The Caregiver Cup Podcast

Six Years of Resilience: The Growth Journey of Caregiving

September 05, 2023 Cathy VandenHeuvel Episode 177
The Caregiver Cup Podcast
Six Years of Resilience: The Growth Journey of Caregiving
The Caregiver Cup Podcast
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Can't believe it's been six years since my caregiving journey began? I'll never forget that life-altering call I received from my parents, disclosing my dad's stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Things became more overwhelming when my spouse too was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

As we journey through this episode, we'll be reminiscing on the incredible growth we've experienced as caregivers - the unyielding resilience, adaptability, and emotional regulation we've developed through hardship.

We'll delve into the significance of creating a robust support network, and establishing systems for efficient decision-making and stress management. I know the immense growth that comes with being a caregiver, the knowledge gained about the medical system, and the new found skills in preventing burnout. With this in mind, I have curated a free training series specifically aimed at empowering caregivers. It's about us, it's about our growth, it's about supporting each other in the journey.

Lastly, I want to celebrate the amazing transformations we all have undergone in this journey. I remember hitting rock bottom, taking a break from work and reflecting on my role as a caregiver. That moment sparked a series of changes, leading to the birth of the Caregiver Cup podcast and the upcoming launch of the Empowered Caregiver School. Here's to our courage, our resilience, and our little but significant wins. Let's keep growing, let's keep healing, and let's keep supporting each other.

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Speaker 1:

Well, welcome, my friend, to another episode of the Caregiver Cup podcast. It's Kathy here. I want to start out with the podcast episode by asking you a question how did it all start for you? When did it start for you, the day you became a caregiver? When was that? Do you remember it? It's the day that your life changed.

Speaker 1:

I still remember the day, the time, the phone call and this crazy out-of-body experience that I had. I answered the phone and it was my mom. She said Kath, we have bad news, we have some really bad news. And I was thinking, hmm, did they get into a car accident? Did my parents get into a car accident? Did somebody fall? Were they having house issues? What was it? And she went on to say Dr Suzy called and my parents called the doctor by their first name she sees cancer in dad's CT scan that he had this week. I hear my dad in the background saying, kath, I got the big C and I didn't say anything. And he repeated it again. It was six years ago, labor Day weekend, 2017.

Speaker 1:

The phone call came on a Saturday evening and it changed everything for me. On Sunday, the gastroenterologist called my dad and scheduled this endoscopic biopsy for Tuesday morning at 7 am. Then I knew it was bad. Within an hour after that, tuesday 7 am appointment, the doctor walked back in and confirmed the biopsy and said dad had stage four pancreatic cancer. I can still remember our faces the doctor and then my dad saying Doc, how long do I got? And I'm like thinking about he was a big gunsmoak watcher, so I'm thinking that's probably where the doc came from. Life as I knew it stopped and my imaginary caregiver cat hat went on. I jumped into what I call go mode. I was researching, connecting with the doctors and the teams to figure out how we were going to do everything and helping ease the burden of my mom and dad. I was calling insurance companies. I was moving my schedule around, since dad's appointments and his chemotherapy were going to begin right away if that's what he chose. Still did I know that two weeks later, I would have to put another caregiver hat on when my spouse was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Speaker 1:

Well, today, like I said, I'm celebrating my six-year anniversary as a caregiver and I'm saying yes, I'm celebrating because on September 2, 2017 is when it all began. When is your caregiver anniversary? It is a day you're going to remember. It's maybe a day you wished that never happened, but it is the day that your caregiving journey began. If you asked me this a few years ago, I would have told you to celebrate my caregiver anniversary. I would have said to you, kathy, go take a hike. Caregiving at that time was like an open wound that never healed.

Speaker 1:

Yes, caregiving is not easy. To be honest, it's downright hard, exhausting and not fun, and I won't get any more graphical than that. You can make your own observation on there. But today let's talk about and take a look at all the celebrations and wins you and I go through. When we peel back the onion and really look at the woman we are and the woman we became during those rough patches, we should be extremely proud of ourself. We should be extremely proud of our growth and what we've gone through and how we've survived and thrived in this world. So if I asked you what words of celebration are you going to give yourself? What would they be? What would be those words that describe your journey and that Friend? I know it may be hard to find celebrations, but look at yourself and all that you do, look at what you are doing, who you are and who you are becoming with this caregiver hat that you're wearing, or the multiple caregiver hats that you're wearing, and so I want to share some of my words that I feel like I need to celebrate and I also am using this as a celebration for overall, for you as a caregiver and the clients that I've been working with because I know that these words reflect both you and I.

