When is it Okay to Leave Your Kids Home Alone?

When is it Okay to Leave Your Kids Home Alone?

School holidays, after school times and summer present challenges for families when parents work. Finding suitable care for children is tricky, particularly when usual arrangements fall through or kids tell you they are too old to be looked after.

When Is the Right Age to Let Kids Stay Home Alone?

It’s no wonder that many parents look forward to the day when you don’t have to pay for child care. But how do you know when the time is right to let your child stay home alone? My son, who is 9-years-old, goes to an after-school program and then goes to full-time daycare during the summer. However, my husband and I are debating putting him in summer camps and forgoing daycare. But then we’ll lose his spot for next year for after-school care. After this summer, is he old enough to walk home by himself and be home alone until we arrive?

There are a lot of factors that need to be ironed out before deciding if he is ready to be left home alone. However, registration is open for summer camps and our daycare provider would like to know if he’s coming back. First the logistics—we needed to get the house ready. We had to install a new keypad garage door opener, so he’s not fumbling with keys. Then, we installed a ring doorbell and a camera inside the house. Lastly, we enabled his iPad to make phone calls only to the people we programmed in. Now that I feel comfortable with the house, I needed to see if Cohen was ready.

Train Your Kids on Being Home Alone

Leaving kids on their own for short periods is good training for independence and problem solving. I would take a five-minute trip to visit to a neighbor, a twenty-minute walk around the block or a quick trip to the supermarket—these were great opportunities to leave Cohen unattended for short periods. He and his younger sister were never home alone together. I know he’s not ready to take on the responsibility of him and his little sister.

As I have said before, Cohen is my good kid. He’s capable of managing problems or unforeseen circumstances, such as a stranger knocking on the door. He isn’t easily flustered by unknown circumstances. We have discussed different scenarios like what he should do in a power failure or what to do if there was a fire. We also discussed what neighboring houses he can go to in case of an emergency. If school is let out early or he has a random day off, he will have someone there to watch him. A couple hours after school is long enough—not the entire day.

Trust Your Kids to Do the Right Things

Leaving children at home on their own involves an element of trust. I feel comfortable that Cohen will behave well and can keep himself safe. We laid out our expectations about his behavior, his activities, his use of digital devices, the food he can eat and who is able to visit—no one! We will be clear with our expectations and let him know that we trust him to do the right thing.

We as parents need to think carefully about many things before leaving our children alone. Putting children in situations they can handle can help teach them independence and responsibility. But asking too much too soon can be a frightening and potentially dangerous situation. I’m sure when the summer is over and the school year is starting I may feel a little more anxious. But for now, we will practice until we all feel comfortable.

So at what age do you feel comfortable leaving your children home alone?

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The ‘Pet Effect’ and Its Impact on Your Mental Health

The ‘Pet Effect’ and Its Impact on Your Mental Health

If you’re on the fence about adding a pet to your family, here is something in the ‘plus’ category: Pets can be very good for your mental health and well-being. As a mental health professional for more than 27 years, I’ve seen in my practice as well as my own life, how pets can truly make a difference. Whether it’s a dog, cat, bird or fish, many studies prove the benefits of sharing your home with a pet.

Our little “shorkipoo,” Ollie, has been with our family for three years now. He was a gift to our youngest daughter, but this little guy with a big voice has brought a lot of joy and happiness to our family as well as to friends and our neighborhood. (I think more people know where “Ollie” lives than where we live!)

Pets Improve Our Well Being

Just ask nearly any pet owner and you’ll hear how spending time with an animal helps them relax and alleviate stress. While the phrase “emotional support animal” has become commonplace, the science behind the “pet effect” is beginning to back up the claim that pets improve our well-being.

So how about those studies? For starters, they’ve found that:

  • Service dogs aid treatment for military members and veterans struggling with PTSD
  • Pet ownership benefits those experiencing mental health problems
  • Therapy dogs reduce stress and increase feelings of well-being in college students

A lot of research is also being done on how animals can help children who have conditions like autism spectrum disorder, ADHD and others, be more comfortable and present in the classroom.

