Did you know? October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This month is dedicated to increasing awareness of breast cancer, raising funding for research into the cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure of breast cancer, and providing information and support for those with breast cancer or for those who may be at risk for breast cancer. Here are six ways that you can get involved:
Offer support! Consider charities that focus on supporting those with breast cancer. Charities that assist with gas cards, wigs, the payment of treatment, makeup classes, etc. are all excellent ways to support the fight against breast cancer. Or, if you know of someone personally affected by breast cancer, offer to assist them. Something as simple as offering to bring them dinner or to help with their housework can be a big relief during a physically and emotionally demanding time.
Donate to research initiatives. Look for charities that use funding to research a cure for metastatic breast cancer.
Know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. According to Clearview Cancer Institute in Huntsville (www.clearviewcancer.com), any of the following signs and symptoms would warrant a consult with a physician:
- A lump in the breast or underarm area
- An enlargement of pores around the breast or nipple area (often described as an orange peel’s texture)
- Dimpling on the breast
- Unexplained swelling or shrinkage of one of the breasts
- An inverted nipple
- Nipple discharge that is clear or bloody
Complete Breast Cancer Screening. Encourage others to do the same! Unfortunately, many people with early stages of breast cancer do not exhibit symptoms, which makes it critically important for patients to schedule yearly mammograms and to complete regular self-exams. According to cancer.org, the latest guidelines recommend that women should begin having yearly mammograms by age 45 and can begin to have mammograms every other year beginning at age 55. The Centers for Disease Control states that the United States Prevention Services Task Force External (USPSTF) recommends that you speak to your physician about when and how often you should receive a mammogram, as certain risk factors may warrant an earlier exam.
Regularly perform Self Breast Exams. Encourage others to do the same! According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, self-exams should be completed once a month. For a information on how to perform a self-breast exam, visit https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam.
Know the risk factors and share those factors with others! Some factors, such as gender, age, and genetics are beyond your control. But other factors, such as lifestyle and diet, can decrease your risk of breast cancer. Visit https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors for a comprehensive list of risk factors.
The death of a loved one is a hard reality to grasp. Often, it can feel like a bad dream that you just can’t wake up from. Although you may know that your loved one is very sick or in the process of dying, the unavoidability of dying always feels sudden, unforeseen and unbelievable. It’s shocking.
It is important to recognize that shock is a natural part of the grieving process and can occur many times before the loss fully settles in. Although it doesn’t feel normal, it’s your body’s way of handling painful experiences. Given time, the shock will weaken, but you must understand this process is hard, and it takes time to accept death.
Most of all, keep in mind that although the grieving process is difficult and the loss is shocking, there will come a time when you will acknowledge and accept the loss. You will always remember the loved ones you have lost, but you do not need to always grieve their absence.
If you find yourself struggling with the shock and overwhelming grief of losing a loved one, keep these phrases in mind:
- Allow your grief
- Be patient with yourself
- Be willing to change things
Our bereavement services are available to families for up to 13 months following the loss of a loved one. We also host monthly support group sessions at our Hospice of the Midwest locations. Support groups offer families and friends a platform to share their experience with others in the community who are facing similar situations. Please contact us for more information about our bereavement services.
Your loved one can no longer do the many tasks they once could. They now depend on you for many of these things. The easiest solution may be to simply take over and make decision, but it’s important to be respectful of your loved ones. As a caregiver, you want to protect your loved one’s dignity and sense of self-worth.
Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine if your independence had slipped away. You can no longer drive, walk, or get out of bed. These once simple tasks now require help from someone else. How would this make you feel? You may feel frustrated. This loss of freedom would most likely cause you to want to keep control over as much as you possibly could.
Here are some helpful suggestions:
- Put yourself in your loved one’s place. How would you want to be treated if you were being cared for?
- Educate yourself on your loved one’s condition. This can prepare you for what’s ahead.
- Help them do what they can on their own for as long as possible. This will give them a sense of control.
- Talk openly and honestly with your loved one. Try to involve them in decisions and be a good listener.
- Be flexible. Try an accommodate reasonable requests if you can.
- Give positive feedback if your loved one does a task on their own.
Grieving for loved ones who are experiencing a life-limiting illness is natural for families and friends. This process can often begin before death occurs. Hospice of the Midwest Bereavement Services are available for those who are coping with losing a loved one. Our staff is committed to working closely with families who are working through the grieving process. Our services include:
- One-on-one support
- Print materials
- Supportive phone calls
- In-home support sessions
Our support is available to families for up to 13 months following the loss of a loved one. We also host monthly support group sessions at our Hospice of the Midwest locations. Support groups offer families and friends a platform to share their experience with others in the community who are facing similar situations.
Our services don’t stop once your loved one has passed. We are committed to helping families and friends of patients even after they are gone. Please contact us for more information about our Bereavement Services.
“Carol LOVES cats!” Community Liaison for Hospice of the Midwest, Nick Blees stated as he asked if we had a therapy cat and volunteer to visit Carol. Volunteer Lynnette had just the right cat, Noodle, to visit with Carol in her last weeks of life. Lynnette sat nearby as Carol would pet noodle, over and over again.
Nick said, “I had learned of Carol’s love for cats and that she had to give hers up when she moved into the memory care unit. When I heard this, I reached out and was immediately able to find the perfect cat to visit with Carol. After she passed, we reminisced on a photo of Carol smiling with Noodle, a woman that had been in pain leading up to her hospice admission.”
The team at Hospice of the Midwest was able to hear what was important to Carol and fulfill that wish prior to her passing.
Lynnette, Noodle’s owner explained, “Noodle and I met Carol in her last days. She was aware that Noodle was near as he curled up on the side of her bed and helped comfort her by touching his paw on her hand. It was a tender moment.”
