The Famous Faces Behind the Men of Caregiving

We think of the typical caregiver being a boomer-age woman caring for her older parents yet according to the National Alliance for Caregiving, men make up 34 percent of the 65 million caregivers across the country.

And those are men who are in primary caregiving roles – it does not represent the husbands, brothers and friends who are providing the support network for other caregivers. Whether it’s giving a sister a break like Patrick Dempsey did for his sisters who cared for their mom with ovarian cancer or providing the much-needed comfort and care for a caregiving wife like Seth Rogen does for his wife Lauren Miller who cares for her mom with Alzheimer’s disease, men are essential to the caregiving nation we are becoming.

This article celebrates our men who are caregivers – heroes all.  Following is a list of men you might know who have all been on the caregiving journey.

To the men of caregiving – we salute you!

Sons caring for parents

 

Baldwin-BrothersThe Baldwin Brothers – Alec, William, Stephen and Daniel comprise the famous Baldwin brothers – actors and activists all. Yet in their hearts they are mama’s boys – helping their two sisters care for their mom, Carol, who successfully battled breast cancer. Carol is one of the 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. according to the American Cancer Society.  She formed the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund where all four sons have been actively involved in helping to raise more than $3 million for medical research grants to find a cure.

Patrick Dempsey dreamstime_m_20160433 (2)Patrick Dempsey –On TV he plays “Dr. McDreamy” the brain surgeon eye candy on Grey’s Anatomy. In real life, Patrick has helped care for his mom, Amanda, as she survived two bouts of Stage IV ovarian cancer.  Providing the much-needed support for his two older sisters, Patrick commuted between his home base with his wife and children in Los Angeles cross country to his hometown in Maine where his mom and sisters live.  According to the National Cancer Institute, about 60-80 percent of ovarian cancer patients face a recurrence of the disease. Because of the stealth nature of ovarian cancer, Patrick said in an interview with Web MD, “Be relentless, question information, and double check it. Get a second opinion. Do your research.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seth Rogen dreamstime_xs_23106908 (2)Seth Rogen – Star of movies such as Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, comedic actor Seth Rogen is part of the caregiving team along with his wife who care for her mother with Alzheimer’s disease.  Diagnosed at age 55, Seth was shocked at how early Alzheimer’s can strike a family and how little people of his generation know about the disease.  Seth and his wife are two of the 15 million Americans who care for someone with dementia. This star of The Guilt Trip with Barbra Streisand (whose mom also had Alzheimer’s), Rogen realized Alzheimer’s is no laughing matter.  He is now an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association and has created, along with wife Lauren, the annual “Hilary for Charity” comedy improve event with fellow comedians such as Paul Rudd and Steve Carroll to raise funds and awareness among younger generations for the disease.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dwayne Johnson dreamstime_xs_23274249 (2) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – Playing superheroes, military warriors and loving dads on film and starring in the latest Fast and Furious movie, former professional wrestler Dwayne Johnson has also cared for a mom through lung cancer.  In 2010, Dwayne announced his mom had beaten stage 3 lung cancer where she had undergone chemotherapy and radiation. Dwayne told Jay Leno on his late night talk show, “She fought like a warrior.”  Just this summer. Dwayne purchased a white Cadillac for his mom, who had her car repossessed when he was growing up and she was a struggling single mom, in celebration of her ongoing cancer victory and as a thank you for always being there to support his dreams.

Rob Lowe dreamstime_m_19870699 (2)

Rob Lowe – In the ‘80s he was the heartthrob member of the famous Brat Pack and more recently his career has flourished in TV as a star in both dramas and sitcoms on The West Wing, Parks & Recreation and a recent campy turn in the HBO feature on Liberace, Behind the Candelabra starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Rob has also been a caregiver for both is mother and father who divorced when he was still in his teens. He lost his mom (and his grandmother and great-grandmother) to breast cancer and helped his dad through a successful battle with lymphoma. An advocate for both diseases, Rob has been the Lee National Denim Day ambassador for breast cancer and filmed a PSA TV spot for lymphoma about the risk of infection and other side effects of chemotherapy.

Joey McIntyre dreamstime_m_22662550 (2)Joey McIntyre – The ‘90s boy bander is out on the road with his Boston bandmates for a nostalgic tour for the older yet sexier NKOTB (formerly known as New Kids On the Block).  As one of nine kids growing up in Needham, Mass., Joey has also stepped into the spotlight as advocate and caregiver for his mom who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  When I interviewed Joey at the Alzheimer’s Association A Night At Sardi’s gala event (watch the interview with Joey here), he told me, ““It’s a process and it’s different for everybody . . . it is bittersweet because with my mom, she is still there, she’s got the one liners and she is so funny and she is still a performer but she doesn’t remember five minutes ago . . . it’s tough for the families.”

Bryan Cranston, Peter Gallagher, Victor GarberBryan Cranston (AMC’s Breaking Bad), Victor Garber (TV’s Alias, Titanic) and Peter Gallagher (USA Network’s Covert Affairs) – These three sons and TV/film stars have all cared for moms with Alzheimer’s disease.  Peter, who cared for his mom for the more than 20 years she lived with the disease, shared with me at an Alzheimer’s Association event, “An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be as devastating to the caregiver as to the person diagnosed. Doing it yourself, I don’t know how long you are going to last . . . [but] the more you understand about the disease the better.”  He also said that this disease can be “embarrassing” and “terrifying” but that is why the Alzheimer’s Association is a great place to start to find the help and support needed. (watch my full interview with Peter here)

 

 

 

Henry WinklerHenry Winkler – Even though it’s been 40 years since Happy Days appeared on TV screens, the cool biker with a heart, “The Fonz” is an enduring pop culture icon.  The actor who brought the Fonz to life is also a caregiver.  Henry serves as the ambassador for the Open Arms: Raising Awareness of Upper Limb Spasticity educational campaign with a mission to help those who are impacted by upper limb spasticity and do not know where to turn for help.  Personally impacted by the issue, Henry’s mother suffered a stroke and for 10 years Henry helped care for her she suffered from upper limb spasticity.

Husbands caring for wives

valerie harper and tony cacciottiTony Cacciotti – You may not know his name but you know his wife as “Rhoda” from the famous ‘70s TV show The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Husband of TV actress Valerie Harper who was recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Harper offered in interviews how “bereft” her husband was and that he was having a tough time handling the diagnosis.  At first, he hid the diagnosis from her until they received a second opinion.  Since then the couple are living life fully each day.  Harper has said, “We’re all terminal – it’s just a matter of when and where and how.”

Brosnan, Short, Wilder, MurdockPierce Brosnan (Bond movies, Remington Steele), Martin Short  (Saturday Night Live), Gene Wilder (Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Young Frankenstein) and David Murdock (billionaire owner of Dole Foods) – All four lost wives to ovarian cancer, known as the silent disease because symptoms are often masquerading as other health issues.  Brosnan helped wife Cassandra battle the disease for years until she succumbed at age 42. Martin Short lost wife Nancy Dolman to the disease.  Gene Wilder and David Murdock took the grief of their loss and turned it into centers for helping others and finding a cure.  Wilder, whose wife was comedian/actress Gilda Radner, sought various treatments for her cancer for three years.  In her memory he co-founded Gilda’s Club, now part of the Cancer Support Community. Murdock lost wife Gabrielle at age 43 and invested $500 million in personal wealth to create the leading research institute, North Carolina Research Campus, dedicated to using plant-based solutions to prevent chronic illness such as cancer.

paul-mccartney1Paul McCartney – As one of the famous Beatles, he sang, “Will you still love me when I’m 64?” When it came to love, Paul’s muse and partner for 29 years was beloved wife Linda.  He would have loved her beyond age 64 if she had survived.  Sadly, he lost her to breast cancer when she was only 56. In an interview with the Daily Mail, McCartney admitted to needing help with the loss, “I got a counsellor because I knew that I would need some help. He was great, particularly in helping me get rid of my guilt [about wishing I’d been] perfect all the time.”

mitt romneyMitt Romney – As a 2012 presidential candidate and successful former governor and businessman, Romney attributes much of his success in life to his wife Anne.  She gracefully lives with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting 2 million people worldwide.

