Posts Tagged ‘caregiver’

Paying Tribute: Caribou Coffee Gives Thanks to Caregivers

Caribou Coffee

A cancer diagnosis never affects just the person afflicted with the disease. Though the doctor found a malignant tumor growing inside of me, she might as well have told my husband that he had one growing inside of him as well. Cancer is never a battle fought alone.

Through multiple surgeries and treatments, recurrences, and cancer-free scans, my husband has stood firmly by my side in every moment. He has courageously taken the role as my caregiver, and has sacrificially offered to help with my countless needs. While I rested in hospital recliners receiving treatments, Matt sat on the uncomfortable chairs beside me without complaint. When I was weak and pitifully sick, he would assure me and rub my back in comfort. When I have moments of depression and can’t battle fearful thoughts, he encourages and prays for me. He shaved his head when I lost my hair so I wouldn’t feel alone. At my weakest, my husband mustered up strength and bravery to help me through. Matt has been and continues to be my knight in shining armor, my caregiver.

Caregivers simply aren’t given the credit they deserve. Too often, they are overlooked — their importance shadowed. When sickness plagues, the patient receives encouragement, well wishes, and prayers. When cancer is gone, the patient is congratulated. Yet, cancer is never a battle fought alone. This is a disease that is defeated with a team, and quite often the caregiver plays the most vital role. Caregivers are burdened with the weight of a diagnosis as much as, if not more than, the patient themselves. They stay strong when we are weak. They are the listening ears and the sound boards when we need to vent, and cry, and grieve. Caregivers are our heroes and guardians. The ones who willingly choose to stand on the front lines with us. So, the next time you show support for someone battling cancer, thank their caregivers as well. Honor the ones standing next to us in our fight, for they too are deserving of gratitude.

This year, Caribou Coffee is launching a community video project in partnership with Tribute.co to pay tribute and thank caregivers everywhere. For the past 21 years, Caribou has supported Breast Cancer Awareness in memory of their original Roastmaster, Amy Erikson, who lost her battle with cancer in 1995. Part of their effort is to recognize the caregiver as the often unsung hero in the cancer battle. Launched in 2013 as an innovative technology for showing gratitude, Tribute.co is an online web application that makes it easy to organize a group, collect videos, and create a beautiful collaborative video montage.

For each video submitted on the #CaribouTribute page throughout October, Caribou will donate $5 to CancerCare as part of their overall $250,000 contribution to the national nonprofit organization. Caribou is also donating 10% of Amy’s Blend coffee and merchandise sales throughout the month of October. Amy’s Blend coffee comes out every Fall in honor of Amy in two blends — the vibrant and sweet original blend and the fuller body Dark Roast.

If you’re like me, you love coffee and caregivers. As not only a cancer survivor, but as someone who simply couldn’t have survived cancer without a caregiver, I encourage you to participate in this special opportunity during the month of October. Drink Amy’s Blend and record your very own Tribute video for a caregiver you love, respect, and admire. I also encourage you to view my Tribute video where I thank my amazing caregiver, my husband Matt. Also take a moment to view other tributes here, they are inspiring and heartfelt — A beautiful display of gratitude to caregivers everywhere. Let’s show our caregivers how grateful we are for the love, sacrifice, and care they give to us! Record your tribute today!

Caribou Coffee Tribute

This blog post was sponsored by Caribou Coffee.

Cancer: A Family Affair (Part 5 – Conclusion)

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Written by Matt, Stephanie’s husband, guardian, and steadfast calm in her biggest storm.

When I first heard that Stephanie had cancer, it wasn’t through Facebook. It wasn’t through word of mouth or even a phone call. I learned the news at the same time she did, because I was by her side, sitting in the chair next to hers at the doctor’s office. I was there.

Hearing the news made my stomach drop to the floor. Instantly, I became aware of a shortness of breath. I can only compare it to getting hit incredibly hard. You don’t feel pain at first, but you know it’s coming, and you know it’s really going to suck. Talking to the doctor, getting connected with oncologists and radiologists and getting meetings set up was the initial, “let’s deal with this” shock.

Then we got back to the car. That’s when the wave of pain hit.

Was this real life? Did that just happen? My mom had just died four months earlier, was my wife going to die next? Then what happens to me? I never told Stephanie at the time, but in my head I immediately went to the worst-case scenario. I went there once, and never went back. From then on, we had to live in the reality of the moment, but also make positive strides each day. So onward was the course. Even if you’re baby-stepping, make sure you baby-step forward.