Pets have a calming and soothing quality to their presence, which bodes well for hospice patients. Pet therapy was just what Carol needed as she did not have family nearby to visit her. It was an honor to give her this gift.
Music therapy is an important part of what Hospice of the Midwest has to offer our patients. Our Music Therapist, Crystal Berkenes, provides services that help with pain management and end-of-life support. Crystal utilizes music and instrumentation to reach non-musical goals, increase self-expression and decrease anxiety or restlessness. Collaborating with team members who work with the patients daily, Crystal can create a music therapy plan that is tailored to what the patients connect to.
When one patient mentioned to Crystal his fond memories of sitting around a campfire while singing songs and making music with guitars and spoons, she had an idea. Crystal and another team member began putting together a special campfire experience for this patient by finding and researching how they could create a campfire experience without the real fire. Due to the patient being on oxygen, a real fire was simply not an option, so the team members found a faux battery-powered campfire online for them to sit around and sing.
The patient got his campfire experience. As Crystal plucked at her banjo & another team member strummed her guitar, they sang along to campfire songs with the patient. Person after person kept stopping by, commenting on how life-like the fire was and listening to the music. Weeks later, patients continued bring up the experience. Crystal even remembers the patient belly-laughing when someone asked if they were roasting marsh mellows on the fire.
“You could almost feel the warmth in the room because of the flame and music we were creating,” stated the patient.
This experience was really geared towards the patient and what was important for him. That’s the special thing about music therapy. Music therapists are able to listen to the patients and act on what they hear by making it a reality and helping them through music.
By giving this patient, and many others, personal experiences through music, music therapists help take away the pain in that moment. Here at Hospice of the Midwest we strive to make our patients more comfortable, and with the help from our therapists like Crystal Berkenes, that’s possible.
The patient put it best when he said, “It has always been important, throughout my entire life, that people are able to have experiences like these with music.” As he has reflected on lyrics toward deeper meaning for his life he recalls, “All my life’s a circle…”
A life-limiting illness is an incurable chronic disease or condition that no longer respond to curative treatments.
Examples of a life-limiting illness include:
- Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Heart Disease
- Pulmonary Disease
- Liver Disease
- End-stage Renal Disease
A life limiting illness, coupled with symptoms below, could be indicators of decline and hospice eligibility:
- Frequent hospitalizations, ER visits, or visits to the physician within the last six months
- Progressive weight loss (with consideration to weight gain factors such as edema, when applicable)
- Decreasing appetite
- Dysphagia or difficulty swallowing
- Increased weakness or fatigue
- Decline in cognitive status or functional abilities
- Increasing assistance needed with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)
- Increasing pain or increasing difficulty in controlling pain
- Increasing dyspnea or shortness of breath
- Oxygen dependency
- Reoccurring infections
- Increased nausea and/or vomiting that is difficult to control
- A desire to forgo future hospitalizations
- A request to discontinue treatment
- Recurrent or frequent infections
- Skin breakdown
- A specific decline in condition
If you or a loved one has a life-limiting illness and are experiencing any of the above symptoms, consider speaking to your physician about hospice services. You can also call Hospice of the Midwest, and one of our team members can help guide you through the process of requesting hospice through your physician.
Let yourself grieve. It’s important to let yourself take this roller coaster ride and feel your emotions rather than suppress them. No matter how hard you try to bury those feelings of grief, they will continue to resurface, and you won’t be able to truly move on. Start the healing process by giving into grief.
Lean on friends and family. Your friends and family expect you to be upset. While they may not always know the right things to do or say, they do want to be there for you even if it’s just to listen or offer affection. Never feel too proud or embarrassed to lean on them in this time of need.
Join a support group – online or offline. Whether you find a group through social media or in person, support groups provide ways to talk and listen to others who are in the same position and truly understand what you are going through.
Focus on the positive aspects of your life. The loss you are experiencing could feel like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you and no one can change your mind. Despite this, what you need to do is reflect on all the good aspects that continue to bless your life and are worth pushing through the grief.
Keep yourself busy. Become more involved, go on a trip, try something new – participate in activities you enjoy and that can keep you focused on something other than your grief. Redirect your energy into doing things you’ve always wanted to do but never prioritized.
Breathe. If ever you find the grief to be too overwhelming, take a few deep breaths. The body’s breathing becomes shallow when we are feeling tense or stressed, resulting in insufficient oxygen to the body. This adds to the stress you are already feeling, so focusing on conscious, deeps breaths helps you relax and breathe normally.
Journaling while grieving can help you document and process the feelings of grief you are experiencing. As you begin the healing process and reconnecting with who you once were, you may start thinking about or telling yourself things you would want to record. Putting these thoughts and feelings into words can be very beneficial and help in better working through the grief. This is why it is a great idea to keep a grief journal.
There are many, different ways you can start to fill up your journal. From creative writing and poetry to journaling and writing letters to your deceased loved one, each way provides you with a venue to communicate without fear of being judged. Opening up and disclosing your feelings to others can be difficult, but each of these methods allows you to express what you are feeling in a more personal, therapeutic way.
Research demonstrates that grief journaling after a significant loss has beneficial value. Experts explain that ‘reconstructing your personal self-narrative’ is crucial to the healing process. A grief journal can assist you in recording your experience, recognizing patterns, and establishing growth.
Are you interested in grief journaling but aren’t sure where to start? Here are some writing prompts to get you started:
- Today, I am really missing…
- I feel most connected to my loved one when I…
- If I could talk to you again, I’d tell you…
- My goal for this week…
- I know I’m going to be okay because…