According to the Mental Health Foundation of the United Kingdom, “a pet can be a great source of comfort, companionship and motivation for their owners. In many ways, pets can help us to live mentally healthier lives.” I’ve seen this in my own life. My father lights up when we bring Ollie over for a visit. And when my late mother was ill with cancer, Ollie always put a smile on her face.

So What Is It about Pets that Makes Such a Difference?

Pet ownership creates a sense of responsibility. In turn, that sense of responsibility promotes many positive behaviors with benefits for both our behavioral and physical health. Regular exercise, for example, helps improve mood and well-being. When you take a nice long walk with your dog, you get a physical workout as well as the emotional satisfaction of bonding with and caring for your pet. I walk Ollie at least a couple of times a day, rain or shine, and have him to thank for sticking with my exercise routine!

Pet ownership has social benefits. Walking a pet gets you out of the house and into your community, where you can greet old friends, meet new people and interact with other pet owners. In our case, a walk around the block that should take three minutes can take 30 because every little kid wants to pick up Ollie or pet him.

Caring for a pet requires following a routine and building some structure into your day. While the schedule you follow actually may be one you set up for your pet, just having a regular routine in the first place can be an important accomplishment for many struggling with their mental health.

Stroking a dog, cat or other animal helps reduce stress. In fact, even just the companionship of having a pet around can be a source of comfort and relaxation. When my daughter comes home from school, Ollie is first on the scene, showering her with unconditional love and affection. What better way to decompress from the day?! Pet ownership can also counteract feelings of loneliness and help ward off anxiety, and can establish a sense of pride or achievement. This benefits all of us and can be very important to someone with depression or anxiety.

Volunteer or Visit

If you’re unable to have a pet, consider volunteering at a local animal shelter or visiting a friend with a pet. Many of the benefits of time spent with animals can be realized after even a short time spent together (though the effects tend to be strongest between a pet and its owner). If larger pets are out of the question, think about a guinea pig or fish. Even these more “low-maintenance” pets can help you de-stress and build resiliency.

David Miers, PhD, LIPC

David Miers, PhD, LIPC

Health Expert

David Miers, PhD, LIPC, is the Counseling and Program Development Manager for mental health services at Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb. 

Learn More About Our Counseling and Mental Health Services

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Do Sequels Improve on the Originals?

Do Sequels Improve on the Originals?

Recently, I took one of my three granddaughters to see the newest Star Wars movie. I had seen the first three installments to the series, but had missed the past two or three. I enjoyed the movies I had seen in the past, and she assured me this one would be great as well.

Catching Up on Sequels You’ve Missed

Before the movie started, we talked about sequels and how sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn’t. I shared that Jaws one and two were good, but the third movie was not great. She mentioned the Marvel franchise, but I’ve never seen them, so I didn’t have much to contribute. We both liked the Indiana Jones and the Harry Potter sequels. Then we moved to Star Wars.

I told her the last Star Wars movie I saw was in 1983. She gave me the stinky-eye look—how dare I not keep up-to-date! She quickly moved on to explain the story lines I had missed and the characters I had no knowledge of ever existing in the story line. I tried my best to keep up-to-date. My only mistake was to ask if this is the movie with the Baby Yoda. Yep, I was the recipient of another stinky-eye look. Which movie was he in?

Understanding the Common Theme of Sequels

My granddaughter’s unabridged version of the movies I had missed were quite good. Knowing there was a link between the early movies and this latest one made me feel like I could handle the fact I hadn’t seen the entire series.
After the movie, we discussed it and we both gave it a thumbs up. Apparently, this latest movie is to be the last Star Wars movie. My granddaughter assured me there would be a spin-off in theaters soon. We also talked about the concept of sequels. When you’ve got something people like and want, keep it going. Each sequel has a common theme, yet is tweaked enough to make it special and each sequel has enough familiarity to identify with the main story line.