U.S. Open - Round OnePhil Mickelson – The three-times U.S. Masters Golf Tournament pro became a caregiver in 2009 when his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  He suspended his playing career to help his wife through chemotherapy and care for their young children.

Hal Holbrook, Dixie Carter dreamstime_xs_18921771 (2)Hal Holbrook – Film actor Holbrook (Lincoln, Water for Elephants, Into the Wild) cared for his actress wife Dixie Carter (Designing Women) through her battle with endometrial cancer which she lost in 2010.

Facebook photoMichael Tucker – An early breakout role in Diner led to his best known starring role in TV’s L.A. Law where he appeared on the same screen with wife Jill Eikenberry. They are a great example of a caregiving team caring for Jill’s mom who has dementia.  Mike chronicled their caregiving journey in his humorous book, Family Meals.

Dads caring for special needs children

Montegna, Peete, GorhamJoe Montagena (Godfather Part III, TV’s Criminal Minds), Rodney Peete (NFL star quarterback),  Christopher Gorham (USA Network’s Covert Affairs)All three of these fathers have children on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Joe’s daughter Mia, now in her 20s, was born prematurely and eventually was diagnosed with autism.  Rodney’s son, R.J., was diagnosed at age three and is now a teen.  He wrote a book about his struggles in coping with his son’s diagnosis, Not My Boy! A Father, A Son and One Family’s Journey with Autism and runs the non-profit organization, HollyRod Foundation, he and wife Holly Robinson Peete founded to help families facing Parkinson’s disease and autism. Christopher’s son was diagnosed a few years ago at age 9 with Asperger’s syndrome.  He has talked about getting outside help with everyday tasks such as grocery shopping and housecleaning so he and his wife can dedicate time to the therapies and interventions needed for their son while also caring for two other children.

colin farrellColin Farrell – known for his bad boy behavior and mesmerizing film roles, Colin says his life changed when his oldest son was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder known as Angelman syndrome.  Characterized by jerky movements, sleeping problems, developmental disability and seizures which can be treated, there is no cure for the disorder.  Colin has said in interviews when your child takes his first steps, you hold your breath but when your special needs child finally takes a step after being told he may never walk, “those first steps take you into a whole different realm.”

John McGinleyJohn C. McGinley –Best known for his starring role on TV’s Scrubs, he’s also starred in films such as Platoon, Wall Street  and most recently 42, John has a teen son with Down syndrome (DS).  A longtime advocate for DS organizations, he currently is on the board of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.  One in every 691 births result in a child with DS and after age 40, DS adults have a 100 percent risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well.

Brothers caring for a sibling

Jamie foxxJamie Foxx – He’s an Oscar-winning star (Ray) and music artist but Jamie is most proud of his sister, DeOndra, who has not let her Down syndrome hold her back.  As an ambassador for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, DeOndra has danced onstage with Denzel Washington and appeared with her famous brother in front of millions at the Grammys and even appeared in one of his music videos.  Caring for family comes naturally to Jamie – as he told Entertainment Tonight, “This little lady right here lives with me along with my other sister, along with my father and my mother. So, we’re one big happy family.”

Ashton Kutcher dreamstime_xs_21212521 (2)Ashton Kutcher –Starring on one of TV’s highest rated sitcoms, Two and a Half Men, Ashton is a loving twin brother to Michael who was born with cerebral palsy and cardiomyopathy requiring a heart transplant at age 13.  As the family anxiously waited for a donor heart, Ashton said he actually contemplated suicide just so he could save his twin brother’s life.  Michael told a People magazine reporter, “Ashton never left my side,” talking of his brother’s devotion. “He showed me the love one brother has for another.” Michael currently serves as a spokesperson for the Reaching for the Stars Foundation that helps children with cerebral palsy which his brother also supports.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy Hilfiger dreamstime_m_16272164 (2)Tommy Hilfiger – Fashion designer Tommy has been a 22-year supporter of the Nancy Davis Foundation Race to Erase MS event mostly to raise awareness and funds for a disease his sister has lived with for more than 40 years.  His sister Dorothy, now 61, has lived with multiple sclerosis since her teens.  Her one-year-older brother, Tommy, one of nine children, told WebMD, “When you see someone’s life change as a result of a disease, it really hits home.”

Friends and Lovers

both-of-us-ryan-oneal-farrah-fawcettRyan O’Neal – He was the tragic star of the ‘70s movie Love Story in which he lost his love and soul mate (played by Ali MacGraw) to cancer.  But film turned to reality when he cared for long-time love Farrah Fawcett as she battled  and lost her life to anal cancer.  He chronicled their love affair and those last three years trying new therapies and traveling to Germany for experimental treatments to find a cure for her cancer in his 2012 book, Both of Us: My Life with Farrah.

 CastofCaregivers Cover FINALThese stories excerpted from A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care

©2015 Sherri Snelling

September – Prostate & Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

SEP Prostate, Ovarian Month

September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness and National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Each year, 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 220,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Learn more about prevention, treatment and support groups for these cancers from American Cancer Society.

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Read our CEO, Sherri Snelling’s interview with Alana Stewart on her caregiving journey with best friend, Farrah Fawcett, who battled another type of rare anal cancer.

Alana Stewart and Farrah Fawcett – Caring for an Angel

 

The Wish to Have Death with Dignity

brittany-maynard-1-435The physician-assisted end-of-life debate received a jolt the last few weeks as an unlikely heroine for the Death With Dignity movement emerged in the 29-year-old terminally ill brain cancer patient Brittany Maynard. Given the choice of a painful death where her seizures will multiply, intensify and last longer, her memory loss will become permanent and her excruciating headaches will rob of her of any peaceful, pain-free moments, Maynard chose to end her life her way. Along with her newlywed husband and her mother and stepfather, Maynard moved this summer from Northern California to Portland, Oregon, one of only four states where adults with terminal diagnoses can legally determine when and how they will die.

The death with dignity movement began back in the early ‘90s in Oregon when a ballot measure passed and eventually became law in 1997. The definition of death with dignity is that mentally competent adults who have a terminal illness may request a doctor prescription for life-ending medication that will be self-administered.  It was around this same time that Jack Kervorkian became a lightning rod for the controversial act of euthanasia where in his estimation he helped 130 people in physician-assisted suicide.  To date, Oregon, Montana, Washington and Vermont have state laws protecting death with dignity decisions and legally allowing participating physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminal patients for self-administration.  New Mexico courts have upheld cases although appeals are in progress and several other states have pending death with dignity legislation including Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and a measure is set to be introduced in Colorado in January.

Over the last 20 years, national Gallup polls have shown the majority of Americans – 70 percent – support death with dignity rights for individuals. And while end-of-life conversations are difficult, especially for adult children serving as family caregivers for their older parents, a Pew Research study found 35 percent of Americans have actually put their wishes in writing.

In order to ensure wishes are carried out, it is not just enough to discuss it with family. Having a legally binding document, typically a living will, durable power of attorney for medical decisions and a do not resuscitate (DNR) or do not intubate (DNI) order documents are required. One document that is lesser known but extremely powerful and helpful to caregivers is called The 5 Wishes. More than 18 million Americans have created a 5 Wishes document that meets legal requirements as a living will in 42 states. The document outlines: 1) Who you want to make your health care decisions if you are unable; 2) The type of medical treatment you want or don’t want; 3) How comfortable you want to be; 4) How you want people to treat you; 5) What you want your loved ones to know.

