Unless you have a medical degree or background, chances are you don’t know how to care for a cancer patient. As the wife of a cancer patient, I was thrust into this role and didn’t have a clue what to do, but I learned quickly, although not always easily. This is the scariest roller coaster ride of your life! Betty Garrett is the founder of Caregivers for Cancer and my guest today on Straight Talk Radio.
CHUCK: Hi, this is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio and, well, I’m excited that you’re joining us today. We’re going to talk about a subject that fundamentally will touch every American in some form or fashion. To start this, I’m going to tell a little bit of a personal story.
Back in 2004, I have to get my [chuckles] decade right, back in 2004 I went to my local doctor. I had this, I guess it was one of those things where I was maybe a little too vane and I wanted to keep my hair from falling out. I used to have a forehead, it went to kind of a fivehead, for those of you that are seeing this on YouTube. [chuckles] It’s continuing to go back. But I went to the doctor, because I wanted this pill called Propecia and my wife had hooked me up with this just beautiful blonde, green-eyed doctor and I was like– It was so exciting to go to the doctor. It’s just a different experience. And she said, “You’re going to have to have a blood test.” I said, “What?! A blood test?!” because I hate needles with a passion. She said, “Yeah.” She said, “We’re going to have to do a blood test because I need to get a PSA reading,” and I didn’t know what a PSA, didn’t mean anything to me, but I guess my vanity was more powerful than the fear of the needle. So, I said, “Okay.”
Went and got the blood test and I get a call back from the office, I was at a speaking engagement, and they said, “You’re PSA is a little high. We’re going to schedule you to see your urologist,” and I was like, “Well, what is a PSA anyway?”, and they tell me it was prostate specific antigen.
So, I went to see this urologist and he did a few checks here and there and he said, “I think everything’s okay, but we need to do a biopsy,” and I’m like, “Will that hurt?” He says, “No, it’s just the sound that’ll scare you.” Well, number one, that was a lying sucker, that’s all I got to say, because that was nothing– It was the most uncomfortable, painful thing I think I’ve ever had, but nonetheless, when I went back, he walks in the room, looks at me square faced and he said, “You have prostate cancer.”
At that moment I became a statistic. I became one of 1.6 million people that will be diagnosed with cancer this year. Now, I thought it was, I won’t say funny, as I look back on it I tend to see funny things are very serious things, but he says, “Well, there’s four things we can do and we probably need to schedule surgery and we’ll do that for next week,” and I was like, “Wow, time out, Jack! Now I got to have a little processing time on this. I got to think about it.” Of course I call my wife and the first thing she said was, “You’re kidding?” I’m like, “No, I’m not kidding.” “Yeah, you are. I know you are.” “No, I’m not kidding.” And I’m like, “Why does everybody think I’m telling a joke?” Called my boss, told him, he says, “You’re kidding!” and I’m like, “No, I’m not kidding.” People quit telling me you think I’m kidding. I’m talking about something serious.
So, the question becomes what do you do when you’ve been diagnosed and how does that impact your family? Here’s some stats. 1.6 million people will be diagnosed this year, 62% of caregivers will go into some form of isolation or depression at the onset of the diagnosis, 44% of caregivers are men and 54 million caregivers, caring for the elderly, or disabled, or chronically ill. What we need today is, we need to talk about this topic. It’s a heavy topic, but one that– There’s a lot of information that can be helpful.
My guest is Betty Garrett. Betty Garrett is a dear friend of mine. We met in Dallas, Texas. She actually runs an incredible speakers bureau. [chuckles] And at the request of a friend, agreed to meet me. She thought I was going to be fat, portly and old. I turned out to be a little different than, I guess, what she expected, but we both have something in common, we’re both cancer survivors, but more importantly, Betty is has also been a caregiver and founded Caregivers for Cancer. Betty, thank you for taking the time to join us today.
BETTY: Oh, Chuck, thank you for having me and it’s such an honor and a pleasure. Hopefully our listeners can glean something from what I’ve learned on this journey. But one thing I want to say to you is that, yeah, 1.6 million people will be diagnosed, but today over 14.5 million people have survived cancer. So, it’s not all doom and gloom, as you well know.