Speaker 1:

Let's talk about my first word that I'm celebrating, and that's resilience. It's the ability and that ability to adapt and bounce back from adversity, all those challenges and difficult situations. It's often described as the capacity to withstand, recover from and grow through life's inevitable. I can't say this setbacks, stressors and crises. Resilience doesn't mean that that person won't experience difficulties and distress. You and I have experienced those. Rather, it's about one's way to respond to and recover from our experiences and I feel even further than that and learn from those and be a better person because of that.

Speaker 1:

As I look back on my adversities and my challenges and difficult situations, I continued to push through and I envisioned myself walking through this muddy water that sometimes was really thick and I wouldn't be able to move a step forward or step backwards, sometimes until I figured it out. It wasn't perfect and I fell down many times and made many mistakes, and I know you can relate to this, but I didn't give up and I continue to figure it out. One of the resilient pieces that I like to think that I want to celebrate is my emotional regulation. I manage my emotions, or learn to manage my emotions effectively and learn to stay calm under pressure and not be overwhelmed by my negative feelings. And one of my first memories of when I didn't do that well is when my dad got the diagnosis and the biopsy and he was trying to process it all.

Speaker 1:

We had some really great discussions, my mom and my dad and my brother and I. My sister wasn't there at that time, but she eventually came into the mix about a week after this. What we did? We had some really good discussions with my dad, and my dad at that time made the decision that he was just going to live his life. They said two to eleven months. He was just going to live it since he was feeling good and he was going to make the best of his time. Well then, he slept on it. In a few days later, he made the opposite decision. So I was all in on. I can respect his decision of being, you know, living normally, without a lot of medical help and chemotherapy. He wanted to just live. And then it was like flipping a switch and he decided he wanted to take chemotherapy. He didn't tell me this until the first oncology appointment, where he was going to meet with his oncologist and really discuss what he wanted to do. He made the decision at that time, overnight, and he told me in the morning, right before we went into the appointment, that he and mom decided they wanted chemotherapy.

Speaker 1:

I was so upset I couldn't manage my emotions. I was very upset about it and then I had to go into that appointment emotionally frustrated. Oh my gosh. I remember that that was such a big learning lesson for me and I feel that I have learned so much about myself in just that short period of time, about my emotional regulation. It wasn't about me and I was making it all about me. My dad changed his mind and I had a hard time honoring that decision, but I had to. I had to. He didn't tell me because he knew I was going to be upset and that probably weighed on him more. But to make a long story short, I've learned so much about managing my emotions, staying calm under pressure and not being overwhelmed by my negative thoughts and my feelings. I've learned so much. I've developed practices and read a lot of books, did a lot of research, did a lot of practices until I found what worked for me.

Speaker 1:

Another piece in this resilience piece is I learned positive mindset, especially after having the second loved one, dennis, fall into the picture, because now I had my dad and my husband both in chemotherapy chairs and it's been really bizarre sometimes they were in at the same time. Talk about feeling this very stressful and emotional time when you see both of your loved ones fighting for their life in chemotherapy chairs. Well, positive mindset is all about having resilient. People tend to have a positive outlook on life and I had to figure out how to find solutions rather than dwelling on the problems, the challenges, the negative emotions.

Speaker 1:

And what I developed right away in my first few months as a caregiver is I found that journaling was it for me, and I cannot think Rachel Hollis enough when I started listening to her podcast and then eventually started listening to other podcasts along the way. People talked about journaling and the importance of journaling, and I have done journaling, but I haven't done it consistently in the past. But as a caregiver, I knew that this was a system that I needed to incorporate, and so I had my first journal and I pulled it out and the first few lines were the five things that I was grateful for every single day. And so I started incorporating that and started training my brain to focus on positivity versus the negative things. I focused on you know what am I grateful for? I then incorporated you know what are, what are the wins, what are the things I'm most proud of? I also journaled out my negative thoughts so I get them off my chest. But really incorporating that and that helped my resilience. So my first one was resilience. My second one I'm celebrating is another thing is growth.