Cancer is a literal hurricane that rips through every aspect of what your life was. Whatever plans we had for the future we had to let go of. We had to stay low to the ground and choose to not let it sweep us away. While shattered pieces of our dreams of having kids and buying a house swirled around us, cancer wouldn’t take us. Stay low to the ground and move forward, but find shelter.

The good news is that we did have a storm shelter, so to speak. It’s God. It’s still God. It’ll never stop being God. He’s our refuge. Get there, stay there. We found comfort in knowing Jesus as our Savior, and knowing that He was protecting us the whole time. We knew He wasn’t done with us, and that He’d use this situation for good. When people think of Jesus, they may think of someone who lived a long time ago and preached love and peace, laughing with children and holding lambs from time to time. That He was perfect. So perfect in fact that some don’t think He was ever real at all.

But people don’t see the whole picture. Jesus didn’t hide emotions. He cried over losing those He cared about. And He got angry, flipping over tables and yelling at people. While still God, He was also human and felt what we feel. And few see Jesus as the warrior He is and will come back as. The whole good vs. evil thing that plagues our world — He is the good. He was and continues to be our good. I shake my head and am brought to tears when I think of what would have happened if we didn’t know Him through the entirety of our journey through cancer. There’s a chance we’d be divorced. Steph could be dead. I could be dead.

Cancer sucks. But it galvanized our marriage. It gut-checked us. When we got married, we said vows to each other, but at the time never truly considered facing situations that would force us to “put up or shut up.” At diagnosis, we chose to “put up” and live out those vows. Because that’s what marriage is. It’s not surface-level rainbows and butterflies. It’s ugly and dirty and downright hard. But when you muck through the trenches with God as your anchor, the payoff is better than anything you could ever imagine. After all, we’re now in Austin, five years after God put the promise in our hearts when cancer wasn’t even on the radar. We still have dreams of family and buying a house someday, but those dreams look different than they did before.

This journey has also taught me to live a bolder life. Frankly, I used to be the type to think that if things didn’t work out in my favor, and if they didn’t work out perfectly, they weren’t meant to be. In the past few months I’ve stepped out and done things that the old Matt would call me absolutely insane for doing. But I’m glad I’m doing them, and I’m in a far better spot because of it. Swing hard, and swing for the fences. No one comes to the plate hoping to hit a weak grounder back to the pitcher. Taking chances and falling on your face is a guarantee, so you might as well make the falls worth it. Take big chances and bet on yourself.

Finally, invest in people. Take the good that life gives you, be the good you want to see, and do good for others. Take good, be good, do good. There’s nothing to be gained in the pursuit of vanity. “The good stuff” is in people, not things. Life isn’t a guarantee, and days don’t repeat themselves. January 25, 2012 happened once. August 31, 2016 happens once. Life ebbs and flows and is as unpredictable as the forecast of a Colorado weatherman. At the end of the day, what matters isn’t your status, intelligence, or bank account. It’s people. Growing old together may not be a guarantee, but the effect you have on others is. Make your life count for good.

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John 1:5 (ESV)

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Cancer: A Family Affair (Part 1)

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When I was diagnosed, we were all diagnosed. My husband. My family. My friends. Though I carried the weight of the disease, those who surrounded me were burdened by the gravity of the situation as well. Cancer doesn’t only affect the afflicted, it tears through the core of everyone around you.

I’ll never forget each phone call I made to those closest to me on January 25, 2012. I spent nearly six hours sharing the news with my brothers, step sisters, parents, grandparents, extended family, and friends. I’ll never forget how I felt with each person. Because of different personalities, everyone heard the news in a different way. With some, I was direct and to the point. Emotionless. Others heard my tears and sorrow. With some, I was careful and delicate. I even offered comfort to those who simply couldn’t believe what I was telling them. I heard anger. I heard sadness. I heard guilt. I heard shock. I heard prayers. I heard support. I heard it all.

My diagnosis didn’t just affect me. It affected everyone who loved me. And everyone who loved those who loved me. And everyone who loved those who loved those who loved me. Cancer isn’t an isolated circumstance. Its tendrils reach far and wide, touching the world. We’ve all been affected by cancer in some way, haven’t we?