CHUCK: Right. No, it’s not all doom and gloom. I have to be honest with you and say with the advances in medicine and medical technology, catching cancer at an early stage is actually quite treatable, in most cases, and quite survivable. And I’m a perfect example of that and so are you. So, you’re right, it’s not all doom and gloom, but the other side to the coin is, whenever you get that diagnosis, it is such an emotional experience that we have, that sometimes we need to be willing to step back, take a breath and think about what do we really need. I know you have experienced that personally, and with you and your late husband. Tell us a little bit about your story.
BETTY: Well, Gene, my love of my life had hiccups. That was the only symptom he had. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. We did not one biopsy, but we did two, because I was one of those that, “No, I don’t believe you. You’ve got the wrong person, you’ve got the wrong chart, doctor. Let’s do it again.” So, we went and did a bigger biopsy and sure enough, back in April of 2003, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Now, at the time of the diagnosis, remember that your life is changing and it has changed.
BETTY: Just the diagnosis itself and you now have a new normal. What you experienced prior to cancer is going to be different now. So, here’s what you need to do, or what I had to do, is there’s a couple of things that you can change and there’s things you cannot change, and it’s all attitude. Number one, you can’t change the diagnosis nor the weather, but you can change your attitude and look at it differently. Yes, it’s a new normal.
CHUCK: Betty, let me ask you a question. When Gene had the hiccups and went in and he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, if I can penetrate and ask a really personal question, what was his reaction and what was yours?
BETTY: Well, interesting that you should ask that, Chuck, because when we left the hospital that afternoon, the silence in the car was deafening and finally I said, “I can’t stand this.” I said, “Okay, Garrett, what are you thinking?” because I didn’t know if he was going to go into anger, depression or what. All of a sudden, he said the magic words, and they were, “Betty, we’re going to play out the hand that’s been dealt.”
BETTY: When he said that, that gave me the confidence in knowing that we’re on the right track mentally. And the other thing I said to him was that, “Yes, we’ve got to work together and you have to be honest with me and not play mind games. So, if you’re hurting, I need to know. If you don’t feel well, I need to know this. We have got to have open communication. Forget the ego, forget macho, forget all of that, because I can’t be a good caregiver if I don’t know what’s going on with you.”
CHUCK: Right. I think that’s really profound. We’ve got about three minutes till our first break, but to say to get rid of the ego, to get rid of the macho is really pretty significant and I’m going to say this from a guy’s we aren’t as open, generally, emotionally to sharing.
CHUCK: Women who’ve had breast cancer talk about, “Well, I’ve had breast cancer,” and you’re openly willing to talk about the tata, so to speak, and then people would go out and put on the pink ribbons and, you know–
BETTY: Run the race.
CHUCK: Run the race! But guys who experience cancer, regardless of the type, tend to pull it inward and the inward isn’t necessarily going to be the thing that is best for the patient, but certainly not for the caregiver.
BETTY: Absolutely, Chuck. And, luckily, Gene understood that we had to have open communication or I can’t do my job. I was devastated, I was absolutely scared to death and immediately when we hit the house, we went to the Internet and started learning as much as we could about esophageal cancer. Good news, bad news. Don’t read everything that you can on the internet because it’s not always the right information. So, get those booklets, there’s magazines, there’s resources. Go to the American Cancer Society. That’s probably one of your biggest resources that you can have. There’s a magazine Coping With Cancer, there’s Cure magazine. There’s a tone of resources out there, because once you have knowledge, that’s going to give you some control, as the caregiver and it will help the patient as well.
If you remember Robin Roberts when she was diagnosed, she said the three things that got her through were faith, family and friends. Well, I have to add a fourth one, sense of humor, because if you don’t have a sense of humor, and like you said earlier, you make lighter things that are kind of dark, but you have to have a sense of humor or you’re not going to get through this.
