenging time but if you look after yourself as much as possible, it doesn’t have to be totally overwhelming.

(c) Jane Gillespie 2017