Vol. 11, Issue 15, July 25, 2013
Anyone who has had a cancer diagnosis, knows it’s not just about them. Whether we like (and accept) it or not, it’s a family (and friends) affair. Cancer adds a huge stress to the lives of all involved, and research has shown that those who have the support of family and friends cope better than those who don’t. Unfortunately, we don’t get any training in any of these roles. It’s hard to tell what to say and do, or not say and do. All bets are off. Even those who are trained caregivers, find themselves in unfamiliar territory when a close loved one is involved. And when it’s your partner, your world is upside down.
I know that my father’s life changed drastically in the years that he and my Mom dealt with her lymphoma. I remember that he turned to vegetable gardening as a refuge — retreating to his rented plot in suburban Southern California where he raised a healthy crop of garlic. I don’t know what else he raised as I was living in Michigan at the time. And the reason I remember the garlic is that he sent me an entire box of it. Since I was so far away (and it was a long time ago), I don’t know how exactly they coped day to day, but I’d like to think that some of the tools available today might have helped them back in the early 80’s.
I wish they’d had Dan Shapiro’s new book, And In Health, A Guide for Couples Facing Cancer Together, that I’m sharing with you today. In the book, he presents chapter after chapter of solid, well-researched information — questions, issues, and perspectives from all sides of the situation from the doctor’s office to the Internet to the bedroom. And then when he takes the material to the stage for his keynote, he brings the material to life with the addition of his memorable humor.
As Dan so aptly addresses, the partner is at the battlefront right along side the patient. One of our clients has started sponsoring an event just for the men in their breast cancer survivors’ lives. They do this in conjunction with their breast cancer luncheon for the women in the community, and I think this is an idea worth sharing. Books, events, education, caring — it’s all about providing ways to alleviate some of the stress for patients and caregivers, when cancer comes calling.
Supporting and Honoring
MEN WHO CARE FOR WOMEN
The fact that there are so many special events happening around the country in support of women fighting breast cancer speaks well for the power of gathering together in community, whether the purpose is to raise funds, support and inspire survivors, or both. What is not happening so much are events in support of the men who care for women: husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, friends. If you are planning a breast cancer event, consider adding an additional program to appreciate and acknowledge those men.
That’s what Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville, NC, is doing. They hold a “Men Helping Women,” event the evening before their breast cancer luncheon, “Women Helping Women,” utilizing the same speaker for both events. The evening event is a dinner for a smaller crowd, and has been very well received.
Last October, Susan Sparks had the honor of addressing this crowd. A breast cancer survivor herself, she is also a comedian and a minister, a combination that gives her a powerful perspective. Susan spoke to the audience about the importance of rest and renewal for caregivers. She emphasized the power of letting go of unreasonable expectations and recognizing our human frailties. It’s laughter, she said, that can accomplish that and allow us to gain perspective.
“I used my experience of being caught in a driving rainstorm while on a motorcycle trip out West,” she said, “to lead the audience through the three-step pattern I use to get through scary situations: Stop, find shelter, turn back into the storm.
“Walking with a breast cancer patient means walking for the long haul – not just getting them through the diagnosis, surgery and treatment, but walking with them for the years of follow-up treatments, like the annual mammogram screenings that can sometimes be scarier than the actual diagnosis,” she said. Through stories, laughter, tears and triumphs, she honored the men, and she thanked and (hopefully) inspired them to continue on their journey as caregivers for their loved ones with breast cancers.
Also, note that if you’re already bringing in a speaker for your main event, an additional program can be added for very little cost. Most speakers charge a fraction of their fee for an additional program — 20 – 25% would be a good guideline — and their travel is already covered.
Dan Shapiro, PhD:
And in Health: A Seriously Funny Look at Facing Cancer as a Couple
As noted in Susan Sparks’ comments above, a sense of humor is a powerful tool when dealing with cancer. Hence, the title of Dan Shapiro’s newest keynote, “And in Health: A Seriously Funny Look at Facing Cancer as a Couple.” As in his earlier keynote, “Something Funny Happened on My Way to Chemotherapy,” Dan has the knack for seeing the humor in serious situations and helping audiences laugh their way through, while learning valuable lessons.