CHUCK: Well, we’re here on Straight Talk Radio. My guest is Betty Garrett. She is the founder of Caregivers for Cancer. One of the first things you said, Betty, before we go to the break, is once you have been diagnosed, there is a new normal, and that’s absolutely true. We’re going to go to break. We’ll be back with Betty Garrett in just a moment. Stick with us.[Commercial break]
CHUCK: We’re back with Straight Talk Radio. My guest is Betty Garrett with Caregivers for Cancer. Her husband was diagnosed with cancer, just like I was diagnosed and you said there’s a new normal. Betty, I have to say to you, I guess the next step and perhaps next phase is, okay, so wow, we’ve been diagnosed, then what happens? I’m going to jump in with an opinion and doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right.[Betty laughs]
CHUCK: But I believe–
BETTY: Hit me with it.
CHUCK: Yeah. I believe the medical community is well-intentioned for care and providing service, but I also believe that we have to understand that the medical community doctors are in business and their job is to do whatever their job happens to be. So, if you’ve been diagnosed or I’ve been diagnosed, you said, “I went to the internet and you can’t believe everything that you read,” but knowledge is power.
CHUCK: Because I know my doctor, initial doctor, said, “Well, you know, we’ll do surgery in a week.” “No.” And then I ask him the question, “How many of these surgeries do you do?”, and he said, “Well, I typically do one to two a week.” Okay, that was fine, except, I went to Johns Hopkins in my case, because it was prostate cancer and that, at the time, was number one for urology, and my surgeon was doing 350 a year, or one or more a day. So, you know, I sat back and thought to myself, okay, now let me see. Do I want somebody that does one a week or one a day? And what is the result? Because I believe people have the right to find out from your medical provider what their success rate is and if you like them and connect with them because attitude is everything.
BETTY: Absolutely. And listen to your intuition because your intuition is 99% correct at the time. If you feel like you need a second opinion, go do it! Don’t listen to– Just because he’s wearing a white coat, doesn’t mean he’s got all of the answers. If you want to just be sure, say, “I want to have a second opinion,” and do it.
I was lucky that we had a great medical team that we put together and we were in Downtown Baylor and knew that we were where we were supposed to be. When the gastroenterologist came out and said what was wrong with Gene and all this sort of stuff, he got into that medical cloud and when he finished he said, “Miss Garrett, is there anything you want to ask?” I said “Yes, sir.” He said, “What is that?” and I said, “Will you tell it to me in layman’s language, what you just said?”
BETTY: His face got just red as a beet and he apologized. He said, “I’m sorry. I forgot.” See, that’s one of the things a caregiver has to realize, is that you’re dealing with the medical arena and that’s all they know and that’s what they’re there to do, but you know your patient better than anybody else because you’re with them 24/7.
BETTY: Be sure you feel comfortable with the doctors and, for God’s sakes, that’s one of the tips I want to share with you that I learned, is that get involved with the medical team. I want you to ask those questions. Right them down before you go in, have those questions ready, write down the answers because once you leave that room, you’re not going to remember half of what he told you. I believe that there is really a gap between– Medical science has done such a great job in sending our loved ones home early and letting them live longer, but because they’re sending them home quickly, they haven’t given the caregiver the information that they need.
BETTY: And so, you have a lot of frustration on the caregiver’s part, because you don’t know what to ask, you don’t know what’s next and that sort of thing. So, when you go in to see the doctor, have your questions ready and write them down, and if he says something you don’t understand, say, “Doctor Chuck, I don’t understand what you just said. Let me repeat it back to you,” and if he says, “That’s not right,” I want you to know exactly what the doctor said before you leave that room, and that doesn’t mean that you’re stupid.
BETTY: It just means you’re in a different world that you’ve never been involved with before. And they want you to be involved.
CHUCK: Yeah, you know, Betty, one of the things that has happened, and this has happened since you and Gene had the first experience, and frankly it’s happened since I was first diagnosed with prostate cancer, and that is, technology has created an interesting opportunity. Now, what I mean by that is, I walk in and I’m holding up my handy-dandy iPhone, but I walk into the doctor’s office today, and I had back surgery seven weeks ago, so, as a result of that, I [chuckles] haven’t seen medical doctors for a while for the past six months, but I have gone in and said, “Look, you know, my wife can’t always be with me. I want to record the conversation.”
CHUCK: And I have not had anyone yet tell me, “No.”
BETTY: They want you to record that.
BETTY: They want you to have that information because that means less calls on the triage, once you get home and things start happening. So, be sure that you tape record, listen to your intuition. In fact, Oprah, O Magazine, had an article on the inner doctor that you have within yourself.