Each Grandkid Is a New Sequel

The sequel concept got me thinking about my own grandkids. Is each grandkid a sequel to the previous child? Does each grandkid learn from the previous one? Do they strive to be better, stronger than the previous grandkid? Like the movie sequel, each one of my grandkids has some common themes which run through them.

DNA would account for some of the common traits. My grandkids don’t look alike, but there are resemblances. Shared family values and beliefs is another common theme in movies and grandkids. All four grandkids grew up in the same church, went to the same day care, were involved in youth sports and eat the same food grandpa cooks.

While each of our precious grandkids are similar, they are each unique in providing their own twist to our family. Our grandson is very tall, his sister is very short and my other two granddaughters are in between the extremes. Are we like Jaws XXIV? No! However, I am thankful for all the similarities and all the differences I see in my grandkids. It makes life interesting and reassuring at the same time. Kind of like seeing the original Luke Skywalker through the years. May the Force be with you!

Nancy Becker

Nancy Becker

Grandkids & Grandparents

I have four grandchildren ages 14-17. In some ways, I’m a very typical grandma, always proud of everything the kids do and wanting to help support them in whatever way I can. In other ways, I’m not very typical. My goal as a blogger is to share my thoughts and experiences that I think are funny and meaningful as I adventure through grandmahood.

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Intentionally Learning to Embrace the Moment

Intentionally Learning to Embrace the Moment

Last week, our two daughters and I were sitting at the kitchen table—all of us working on schoolwork. At one point our middle daughter said, “I have ‘eighth-graditis’.” I looked at her and said, “There is no such thing.” Then our senior daughter chimed in, “I really have senioritis.” I responded to her, “Don’t wish away these last four months. Be intentional about enjoying each day.”

There it was againbe intentional. Since last November, this phrase and word just keeps finding its way into many of my conversations. As I was preparing my heart for what I wanted my word of the year to be, embrace was all over my heart. However, how could I tell my daughters to be intentional and enjoy the moment when I had a hard time focusing on that myself.

Refocusing My Intention

For many years, I believed I was learning about life when I was actually just surviving life. I survived the diaper stages, and I survived the terrible twos and the terrific threes. I survived running between three different youth sports on any given Saturday. I survived sending my first born off to kindergarten. I survived sending my baby off to kindergarten.

Maybe it’s the 40s or that we have a senior, but I don’t just want to survive life—I want to live life. I decided it was the year to reteach myself to embrace the moment. To be where my feet are. However, as January started, I realized to completely understand embrace, I have to understand how to be intentional.

3 Steps to Remaining Intentional in Your Life

Be intentional about time, be intentional about meditation, be intentional of where my feet are planted, and be intentional about not having our calendar dictate each and every day. A couple things had to happen for me to have a growth mindset on this journey:

  1. Create an “accountability family” with different people holding me accountable for something different.
  2. Remind myself that “no” is a complete sentence.
  3. Be intentional close up, not from a far.

These three guiding themes have worked well this far into January. My accountability family have suggested ideas for the months ahead, from being intentional about a 2020 exercise challenge with my work colleagues or having supper with our neighbors.

Understanding Every Day Is Special

The idea of being intentional up close and not from a far came from a conversation with my neighbor when she said, “Why wait until Christmas or Thanksgiving to use your china? My china is in our cupboard for everyday use because everyday is special.” I have taken this to heart. In one such situation, being intentional up close allowed me to give that extra needed hug and smile. But ultimately I experienced the joy of the circumstance in person rather than through an email.

Learning to be intentional has allowed me to embrace the moment. To embrace the conversations around the kitchen table, and to truly embrace watching my kids do what they love to do. But being intentional is also about preparing. Starting with preparing myself to embrace the change that will occur in our house in August when we send our daughter off to college.

In the meantime, I will continue to grow in this area and bring my family along on my “intentionally learning to embrace the moment” journey.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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New Year’s Resolutions with Kids

New Year’s Resolutions with Kids

Eat healthy, lose weight, exercise—these are some of the things I think about when it comes to New Year Resolutions. But this year, I not only wanted to do these resolutions for me, but I wanted to include my family in some as well.