Though I fought this disease four times, through years and years of a desperate battle, my husband was there for every single moment. Though I was the one who was sick and aching and dying, my husband was being wounded by the disease as well. What he witnessed still leaves gaping wounds in his soul and deep scars in his spirit. I cannot even begin to fathom how he felt when his bride was facing death. We only had six months of wedded bliss before malignancy marred our marriage. He’s carried my weak body out of bed. He’s clothed me. He’s bathed me. He’s fed me. My husband is my guardian. He’s stood at the gates between Heaven and Earth in protection of me.

Miles often separated my brothers and I, but I know that my diagnosis also deeply affected each of them in ways I may never know. You see, my brothers are my best friends. We share a bond that I’ve never witnessed between other siblings. I thank God for choosing them to be forever mine. My comrades. My cheerleaders. My protectors. My younger, but much bigger, brothers. We’ve been through life together. We share everything with one another. We speak multiple times a week (often every day), and have for the majority of our lives. So, when I got cancer, I know they probably felt like a part of them got cancer as well. They are caring, attentive, and the most incredible brothers I could have ever dreamed or wished to have.

Because I’m not yet a parent, to begin to describe what mine have endured would never grasp the scope of what their realities have looked like since my diagnosis. My mom always dreamt of throwing me an elaborate baby shower. Of sympathizing with me as my belly expanded and morning sickness ailed me. Many of her dreams were lost the day cancer barged into her daughter’s life. In typical Momma Bear fashion, she roared in anger and desperation in my affliction. She felt helpless, as her adult child — her firstborn and only daughter — was growing weaker and weaker.

My father. This wasn’t the first time cancer threatened to steal someone close to him. His mother passed away from the disease years ago. His mother, and potentially his only daughter. I can’t imagine. I’m a true daddy’s girl. He has always been strong and bold and able to quiet emotion. He is the umbrella on a rainy day, and the warm blanket in the cold. Yet, my cancer tore through him. He cried devastated tears. How does this make a father feel? I will never know.

When cancer affected me, it affected them. And I’m sure my diagnosis has even affected some of you as well. I shudder at how devastating this disease is. It’s a plague. A monster. A beast that swallows everyone in its path. Cancer touches us all in some way. Yet, I honestly can only know how my diagnosis has hurt me personally. I can’t see within my husband’s heart, and though I often wish I could, I surely cannot read his mind. No matter how close my brothers and I are, to try and understand how my diagnosis has impacted them would end in failure. Though I’ve known my mother and my father longer than I’ve known anyone else, I’ll never be able to grasp what they’ve endured when their only daughter got cancer.

Because I cannot imagine, understand, or fathom how my family has personally been affected since I was diagnosed, I’ve been inspired to invite them to share their stories with you and me. This month, I’m beginning a series that focuses on the family behind the patient. Each week, a family member of mine will open their hearts and share with us. They’ll explain how they felt, what they feared, and how their lives have forever been altered since my diagnosis. Please know, this requires much of them. Though I have the gift of sharing my life in words, not all of them do. My journey has been painful for them, and I’m honored at their willingness to open their wounds in this way. They may share everything, they may only share the surface, and some may not share at all. In fact, my father desperately wishes he could, yet his wounds are still too raw to be opened. Someday he may, but the time isn’t just yet.

I encourage you to follow along as you and I both get an inside look at how cancer affects more than just me, the patient. Maybe you’re the mother, or the brother, or the spouse of someone fighting cancer. My hope is that this would bring healing to us all.

1 Corinthians 13:7 (ESV)

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Reclaiming Identity: A Caregiver’s Story

(Guest post by Stephanie’s husband, Matt)

Stephanie has been asking me to write a guest post for a while. Usually the only time I write is when she is having surgery and I blog to update. I’ve resisted writing a guest post because it’s Stephanie’s blog, and I believed that people just wanted to hear from her. She’s the cancer survivor, she’s the Huffington Post author, she’s the one who was on the Ellen show. Ever since her diagnosis, I have felt less known as “Matt” and more known as “Stephanie’s husband.” I couldn’t possibly think that anyone would ever want to hear from me. After all, what could I possibly have to say when I hadn’t been the one fighting cancer? I never felt that I had a story.

Being the spouse of someone who has been diagnosed with cancer is hard. As a husband, all I want to do is fix the problem. However, cancer is a problem I can’t fix. I can support Stephanie in the best ways I know how; I can be there for her, speak encouragement to her, and just lay around and hang out with her. But none of those things make the disease leave her body. Since I couldn’t do anything to make the cancer go away, I found myself feeling helpless and worthless. And it showed. It showed in my career, and it showed in my relationships with others.