BETTY: So, record them, take notes, listen to what they say .
CHUCK: You know–
BETTY: Go ahead, Chuck.
CHUCK: Well, Betty, I don’t know if you’ve even experienced this or not and my guess is you probably assembled a team that really worked for you, but I have to say I was with my mother not long ago, she had a back issue. I know we’re talking about cancer, but it illustrates the point.
BETTY: It’s a chronic illness.
CHUCK: Right. And we went to her physician and I want to tell you, I could not imagine the difference between mine and hers. He got in, quickly told her what she had, “How soon do you want to begin surgery?” and was edging out the door, as she’s asking him questions. When we walked out, what I said to her was, “You are not beholding to that doctor, you can find another doctor, you do not need to go where you are just a statistic.”
CHUCK: He might be the best surgeon in the world, but if you can’t get comfortable with who’s going to be working on your body, find somebody else.
BETTY: That’s right. And besides that, and we had three doctors in the medical team, and I got along real well, right off the bat, the first two. The third one was the oncologist and he was like that.
BETTY: He wanted to get in and get out and he’d start to get up out of his chair and I’d say, “Wait just a minute. I’ve got another question. Don’t you leave.”
BETTY: And he’d sit back down.[Chuck laughs]
BETTY: I mean, he got to the point where he said, “Now, Miss Garrett, I’m about to leave.” I said, “Wait a minute, I’ve got one more question.” So, he got used to that and we later bonded, but he was the hardest nut, excuse me, to crack.-
CHUCK: No, I understand.
BETTY: And also, be sure, and you can tell the doctors, “No.”
BETTY: I know what you’re thinking, “What?” If they want to schedule you an appointment, try not to schedule more than two in a week because it’s too taxing on you and your patient. You have the right to say, “No. This is not convenient.” In fact, one of the times the oncologist wanted us to be in downtown Dallas at 7:30. We live in Irving. That’s a 25-minute drive and big traffic is not my cup of tea. So, it wasn’t life threatening that he be there at 7:30 and I knew that, but it was on my doctor’s convenience. Finally I said, “Okay, here’s the deal, we’re not coming down at 7:30. I cannot be a Christian and drive in this traffic.”[Chuck laughs]
BETTY: “Do you understand?”[Betty and Chuck laugh]
BETTY: And he looked at me and he looked at his nurse and he said, “Okay, let’s don’t test Mrs. Garrett’s faith. Give her the 10 o’clock slot.” So, you know, it’s just something that they forget, that we have other lives.
CHUCK: That’s true. Obviously, especially when you’re involved in a cancer diagnosis where there is treatment that is, what I’ll call more radical and challenging to the patient’s body, it really adds that extra level of effort on the part of the caregiver.
BETTY: Well, I have said all along, it’s harder to be the caregiver than it is the patient. A patient can sleep through the treatments and all of that, but we are on 24/7. We are the driver, we’re the gatekeeper, we’re the note taker, we’re everything, and we do not have the opportunity to– We always have to be on stage, we always have to be on. So, it’s harder, because we’re so many hands. In our case, I also had the business that I was running, so I was juggling a bunch of balls at the time. Would I do it again? You bet.
BETTY: But, I mean, you do what you have to do. The other thing I learned at the onset of the diagnose is, boy, you better get organized and you better get organized in a hurry.
CHUCK: You mention organization. We’re pushing up on a break, but I think when we get back to talk about being organized and, really, what was involved in the process for you to be able to juggle those balls is incredibly powerful. You wrote a book From Hiccups to Hospice.
CHUCK: I would suggest, I have read the book, I would highly suggest that you pick that book up. You’re holding it up? Yay, great! And pick it up on amazon.com. It’s an outstanding book to help people understand the caregiver’s process. This is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio. My guest is Betty Garrett and we will be back in just a minute.[Commercial break]
CHUCK: Betty Garrett is my guest. She is the founder of Caregivers for Cancer. She wrote a great book called From Hiccups to Hospice, which really talks about caregiving for those people who are helping those of us that have been diagnosed with cancer. Both Betty and I are cancer survivors and so we really know what that experience is like and, Betty, especially in your case on both sides of the fence. One of the things that you said was, you know, it’s important to be organized. And look–[Betty chuckles]
CHUCK: You know, as a–
BETTY: I know, Chuck.