Speaker 1:

You never go into caregiving thinking that you're going to personally grow. But if you really reflect on it, whether you ask for a caregiving or not, you will grow or you're continuing to grow. Once you receive the title of a caregiver, you have to grow and adapt, and if you don't grow and adapt, you're going to go ahead and be miserable and you're going to go ahead and and have negative health issues and you're going to have all of these bad things happen. So, in my opinion, the amount of learning feels like you crammed for an entire college degree in a short period of time. I feel like the first three months of caregiving was going to. It was like going to four years of college. You are not the expert of your loved ones disease or injury, but you become an expert of it. You become an expert on health, the health care system, the insurance claims, being a better advocate. You're always continuing to learn and that's only that the surface.

Speaker 1:

You start learning so much about you know everything under the sun and then, topping it off, there is no internship in the job of caregiving. You don't get to go ahead and have a mentor or a boss to help you in the first few months and an onboarding training. You're just throwing into it and it's on the job training and you have to figure it out as you go because, as you know, caregiving is like parenting or it's like marriage. It's like anything else. There is no instruction manual. However, I am so grateful for hiring caregiver coaches, finding caregiving communities that I joined to help me, because when you start connecting with other people, you find support and you find commonalities and you have people to talk to so that you can go ahead and find these tools and these tips to help you through.

Speaker 1:

In addition, talking about help and support, most caregivers start out thinking that they can do it all. I can figure it out and you learn very fast about these conditions, these chronic conditions. As caregivers, we get chronic caregiver stress, burnout, compassion, fatigue. You learn about these as you go and you learn very fast that this role and this job is the hardest thing that you've ever done. You learn about this and having strong support, like a network of friends you have, family or a community, can significantly boost your resilience and these connections provide emotional support and research resources during tough times.

Speaker 1:

I started realizing that the medical teams that I was working with Were part of my loved ones team and part of my caregiving team the nurse navigators that would go ahead and be. I mean I had nurse navigators taking notes during the oncology appointments. They would go ahead and say send me the lab results. They would answer my questions. They would be my eyes and ears. You learn really fast that your family can help with Other things, or neighbors or friends, if you opened your eyes up and think of people that could help as part of your team, because once you think beyond just all just I have to do it all you start realizing that you do have support, and the hardest thing that I've had to open eyes up to with my clients is saying, yeah, you may not have a family support system, but let's look beyond that. I mean I had my mom's neighbors when I was caregiving for my mom after my dad passed away. I was a primary caregiver for my mom until she passed away one year ago and I had neighbors that were there that would go ahead and help her get her mail or check on her for me or run errands for me. When they went to the grocery store could they pick up things? And it made it easier. They were part of my team.

Speaker 1:

One of my biggest celebrations and wins is understanding who I am. From a growth perspective, you certainly have to figure out that you are a different person now that you're a caregiver right. Assessing what's working and what's not working is one of the ways that you have to. You have to figure out this caregiver role and one of the things that I incorporated into my nighttime routine before I go to bed it's I actually think about it when I'm brushing my teeth or washing my face and some some of my clients journal, some don't. But I want you. I want you to think about what were your biggest wins today, because what tends to happen is, when we lay in bed, all of the things that went wrong today, all of your negative thoughts fill in, instead of just taking a reflection on your day. What were the biggest wins today? And it may be just something as simple as I got to sit on the patio and have a cup of coffee and watch the sunset. Or a friend texted me, whatever it would be. Or you giggled while while you were trying to put on these stupid support stockings for your husband, and it looked very inappropriate that you were bent down between his knees trying to pull up his stockings, you know. And so we burst it out, laughing. My husband and I did, and so I celebrated those wins. And then, through growth, I want you to think about.

