Editor’s Note: On June 29th, 2015, Tambre Leighn will join the #BCSM Chat. Our topic will be caregivers. We are honored to share Tambre’s work with the #BCSM Community.
What I REALLY Mean Is…
Yes, the walls of the renovated guest bathroom had just been freshly painted. But, I didn’t mean to snap. Especially, not over a damp towel. Yet, it was too late. I’d already taken Gary to task for it.
He called me to the kitchen and as I stepped up to him, he wrapped my hands in his.
“Babe, what’s going on,” he asked. “Because, clearly, it’s not about the towels.”
For more than two years, I’d put on the face of the confident caregiver, always looking for the positive even in the scariest times during Gary’s cancer treatments. In that moment, the softness in his voice and concern on his face shattered my mask.
“I’m afraid you’re going to die and leave me alone.” The words tumbled from my mouth before I could stop them. It was the first, and only time I ever voiced my biggest fear.
I still wonder how he managed, with everything my amazing, late husband was going through, to have the presence of mind to know it wasn’t about him. Instead, he stopped and listened to me – REALLY listened. He asked questions to understand what was going on and he made me feel safe enough to be completely honest with him…and with myself. His arms enveloped me and he let me cry as he held me close. That was the beauty of our partnership – when one of us was struggling, the other would be our strength.
Survivor and caregiver – these are roles neither Gary nor myself ever imagined were awaiting us less than four years after our fairytale wedding. We didn’t always navigate tough times gracefully. We weren’t always able to say what was really going on in the darkest moments. But when you’re a team if one of you can hear the fear or upset or worry and connect and hold on to the other in that moment, you can get to the core of the suffering. You can provide a safe space and you can comfort them so they can find their way back to their heart.
Our experience with Gary’s cancer inspired me to want to make a difference for others going through it. Eventually I crawled from the depths of my grief and channeled my energy into become a certified professional coach. Each role, survivor and caregiver, has its challenges as does being an oncology healthcare professional.
Coaching Tips for Survivors
1. It’s usually not about you. In life, we often take things personally, especially when we are overwhelmed. Remembering that when others are struggling, they can unintentionally lash out because of the circumstances.
2. Stop and listen. When someone we love is hurting, we can tend to want to try to find a solution. Often, what they need most is just to be heard.
3. Ask questions. Instead of telling them they should or shouldn’t feel a certain way, be curious about what they are going through.
4. Create a safety net. Gary’s demeanor, his actions, and the comfort of his hug made me feel safe and loved.
Coaching Tips for Caregivers
1. Sometimes it needs to be all about you. Most caregivers tend to put their loved one first most of the time. But sometimes, you need to practice self-care so that you have longevity and patience to continue to provide caregiving.
2. Ask for help. Often as caregivers, we try to do it all on our own. Caregiving becomes a big part of our identity and gives us a false sense of control. Sometimes others have to wrestle that control from us instead of us allowing them to contribute so we can rest and reenergize.
3. Create a safety net. Talk to your loved one and agree on some communication guidelines. Make an agreement that if you find yourself overwhelmed and you need some time to reflect before talking it through, you can take a time out without them taking it personally.
Coaching Tips for Healthcare Professionals
1. It’s usually not about you. Just as with survivors and caregivers, when patients or their family members – or even your coworkers – are stressed and upset, stay grounded and don’t take it personally.
2. Sometimes it needs to be all about you. Professional caregiving carries with it many of the same challenges as caring for a loved one and can be just as draining if you don’t practice self-care. Be sure to find time for you.
3. Have a cool down strategy. For those moments when you become the one who is overwhelmed, have some quick steps you can take to refocus. It may be counting to ten. It could be taking a short walk outside or, perhaps, using a deep breathing technique.
No matter what path you are walking – as a survivor, caregiver, or healthcare professional – remember you are truly amazing.
Tambre Leighn, MA, CPC, PCC, ELI-MP, is a certified professional coach and founder of WellBeyondOrdinary.com. She is a well-known health advocate, avid blogger, and speaker appearing on numerous radio shows and panels including StupidCancer, Go Forth & Thrive Telesummit, Health Bloggers Summit, Oregon Women’s Conference, Young Survival Coalition, and most recently at Stupid Cancer’s OMG Summit – the largest young adult cancer survivor conference worldwide.
As an author, Tambre’s articles on coaching for cancer survivors and caregivers have appeared in leading cancer magazines and she blogs regularly for iPEC and theONC, a gated community for oncology healthcare professionals. Follow her on Twitter: @tambreleighn.