Helping Others Live and Heal at Home

When Mrs. P. was sent home from the hospital after breast cancer surgery her case workers feared a poor outcome. She was 85 years old, lived along and had no support system to help her manage simple daily activities that would help her live and heal successfully at home. Activities like dressing, taking care of her apartment, making nutritious meals and even getting to her treatments became monumental tasks.

The Cheryl Kay Foundation (CKF) understands the importance of lending a pair of helping hands to senior citizens like Mrs. P. “The help they need is simple, but essential to remaining in their own homes and postponing entry into nursing home and hospitals”, said Cheryl Kay Foundation board member, Kurt Kay. The Cheryl Kay Foundation was founded in memory of his sister, Cheryl Kay Stawovy.

Our mission is to improve the quality of living and independence of senior citizens in financial need and for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. They do this by funding CareGifts for in the home services for older adults in need and for breast cancer patients, of any age, who need help during treatment. This mission honors both Cheryl’s professional life as a home care agency owner and her battle with breast cancer, which she lost in 2013.

Before the Cheryl Kay Foundation stepped in, the hospital realized that Mrs. P. failed to return for follow up treatments. She stopped taking care of herself, fell into depression and as her case workers feared, Mrs. P.  had lost her will to live. Through a CareGift from the Foundation, a professional caregiver was sent into Mrs. P. ’s home to provide personal care assistance and companionship, which her social worker said was key to transforming Mrs. P. from “a patient with no will to live into one with a determined will to fight her illness.”

When Cheryl Kay Foundation Executive Director, Valerie Kay asked the hospital staff to explain how the simple solution of providing a pair of helping hands helped Mrs. P., she was told, “Even though the caregiver may only have been changing the sheets on Mrs. P.’s bed, they were taking time to talk to her and to encourage her while they were making the bed.” Comfort and companionship, coupled with a little bit of hands on care can really make a difference.

The Cheryl Kay Foundation – helping others to live and heal at home.

The Cheryl Kay Foundation (CKF) Case for a Dual Cause – Two Women’s Crisis

What does helping our aging population remain independent and in their homes have to do with helping women fight breast cancer? As Cheryl’s family and as an organization, we often wondered how our dual objectives resonate with the public. We no longer wonder, we now know that advocating independence for seniors and assisting women with breast cancer are not mutually exclusive endeavors.

These facts became as clear as a sunny day when CKF learned about Barbara and her mother. 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. Barbara’s diagnosis and circumstances were compounded by the fact that she was the sole caregiver for her ninety year old mother. Complications from Barbara’s treatment led to an emergency admission to the hospital with no time to arrange assistance for her mom. For vastly different reasons, both women were both vulnerable and frightened.

Typically, her mother’s needs are very simple and easily handled by her loving daughter. 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 her caring for her mom, certainly nothing that would warrant a costly and possibly perilous nursing home stay. However, without Barbara being available, there was concern that her mom 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, Barbara’s greatest fears and concerns were for her elderly mother. 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. Barbara 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 her mom’s life to spiral downward and out of control. Who will step in to help?

To some, Barbara’s diagnosis and health crisis may have been the perfect time for her mother 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 this desperate situation and we were thrilled to offer help to them both.   Providing a caregiver for this older woman is a gift that allows Barbara to focus on her own healing. In addition, the respite care that CKF provides gives Barbara an opportunity to step back from the front line and clearly and carefully lay the groundwork for a long term plan for herself and her mother.    By sharing the gift of care, CKF will bring peace of mind to this family.

We honor Cheryl’s life by enabling this older woman to remain independent and by providing care and assistance to Barbara 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.

Submitted by Valerie Kay

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