Trends in health care show as a nation we are learning how to die with dignity. With the increase in hospice care at home or in long-term care facilities, more than half of the 2.5 million people who die every year can receive compassionate care where a team of health care and spiritual experts help the patient and family members cope with end of life. But that does not mean end-of-life wishes are overlooked in the hospital setting where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report one-third of all deaths occur.

In May, several Los Angeles area hospitals and health care providers endorsed some groundbreaking guidelines on how to facilitate patient end-of-life wishes. The coalition included: Cedars Sinai Hospital, Healthcare Partners Medical Group, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Keck Medicine of USC, Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center, Memorial Care Health System, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance, Providence Trinity Care Hospice and UCLA Health System.  The guidelines require doctors, normally only schooled in saving lives, to explain clearly to patients when a medical treatment under consideration, such as feeding tubes, intubation or dialysis may deprive the person of life closure or preclude a peaceful death. The guidelines are the compassionate care California health care organizations are striving to achieve where patients have the chance to say to a loved one, “I love you,” “Forgive me,” or “Good-bye” one last time.

When Maynard’s April YouTube video about ending her life on her terms went viral and recently surpassed 9 million views, it was because a youthful, vibrant, newly married woman was deciding how her life would soon end.  But dying at 29 or 99 should be the same. Maynard said at the time, “I had no choice to be diagnosed with a brain tumor but I can make a choice how I spend my last day.” For Maynard that means spending it surrounded by family in her bed at home and free of terrible pain. She was upset that people would see her choice as suicide calling that label for her situation “really unfair.”

For the person with the diagnosis, the dilemma is how not to have death affect loved ones in devastating ways. Maynard’s argument for choosing death with dignity is to spare her husband and parents the struggle of watching her in pain, losing her quality of life day by day, hour by hour.

Although Maynard released a second video last week explaining that while her health continues its rapid decline, she can still smile and laugh with family and friends and that she may let the November 1 chosen date pass, as I write this article the news reports Maynard has in fact taken her last breath in the arms of her husband and mother.

Maynard’s mother, Debbie Ziegler, had said she would be “honored” to become a caregiver for her adult daughter as she loses her faculties. Ziegler would have lovingly bathed, fed and diapered her adult daughter as she had when she was a child. But in the end, Maynard’s mother said the decision is her daughter’s.

“It’s not my job to tell her how to live and it’s not my job to tell her how to die,” said Ziegler on the video.  “It is my job to love her through it.”

It is this gift of choice about how and when we will die that may be most precious to all of us and the gift which family caregivers can become the partner in fulfilling.

 

Caring for a Best Friend – On Wings of An Angel

In honor of National Friendship Day – August 3 – we celebrate the special caregiving friendship of Alana Stewart and Farrah Fawcett. Here is their story…

farrah, alana from book coverSome friendships last a lifetime.  And then there is Alana and Farrah.   For Alana Stewart and the late Farrah Fawcett their friendship continues even though Alana lost her dear friend of more than 30 years in 2009.  Theirs is a true love story – it’s about sharing your innermost secrets, having each other’s back, laughing when you want to cry, taking the good with the bad, never giving up on each other.  This kind of friendship is rare.

When it comes to caregiving, many friends will bake a casserole, visit you in the hospital or help by picking up your kids at soccer practice.  Not many will put their own lives on pause for almost three years to chase promising new cancer treatments half way across the world, be your advocate with health care professionals, hold your head and hand while you spend hours with nausea from chemotherapy.  That is love.

When I told Alana how rare her friendship with Farrah is, she responded, “I didn’t think it was so rare, it was just the thing to do.”  And when Farrah asked Alana to be with her in Germany and the U.S. while she sought treatment, there was no question in Alana’s mind that she would be there for her friend.

Over the course of three years, from Farrah’s anal cancer diagnosis in 2006 to her death in 2009, Alana was by Farrah’s side.  She made several trips with Farrah to Germany to seek new treatments not yet approved in the U.S.  Alana recalls how hard it was to watch her friend go through painful surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments that were helping her fight the cancer but were also beating down her immune system making the athletic Farrah so weak.

“Farrah had such amazing courage and faith, we never even talked about the possibility of these treatments not working,” says Stewart.

As is typical in caregiving situations, Alana became Farrah’s protector.  For instance, she ensured no paparazzi caught a photo of Farrah in a wheelchair.  Alana explains this wasn’t vanity on Farrah’s part it was her not wanting other cancer patients to feel she was losing the fight or that she was weak – she wanted to be strong for the people who had written her letters about being their inspiration.

Alana also became Farrah’s advocate with various health care professionals.  While the choices Farrah made for her treatment were all her own – Alana took notes and asked a lot of questions and at Farrah’s request, documented the conversations on video that became an Emmy-nominated NBC documentary, “Farrah’s Story” that aired one month before Farrah’s passing in 2009.

“It is a really rare friend who steps in like a family member to be a primary caregiver,” says Dr. Rosemary Laird, medical director at the Health First Aging Institute in Florida.

One thing Alana and I spoke about was the healing power of friendship.  “There are a lot of studies about people who have love in their lives who have a better chance of recovery,” says Stewart.  “Love is a very healing energy…knowing someone is in your corner as you battle an illness is really important because it makes you feel like you are not going through this alone.”

When it comes to the power of friendships, a book called Connected:  The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, illuminates how friendships can hold sway over us (and us over them) in both good and bad ways.  This influence can extend to three degrees of friendship and according to the authors, having a first-degree friend who is happy increases the likelihood of your happiness factor by 15 percent.

Healing Herself By Helping Others

alana-stewart-headshot-002 (2) from AlanaOne of the things that Alana promised Farrah is that she would carry out her wishes to continue the work of the foundation Farrah had established to help those families facing cancer.

Today, Alana is president of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to exploring non-traditional methods of cancer research and clinical trials, such as gene therapy and targeted therapy, and providing early detection and preventative programs.  If Farrah could not find the cure in her lifetime, she wanted to ensure the foundation created in her name would do it for others after she was gone – and Alana is the keeper of that flame.

The foundation hosts conferences with leading cancer researchers and experts around the globe.  Recent gatherings have focused on chemo sensitivity testing.  The foundation is also dedicated to helping caregivers and families directly.  The Farrah Fawcett Patient Assistance Fund helps families struggling with financial challenges while going through cancer treatment.  “Whether it’s meals or hotel bills or even parking costs for every day when you are at a medical center while your loved one gets treatment, our program provides direct financial help to those families in need,” says Stewart.

Being at the helm of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation has helped Alana keep Farrah’s memory and legacy alive.  Alana’s message and her mission with the foundation is what Farrah wanted – to give back to the world, something Alana says she learned from the experience of caring for Farrah.  In the end, Alana just wants her friend to be proud of the foundation work that carries her name.

Stewart says one of the other things she learned about her journey with Farrah was the importance of doing something for another person.

“Getting out of yourself and your own problems and just showing up for someone.  What I learned is to try to appreciate every day of your life because it can take a turn and change in a heartbeat,” says Stewart.  “You also learn to value the friends in your life and not take love and families for granted.”

My Journey with FarrahIn Alana’s book, My Journey with Farrah, Ryan O’Neal, Farrah’s longtime love and companion writes, “The bond between women friends is all-powerful and not to be taken lightly.  But the bond between Alana and Farrah is like nothing I’ve ever seen between two women.  They grew together like vines.”

