The 11 Ls of caring and coping

Leading caregiving advocate Dave Balch shares his tips for caring and coping effectively

Coping with illness

It was a Tuesday. My wife, Chris, walked into the room and said, "Dave, I found a lump." I tried to comfort her by saying, "Remember that lump you found a few years ago? We had it checked out and it was only a cyst. I'll bet that's all this is!" It wasn't. It was breast cancer.

From the very beginning, it was my attitude that it was her job to get better, and it was my job to do everything else. But "everything else" included so much: cleaning the house, buying the food, making the food, filling prescriptions, etc. I also wanted to help by finding the best doctors, making the appointments, and doing all of the driving. (This wasn't about control; she was glad I did as much as I did.)

We also have a lot of animals: two horses on our property, two dogs, two cats, and a really mean parrot. All of those animals are a lot of work too. And, on top of everything else, I had to continue to make a living! I remember thinking, "There is no way I can do all of this... it's impossible."

Now it's all over and guess what? We're still here! The question was this: how did we get from "I can't do this" to "I did this?" I came up with 11 specific things that we did to help us cope. I call them "The 11 Ls of Caring and Coping" and I'd like to share them with you so you can use them to deal with your own challenges.

This sounds like it's about cancer, doesn't it? It's not. This is about dealing with most personal challenges. Cancer happens to be our story, but the lessons are universal and will apply to you and your situation.

1. Learn as much as you can as quickly as you can.

When you get a diagnosis like we did, it's so scary that it's natural to want to hide your head in the sand and hope that it goes away. It won't. Here's what we discovered: even if what you learn is scary, it's better to know than not to know.

2. Level with each other.

Everyone involved will have fears and will need to have, as well as provide, a safe place to share feelings without fear of ridicule or judgment.

3. Laugh.

Nothing changes…but you feel better! It may seem impossible to laugh, though, especially when there seems to be nothing funny about your situation. In our case, there was nothing funny about cancer, but there was plenty of humor in the situations we faced because of the cancer. Other sources: funny movies, television shows, books, etc.

4. Live in the moment.

There will always be things about your challenge that you can control, and things that you can't. Focus on the things you can control, because the things that you can't control will drive you crazy. Remember this: "Don't go there until you get there."

5. Look forward to something.

It helps to remind you that your crisis won't last forever, even if it seems like it will. Plan something simple, like an evening at the movies. Or make a big deal about your favorite TV show; light some candles, make popcorn, etc.

6. Keep friends and family in the Loop.

It's important, but very stressful, to keep everyone up-to-date on how you're doing. There are many ways of doing this, including online services and e-mail, so find one that works best for you and eliminate a lot of stress.

7. Let people help you.

But only with things that you want. People want to help and it's actually generous of you to let them, but don't accept help that you don't want because it is very stressful when people are helping in ways that you don't want them to.

8. Limit yourself to one crisis at a time.

At any given moment, you may have as many as a dozen problems to deal with and it's tempting to try to solve them all at once so you can be problem-free for a while. The reality, however, is that those solutions usually lead to new problems. Since you can't solve all problems at once, focus on just one at a time.

9. Lift your spirits by taking time for yourself.

If at all possible try to take some time away from your situation, such has having lunch with some friends. Remember what they say on the airlines, "Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs." Why? Because if you pass out, you won't be any help to anyone.

10. Lower the bar.

Give yourself a break. Do less than you normally do until things are better. Work less than usual, let the laundry pile up…it just doesn't matter! For the time being, let good enough be good enough.

11. Remember that things seem worse Late at night.

Caring for someone who has cancer can change your relationship and day-to-day life significantly.

I think we all know that things seem worse when we're tired, but do we remember that when we're tired? If you're tired and feeling especially overwhelmed, try to remember that you'll feel better after getting some sleep. That way you'll be better able to ignore feeling overwhelmed.

We used all of these techniques and they really made a big difference for us. Now you have them. I hope you never need them, but if you do, use as many as you can and you'll be amazed at the difference they make!

Caring for someone who has cancer can change your relationship and day-to-day life significantly.

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