Resolutions for the Family

When it comes to individual resolutions, for me, they’re easy to give up on because they’re all about me in a world where I’m focused on taking care of everyone else. This year, I wanted to try making resolutions as a group. They can be fun, painless and are sure to benefit my entire household.
While making a family resolution may seem as sensible as herding cats, it’s worth the effort. But setting family resolutions will only work if each member of the family feels invested. And for everyone to feel invested, shared goals need to be recognized and treated equally within the family.

If everyone feels they have a stake, then you have created the foundation for achieving your shared goals. Making goals public to your family and working together to achieve them provides the outside encouragement we all need to keep resolutions.

Focus On Your Health

But if you are the only one in your family that is actively working towards a goal, constantly removing yourself from your other family members’ habits —like eating a salad during family pizza night—will eventually erode your desire to keep your resolutions.

You might stick with eating salads for a while, but that pepperoni pizza will be more tempting when everyone else is enjoying it. We limited our pizza night to once a month. Instead of just eating salads for dinner, we are including a side salad with dinner.

We also decided to go on more family walks—the dog needs exercise too! The children have been joining me at the gym and hopefully we can get outside on the “nicer” winter days. Not only watching their mom get fit, but joining in when they can as well.

Before, I would weekly meal prep for myself, but now we are also planning our meals instead of driving through the fast food lane. We also included the children in the meal planning and prep. We are trying to find healthy ways to eat chicken strips and mac n’ cheese. The kids are excited and willing to try what they made!

Remember to Be Thankful

Lastly, we started a thankful jar. Each week we place a slip of paper in a jar saying what we were thankful for. At the end of each month, we will read these aloud. As part of the thankful jar, we also started sharing more. I feel that it is important to listen to each other.

We were stuck in a rut as soon as we got home—it was homework, dinner, electronics/tv, bath and bed. We rarely talked to each other. It was, “how was your day…fine…” and we’d move on. Now we are really trying to listen and ask questions.

I didn’t want to force my family to do New Year Resolutions, but it didn’t hurt to ask. Everyone was really excited to try, and it was easy to find ways for us to work together and achieve some common goals. Plus, it allows us more time together.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Grandma’s Online Ordering: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Grandma’s Online Ordering: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Reflecting on the past holidays is always a fun thing for me to do. We are still lucky enough to have all of our kids and grandkids with us, and enjoy each and every minute at our traditional gatherings, which may someday come to an end.

There were grandmas who told me during early December that their Christmas was being celebrated in January, because their kids and grandkids weren’t able to make it home for December 25. I understand as traditions may sometimes need to be changed, and I’m confident we will all adjust with good cheer when our time comes. Until then, I’ll bask in the joy of our traditions.

I’ve always taken on the task of hosting our extended families. It’s a challenge, but not a problem. It’s buying the presents which sometimes frustrates me.

Lists to Santa Are Long Gone

When our grandkids were young, their parents always told us what they wanted from Santa. Even when they were older, their parents were the elves giving us ideas for presents under the tree. Once a couple of the grandkids went off to college, I’ve begun asking them for ideas. I decided it was probably time the kids get what they want. Unfortunately, this plan doesn’t always work. This year being yet another example.

The grandkids send me their ideas by taking a picture of what they want and sending it to me. Sometimes I’m able to decipher the small print and sometimes I can’t. Yes, even enlarging the picture doesn’t always help. One granddaughter sent me a picture of a pair of tennis shoes. I had some trouble finding the link for the Ultraboost Adidas (why would anyone name the style Ultraboost if the shoes are not for racing or basketball?).

The shoe was located, and I had some difficulty finding the correct color, but I persevered and had them ordered. When she opened them during the Holiday, I was pleased they were the correct shoe, but unfortunately, her foot didn’t fit in the shoe. Yep, I had been so excited to find them that I didn’t change the size that automatically came up. They could be returned, but they no longer send a printed receipt with the delivery, so I had to go online to print it for a return.