You can follow the activities of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation on Facebook and Alana Stewart on Twitter at AlanaKStewart.

More of Alana and Farrah’s story can be found in Sherri Snelling’s book, A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care.

September is National Prostate and Ovarian Cancer Month

Sept Ovarian, Prostate Cancer MonthIn the U.S., 1 in 73 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 14,000 will die from the disease.  Prostate cancer is of the most common cancer for men regardless of race or ethnicity with  more than 200,000 new cases and 28,000 deaths each year.  Annual screenings are essential to survival rates.  Caregivers have reported often neglecting these annual exams. Don’t put it off – get screened today particularly if you have a family history of either disease. Your life may depend on it.

Carrying On After Caring for Farrah

farrah, alana from book coverSome friendships last a lifetime.  And then there is Alana and Farrah.   For Alana Stewart and the late Farrah Fawcett their friendship continues even though Alana lost her dear friend of more than 30 years in 2009.  Theirs is a true love story – it’s about sharing your innermost secrets, having each other’s back, laughing when you want to cry, taking the good with the bad, never giving up on each other.  This kind of friendship is rare.

When it comes to caregiving, many friends will bake a casserole, visit you in the hospital or help by picking up your kids at soccer practice.  Not many will put their own lives on pause for almost three years to chase promising new cancer treatments half way across the world, be your advocate with health care professionals, hold your head and hand while you spend hours with nausea from chemotherapy.  That is love.

When I told Alana how rare her friendship with Farrah is, she responded, “I didn’t think it was so rare, it was just the thing to do.”  And when Farrah asked Alana to be with her in Germany and the U.S. while she sought treatment, there was no question in Alana’s mind that she would be there for her friend.

Over the course of three years, from Farrah’s anal cancer diagnosis in 2006 to her death in 2009, Alana was by Farrah’s side.  She made several trips with Farrah to Germany to seek new treatments not yet approved in the U.S.  Alana recalls how hard it was to watch her friend go through painful surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments that were helping her fight the cancer but were also beating down her immune system making the athletic Farrah so weak.

“Farrah had such amazing courage and faith, we never even talked about the possibility of these treatments not working,” says Stewart.

As is typical in caregiving situations, Alana became Farrah’s protector.  For instance, she ensured no paparazzi caught a photo of Farrah in a wheelchair.  Alana explains this wasn’t vanity on Farrah’s part it was her not wanting other cancer patients to feel she was losing the fight or that she was weak – she wanted to be strong for the people who had written her letters about being their inspiration.

Alana also became Farrah’s advocate with various health care professionals.  While the choices Farrah made for her treatment were all her own – Alana took notes and asked a lot of questions and at Farrah’s request, documented the conversations on video that became an Emmy-nominated NBC documentary, “Farrah’s Story” that aired one month before Farrah’s passing in 2009.

“It is a really rare friend who steps in like a family member to be a primary caregiver,” says Dr. Rosemary Laird, medical director at the Health First Aging Institute in Florida.

One thing Alana and I spoke about was the healing power of friendship.  “There are a lot of studies about people who have love in their lives who have a better chance of recovery,” says Stewart.  “Love is a very healing energy…knowing someone is in your corner as you battle an illness is really important because it makes you feel like you are not going through this alone.”

When it comes to the power of friendships, a book called Connected:  The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, illuminates how friendships can hold sway over us (and us over them) in both good and bad ways.  This influence can extend to three degrees of friendship and according to the authors, having a first-degree friend who is happy increases the likelihood of your happiness factor by 15 percent.

Healing Herself By Helping Others

alana-stewart-headshot-002 (2) from AlanaOne of the things that Alana promised Farrah is that she would carry out her wishes to continue the work of the foundation Farrah had established to help those families facing cancer.

Today, Alana is president of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to exploring non-traditional methods of cancer research and clinical trials, such as gene therapy and targeted therapy, and providing early detection and preventative programs.  If Farrah could not find the cure in her lifetime, she wanted to ensure the foundation created in her name would do it for others after she was gone – and Alana is the keeper of that flame.

The foundation hosts conferences with leading cancer researchers and experts around the globe.  Recent gatherings have focused on chemo sensitivity testing.  The foundation is also dedicated to helping caregivers and families directly.  The Farrah Fawcett Patient Assistance Fund helps families struggling with financial challenges while going through cancer treatment.  “Whether it’s meals or hotel bills or even parking costs for every day when you are at a medical center while your loved one gets treatment, our program provides direct financial help to those families in need,” says Stewart.

Being at the helm of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation has helped Alana keep Farrah’s memory and legacy alive.  Alana’s message and her mission with the foundation is what Farrah wanted – to give back to the world, something Alana says she learned from the experience of caring for Farrah.  In the end, Alana just wants her friend to be proud of the foundation work that carries her name.

Stewart says one of the other things she learned about her journey with Farrah was the importance of doing something for another person.

“Getting out of yourself and your own problems and just showing up for someone.  What I learned is to try to appreciate every day of your life because it can take a turn and change in a heartbeat,” says Stewart.  “You also learn to value the friends in your life and not take love and families for granted.”

My Journey with FarrahIn Alana’s book, My Journey with Farrah, Ryan O’Neal, Farrah’s longtime love and companion writes, “The bond between women friends is all-powerful and not to be taken lightly.  But the bond between Alana and Farrah is like nothing I’ve ever seen between two women.  They grew together like vines.”

You can follow the activities of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation on Facebook and Alana Stewart on Twitter at AlanaKStewart.

More of Alana and Farrah’s story can be found in Sherri Snelling’s book, A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care.

Billionaire & Caregiver David Murdock Talks Healthy Living

David Murdock horsebackridingOne of the hardest challenges for caregivers is to maintain their own health & wellness.  Billionaire 90-year-old David Murdock, who cared for his wife, says healthy living is the key to the physical stamina and mental strength to keep going as a caregiver.  Read Sherri Snelling’s interview with Mr. Murdock for PBS Next Avenue.

Celebrity Spotlight

Caregiving Club CEO, Sherri Snelling, interviews celebrities from movies, TV, Broadway, sports, news, music and politics who are or have been a family caregiver.

In November we honor all the nation’s caregivers – those caring for older parents or family members, those caring for spouses, those caring for siblings or special needs children and those caring for friends — with special interviews all month long.

Read all the celebrity interviews by clicking here.

And the Awards Goes to . . . Fourth Annual CARE-Y Awards™ – Caregivers on TV

For the last four years I have bestowed my own version of the Emmy Awards – something I call the CARE-Y Awards™ that acknowledges both the reel stars and programs in the past year’s TV offerings and the real life caregivers who appear on TV.

Here are my top picks for the 2011-2012 season for the Fourth Annual CARE-Y Awards from the Caregiving Club:

 

 

 

“Reel Life” CARE-Y Awards – Playing a Caregiver on TV

Best long-distance caregiver on TV:  Chief Brenda Lee Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) – The Closer

We’ve watched actress Kyra Sedgwick catch the bad guys as Los Angeles Police Department Captain, Brenda Lee Johnson, on TNT’s The Closer.  However, in this final season of the series, it was Brenda’s father (played by actor Barry Corbin) who caught a different kind of bad guy:  thyroid cancer.  Brenda uses her power within the LAPD to influence a doctor suspected of Medicare fraud to treat her father in one of his clinical trials.  She also has her Atlanta-based parents move into her Los Angeles home for her father’s treatment and witnesses the toll that caregiving has taken on her mother (played by Frances Sternhagen) – which leads to a tragic conclusion in the episode, Last Rites.