CHUCK: As a cancer survivor, I didn’t really think so much about what my lovely wife Debbie was going to have to deal with or go through, although, in my case, different than Gene, it was a different experience because the solution was a surgical solution. It wasn’t one that really involved an oncologist and dealing with the different types of treatment than certainly what I had. So, talk to us a little bit about the organization.
BETTY: Well, get organized. Get yourself a calendar, get a list and write down all the medications that the loved one is taking. And, Chuck, you keep referring to cancer. Yes, Gene did have cancer, but it’s for anybody that’s undergoing a chronic illness, really.
CHUCK: There you go. True, true. It’s true.
BETTY: It really is. So, get a list of the medications and whether you have one of these old phones that you keep everything in them, I want you to have a backup, because I want you to put down your emergency phone numbers and keep a copy of them in the car. Because what happens when the battery goes down? You don’t have a backup.
BETTY: I highly recommend getting a calendar or some kind of day timer or you can out everything in your phone, but when you get ready to– If you can’t take your patient to the doctor or wherever, are you going to give your phone to that person that’s going to take him to the next appointment? No.
BETTY: So, anyway, but write everything down and get those after hour phone numbers, because emergencies don’t happen just 9 to 5, I hate to tell you that. So, get those emergency numbers, write them down, have them in the car, have them handy, put them in your phone. Once you’re diagnosed, call the insurance agent or call your insurance company and ask for a case manager to be assigned to you because you’re going to have numerous times when you have to call the insurance ask them about different questions. So, get a case manager assigned to you immediately, so that when you do have to call them, you deal with that one case manager all through the treatment.
CHUCK: Betty, that’s actually a pretty incredible suggestion and I want to stop you with that because for people listening that never, I’m going to tell you, that never crossed my mind and it seems as if today insurance is more determining what our treatment will be than the doctor gets to determine what our treatment will be. So, having a case manager and someone you can connect with to help navigate the “Are we approved? Aren’t we approved? Does it have to be preapproved? Is the insurance going to cover it? We didn’t get it done in time,” and all of this stuff that’s just crazy making makes so much sense. Thank you for that.
BETTY: Well, the case manager was in my case, every time I had a question, I could call her and she would say, “The doctor needs to do this and this.” And keep in mind, the doctor is critical for everything you need, everything you may want, you ask the doctor to write a prescription for it. And then that’s key, don’t just go out and buy a walker. Get the doctor to prescribe the walker so that the insurance will pick up the cost.
CHUCK: Right. That’s right.
BETTY: And the other thing that you can do, and if you got to my website caregiversforcancer.com, I want you to be able to find those papers, those important papers like “do not resuscitate”, your wills, your divorce papers and all of that. I want you to go on my website, go to “Resources” and I want you to print out the Life Contingency Worksheet. What this is, is that you never know when you’re going to need these important papers, and in my case, Gene kept all those papers, but did I know where they were? No!
BETTY: But he knew where they were. So, why should I worry about it? So, that is the best gift of love you can give to your family, is to fill out that sheet in case you need it. if you don’t need it, you always have it on hand.
CHUCK: Betty, that’s awesome.
BETTY: So, get organized, and just to give you an idea, 65% of our time was spent going back and from the hospital or to the doctor’s office. In fact, 12% of our time was actually going to doctor appointments, 33% of our time was actually going to the emergency room and to the hospital.
BETTY: We spent 20% of our time actually going to treatments, to chemo and radiation, and if I’ve done my math right, that should hopefully–[Chuck laughs]
BETTY: Total up to 65%. But, I cannot tell you how important it is, and I kept everything in my day timer. Then after all was said and done, I developed this Caregiver Companion. It is everything you need. All you have to do is just fill in the blanks because it has a place for your insurance papers, your notes, your information, the place, your doctor appointments, questions, your answers, things you’re going to do for you, the medical sheets, the calendar. And the other thing is what you do for you as a caregiver because you have to take care of you or you cannot be the best advocate or caregiver for your loved one.
