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Today I have the privilege of introducing you to my dear friend Beckie Miller.   Beckie and her husband Ken have together faced down illness of extended family members, best friends, their children and themselves.  In 2005 Ken was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and he chronicles his journey at the blog "Actually It IS Brain Surgery." Beckie is our Guest Writer today, with the unique perspective of the care-giver. I just know you're going to love her words as much as I do.

If I were to list for you all the people in our life who have faced chronic or life-threatening illness you’d probably start running in the opposite direction.  Suffice it to say, we know a few …. including ourselves.  The one positive about this is, when meeting people for the first time who are facing a medical diagnosis, our personal story and experience give us some credibility.

There’s nothing more rewarding than being able to pass along knowledge that might help someone on their journey.  Through Ken’s blog www.ActuallyItIsBrainSurgery.blogspot.com we have the opportunity to connect with people from around the world.  We find ourselves repeatedly talking about certain issues that I refer to as my “soapboxes” ….. one of them being advocacy.

ADVOCATE FOR YOUR PATIENT

It’s pretty easy to find yourself overwhelmed in the medical process.  There’s not just physical stuff going on, but the emotional side gets kicked around pretty well too.  That’s why, as a patient, having an advocate is so very important.  NO ONE should EVER be in hospital or attending doctor appointments by themselves -- there's just too much room for error in the process ... especially when the patient is struggling physically or mentally, or is in pain. I’d say it’s next to impossible for the patient to advocate for themselves and a second 'ear' is always good when interpreting what the Doctors or other medical professionals might share with you. We often take my sister-in-law along with us to Ken’s neuro appointments.  Many times she has been the ‘voice of reason’ for us, both during the appointment by offering pointed questions and later, as we attempted to piece together all the new information that had been offered.

We live in amazing times and most likely the first thing most of us do when handed a medical diagnosis is to RUN to Google, so it may seem trite to remind you of some basics.  But utilizing the ‘basics’ will eventually give you a strong foundation for understanding and analyzing everything that may come your way on this journey.

So……          

Join an online support group - these can provide a broad over-view (you will need to use the grocery store method: take what you need and leave the rest)

Join a local support group -- these people will have invaluable information what type of support is available locally. They've ‘been there, done that’

Ask for reading suggestions -- and don’t worry if it all seems like gibberish, it will eventually begin to make sense.  It’s a lot like learning a new language.

ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF

The patient in your life gets a lot of attention …. as well they should.  But if you find yourself in the position of care-taking or advocating, you can’t forget yourself. There have been plenty of articles documenting stories of caretakers who actually pass before their patient.  It’s very easy to focus, focus, focus on taking care of everyone else but you. Guess how I know this? 

I’m still learning to give myself permission to address my physical and emotional needs.  My sister has been such a good example to me in this.  Her husband has Frontal Temporal Disease and most of their life together, as they knew it, has disintegrated.  She has found ways to nurture her heart and her body that allow her to gather her strength.  She gets therapeutic massages for stress, she walks to and from work through all four seasons, she bought a kayak and spends quiet, restful moments on the lake, she surrounds herself with people who are encouragers in word and deed, and when she’s having a really hard day she makes Apple Dumplings.  She’s practically world-renowned for those things!  She takes care of herself, because no one else can.  

I’m learning from her. I also try to remind myself not to hold my breath figuratively.  I’m trying not to put ‘life’ on hold as we walk out this process. It’s a really easy thing to do -- put your life on hold.  Then you look back and realize you haven’t enjoyed the little, everyday moments that make up a life.  I want to fully appreciate those moments -- reading out-loud from my mother-in-law’s journal as we complete yet another holiday round-trip drive, having the patience and time to let my grandkids ‘help’ prepare meals and together, work on a puzzle …. for the 10th time that day J, and getting lost in the eyes of our 3-week-old newest grandgirl, knowing therein lies an ocean of love.

Facing down illness is a tough road, full of twists and turns with always challenging and ever changing terrain.  The goal is to travel as gracefully as possible.  Together, we can help each other do that.  

Carey again: Yesterday we talked about looking at Alternatives in health care. I would like to point out that Ken underwent a surgical procedure called DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation) to help manage his tremors caused by Parkinson's Disease. While not experimental, DBS is not exactly "common" and Ken & Beckie had to do a fair bit of research to find out what it was and whether it would be a good fit for Ken.  Ken & Beckie talk about their journey with DBS on his blog and I'm certain they will be happy to answer any questions you might have about their experience with DBS and/or Parkinson's Disease.  
PS:  If you're new to our series, today is Day 7 of 31 Days Of Surviving Chronic Illness.  You can catch up on Day 1 here.