Best caregiver for multiple loved ones on TV:  Carrie Wells (Poppy Montgomery) – Unforgettable

On the CBS drama, Unforgettable, actress Poppy Montgomery plays Carrie Wells, a police investigator with hyperthymesia, a rare autobiographical memory ability first identified by researchers in 2006 with only 20 reported cases worldwide to date.  Interestingly, in real life actress Marilu Henner is one of the 20 people with this extraordinary gift.  Henner plays Carrie’s aunt in several episodes this season in which her character has early on-set Alzheimer’s.  Since Carrie’s mom suffers from the same disease and her aunt is childless, Carrie promises to be caregiver to both her mom and her aunt as their Alzheimer’s progresses. Unforgettable was also honored this year by the Alzheimer’s Association with the Abe Burrows Entertainment Award at the 20th Annual A Night at Sardi’s event. Watch clip

See Caregiving Club’s interview with Marilu from the Alzheimer’s Association A Night At Sardi’s event

Best Spousal Caregiver:  Dr. Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.) – Grey’s Anatomy

Receiving this honor for the second year in a row, I give the award to Dr. Richard Webber (played by actor James Pickens, Jr.)  who was the hospital chief of surgery on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. For the last few seasons we’ve followed his journey as a caregiver for his wife Adele (played by Loretta Devine) who has early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.  This year we watched her disease progress as she became violent and Richard struggled with the dilemma of whether to care for her at home or choose to have her move to a memory care facility.  Typical of many caregivers, Richard is in denial about not being able to care for his wife at home.  Meredith Grey (actress Ellen Pompeo) recommends he check Adele into the same assisted living facility where her mom with Alzheimer’s lived (played on past seasons by Alzheimer’s Champion Kate Burton). Watch clip

Best caregiver to a special needs child on TV:  Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland) – Touch

Actor Kiefer Sutherland plays single father, Martin Bohm, to his autistic 11-year-old son, Jake (played by exceptional young actor David Mazouz) in Fox’s new series, Touch.  After losing his wife in the World Trade Center on 9/11, Martin desperately tries to reach his son who has never spoken since birth.  However, like many autism spectrum disorder (ASD) children, Jake is exceptionally gifted with numbers and understands the unique way number sequences connect everyone on earth.  Blending mystery, thriller and spirituality into a single TV program, Martin struggles with having his son treated while living in a board-and-care facility only to realize this decision was a mistake forcing him into a custody battle with his wife’s sister and eventually propelling father and son to go on the run.  Watch clip

Best sibling/friend caregivers:  Maggie (Amy Hargreaves) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) – Homeland

Showtime brings us Homeland, one of the most riveting new TV dramas that takes a poignant look at both PTSD and mental illness.  Claire Danes plays CIA agent Carrie Mathison who is both brilliant and bi-polar. As she struggles to help others see that the U.S. POW hero who recently returned home could be a terrorist she also struggles to keep her mental illness a secret from her employer with the help of her physician sister, Maggie (actress Amy Hargreaves) and her CIA mentor, Saul Berenson (actor Mandy Patinkin).  Carrie’s meltdown at the end of this season followed by her choice to do electro-shock therapy is heartwrenching and gives us a glimpse into the often painful lives of those with mental illness.  In my opinion, Claire Danes is Emmy-worthy in this role. Watch clip of Saul as Carrie has a manic phase in the hospital

Watch real life CIA undercover agent discuss Carrie’s bi-polar disease and her brilliance as an agent.

Best Caregiver in a Crisis – Dr. Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander) – Rizzoli & Isles

This great TNT drama about two friends – one a Boston detective (played by Angie Harmon) and one a medical examiner (played by Sasha Alexander) showcased an episode where Dr. Isles unexpectedly has to make a DNR (do not resuscitate) decision for the father (John Doman) she never knew she had.  Great example of how not knowing your loved one’s wishes can force you into difficult decisions about their care. In another episode, Dr. Isles becomes caregiver to her mother (played by (Jacqueline Bisset) after she is in an auto accident.

 Best Made for TV Movie Caregiver:  Billie Clark (Kristin Davis) in Of Two Minds

This Lifetime original movie features Kristin Davis as Billie Clark, caregiver to her sister (played by Tammy Blanchard) who has schizophrenia.  The movie showcases the struggle of caring for a loved one with mental illness. Billie’s dilemma is that she loves her sister and wants her to live with her family but cannot cope with the havoc she wreaks including trying to seduce both her husband and her young son and ruining occasions such as an anniversary party.

 

 

Best Caregiving from another Era:  Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) on Downton Abbey

In season 2 of this wildly popular PBS drama, star-crossed lovers and distant cousins, Mary and Matthew, find themselves engulfed in the ravages of Britain’s fighting during World War I.  Matthew (played by Dan Stevens) returns home with severe injuries and may not live.  Mary plays caregiver to Matthew who recovers by season’s end.

 

 

Best Caregiver of a Grandparent:  Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) on Suits

This season, young lawyer Mike dealt with the decline of his grandmother (played by Rebecca Schull) who raised him since he was a young boy after his parents died.  Mike has to face moving his grandmother into a nursing home and she passes away suddenly in one of the last episodes.  In this same episode, Harvey (played by Gabriel Macht), who plays Mike’s boss, deals with his father’s sudden death from a heart attack.

 

Best veterans caregivers on TV: Army Wives, Grey’s Anatomy, Homeland

Showing the wounds of war are several shows:  Roland Burton (played by Sterling K. Brown) is a psychiatrist who cares for his army lieutenant wife, Joan (played by Wendy Davis) who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on Lifestime’s  Army Wives; Cristina Yang (played by Sandra Oh) and Major Owen Hunt (played by Kevin McKidd, another real-life Alzheimer’s Champion) are surgeons and husband and wife on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.  They have struggled with his PTSD after his tour in Afghanistan but the slow burn of his problems finally pull them apart this season.  New Showtime program, Homeland, offers up a different look at PTSD – not from combat but from being a prisoner of war (POW) – as Sargent Nicholas Brody (played by Damian Lewis) comes home to his wife Jessica (played by Morena Baccarin) but cannot cope with transitioning back to a normal life.

Best Caregiving Special or Documentary:  Your Turn to CareKCET (Hosted by Holly Robinson Peete and Produced by Margaret Hussey)

This several part series takes viewers through the various issues many caregivers face:  when and how to discuss driving retirement with a parent, how to plan for long-term care, etc. showcasing real life caregiving situations.

View clips and see the Web site

 

Special Recognition Awards:

Best PSA Campaign and show integration:  Hot in Cleveland where actresses Betty White, Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves star in a public service announcement about heart disease as the No. 1 killer of women and integrated that message into an episode storyline.

 

 

 

Best Advertising:  Depends starring Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna – kudos to gorgeous real-life TV star couple for starring in a TV commercial about absorbent briefs showing that incontinence issues can hit even when you still look great on the outside.

 

 

“Real Life” CARE-Y Awards – Caregivers on TV

Best Caregiver of a Morning Show Host – Sally Ann Roberts, sister to Robin, co-host of Good Morning America

Robin Roberts, co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America who beat breast cancer five year ago was hit again – this time with MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome), a type of pre-leukemia that attacks the blood and bone marrow.  In an emotional message, she told viewers she would be undergoing a life-saving bone marrow transplant and the donor would be her sister, Sally Ann.  Both Robin and Sally Ann talk about the importance of organ donation and encourage everyone to sign up for a donor registry such as bethematch.org.  The transplant took place on September 20 and I wish Robin and Sally Ann swift, successful recoveries.

 

 

 

Best Caregivers Who Are Lead Actors in a Drama Series – Peter Gallagher and Bryan Cranston 

This is a tie between Peter Gallagher, who plays Arthur Campbell, head of the CIA on Covert Affairs on USA Network and Bryan Cranston who plays Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad.  Both Peter and Bryan cared for mothers who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and are Alzheimer’s Association Champions. (See Caregiving Club’s interview with Peter Gallagher from the Alzheimer’s Association A Night at Sardi’s event).

