Together We Can -- Newsletter of the Joan Karnell Cancer Center

Spring 2004

Caregivers: Giving and Getting the Care You Need
One Day at at Time
Neutropenia and Diet
Favorite Recipes
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One Day at a Time: A Caregiver's Experience

When Bette's husband was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer two years ago, she found herself facing a disease about whose treatment and outcome she knew little. For Arlene, her husband's diagnosis of chondrosarcoma was clearly a turning point in their lives.

“A cancer diagnosis is something you never think you are going to hear,” says Arlene. Suddenly both women found themselves in the role of primary caregiver. Throughout their caregiving experience, they learned not only how to best care for their spouses, but also how to care for their own emotional health and physical well-being.

As Bette coped with her husband's diagnosis and treatment, she adopted a simple phrase, 'one day at a time.' “Take care of today,” says Bette. “If you think too much about all the ‘what ifs,' you will be overwhelmed.”

Both women say educating themselves early about their husbands' particular cancer was important in coming to terms with the diagnosis and having a sense of what was to come.

“I am someone who likes to be informed,” said Arlene. “I began learning everything I could.” Her search for information led her to the resources available through the Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital. Arlene was a frequent visitor to the Cancer Center's Patient Education Room. Located off the waiting area, the room features a variety of videos and reading material for patients and their loved ones.

Both women praised the staff at the Cancer Center for being informative and helpful. “From our first visit, everyone we met took the time to explain what they did and what help was available to us,” said Bette. “The staff makes you feel very comfortable about asking questions.”

While managing their husbands' care, both women agree that caregivers must not forget about taking care of themselves. Seeking assistance or being receptive to help offered by family and friends is important.

“One person can't do it all,” says Bette, who has the help of a home health aide as well as her children and their families. For her relaxation, Bette enjoys listening to music and reading. Her faith has also been a tremendous source of strength.

For Arlene, her extended family has helped not only with physical tasks, but also by visiting with her and her husband. “If someone offers to help you, let them,” says Arlene. “It is okay to be on the receiving end.”

To help her relax and cope, Arlene enjoys participating in several of the Cancer Center's supportive care programs including art and music therapy and the nutritional cooking classes.

The Joan Karnell Cancer Center recognizes the incredible role caregivers play in the lives of patients with cancer. No matter what phase of treatment, the Cancer Center's staff is available to answer questions and provide information. As Bette and Arlene have shown, the role of a caregiver may not always be easy, but connecting with other people and resources can make all the difference. And take it one day at a time. “If you think too much about all the 'what ifs,' you will be overwhelmed.”


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