CHUCK: Betty, let me ask you a personal question.
BETTY: Oh, Lord. Yes?
CHUCK: What was the most difficult time for you during this experience?
BETTY: Chuck, when Gene was diagnosed the first time, I thought in my heart of hearts and I believed that if we followed the protocol and everything, we’re going to beat this. It was hard managing all of the bubbles and hiccups, and God love him, he would throw snowballs at us and we’d have to go to the emergency room or whatever the case may be. That was difficult. But the hardest thing, the most difficult, was when he was diagnosed the second time. We were diagnosed in April. We did surgery in June, which was nine and a half hours. And then it came back with an avengeance [29:49] in January. That’s when Betty said, “I need help and I need help now.” And I went to Baylor and I asked for a support group for caregivers and they had a support group for caregivers and patients and I said, “A-a. I don’t want one of those. I want one just for the caregiver, for me, because I don’t want Gene to hear what’s going on with me and how angry I am and how frustrated and overwhelmed and scared. He’s dealing with his own issues.”
BETTY: So, being the independent caregiver that I am and [30:23], I decided that I’d use some of my problem-solving skills and go to Baylor with a list of topics, went to the right person and I said, “This is what I need and I need it now. So, let’s get started, I don’t have time for the bureaucracy. So, I will help you if you would just do it internally for me.” She set it up and we did a support group for cancer caregivers. We did it at lunch and I would go down to the chemo room and gather up the caregivers–[Phone rings]
BETTY: And get them to come upstairs and-
CHUCK: See, there’s that extra special phone–
CHUCK: That’s ringing off the hook.
BETTY: I’m so sorry.
CHUCK: This is not a problem.
BETTY: But anyway, I went down and gathered up the caregivers and said, “Come on upstairs. This is for you. This is not a hand party, it is strictly for you. It is to share your victories and it is to share your challenges so that you can leave here knowing you have the answers to whatever is bothering you and your patient today.”
So, we did that and that was part of my therapy. And then he, of course, the health went down, and a lot of people don’t want to discuss this, but he did go into hospice, and luckily I had one of my doctors ask me did I know what hospice was, and I said, “Yes, but I don’t know if I need to take him to a facility, leave him at home or what?” So, luckily, that was probably the second most difficult thing. The most difficult was that when it came back with the avengeance [32:01]. I was not prepared for that.
BETTY: And I suppose that, and I have not been in this situation, certainly my wife has worked for hospice, but I have never had to admit someone, so I assume that the acknowledgement of hospice is an acknowledgment of a life transition, not of a successful outcome, at least success by the definition that we would have, which is our partner, our loved one continuing to live comfortably.
BETTY: Right. And doctors are reluctant to ask or to admit that it’s time for respite care or hospice care because, by nature, they want to be the one to treat and give them a good case, you know, solve the problem and send them home.
BETTY: But when the oncologist asked me, he said, “Miss Garrett, have you done your homework and have you decided on what hospice care you want?” And I went, “What?” I said, “I didn’t know we were anywhere close to this,” and he said, “I think we need to discuss it now.” I said, “Well, who do you suggest?” and he told us and I said, “Well, go make the arrangements.”
I looked at Gene and he looked at me and we both had tears streaming down our faces and unbeknown to me, I said to Gene, “Honey, I think he’s doing us a favor because you’re not there yet, but when and if time happens, you’re going to be already in the system. So, I think he’s doing us a favor.” However, he told me later he did not expect Gene to last that weekend, and he lasted two months in hospice.
CHUCK: Oh, my goodness.
BETTY: And hospice, and people don’t want to talk about it because of the end result. But I want to tell you something, it is quality of life at that point. So, quit the treatments and have the time that you can with them and spend it with them because at that point, you really realize, during this whole journey, what’s important and what isn’t. You learn the dust on the phone doesn’t really matter. If it’s not life threatening, don’t worry about it.
CHUCK: You know, Betty, I think that’s a profound statement that you make and you’ve written the book From Hiccups to Hospice. I would say, before we go to our break, and we’re pushing on that right now, that so many times I have seen people go to hospice last minute and really not have that quality time. And you are right, hospice is not a bad place to be, in fact, it is probably a place that allows for more personal emotional healing than certainly you’re going to get in treatments and so forth. But, before we start–
BETTY: One other thing, people do get out of hospice. Did you know that?