 

Best Caregivers Who Are Lead Actresses in a Drama SeriesMadeleine Stowe, Glenn Close, Marg Helgenberger

Another tie –this time three ways – Madeline Stowe, who plays evil Victoria Grayson on ABC’s Revenge and Glenn Close who has won an Emmy in the past for playing evil Patty Hewes on DirectTV’s Damages.   Madeleine was a young caregiver to her father who suffered from multiple sclerosis and Glenn cares for a sister who has bi-polar disorder and who stars with her sister in PSA’s and created a foundation, BringChange2Mind.org to raise awareness for mental illness.  Marg Helgenberger, who played her 12th and final season this year on CBS’s top-rated drama, CSI, was a caregiver for both her mom with breast cancer and her father who died from complications of multiple sclerosis.  (See Caregiving Club’s interview with Marg from the Nancy Davis Race to Erase MS event).

Best Caregiver Who Is a Talk Show Host – Katie Couric

The Katie Show, which debuted to high ratings for ABC, is hoted by longtime news anchor, Katie Couric, who cared for her husband who died of colon cancer.  Her sister also passed away from pancreatic cancer.  Couric has been a tireless advocate for colon cancer screenings and education and supports the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s (EIF) Stand Up 2 Cancer campaign.

 

 

 

 

Kudos to Programs That Show Ability Rather Than Disability, Disease or Disorder:

The wonderful guest actor Michael J.Fox on CBS’s The Good Wife who plays a cunning lawyer with Parkinson’s disease – which Fox lives with in real life.

 

 

Showing that blind doesn’t keep you from spy work – Christopher Gorham plays Augie who is a blind CIA analyst often saving Annie (Piper Perabo) on USA Network’s Covert Affairs.

 

 

Artie (played by Kevin McHale) is a singer/guitarist on Fox’s Glee who just happens to also be a paraplegic in a wheelchair.

 

 

Eric McCormack plays brilliant but paranoid schizophrenic neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Pierce on the new TNT seriesPerception.

 

 

My special thanks to the writers, directors and producers who help shed more light on caregiving in their programming.  And, special thanks to those real-life caregivers who help the 65 million caregivers across the country know they are not alone when these high-profile celebrities talk of their own caregiving experiences.

If you have a nomination for a reel or real life caregiver, send me your suggestions at info@caregivingclub.com.  

Click on these links to see previous year’s awards:

2011 – Third Annual CARE-Y Awards

2010 – Second Annual CARE-Y Awards

2009 – First Annual CARE-Y Award winners.

Read about celebrity caregivers and “what to expect when you’re caregiving” in Sherri’s new book, A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care published by Balboa Press, division of Hay House Publishing in Feb, 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9/11 Created Heroes and Caregivers

It’s been 11 years since the attacks on 9/11.  Many today, including myself, are reflecting on those lost and honoring those heroes who emerged out of the ashes of Ground Zero, the Pentagon and the fields in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  We also honor our men and women around the globe fighting terror.

But there is another group who deserves our praise and support today – a group who had no choice in their role and who were the unwitting recipients of the fall-out of the World Trade Center (WTC) attacks:  caregivers.

Since that unbelievably sunny day in New York City 11 years ago, the dark shadow of death has visited 1,000 families.  These were not the more than 3,000 victims trapped inside the burning, collapsing Towers – these are the post-9/11 deaths linked to environmental hazards from “the pile” at Ground Zero.  Many of the first responders – those firefighters, police officers, Port Authority officers and others – who worked endless hours amidst the dust and debris that became the gaping hole in New York’s Wall Street district have since been suffering from respiratory and pulmonary problems.

Yesterday, the National Institute of Safety recommended 50 types of cancer be covered for 9/11 responders – more than 70,000 surviving first responders who will get aid and health care support for their heroism.  According to John Howard, the administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program, they have announced the long-debated coverage for first responders diagnosed with  more than 50 types of cancer will be covered including lung, colorectal, breast, bladder, leukemia, melanoma and all childhood cancers.

According to ABC News report yesterday, “Those who worked at the WTC site seem to be at increased risk of cancer, especially thyroid cancer, melanoma and lymphoma. According to a study released of nearly 10,000 New York firefighters (half of whom worked at the WTC site), those from the site are 32 percent more likely to have cancer.”

More than 12 million Americans are battling some type of cancer today according to the American Cancer Society.  While many cancers are treatable and survivable if caught early, the impact of caring for a loved one through radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, etc. can also takes its toll on the family caregiver.

Since I view America’s family caregivers as the first responders in the health care and long-term care crisis in this country, here are my thoughts on how to prepare to care:

1. Never fail to communicate

One of the Monday morning quarterback elements of September 11th was the appalling breakdown of communication between the various agencies established to safeguard our citizens.  Communication breakdown can also occur when you face a family caregiving situation.

Sensitivities to having those uncomfortable conversations about long-term care with your loved one, denial our loved one is ailing or declining, lack of communication or agreement between family members involved can all lead to a lack of unpreparedness.  This puts us in a similar situation as the first responders for 9/11 – dealing with a crisis.  By having the conversation with your loved one and other family members prior to the crisis, you can then have a plan in place to take some of the stress out of the situation and make your caregiving journey Iess fraught with emotional fall-out.

2. Come together

What is so inspiring about the reaction to September 11th was the spirit of Americans to put aside their differences, their selfish needs and care for strangers during a time which connected all of us.

When it comes to caring for a loved one, many caregivers have told me they feel like they are “all alone.”  What 9/11 taught us is we are not alone – we are in this together.  Not only are you one of 65 million caregivers, but there are family, friends, neighbors, co-workers who can help you in your caregiving responsibilities.  By connecting with your social network on tasks they can help you with – it will take some of the burden off of your shoulders, help you avoid the typical caregiver “burn-out” and give you the resolve and stamina to continue to care for your loved one.  Two of the online communities that help connect circles of care for caregivers are Lotsa Helping Hands and CaringBridge.  Both sites provide a place for caregivers to receive help from volunteers and post information about their loved one.  Lotsa also has communities dedicated to veterans, Alzheimer’s and other types of caregivers working with more than 50 non-profit partners.

 3. Messages of love

One of my favorite movies, Love Actually, opens with a wonderful story about how the terrorists of 9/11 sought to create hatred and divide us when in actuality they brought us together as one nation and one world.  All the messages on 9/11 to friends, family and even the heroes on the plane United Flight 93 to their loved ones before they took on their hijackers – were about love.  Love does have the power to conquer evil – we have seen it firsthand.

When it comes to caring for a loved one who is ill, aging or has a disability, there are many feelings:  concern, sadness, confusion, anger, frustration, guilt, helplessness, exhaustion.  What is amazing to me is in the face of all these complicated emotions, the one that stands out, the one that almost all the caregivers I have worked with express is, “I do this out of love.”  There is something rewarding about being a caregiver and the ability to show and give love is one of the most powerful and life-altering experiences we can go through.

Today, out of all the days in the year, take time to communicate your message of love and come together with those you care about.  And if you know a family caregiver – give them a hug or a call and just say, “thanks.”

 

On Angel’s Wings – Alana Stewart Carries On After Caregiving for Farrah Fawcett

Some friendships last a lifetime.  And, then there is Alana and Farrah.   For Alana Stewart and the late Farrah Fawcett their friendship continues even though Alana lost her dear friend of more than 30 years in 2009.  Theirs is a true love story – it’s about sharing your innermost secrets, having each other’s back, laughing when you want to cry, taking the good with the bad, never giving up on each other.  This kind of friendship is rare.