The Winding Road Online Orders Take

Our grandson also wanted a special pair of high-fashion athletic shoes. These shoes were not carried by any local store and with my history of ordering online, I was very nervous. After hours of figuring out the website and procedure, it was finalized and would be at our front porch in five days. When the package arrived, I was amazed when I saw the route to our home in Lincoln, NE. Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, to Anchorage, AK, to Memphis, TN, to Omaha, NE, to Lincoln, NE.

The tracking and distance was not noted when I ordered the shoes. Had I known the origin, I may have changed my order—or not. I’m guessing the shoes cost $10 plus the tariff. The shoes arrived in perfect shape. When our grandson unwrapped the box, he smiled ear-to-ear. He even cradled the shoes like a baby.

One Order, Two Pairs of Shoes

Our second oldest granddaughter sent me a picture of a pair of UGGs she liked. I thought they looked like my grandfather’s Romeo slippers, but I found the link and went through the process of starting my order. The process was interrupted by our needing to attend our grandson’s basketball game. I am not perfect with the planning of time. I wasn’t worried as I had the information I needed and I could complete the order soon.

The next day, I went back to the site, found the UGGs, filled out the information and pushed the enter key to place the order. Within four days I had her UGGs. Within six days, I had another pair of UGGs. I didn’t realize I had to quit/delete an order. What the heck? The good news is that I wear the same size as my granddaughter. So I unwrapped the second pair of UGGs, which I gave to myself. We all had a great laugh at my purchasing fiasco.

All my time, mistakes and successes couldn’t take anything away from the joy and laughs we shared that day. My takeaway may be to attend a computer class at SCC titled, “Ordering Online!”

Nancy Becker

Nancy Becker

Grandkids & Grandparents

I have four grandchildren ages 14-17. In some ways, I’m a very typical grandma, always proud of everything the kids do and wanting to help support them in whatever way I can. In other ways, I’m not very typical. My goal as a blogger is to share my thoughts and experiences that I think are funny and meaningful as I adventure through grandmahood.

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Scholarships Season is Stressful

Scholarships Season is Stressful

It’s snowing outside, the Christmas lights are shining bright on the tree, and I am sitting in the recliner enjoying my cup of hot cider watching holiday movies. I’m enjoying the silence and reminiscing about the most wonderful time of the year. Then I hear it, “Mom, what does this mean?” “Mom can you proofread this essay?” “Mom, do you remember what year I did this?” Even the daily, “Mom get off my back, I will get it done by the deadline!” It hardly seems like the most wonderful time of the year with all the stress of scholarship writing.

Scholarships Are Stressful

It may be stressful, but this is an important time of the year. As a parent, I thought preparing for graduation would be stressful, however, preparing for graduation seems easy compared to the stress of scholarship writing. Our daughter’s stress definitely comes down to her personality and wanting to be the best version of herself in all of the applications. Still my constant harping, “Do you have that scholarship done?” may be adding to the stress.

The cost of college and writing scholarships is a frequent conversation in our home right now. The other night our daughter was finishing up a semester budgeting project and she commented, “It really takes 20 years to pay off college debt?” Another learning opportunity for my husband and I to talk to her about the cost of college and the implication of debt beyond the college years.

Have the Tough Conversations

We discussed with our daughter how we paid off my college debt in less than eight years by making monthly payments, however, at one point we paid between $1,500 and $1,750 per month for one year to get rid of the debt. Our discussion turned to needs and wants and delaying purchasing gratification but I could not go without saying, “Do you see how important applying for scholarships really is?” In hindsight this was not the most opportune time to make the comment.

Right now, all our daughter sees is the time it takes in her busy schedule to write and apply for scholarships. Yet, for all the stress that may occur and the time preparing scholarships, it really is worth the time for the potential financial rewards. As she continues through the scholarship writing season, I definitely need to trust she will complete the application and quit nagging her each day. Our daughter does have high expectations of herself and I know she will complete all of her applications.