As a man, I’m naturally more reserved. As an introvert, I’m even more so. Anyone who knows Stephanie knows that she is one of the most outgoing, invested people you’ll ever meet. She chooses joy no matter the circumstance. We have opposite personalities. I’m more quiet and introspective. And as a man, I never wanted to let on to anyone how I was feeling. If I was struggling, I was afraid of being perceived as weak. So whenever anyone would ask how I was doing, the answer was always, “Doing good! Things are going well,” especially when things weren’t good or going well.

To offset my feelings, I’d try to occupy myself. Watch sports, play softball, design furiously and completely immerse myself in my work. I’d tip back a few too many and get mad at God that the cancer kept coming back. Five months before Stephanie was diagnosed, my relationship with God was forced into a place of constant conversation when my Mom died suddenly and without explanation. When something that painful hits so close to home, you come to the end of yourself really fast. Then my wife was diagnosed, and the majority of my conversations with God since then have been me getting angry and feeling hurt. Pleading just to plead because I didn’t know what else to say. I told God everything I was feeling, and then just rambled. I knew He knew my heart and how I was feeling, but I just didn’t know what to say. I was empty. Out of gas. The enemy knew it, and I was low-hanging fruit. He had me where he wanted me, and kept me there for a long time.

A month or so ago, we had a big cancer-free surprise party for Stephanie. It was great. She was surprised, people had fun and celebrated, and there was an overwhelming sense of finality. That it was over. My eyes were opened at that party. At one moment in the night, people gave toasts to Stephanie for being a warrior, and then they toasted me too. At first I was uncomfortable and thought they were toasting me just because I was Stephanie’s husband. Because I was there and it was the polite thing to do. But they said that I have a story that can help other people in my position. I have a story. It was the first time I had really heard it and, because so many others were affirming my story, it was the first time I really believed that I had one. An encouraging word goes a really long way.

For the past three years, I was convinced that I was an afterthought. That I was insignificant in Stephanie’s cancer journey. That because I wasn’t having surgeries or getting chemo, I didn’t have anything to say. When you’re going through something, you never realize any potential impact you have on people who are watching. Even in your lowest moments, the story is still being written. While I still don’t fully see myself as an example, the encouragement and love from people who have been watching Stephanie and I is enough to make me believe that I have something to say.

Just because I’m a believer doesn’t mean I’m not going to have struggles with God. It’s like with any relationship: we will experience highs and we will experience lows. But having struggles shouldn’t convince us that God has left us. I definitely needed to learn to rest in His presence because He never left. I was the one second-guessing everything I was doing, being too stressed to rest. He’s constant, I’m not. But rest assured, when we lower our shoulders and go through trials, at some point we pick up our heads and see how far He’s brought us. Looking back, looking forward, and resting in the story He’s writing in our lives, that’s a story worth telling.

Psalm 107:2 (NIV)

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…”

Caregiving: A Perspective From Both Sides of The Coin

(As featured on Cancer Knowledge Network)

Most of you know me as the writer in our family. Little do you know, my husband is talented in written form as well. Recently, Matt and I were asked to co-write an article for a Canadian publication. We were invited to share our perspectives on caregiving and the vital role it plays in one’s journey through cancer. I was, and still am amazed at my husband’s words. They have touched my soul, just as I know they will yours…

Stephanie (Survivor):

A cancer diagnosis never affects just the person afflicted with the disease. Though the doctor found a malignant tumor growing inside of me, she might as well have told my husband that he had one growing inside of him as well.

In June of 2010, I walked down the red-carpeted aisle of an old, spacious, and magnificent cathedral to marry my best friend. From our second date, I knew he was the one I would spend the rest of my life with. We shared laughter, adventure, and innumerable conversations. He stole my heart and has protected it from the moment it entered his grasp. Within weeks of meeting each other, we fell in love and began planning our future – when we would have children, where we would live and raise our family, even the color of paint we would choose for the walls of our dream home. We had life figured out and were valiantly prepared to take on the world together, hand in hand.

One and a half years later our plans were derailed. At the age of 25, I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. It was as if the canvas we had sketched our dreams on was wiped clean. The plans we had set forth were redefined and put on hold. We soon entered into the gates of Cancerland and were quickly thrust into an unknown arena. Decisions had to be made, and treatment began immediately.