When it comes to caregiving, many friends will bake a casserole, visit you in the hospital or help by picking up your kids at soccer practice.  Not many will put their own lives on pause for almost three years to chase promising new cancer treatments half way across the world, be your advocate with health care professionals, hold your head and hand while you spend hours with nausea from chemotherapy.  That is love.

When I told Alana how rare her friendship with Farrah is, she responded, “I didn’t think it was so rare, it was just the thing to do.”  And when Farrah asked Alana to be with her in Germany and the U.S. while she sought treatment, there was no question in Alana’s mind that she would be there for her friend.

Over the course of three years, from Farrah’s anal cancer diagnosis in 2006 to her death in 2009, Alana was by Farrah’s side.  She made several trips with Farrah to Germany to seek new treatments not yet approved in the U.S.  Alana recalls how hard it was to watch her friend go through painful surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments that were helping her fight the cancer but were also beating down her immune system making the athletic Farrah so weak.

“Farrah had such amazing courage and faith, we never even talked about the possibility of these treatments not working,” says Stewart.

As is typical in caregiving situations, Alana became Farrah’s protector.  For instance, she ensured no paparazzi caught a photo of Farrah in a wheelchair.  Alana explains this wasn’t vanity on Farrah’s part it was her not wanting other cancer patients to feel she was losing the fight or that she was weak – she wanted to be strong for the people who had written her letters about being their inspiration.  Alana also became Farrah’s advocate with various health care professionals.  While the choices Farrah made for her treatment were all her own – Alana took notes and asked a lot of questions and at Farrah’s request, documented the conversations on video that became an Emmy-nominated NBC documentary, “Farrah’s Story” that aired one month before Farrah’s passing in 2009.

“It is a really rare friend who steps in like a family member to be a primary caregiver,” says Dr. Rosemary Laird, medical director at the Health First Aging Institute in Florida.

One thing Alana and I spoke about was the healing power of friendship.  “There are a lot of studies about people who have love in their lives who have a better chance of recovery,” says Stewart.  “Love is a very healing energy…knowing someone is in your corner as you battle an illness is really important because it makes you feel like you are not going through this alone.”

When it comes to the power of friendships, a book called Connected:  The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, illuminates how friendships can hold sway over us (and us over them) in both good and bad ways.  This influence can extend to three degrees of friendship and according to the authors, having a first-degree friend who is happy increases the likelihood of your happiness factor by 15 percent.

Healing Herself By Helping Others

One of the things that Alana promised Farrah is that she would carry out her wishes to continue the work of the foundation Farrah had established to help those families facing cancer.  Today, Alana is president of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to exploring non-traditional methods of cancer research and clinical trials, such as gene therapy and targeted therapy, and providing early detection and preventative programs.  If Farrah could not find the cure in her lifetime, she wanted to ensure the foundation created in her name would do it for others after she was gone – and Alana is the keeper of that flame.

The foundation hosts conferences with leading cancer researchers and experts around the globe.  A recent gathering focused on chemo sensitivity testing.  The foundation is also dedicated to helping caregivers and families directly.  The Farrah Fawcett Patient Assistance Fund helps families struggling with financial challenges while going through cancer treatment.  “Whether it’s meals or hotel bills or even parking costs for every day when you are at a medical center while your loved one gets treatment, our program provides direct financial help to those families in need,” says Stewart.

In addition, one of the foundation’s current fundraising efforts is the recently announced vintage Farrah t-shirt from Urban Outfitters that features the iconic Farrah red bathing suit shot from the 1970s,  A portion of the sales proceeds will benefit the foundation.  Another fundraiser is a calendar of famous Farrah photos debuting this month.

Being at the helm of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation has helped Alana keep Farrah’s memory and legacy alive.  Alana’s message and her mission with the foundation is what Farrah wanted – to give back to the world, something Alana says she learned from the experience of caring for Farrah.  In the end, Alana just wants her friend to be proud of the foundation work that carries her name.

Stewart says one of the other things she learned about her journey with Farrah was the importance of doing something for another person. “Getting out of yourself and your own problems and just showing up for someone.  What I learned is to try to appreciate every day of your life because it can take a turn and change in a heartbeat,” says Stewart.  “You also learn to value the friends in your life and not take love and families for granted.”

In Alana’s book, My Journey with Farrah, Ryan O’Neal, Farrah’s longtime love and companion writes, “The bond between women friends is all-powerful and not to be taken lightly.  But the bond between Alana and Farrah is like nothing I’ve ever seen between two women.  They grew together like vines.”

You can follow the activities of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation on Facebook and Alana Stewart on Twitter at AlanaKStewart.

Sherri Snelling is writing a book on celebrity caregivers and the lessons of love and caring that will be published in February, 2013. 

On Angel’s Wings – Alana Stewart Carries On After Caregiving for Farrah Fawcett

Some friendships last a lifetime.  In celebration of National Friendship Day (August 5) I profile Alana Hamilton Stewart and the late Farrah Fawcett – a friendship that continues even though Alana lost her dear friend of more than 30 years in 2009.  One of the things that Alana promised Farrah is that she would carry out her wishes to create a foundation to help those families facing cancer.  Today, Alana is president of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to exploring non-traditional methods of cancer research and clinical trials, such as gene therapy and targeted therapy.  If Farrah could not find the cure in her lifetime, she wanted to ensure the foundation created in her name would do it for others after she was gone – and Alana is the keeper of that flame.

One of the foundation’s current fundraising efforts is the recently announced vintage Farrah t-shirt that Urban Outfitters is selling.  The t-shirt features the iconic Farrah red bathing suit shot from the 1970s – a photograph that Farrah spent years fighting to get to the rights to.  A portion of the sales proceeds of the T-shirt will benefit the foundation.

 

It is fitting that one of the first fund-raising partnerships for the Farrah Fawcett Foundation is based on something Farrah fought so hard for in the same way she fought the anal cancer that ultimately took her life.  Alana wrote about her caregiving journey for the last three years of Farrah’s life in her book My Journey with Farrah and she will also include their years of friendship in her book to be published later this year, Rearview Mirror. 

There were many things that went into making Alana Stewart and Farrah Fawcett best friends.  They were both Texans, blonde beauties in Hollywood, married to famous men, moms who lovingly suffered through their children’s drug struggles and great cooks.   But, perhaps the most important thing about their story is that at the core they had each other’s backs.

Alana related on a recent radio interview, “Farrah was so courageous and amazing – she never acknowledged that she wouldn’t make it,” remembers Alana.  “During her treatment she asked me to film the journey.  At first it was to have a video document of what the doctors were telling her but after she received so many letters from people telling her she was their inspiration to fight their own cancer, Farrah wanted to tell her story – the good, the bad and the ugly – and she wanted me to be the one holding the video camera.”  The video diary became a top-rated NBC documentary called, “Farrah’s Story” that aired one month before Farrah’s passing in 2009.

Over the course of three years, from her cancer diagnosis in 2006 to her death in 2009, Alana was by Farrah’s side.  She made several trips with Farrah to Germany to seek new treatments not yet approved in the U.S.  Alana recalls how hard it was to watch her friend go through painful treatments that were helping her fight the cancer but were also beating down her immune system making the athletic Farrah so weak.  On several occasions Alana wanted to turn the camera off but Farrah insisted on capturing everything.

As is typical in caregiving situations, Alana became Farrah’s protector.  She ensured no paparazzi caught a photo of Farrah in a wheelchair.  Alana explains this wasn’t vanity on Farrah’s part it was her not wanting other cancer patients to feel she was losing the fight or that she was weak –  she wanted to be strong for the people who had written to her.  Alana also became Farrah’s advocate with various health care professionals.  While the choices Farrah made for her treatment were all her own – Alana took notes and asked a lot of questions.  “At times I didn’t know what to do, she would ask me what I thought and I didn’t want to give her the wrong advice – so you just fly by the seat of your pants,” says Alana.