CHUCK: Oh, that’s true. That’s absolutely true.
CHUCK: Absolutely true. With that said, this is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio. My guest is Betty Garrett. She is the founder of caregiversforcancer.com and the author of From Hiccups to Hospice and we will be back after the short break. Stick with us.[Commercial break]
CHUCK: Well, we’re back on Straight Talk Radio. This is Chuck Gallagher and my guest is Betty Garrett. She is the founder of Caregivers for Cancer, wrote the book From Hiccups to Hospice, a great book, and she has been talking to us about five tips for helping work through this process. Betty, you made a really valid point and I think I need to reiterate that and that is, this is not just about cancer, it’s because of our shared experience that we talk about cancer, but caregiving does in fact apply to many, many illnesses for people that we love and what you have helps people across the board, not just those that have been diagnosed with cancer. Now, we’ve talked about three of them. I think your fourth one is take care of yourself. And how do you do that if you’re a caregiver?
BETTY: Oh, let me tell you, you ask for help, and asking for help is a sign of strength, it is not a sign of weakness. Yeah, the first time Gene was diagnosed, I was the independent woman, I was going to do it all and did it all and then it was, like I said, the second time it came back, I had no energy, I had no momentum left. So, I reached out and asked for my friends, and remember that it’s a position of honor for you to ask your friends to help you. Don’t do it all yourself, and for those friends who are listening that already know somebody that’s in this position, take them out, take the caregiver out of the decision making mode.
For example, call them and say, “I am going to the grocery store. Give me your grocery list now.” Or, “I’m bringing dinner at 6 o’clock and I’m bringing fried chicken. Does everybody eat fried chicken or not?” Don’t ask them, “What do you want to eat?” God knows I could care less what I eat because I’ve been dealing with decisions all day long and [37:26] that is the last thing I want to think about, is what I’ve got to prepare for dinner. So, surprise me. If it’s during the holidays, put a wreath on the door, give me a box of “Thank you” notes.
I mean, there are a ton of things and in the book From Hiccups to Hospice, is like Chuck said, it is a guide to help you and there’s a long list of things that you can do for the caregiver and for the patient. Call a friend, have them meet you and go have lunch. In fact, one of Gene’s sons came up from Houston and Polly was here for the weekend, I went to a show and I didn’t care what I went to see, I just had to leave. And remember, your loved one may need a timeout from you too.[Chuck laughs]
BETTY: Give them that timeout. And the other thing is, Gene knew that I went at 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon, yes, I have to have my nails done. So, he knew that he had to lie still and not cause anything from 3 to 4, because that was the time Betty had for herself. So anyway, that became a joke.
CHUCK: You know, Betty, as you say that, one of the things that does strike me as a friend, sometimes we’ll say, “Well, what can I do for you?” and the problem with that is you’re under stress, you don’t know or you may feel uncomfortable asking and it is really quite profound just to say, “Here’s what I’m going to do,” and then do it.
BETTY: Absolutely, absolutely, because the caregiver does not have– They really have so much on their plate that they really don’t have time to make that decision, so make it for me. Make it for the caregiver.
CHUCK: What’s the last of your five steps?
BETTY: The other thing that you’ve got to do in order to survive this, yeah, faith, family and friends are wonderful, but you better develop a sense of humor, because that– I know it sounds awful, because you’re undergoing this stressful situation, but laughter allows us to deal with those difficult decisions and circumstances.
