Using Grief as an Inspiration to Help Others

One of the sweetest people I have ever met is Mary Stansell.  Mary was a coworker who worked in a respite care program for elderly people with memory loss, from Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia.  Mary did not just work her 8am to 5pm shift.  She left her house at 6am to drive across town to pick up a few of the program participants whose loved one was having trouble getting to the program.  On the weekends, she provided free respite care in her home for some families who were struggling.  At the end of the day, if a family caregiver was late leaving work, she would wait, on her own time, until they arrived and not charge the late fee.  And she never complained.

See, Mary is a tough cookie.  She left her southern home on a Greyhound bus.  With the clothes she could fit in her suitcase, along with her gun, and her four young children.  She escaped violence and fear for hope and peace in California.  Along the way, she met and married the love of her life, Charles.  He was an intelligent, educated man, who she loved with all of her heart.  They enjoyed dancing, laughing, loving, and living life together.  Then one day, Charles was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and the slow, declining abilities and memory loss would follow.

But it was not Mary’s way to grieve over it.  And, in the plan for her husband’s care as time and the disease progresses, she was determined to be his primary caregiver.  She would do whatever she had to do to care for him.  So, she found work in a respite care program where Charles could attend.  She was able to keep him close while she was at work. 

She learned everything she could about the disease, and used her knowledge to help other families dealing with memory loss of a loved one.  She consoled the wife whose husband no longer recognized her face.  The son who feared his father had forgotten a wife and mother who had passed.  The daughter whose mother forgot more each day.  The caregivers who arduously provide care to a loved one in addition to working a full-time job.  Mary did these things outside of her work.  On her own time.  She lived the disease.  She loved those who fell victim to it, and she fought in the trenches alongside those who knew her pain. 

Grief from trauma, whether it is after the passing of a loved one from a terminal illness, abuse, neglect, or other experience, a great healer is volunteering to help those who are where you have been.  Some of the best and most effective volunteers are those who can empathize with people in the trenches today.  You know their fear, their hopes, their sadness, and most importantly their needs.  

We all have experienced trauma…loss of a loved one to terminal illness, aging, or accident.  Some have experienced bad childhoods, disabilities, academic struggles, and more.  Find an organization that serves a need for those today where you have been before. 

Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Alzheimer’s Association

Full Circle 

Good Grief Center – 20 Tips for Bereavement Support

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09.24.2008 – Fighting Cancer for Those Who Cannot

betty2

Betty Seise, My “Second Mom”

Once in a lifetime someone makes a difference in your life.  I do not mean my parents, or my husband, my childhood best friend, or even my child.  Someone who takes an interest in your well-being for no reason except that they really give a crap about your future.  That was my mentor, and “second mom,” Betty Seise.

When I was a teenager, I worked as Betty’s assistant for a company where she was the Controller.  She guided and directed me through school, life decisions, and choosing a future.  She supported me when I was right, told me the truth when I was wrong, and encouraged me to the light when it was dark.  After her career advanced and I went on to college, Betty remained close by.  She was always interested in what I was doing with my life.  When I graduated from school, she told me, “The world is your oyster,” and I was inspired by that.

Betty was a champ.  She had her shares of ups and downs, but she was a self-made woman, a mom, a daughter, a wife, a leader, and a self-proclaimed life-long student.  She was charitable, helped others, and when you told her something you knew she was listening.

So, you can imagine my response when in the summer of 2008 I found out that she had cancer.  Stage 4, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, to be exact.  I began researching everything I could find on the disease, and found that 5 in 10 people go into remission post chemotherapy and radiation.  I was 100% confident she would be okay.  After all, Betty was a fighter. 51 years old, in impeccable shape, a healthy eater, and a holistic healer.  She was educated and well-read, so if anyone had a chance for survival…it was her.

