These facts became as clear as a sunny day when CKF learned about Molly and her Aunt Jane. Imagine being so ill from the rigors of breast cancer treatment that you cannot take care of your own personal needs, and that you are too ill to focus on the important business of resting, healing, and getting well. Now imagine that you are also the sole caregiver for an elderly relative. When we established CKF, we never dreamed that two women, one from each of the demographics that we serve, would need our help at the same time.
Any cancer diagnosis will turn a life upside down. Molly’s diagnosis and circumstances were compounded by the fact that she was the sole caregiver for her ninety year old aunt, Jane. Complications from Molly’s treatment led to an emergency admission to the hospital with no time to arrange assistance for her Aunt Jane. For vastly different reasons, Molly and Aunt Jane were both vulnerable and frightened.
Typically, Aunt Jane’s needs are very simple and easily handled by her loving niece. She’s an older adult, but she’s not ill, and can still do many things for herself. This near centenarian needs a bit of assistance navigating the kitchen and stairs and, depending on whether or not her arthritis is acting up, she might need help with other simple activities of daily life like bathing and dressing. There is nothing terribly difficult about Aunt Jane’s care, certainly nothing that would warrant a costly and possibly perilous nursing home stay. However, without Molly being available, there was concern that Aunt Jane might forget to eat and drink or try to take on things that are beyond her ability.
Despite being in the midst of her own health crisis, despite being in the battle for her own life, Molly’s greatest fears and concerns were for Aunt Jane. Who will make sure that she turned off the stove? Who will make sure that she got dressed? Who will make sure that she didn’t try to get that box down from the attic? Who will keep her company over dinner? Sometimes when it is impossible to answer the “Who will” questions, disaster ensues. Molly found it difficult to focus on her hospitalization and the treatment protocol that was being presented to her because she was keenly aware that her hospitalization may be the catalyst that would cause Aunt Jane’s life to spiral downward and out of control. Who will step in to help?
To some, Molly’s diagnosis and health crisis may have been the perfect time for Aunt Jane to go to a nursing home. After all, she is OLD and needs help. While there are often cases when transitioning to nursing home care is the right thing, there were many reasons why, for these two women, this would have been the worst scenario possible.
CKF was told of Molly and Aunt Jane’s desperate situation and we were thrilled to offer help to both of them. Providing a caregiver for Aunt Jane is a gift that allows Molly to focus on her own healing. In addition, the respite care that CKF provides gives Molly an opportunity to step back from the front line and clearly and carefully lay the groundwork for a long term plan for herself and Aunt Jane. By sharing the gift of care, CKF will bring peace of mind to this family.
We honor Cheryl’s life by enabling Aunt Jane to remain independent and by providing care and assistance to Molly as she battles breast cancer. In this case, we succeeded in simultaneously accomplishing both of our missions and showed that helping an aging population remain independent and at home is not mutually exclusive from providing assistance to someone battling breast cancer.