Sit Back & Have Faith

As I sit in my recliner and answer questions throughout the scholarship writing season, I listen as I know I will not be around her next year in college encouraging (nagging) her to meet deadlines. I also remind myself this is all part of me learning to let go of control. Ultimately, this scholarship season is another growing season for me to have faith and continue letting her grow into the adult I have prayed for her to become since the day she was born.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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Planning a Disney Family Vacation

Planning a Disney Family Vacation

It’s a family vacation to remember. I can already picture it: Me, lounging poolside with a fruity cocktail as my carefree husband applies sunscreen to my back. We laugh, charge another round to the room, and bask in the sight of our happy kids splashing responsibly in the shallow end of the hotel pool. Hey, a mom can dream, right?

If you’re considering a trip to the Most Magical Place On Earth, it’s likely you’re feeling a little stressed and maybe even confused on where to start. With four theme parks, two water parks and a giant shopping district, it’s easy to see why. This was our first big family vacation and the planning felt more in-depth than planning my own wedding.

Where to Start When Planning a Disney Family Vacation

The first step you’ll want to take when you plan a Disney World trip is getting prepared. I started with reaching out to friends and family who’ve recently gone to Disney World. I also reached out to a co-worker who used to work at Disney—she helped out tremendously.

If you are staying at a Disney Resort, which I highly recommend if you have the budget, you’ll have an account created on Disney World’s website. This is where you’ll be able to access the My Disney Experience that holds your reservations and links your dining reservations and FastPass+ selections. The preplanning took my co-worker and I a couple of dinners to select and plan. So make sure you decide early on selecting your FastPasses and dining reservations! When you’re at the parks, you’ll be able to use the app to view maps, restaurant menus, your plans and more. It’s a must for any Disney World vacation!

How to Properly Pack for the Family

The next step is packing. Here, it’s all about packing smart from the start—remember, less is more!

I went above and beyond on the Disney clothes beforehand and planned out a new outfit every day we were at the parks. This was not necessary, but it made it feel more special for the kids. I figured that we are probably only going to offer Disney once, so why not! Also, don’t forget to pack ponchos as it rains almost every day in Florida.

While packing don’t forget that snacks, games and movies are a traveling must! Both kids had a backpack full of these items to help with boredom on the plane. Luckily, this was their first airplane experience, so the newness of flying helped a lot! After the major things are complete, try to enjoy your time as a family.

Expectation vs Reality

Without going into every little detail about the trip here were my expectations vs. realty.

  • Expectation: We’ll get an early start first thing in the morning! Let’s do this vacation thing!
  • Reality: Why can’t we sleep in; we are on vacation?
  • Expectation: Let’s go to all four parks starting from when they open and stay until the fireworks at night.
  • Reality: “Mooooooom, can’t we just swim in the pool?”
  • Expectation: Let’s take hundreds of pictures at every location. Everyone is very posed, smiling big and happy.
  • Reality: Nobody really wants to take a picture; they just want to have fun! The smiles are only half smiles and everyone’s thoughts are, “Fine, let’s get this over with.” And of course, there’s always that one person, my five-year-old daughter that just doesn’t want to cooperate, making everyone else annoyed.
  • Expectation: Even if the lines are long, we’ll enjoy the family time together.
  • Reality: “Mooooom, can I have your phone!”
  • Expectation: This is the “Happiest Place on Earth,” my children will act perfectly and be happy.
  • Reality: “Mom, my feet hurt, why is this line so long?” And then there was at least one melt down a day!

One Last Piece of Advice

My one big piece of advice when planning a trip to Disney is plan down time. I wanted to visit as much as possible, but my daughter wanted pool time every day. We did see all four theme parks and visited the shopping district, but in reality, we could have spent several days at just one park.

We crammed a lot into a short time. However, Disney World exceeded my expectations. Even though the trip wasn’t always what I had planned, we created memories that will last a lifetime. And it is safe to say, we are all ready to go back!