One night we were lying in bed, Gene had lost a lot of weight and we were concerned about it and we were lying in bed and all of a sudden, out of my brain pops up, “Gene, I think we’re going to have to start sleeping in separate beds,” and he leaned up and he said, “What on earth for?” I said “Do you know those little fat cells you’re losing?” “Oh, yeah.” I said, “Well, those little suckers are finding my side of the bed and they’re finding my butt. So, will you quit it?”[Chuck laughs]
BETTY: [chuckles] I don’t know where that came from, but all of a sudden it just popped out. And then, the other thing was when Gene was going into surgery. They allowed me to go into the pre-op room where they had all this sort of stuff and the two doctors came and they asked me if I had any questions and I said, “No,” but I was scared to death. I was so nervous, but I couldn’t show it. But, as they turned around to go put on their scrubs and everything, I said, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Come back here. Come back here,” and they did. Now, here is the chief of staff services, head of the thoracic and all this head chief and his partner, I said, “Stick out your hands. Come on! Both of you, stick out your hands.” And they did it. I said, “I want to make sure that nobody had any late night parties and that you’ve got the shakes because if you got the shakes, you’re not operating on my husband.” You should have seen Gene. He went, “Oh, God.” And that was so funny for these two doctors, listening to this pion. Here I am wanting you to put out your hands so I can make sure you didn’t have the shakes. But that was a release for me.
CHUCK: Right. Absolutely.
BETTY: And you have to do such things like that and, you know, look at the humor. You’ll find it when you’re sitting there in the emergency room, thinking about things that have happened, you’ll find a giggle and that’s all you have to, is find that giggle. Please, find something funny, whether it’s dark or not.
CHUCK: That does raise an interesting memory for me when I went in for a surgery for prostate cancer. It was a robotic surgery, so the guy’s sitting there with a joystick. My question to the doctors, as I was interviewing them, is, “How good are you at PlayStation® and Xbox?”[Betty laughs]
CHUCK: Because I figured, you know, if you’ve got finger dexterity and you can do that, you’re going to be good with me, but if you’re one of those guys that can’t play that thing, buddy, you don’t need to be touching this body.
BETTY: [laughs] Oh, I know. I know.
BETTY: Yes, sir?
CHUCK: We’ve got three minutes. I got to ask you a question.
BETTY: Yes, sir.
CHUCK: You have written a book From Hiccups to Hospice, caregiversforcancer.com is your website, but you were diagnosed later with breast cancer. How did you handle that yourself?
BETTY: That was interesting because I had not had a mammogram in two years, I didn’t have time. So, finally one day I had my Mom in an assisted living, Gene had passed away, Dad passed away, so, I went in and had a mammogram. They found that I had a tiny little speck and it ended up being what I call the best cancer, if you’re going to get cancer have DCIS.
BETTY: When I went in and had the examination and had the biopsy done, the doctor said he’d call me. So, as I stepped off the curb, I will never forget it, I heard Gene’s voice, “Betty, you’re going to play out the hand that’s been dealt.”
BETTY: And I got in the car, drove home and I had a peace in me, the peace that came over me, and I knew that I was going to get through this. Now, when the doctor called me, and he said, “Miss Garrett, I want to give you the pathology report.” When he said the word “pathology”, I shut down. And he talked, and he talked, and finally he said, “Miss Garrett, do you have any questions?” I said “Doctor Clifford, I don’t have a clue of what you said, because I remember pathology from when Gene did.” So, I knew I was in trouble and he said, “Come on into the office tomorrow.” So, I had a friend go with me, because I knew at that point I had to have somebody else to go with me. I had written all my questions down, I even pulled some of my friends to get their input. I was lucky to do radiation in five days. So, I did the quick fast. I did the fast lane and I got through it and it’s done.
CHUCK: So, let’s do this, we’re rapidly running out of time.
BETTY: I know.
CHUCK: Five tips.
CHUCK: For helping people offer. Give us that one more time.
BETTY: All right. Once you’ve been diagnosed, remember, there is a new normal in your life. Remember, what you can control, what you cannot control. Get involved with the medical team. Get organized, and take care of yourself and develop a sense of humor. Those are the five tips that are going to get you through this ordeal and you’re going to get many rewards from that.
CHUCK: My guest is Betty Garrett. She is the author of From Hiccups to Hospice, the creator of Caregivers Companion, a beautiful guide, the founder of Caregivers for Cancer. If you have a question or a need, go to caregiversforcancer.com. And, Betty, thank you for taking the time to join me here on Straight Talk Radio and as we wrap up the show, remember, every choice we make in life has a consequence. So, let’s make empowering, positive choices to create the success that is ours. Thanks. I appreciate you listening.
BETTY: Thank you.
CHUCK: Thank you so much. Bye-bye.
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