Dan has been both the patient — having survived a five-year battle with lymphoma in his early twenties — and over a decade later as the caregiver when his wife developed breast cancer. He’s been on both sides of the bed. As a result, he realized how difficult it is to be in either place. So he started researching how couples respond. The result of that work is his newest book, And in Health: A Guide for Couples Facing Cancer Together (Trumpeter Books (2013), distributed by Random House).
The book offers engaging and digestible lessons for couples navigating the life change that a cancer diagnosis brings. In addition to his own experiences as both the patient and the supporter/advocate, Dan draws on more than twenty-five years of clinical work as a health psychologist who has researched and worked with couples facing cancer to weave together insights on facing cancer while maintaining a strong relationship. And in Health gives advice in short lessons on the main areas of concern or conflict that can come from life with cancer—from diagnosis to treatment and post-treatment life.
- How to forge yourselves into a powerful team and evade common conflicts
- Ways for dealing with physicians and getting the best care possible, along with tips for navigating the medical world
- Strategies for coping with the emotions that can interfere with your relationship—anger, mood swings, spouse fears, and depression
- Learning to invite help from the supportive people in your lives, and how to avoid noxious relationships that drain you of energy
- Opening to new ways of spending time together and making peace with dependence
Humor is the centerpiece of his new keynote, “And in Health: A Seriously Funny Look at Facing Cancer as a Couple.” Dan’s performance skills have been developed in doing on-camera work and consulting for national television shows including ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. But it’s the patients and their partners who provide the star material.
“For instance,” he says, “I share anecdotes from some of the patients and spouses I interviewed. A common topic is the challenge of reversing household roles. One of the husbands said, ‘I was cooking for Nancy. That might have been worse for our health than the cancer.’”
It’s the real life stories from his clinical experience and research that dramatically and memorably illustrate the traps into which some couples facing illness fall. He goes on to show his audiences methods for avoiding those traps, and maintaining a thriving relationship. Knowing that laughter helps the medicine go down, he shares it all with a sense of humor as big and disarming as he can make it. He is a funny man, and he entertains audiences as he teaches them ways to manage the illness and succeed as a couple.
About Dan: Dan Shapiro, PhD, is the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Professor of Medical Humanism and the Chair of the Department of Humanities at Penn State College of Medicine. He earned his PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Florida and went on to Harvard Medical School, where he completed his fellowship in medical crisis interventions. His previous books were Mom’s Marijuana, about his personal cancer experience, and Delivering Doctor Amelia, on his psychological treatment of a physician.
I hope it’s fixed by the time you read this, but if you’ve visited the website and run into those horrid Page Not Found or 404 messages, I apologize. I have no idea – yet – how or why this happened. I have been trying to get the problem fixed for several days. Technology baffles and delights us, doesn’t it? It’s such a help when it’s working, and such a puzzler when it’s not. If you run into this problem please email me or give me a call and I will get you the information you need about any particular speaker via an alternate method.
Summer is flying by as usual. Weekends find us hiking through the woods to the beach or on a trail in the Columbia River Gorge. I’m looking forward to a family gathering in Colorado next month — the whole gaggle of kids, grandkids, shirt-tail relatives, and at least 3 dogs. Add in a couple of weddings, some out-of-town visitors in August, and, voila, September will be here before I can say, “S’more!” Creating memories to treasure, that’s what these times are made of. I hope your summer is filled with all of the things you love.
Stay cool and take care of yourself for your well being and those you love.
For Your Well Being is published bi-weekly. We bring you insider speaker reports, exclusive stories about special events around the country, meeting planner tips, and fun stuff from the worlds of health and well being. Be well and be in the know!
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Finding the perfect keynote speaker for your special event or conference is my personal passion, not just once, but year after year. It brings me endless joy to know that your audience was delighted and moved by the speaker we selected together. I’m committed to making the process easy, pleasant and fun.