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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‘You Have Cancer’: What To Do When You Hear These Words, for Yourself or a Loved One

‘You Have Cancer’: What To Do When You Hear These Words, for Yourself or a Loved One

By Joanna Morgan MSN, RN, OCN & Joselyn Hayes BSW, CSW

For over 35 years, we’ve been helping people and their families through the many emotions and challenges that change their lives after hearing these three words. I’m Joanna Morgan, an oncology nurse navigator and I’m Joselyn Hayes, an oncology social worker, at Bryan Medical Center.

While each person and every situation is different, there are some strategies that seem to help everyone. We hope sharing these will help you – whether you’re the one receiving a cancer diagnosis or it’s a loved one.

What Do You Do When You Hear the Words “You Have Cancer”?

Breathe. Surround yourself with people you love. Allow others to help and support you.

Most people ask, why me? Most people wonder if they have done something to cause the cancer and come up with ideas of why it occurred. If you are having these thoughts you are not alone. Cancer is not a punishment for things you did or didn’t do. Blaming yourself doesn’t help and often makes you feel worse. It’s almost impossible to know exactly what caused the cancer. Instead, focus on taking care of yourself now, both your body and your mind.

Ways You Can Help Someone With a Cancer Diagnosis

When someone we care about is diagnosed with cancer, we want to help but often don’t know what to do or say.

According to the American Cancer Society, people with strong emotional support tend to adjust better to the changes that cancer brings to their lives, have a more positive outlook and report a better quality of life.

Here are some ways you can provide support:

Keep in Touch

  • Write, text, email or call often (try to keep it short) – this lets the person know you are thinking of them.
  • Call at times that work best for your friend.
  • Be available: When your friend calls or texts you, answer right away.

Visit

  • Call before you visit, and be understanding if your friend doesn’t feel well enough to visit.
  • Keep the visit short: understand they may be too tired to actively participate.
  • Don’t be afraid to touch, hug or shake hands.

Know What to Say (And Do)

  • Listen. Allow your friend to honestly share how they are feeling (good, bad or ugly).
  • Give advice only when asked. Don’t urge your friend to fight the cancer if that is not their goal, offer treatment suggestions or share negative stories from your experiences with others who have gone through cancer treatment.
  • Support your loved one’s treatment decisions.
  • Remember the caregiver and seek ways to support and help this person.
  • Stay connected throughout the entire treatment process and beyond – checking in regularly over time is very helpful and meaningful.
  • Let your friend know “we’ll get through this together.”

Know What Not to Say

  • “Everything is going to be fine.” We are often tempted to say it will be fine, but this can make the person with cancer feel like you’re unwilling to talk about the realities and challenges of a cancer diagnosis.
  • “You’ve got the good kind of cancer.” There is no ‘good kind’. Any cancer diagnosis causes fear and changes a person’s life.
  • Nothing at all. Say something, anything. It’s okay to admit you don’t know what to say. What’s most important is starting a conversation.
  • “Let me know how I can help.” People rarely reach out and ask for help. They are exhausted emotionally and physically and don’t have the energy to think about what you can do, and even if they did it’s hard for most people to ask for help. Instead offer concrete ideas of ways you can help, and when your friend takes you up on your offer, make sure you follow through!

How to Help

  • Offer to run errands – get groceries, pick up prescriptions or help transport to and from appointments.
  • Make meals or help coordinate meal drop offs from other friends.
  • Help with tasks – cleaning their house, lawn care, babysitting, pet sitting, walking the dog.

Ways the Bryan Cancer Program Can Help

At Bryan, we have specially trained nurses and social workers to help you and your family through each step of your cancer care. Our oncology certified nurse navigators can help you through all aspects of your cancer care, and especially decisions about treatment.

Oncology social workers have expertise to help you navigate the emotions, financial and insurance concerns, and other areas related to receiving the care you need.

We’re here for you – to support and help you with compassion and expertise, to relieve some of the stress and uncertainty in your life. And to help you determine and navigate your best course of treatment.

You are Not Alone. We’ll Travel This Road Together.