Over the next ten weeks, the updates on Betty’s health were up and down.  Due to the cancer in her lymph nodes, large amounts of lymph fluid accumulated in her abdomen and under her arms.  Doctors had to surgically extract 1.8 liters here, 1.5 liters there, and it was excruciatingly painful for her.  She had to maintain iron levels in order to receive the chemotherapy treatments that were imperative to her survival.  She spent days in the hospital, lost a great deal of weight, could not eat, could hardly sleep, and eventually could not talk.  One day, her condition improved.  We had hope!  Then on a Monday night, I received the news that she was again hospitalized and was not expected to make it.

09.24.2008 is the day that Betty, my mentor, my second-mom, lost her battle to cancer.  And I started the fight.  4 months and 1 day before I was married.  Two years and one week before my daughter was born.  One day before her son turned 22.  One year before her oldest son earned his Master’s Degree.  And my life, like many others, has never been the same.

Betty is not the only one.  We all know somebody who has won, lost, or is still fighting the battle.  There is something that we can do to help.  All organizations that provide prevention to support for Cancer patients and their families need volunteers.  In fact, many rely on volunteer support to serve those in need.  Contact any hospital, cancer treatment center, hospice, American Cancer Society, or Leukemia and Lymphoma society and find out how you can help.  Or, volunteer to be a bone marrow donor. ALL of these organizations need volunteers, so JOIN THE FIGHT!

How are you volunteering to fight cancer?  Please share.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

American Cancer Society

Delete Blood Cancer – Bone Marrow Registry

Hospice Foundation of America

UC Davis Hospice Volunteer Program

When a Cause Hits Home – Volunteering with a Personal Purpose

When my brother AJ was a teenager, he wanted to buy a new guitar. Not just ANY guitar, an expensive one.  He counted the earnings from his part-time job, earned money doing odd jobs, and still came up short.  When all else failed, he suggested selling his pancreas on the black market!  That may sound hubris and odd to anyone who is NOT a teenager, or Type 1, but his pancreas does not work.  See, he has Type 1 Diabetes, and only a cure will make the difference.

Today, AJ turns 25 years old.  When he was diagnosed with T1D in 2003, experts believed there would be a cure by the time he was in his late 20s.  Now that he is officially at the midpoint, and there is not a cure in sight, fighting harder is my family’s only choice.

Ten years ago, AJ, an eagle scout, was at camp for a week in the wilderness.  On the second day, he became violently ill while replenishing his fluids with Gatorade.  By Saturday morning, when he came home, he had physically dropped over 20 lbs.  YES, 20 lbs.  In the middle of the night, he was so sick and his heart was beating so hard that he told my parents he thought he was dying.  Living in the country, they rushed him to the hospital.  Upon arrival he had lost vision and could not walk on his own.  When his blood sugar was 800 mg/dL (normal is 90-130mg/dL0) and his blood pressure was severe, he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  At 5’8, he was 88 lbs.

That was the beginning. His week-long stay in ICU included IVs, needle sticks, finger pokes, blood sugar measuring, and a completely new eating lifestyle.  As a teenager, his active endocrine system produced emotional highs and lows while coping with the physical effects of T1D as well as the emotional impact.  While getting his blood sugar under control, he would become very sick for hours.  If his sugar was low in the morning, he would not wake up…which extended the time he had gone without eating and compounded the problem.  He had to find his way to manage the disease and live like a teenager.  The worst part of it however, was the realization that his dream of becoming an officer in the U.S. Navy was now not possible.

My dream is that researchers will find a cure for T1D before it is too late for AJ’s kidneys and heart.  My great great grandmother died from T1D in 1913, when not a lot was known about the disease, so we have come a long way.  One of my favorite nonprofits, JDRF (formerly Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) sponsors events all over the world to raise money for researching a cure.  My local chapter has volunteer opportunities in my area, from working in their office or on an event to serving on the board and soliciting donations.  And there are many more ways ANYONE can make a difference.

Are YOU supporting a cause close to your heart?  Please share.  Make YOUR difference in the World…Volunteer!

Thank you, Shannon Nordmeyer for sharing your personal video about T1D!

JDRF

JDRF – Northern California Inland Chapter

JDRF Volunteer – Get Involved

JDRF NorCal – Get Involved

JDFR NorNV – Get Involved