Speaker 1:

I personally develop systems and processes. Something as simple as journaling is a system to help your emotional support. Asking siblings to go ahead and help is a system I had. One of the systems was I had to let go of my people pleasing and guilt feelings and start asking for help and looking for efficiencies, looking for automations that could help so that I wouldn't have to go ahead and totally do it all. Another system was finding time to recharge, and just 15 minutes in the morning to start your day can be a huge way to get you centered, or making sure you get your designated amount of sleep Can be a game changer, because if you don't get sleep, you can't make good decisions the following day. As a matter of fact, during the time that I'm recording this, I have a four part free training series called empowering caregivers. It's my four essential practice, proven practices to reduce stress, and so if you want to go out to my website the link is still there or the form is still there Go to Kathy L van dot com or go down to the show notes and click on it and you can get four days of short videos that share my top four practices. And, hint hint, my 15 minute morning practice is there, and it doesn't mean that you have to go out and run or do something crazy in the morning. It can be a calming thing. As a matter of fact, when you're in the most stressful situations, you don't want to upset your stress and your your cortisol, so calming exercises might be more, so just the sidebar there, okay.

Speaker 1:

The third word I'm attaching to my six year anniversary as a caregiver is transformation. I'm celebrating all of the transformations I've had to. When I look back at who I was six years ago to who I am now, I'm proud of who I am. I want you to be proud of who you are. Did you know that only 15% of people Will take and work towards a transformation or a change in their challenging life? Only 15% will, because change is hard, transformation takes work, but transformation involves shifts in various aspects of your caregiver life, including your identity, your priorities, your values and your coping mechanisms. It makes you take a step back and look at things you want to change or opportunities to make things better for both your loved one and yourself. My transformations came out of the hardest times, the lowest points that I was at in my caregiving journeys, and those were times that I remember, I embrace and I'm glad that I hit rock bottom. So let me share one with you, and if you've heard previous episodes of the caregiver podcast, you may have heard this story a little bit, but it's worth repeating.

Speaker 1:

It was a normal, typical day in between the my husband and my dad's chemotherapy. So they were on those recovery weeks and I had to drive into the office and work my corporate job, but it was a Monday or a Tuesday, I can't even remember the date. I was so exhausted Because here I was taking care of my spouse at home during the week. Then on the weekends I was traveling. My parents were up in their cabin up in northern Wisconsin and it was about a two hour drive up there and I would stay for the weekend to give my mom a break from caregiving and check on them.

Speaker 1:

And I was physically, emotionally exhausted. But it was eight o'clock in the morning and I had to be to work. I drove into the parking lot at work and I just couldn't get out of the car. I just couldn't go to work. I was not in a mental state to go to work, and so I decided at that point I called my boss and said I need to take a break. I need to take a break, I need a mental health day. And so what I did? Instead of going home because my spouse was at home recovering, I decided I was going to take a drive to the park that I used to run at when I was running and training for half marathons and I sat in the park at that morning and I parked the car and I just totally cried my eyes out. I was emotionally exhausted, I was overwhelmed, I was juggling way too much and I knew something had to change.

Speaker 1:

Well, I embraced the fact that I was sitting at the park and I just embraced it and just stopped and said to myself let it all out, let it all out. There wasn't anybody there and if there was, who cares? I had my briefcase with me, so I pulled out my notebook and my pen and I journaled what I was doing as a caregiver and the impact that it had. And I just journaled everything out as my tears were dripping on the paper and my pen was running because it was a mess, but it helped me see the big picture so that I could identify shifts that I needed to make. And so, once I journaled it all out, then I got out of the car, went for the walk down to the bathroom, took in the sunshine, and then I took my notebook and pen and I sat on a park bench and I brainstormed all of the things that I could change and what could I do differently, and then I came up with a plan that I could do and I said to myself, one small step at a time, what would be my first shift that I could make for myself?

Speaker 1:

And the very first shift that I made for myself was taking time for myself. I needed to figure out how to go ahead and do that and, as a matter of fact, it was the morning routine that had to be something I gave up that I had to do as well. I was already journaling, but what could I do to go ahead and do that? And then eventually it just started to flow because I started looking at automations and simplicity and calendars and all that kind of stuff. But after going through my personal caregiver transformation, I realized that it took me six months to eight months to go ahead and totally feel comfortable with a lot of the changes that I had and a lot of conversations with my loved ones and my families.

