A few weeks ago, I asked my friend Jessica if she had any ideas for future posts. Jessica replied, “What about the role of laughter in illness?” Initially, I rejected that suggestion. After all, what part of ALS was funny? I reflected back to my husband Brian’s courageous struggle with the disease, and I didn’t recall us sharing any light or humorous moments. However, the more I ruminated on the topic, the more fascinated I became. I was familiar with the old adage, “laughter is the best medicine,” but could this expression apply to patients with terminal illness?
Powerful blog post from our friend Pat Quinn, courtesy of WebMD.
By Pat Quinn
When you’re diagnosed with a disease that has a life expectancy of 2-5 years, you will do anything to change that. Almost 5 years ago, I was stunned as I heard my doctor say, “It’s conclusive, we can confidently diagnose you with ALS.” It was the most surreal moment of my life. Sure, I had had some crazy twitching in my arms. Yes, my hands had become weak. But, 2-5 years to live? No, that was unacceptable to me. I was only 30 years old! So, after the initial shock wore off, I decided that I was going to fight.
As one faces a terminal illness, such as ALS, it can be rewarding and fulfilling to review one’s life journey and reminisce about favorite people, experiences, and events, for remembering and reflecting on your life, in order to help you celebrate your successes, cherish your loved ones, and honor your journey. It is also important to reconcile or accommodate difficult or painful memories or events, providing an opportunity to forgive yourself and others if appropriate. Especially during this time of year when we are celebrating holidays and are with family and friends, projects such as the ones below can make very meaningful gifts, not only to those you love, but also as a gift to yourself.
In my first 3 posts, I related my family’s journey with ALS, hoping that other caregivers would connect with some aspects of my experience. Going forward, Caregiver Confidential will be a monthly forum for caregivers to share ideas and the unique experiences and perspectives of caring for a loved one with ALS.
But first, let me describe how my daughter Leah and I coped after my husband Brian passed away in 2010. Although the first year as a widow was a huge life adjustment, I still had a semblance of my pre-ALS life. Leah was living at home, working, and applying to medical school. I enjoyed being part of her journey into medicine, and it kept me mentally occupied. Then the bottom fell out—Leah left to attend medical school in Philadelphia in July 2011, which was a painfully difficult adjustment and the point at which I was forced to confront that I was now alone, as a single person, after a 36-year marriage. Slowly, I have regained my footing, but I also have had considerable time to ruminate about my experience as a caregiver.
More than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one. (Caregiving in the United States; National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP; November 2009)
Caregiving for someone with ALS – while done with a great deal of love and devotion – often times exacts a great emotional and physical toll for the caregiver. Caregivers are often employed outside the home and may be the primary source of household income, which adds even more demands, responsibilities and stress.
Existing evidence supports the conclusion that people who have served in the military are at a greater risk of developing ALS and dying from the disease than those with no history of military service. Study after study continues to demonstrate this to be true: If you serve in the military, regardless of the branch of service, regardless of whether you served in the Persian Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea, or World War II, and regardless of whether you served during a time of peace or a time of war, you are at a greater risk of dying from ALS than if you had not served in the military. In fact, a Harvard University research study tracked ex-service members back to 1910 and found that U.S. veterans carry a nearly 60 percent greater risk of contracting ALS than civilians.
A diagnosis of ALS can be frightening and challenging for most adults. You may be feeling angry, confused, sad, or afraid. You may not even fully understand what ALS is or the impact this disease will have on you and your family. You may also not know how to tell others about your diagnosis, what words to use, or how in-depth your explanation should be. Telling other adult family members and friends may be difficult enough, but finding the words to tell your children is often even harder.