During this period, Alana found herself waging her own cancer battle – Stage 1 cervical cancer.  She says, “I have a lot of faith, I meditate daily and believe in the power of spirituality and so did Farrah.  It was this strength in faith that helped both of us remain the fighters we always had been.”  They also both knew they had each other through any challenges or setbacks that came their way.

When it comes to the power of friendships, a book called Connected:  The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, illuminates how friendships can impact and even revolutionize our lives.  The book says friends can hold sway over us (and us over them) in both good and bad ways – and that this influence can extend to three degrees of friendship.  One intriguing statistic is that having a first-degree friend who is happy increases the likelihood of your happiness factor by 15 percent.

While the reason for Farrah and Alana’s journey was not a happy occasion they made it a journey they took together and found “a lot of laughs” and humor along the way.  After Farrah died, Alana struggled as so many caregivers do with feelings of guilt and loss.  During her radio interview, Alana says, “I felt like I failed her, it took me a long time to get over it.”

Being at the helm of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation has helped Alana rechannel the feelings of failure into a future of success.  “The foundation is dedicated to providing grants to researchers to find alternative therapies and we also help families – especially through the institutions with children who have cancer which was Farrah’s wish – we provide funds for transportation, travel – whatever they need.”

It is truly a rare and special friendship where one person drops everything to help another and not just for a weekend or so but for years.  In My Journey with Farrah, Ryan O’Neal, Farrah’s longtime love and companion writes, “The bond between women friends is all-powerful and not to be taken lightly.  But the bond between Alana and Farrah is like nothing I’ve ever seen between two women.  They grew together like vines.”

Read more about Alana and Farrah’s caregiving journey in upcoming articles on ThirdAge.com and in Sherri’s book, A Cast of Caregivers, to be published in February, 2013.

Your Real Age – 8 Tips to Help Caregivers Find Their Inner Child

I recently celebrated my birthday and it got me to thinking about our “real age.”  Whenever I meet a friend for coffee the conversation now turns to our latest health issue (we are at that age) – hurt knees from running, migraines from changing hormones, sun spots on our face, wrinkles on our foreheads, and intestinal rumblings from last night’s Mexican food.  And, when the bill comes, we all hold the check back about 12 inches so we can read it (always forgetting the reading glasses which are now common among my friends).  However, we marvel at how we don’t see ourselves as our real age – and as friends we even comfort each other that we certainly don’t look our real age either.

As we grow older and start to care for aging parents, what is our risk as caregivers for being “older” than our real age because we often neglect our own health and wellness needs?

Real Age Calculator

If you want to take the scary leap with me (make sure you put your knee brace on first) – there is an online calculator developed by the now well-known authors of You – The Owner’s Manual  books, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen.  It is called the Real Age Test and it takes about 15 minutes to complete the online questionnaire.  Be prepared – it will ask you about your cholesterol levels, blood pressure reading, eating habits, fitness routine, sleep patterns, etc.

What you get is an estimated “age” based on your health and wellness answers as well as tips on how to improve your age score (meaning scoring younger than you really are) in the various areas.

Advice to Caregivers – Don’t Act Your Age

What struck me as I took the test was that so much of what is truly good for our bodies, our minds and our souls are things most of us did when we were kids.  When I recently interviewed Joan Lunden, who cares for her 93-year-old mother, she told me that she tries to find her “inner child” when I asked her how she finds her “Me Time.”

While all childhoods are not alike, here are my 8 Tips to Caregivers on how to tap into the kid you once were and embrace that youthful, carefree time once again that will improve your health and wellness:

1. Naptime:  Health experts say we should get 7-8 hours per night. A study showed that sleeping too little or at odd hours can increase your risk for diabetes and obesity because lack of sleep messes up your insulin levels and slows your metabolism.  In one study, getting only 5.5 hours of sleep a night translated into 12 extra pounds a year.  Remember taking naps as a kid and going to bed at 9pm?  Try to plan your naps and bedtime as if you were nine-years-old again.

2. Bath time:  Remember how we used to hate taking baths as a kid?  Well, as a stressed out adult caregiver, baths are a luxurious dream for which you typically don’t have time.  Baths – especially those taken with Epsom salts and fragrant oil like lavender – help reduce stress, improve circulation and aid relaxation.  A study done in Japan showed that the stress relief from baths helps you fight colds through vascular and lymph system stimulation which encourages bacteria-destroying properties in the immune system.   Take 10 minutes for a bath at least three times a week and don’t forget the rubber ducky.

3. Playtime:  It sounds silly but playtime can actually help caregivers avoid the burn-out they so often face.  While escaping to summer camp may not be feasible, riding your bike, finding a local summer fair to ride the carousel or roller coaster, or jumping into your backyard or local community pool (doing your best cannonball!) can give you the mental health break you need.  Find a few minutes every day or at least once a week to “play.”

4. Outdoor Fun and Sun:  10 minutes of sunshine a day is enough to boost your natural levels of Vitamin D (which promotes calcium absorption needed for strong bones) that have been proven to aid prevention of health risks such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, allergies and osteoporosis.  In addition, sunshine boosts your mental health – brain functionality and optimism all improve with increased levels of Vitamin D.  In fact, one study in the Journal of Finance found that stocks traded on sunny days were more profitable than those on cloudy days.

5. Seashells by the seashore:  One of my favorite childhood memories is collecting seashells along the beach with my mom and brother.  We would walk for what seemed like miles to find special colors and shapes.  Since heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, walking 30 minutes every day gives you the cardiovascular exercise you need to keep your heart healthy according to the American Heart Association.  If you don’t live near the beach, find a hiking trail or just take a brisk stroll through the neighborhood.

6. Daydream:   Remember lying on your back and looking up into the clouds deciding which shapes you could find?  A lion, a car, or even hearts?  If you can find a patch of ground – whether it is your backyard or your neighborhood park, take a few minutes each week to just lie on your back and watch the clouds scroll by (or forget the clouds and just lie on your back in your living room – no TV, no music, no external disturbances allowed).  It is a variation of meditation that ensures you have the mental stamina to keep going as a caregiver.

7. Laugh:  Charlie Chaplin said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”  Being a caregiver is nothing to laugh about – it can take a toll on you that is physical, emotional and financial.  But finding the funny bone in caregiving can get you through the day.   My mom told me that when she was caring for my grandma after a stroke, they both slipped as she was transferring her from wheelchair to bed.  Rather than be sad or upset, they both sat on the floor laughing at the absurdity of the situation. One study showed that laughing is a mini workout – it burns calories, increases your heart rate and sends more oxygen to your tissues. Maybe laughter is the best medicine.

8. Hold hands:  Remember the first time you held hands with someone you liked?  Your heart beat faster, your oxytocin levels (“cuddling hormone”) surged and a warm feeling of happiness came over your whole body.  The National Alliance for Caregiving found that most caregivers feel all alone and 10 percent of caregivers who reported a decline in their health had turned to alcohol or prescription drugs to cope with their stress.  Hand-holding can be the prescription caregivers need.  A University of Virginia study showed that wives who held the hands of their spouse or a friend reduced their stress levels.  Reach out physically to a friend or family member or virtually such as through the help of the online site Lotsa Helping Hands that can connect your volunteer community to get you the break to do all the things above.

Becoming a caregiver is a huge responsibility but taking the time to embrace your inner child will help you find the balance you need between caring for yourself and caring for your loved one.