Speaker 1:

But after I went through my personal caregiver transformation and as I continued and I still do today, I wanted to share it with as many caregivers as I could, because I know they have these moments where they can't even get out of the car, they can't move anymore, they're frozen. So I started the caregiver cup podcast in 2020. Which now is ranked as one of the top 10 podcasts in the world when it comes to the category of caregiving. I am so proud of that because I want to continue to hit more and more people. If you don't, if you don't already, hit that follow button and, as a matter of fact reviews, help me with my rankings. I know it's a little cumbersome to find the ranking, but search a little bit and hit that five stars or give me a comment as well.

Speaker 1:

Then, after that, I decided in 2022, which was last year early last year, I started coaching clients one-on-one and group coaching clients which has so many of these clients have so many wonderful rewards and they're doing so many amazing things that they need to see and hear that they are amazing. They need to see their abilities and the challenges that they're facing and then see the necessary shifts and come up with a strategy and plan so that they can reduce their stress, they can get out of burnout and they don't get to that tipping point where I was at in the car and that was compassion fatigue. So I wanted them to do that, and now it's 2023 and in just a couple of weeks I am going to be releasing the Empowerful Caregiver School. It starts on September 18. So if you're listening to this before September 18, you can check it out. If you're listening after September 18, you can get on the wait list for the next session.

Speaker 1:

But the Empowerful Caregiver Program helps caregivers go on this transformational journey. Now, remember it doesn't happen overnight. This program is a six-week transformation program. It can take you six weeks, it can take you six months, but what I do is I release a daily video lesson each day into your email box on a topic and each lesson then you can journal about, you can work on and each lesson guides you through profound insights, practical strategies, igniting your caregiver evolution and giving you ideas and ways to experiment and try things. It's accompanied by an interactive workbook that you can start journaling and writing down and you will devise or create a strategy and you will go on this self-discovery and growth, similar to what I did, and you will see and feel a transformation evolving and you will start creating your personalized system and strategies that will help you embrace your own personal self. And I'm sharing all of this based on my experience, based on coaching clients and really going ahead. I took it all into my head and I put it into this course and I know this will help Many of the caregivers that I've talked to says oh, I don't know if I could do it every day, and I said that's okay, take all of my emails and put them into a folder and then just do one at a time.

Speaker 1:

If you have to do one per week, that's perfectly fine. You have the course for a lifetime and you can take your time. You can go back and retry things. All I want you to do is go out to kathyelvancom forward slash empowerful and that's Kathy with a C and look at what the program provides. It may be something that would just be right for you right now. So I wanted to share that, because transformation is the word that I want to celebrate as well Now.

Speaker 1:

To conclude, today you don't need to celebrate on your caregiver anniversary date. As a matter of fact, my friend, I encourage you to celebrate your wins and your transformations each day. I now do my five things that I'm grateful for, and I do three wins every morning. It's just amazing to think about what you do in a day and when you look at all of the good that you're doing in a day. It shifts your mind. Those negative thoughts are kind of put away. And then, at the end of the day, you can do this as well when you lay in bed at night think about the day, think about all of the accomplishments that you did, all of the things, especially on those hacked at crazy days.

Speaker 1:

You're going to go to bed at night and say, hmm, I am proud of myself for pushing the doctor to get that test for my loved one. I am proud of myself for having that difficult discussion. I'm proud of myself for falling flat on my face and making this mistake, because now, next time, I know what to do, whatever it is. So, my friend, to conclude today, embrace your decision makings, your mistakes, your joy. Embrace this journey that you're in.

Speaker 1:

You may not have asked for it, but you know what you are doing the best you can. I want you to look in that mirror and tell that person that you're looking at what she is doing well. Tell her that you love her and you are proud of her. Tell her that you're going through so much and you're still here and you're still doing what you need to do. So until we meet again next week, my friend, I hope you enjoy today's episode. I'm giving you a virtual hand heart over my computer right now and telling you that I am so proud of you. I am so proud of you for assessing where you're at, looking at who you are, and if you take that next step, I am there to cheer you on so that you can make your own transformation and celebrate your wins as well. We'll talk to you again next week. Bye for now.

Celebrating Resilience in Caregiving
The Challenges and Growth of Caregiving
Celebrating Caregiver Transformations
Encouragement and Support for Personal Growth