Through multiple surgeries and treatments, recurrences, and cancer-free scans, my husband has stood firmly by my side in every moment. He has courageously taken the role as my caregiver, and has sacrificially offered to help with my countless needs. Not many realize that I am not the only one in this fight. My husband is firmly planted next to me on the front lines. When I rested in hospital recliners receiving treatments, Matt sat on the uncomfortable chairs beside me without complaint. When I was weak and pitifully sick, he would assure me and rub my back in comfort. When I had moments of depression and couldn’t battle fearful thoughts, he would encourage and pray for me. He shaved his head when I lost my hair so I wouldn’t feel alone. At my weakest, my husband mustered up strength and bravery to help me through. All without second guessing or complaint.

I’ve often shared that the role of a caregiver is equally as important as the patient fighting cancer. Though I was the one ingesting toxins to battle the disease within me, my husband fought just as hard behind the scenes, making sure I could withstand the fight. He has sacrificed so much just to care for me. His patience, concern, encouragement, compassion, and love have altered the way I fight cancer. I am stronger with him beside me.

He is my guardian. We fight this disease together.

Matt (Caregiver):

Have you ever seen the movie The Bodyguard?

Kevin Costner is a total badass in that movie. I watched it a lot when I was a kid. He ran around, protecting Whitney Houston from stalkers and bullets. He was a hero. I wanted to be a hero.

I can’t say I was fully prepared when my life started to parallel that story. My wife was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer over two years ago. When we got the news, I knew that the roller coaster ride would soon commence. Life would never be what it once was, nor would it play out in the way I had intended. Instead of buying a house, a car, and having kids, we would be shuttling off to surgeries, chemotherapy treatments and radiation appointments, all the while keeping track of our mileage in hopes of writing the expense off on our taxes.

Let’s face it; in reality, I’m not fending off over-obsessed fans or valiantly diving in front of bullets (thank the Lord). My role is more concealed. Instead of being front and center, I’m like the Kevin Costner waiting in the wings, keeping an ever-watchful eye on everything that’s going on. And unlike Kevin Costner, there’s not a whole lot I could do except be there. I can’t make the disease go away. I can pray, and I can be there whenever my wife needs me. When my wife was sick in the middle of the night, I was awake with her. When she was too weak to get out of bed on her own strength, I helped her up. When all she could or wanted to do was lay on the couch, that’s all I did, too. I instantly became a professional chauffeur, personal assistant, and expert dog taker-outer. If I wasn’t at home or at the hospital, I was at the pharmacy, standing off to the side while the staff gathered up the hundreds of dollars worth of home injections and pills that I didn’t have the capacity to afford. As a caregiver, you do whatever it takes.

In those times, I’d often think back to the day I married Stephanie. “For richer or poorer… In sickness and in health.”

So this is what that meant. This is what I meant.

Being a caregiver is not a glamorous gig. As a caregiver, you hold down the fort. Your partner is down, and it’s all on you now: the house, the kids (or, in our case, the dogs), the money, the bills, making sure your family is fed, that they have a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs… and the whole “giving care” part. That’s your job now. Your job is no longer just your job. You will lose sleep. You will not be able to do some of the things you used to enjoy. You will sacrifice your own health to ensure the health of your loved one. And you will need never-ending amounts of grace and forgiveness.

You will do all of this, and you will likely not be recognized for any of it. You will feel left out. You’re in the wings, remember? When things go bad, prayers and support are 99.9% directed at your loved one. When things go well, congratulations and well-wishes will also be 99.9% directed at your loved one.

You’re the unsung hero, the bodyguard. Stay out of the way and save the day.

Often times, my wife gets told that she is someone’s hero. Nearly every day, she hears that from someone. People lavish her with praise, saying she inspires them. They want to make sure that Stephanie knows how much she means to them.

For me, my wife is the one telling me that I’m her hero. When she is everyone else’s hero, I’m hers. She sees what I do, the sacrifices I’ve made to make her as comfortable as possible as she fights the hardest fight of her life. She appreciates me. That’s awesome. That being said, if you know someone who is a caregiver, tell them how you feel about them. Do you appreciate them? Tell them. It’s amazing what encouragement can do. For every person you know who is faced with cancer or some other life-altering affliction, there is also someone in their corner who, if you’re honest with yourself, you likely have never noticed.

No one is meant to fight alone.

Philippians 2:4 (ESV)

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

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