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming – the emotions, the unknown, the decisions. At Bryan, our specialty trained nurses and social workers are here to help you and your family through each step of your cancer care.

Talk to your doctor about a referral to this Bryan oncology nurse navigator and social worker program. This is a free service for our patients.

Joanna Morgan MSN, RN, OCN

Joanna Morgan MSN, RN, OCN

Oncology Nurse Navigator

Joselyn Hayes BSW, CSW

Joselyn Hayes BSW, CSW

Oncology Social Worker

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Darting Memories

Darting Memories

Being a retired educator, our poor grandkids have learned I always have a lot of questions about school. I tend to ask what classes they are taking, who their teachers are and what topic they are studying in a particular class. I also ask about tests, their projects and grades. I guess my questions come with the territory of my professional life.

All of the grandkids have used me as a topic or reference in one class or another, and they love asking me questions. Heck, they have probably also used me as a class project I’m not even aware of like “Things not to do when you get older” or “Why do older adults not understand their phones?”

Finding Out More

I knew our grandson was taking a literature class this semester. He’s not a huge reader, so I wanted to know how he was doing. I couldn’t remember if he was taking a Holocaust Literature class or the Sci-fi Literature class, since both are great opportunities to get students involved. He responded by saying he was taking the Sci-fi Lit class. Next question, “Who’s your teacher?” As my retirement years keep growing, I know fewer and fewer teachers. I have found my influence with the kids or their teachers is waning. Probably a good thing on everyone’s behalf. Next question, “Do you like it?” He said it was OK for an English class. I thought to myself, “BONUS!” I know he won’t read “War and Peace” soon, but a positive response was a thrill to hear.

Next question, “What are you reading?” I could tell he was deep in thought for a second. In my mind I’m thinking, the kid has no idea what he’s reading? Doesn’t he go to class every day? Is he not participating in any class discussion because he’s not reading the book? Why the hesitancy? Following the sci-fi theme, is this kid really an alien who has been taken the body over my grandson?

Memories Come Darting Back

Two seconds passed and my grandson looks at me with a twinkle in his eye and he hit his chest four times and made some whistling sounds. What the heck was this? Are they teaching sound effects in sci-fi class? I thought for two seconds. I then asked if the novel he was reading was “Frankenstein” written by Mary Shelley. He smiled at me. Telepathically, we recalled the time all four grandkids watched the movie “Young Frankenstein” at our house.

We watched the movie during one of our movie dates at our house. “Young Frankenstein” has always been one of my favorite movies, so of course I wanted to share this unique experience with them. Both my grandson and I started slapping our chests making the whistling sound. This is the scene when the police chief pretends to throw the darts at the dart board. The chief actually puts the darts into his wooden arm. The chief made a whistling sound with his mouth imitating the darts going through the air and striking the dart board.

Reliving Memories Together

Soon, the other grandkids caught on and joined in the charade. The five of us had a great time sharing our experience with their parents and grandpa. It was a fun reminder of how we’ve enjoyed connecting in the past. One of our granddaughters then commented they liked the “Young Frankenstein” movie, however, she was really freaked out by the movie, “The Crows.” The Crows?? The rest of us looked at each other in a confused state of not being able to recall the movie. She talked about the scene which really scared her. It was when the crows were in the school yard attacking the kids running down the street. I quickly realized she was talking about the movie, “The Birds.” What a hoot, and I laughed till I cried.

The grandkids haven’t been over to see a movie in a couple of years, so to have them recall some of those memories was a thrill for me and, hopefully, for them. It was a reminder to me that the memories I hope to create may or may not have a long term connection with my grandkids, but when it does, it sure is great.

Nancy Becker

Nancy Becker

Grandkids & Grandparents

I have four grandchildren ages 14-17. In some ways, I’m a very typical grandma, always proud of everything the kids do and wanting to help support them in whatever way I can. In other ways, I’m not very typical. My goal as a blogger is to share my thoughts and experiences that I think are funny and meaningful as I adventure through grandmahood.

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Becoming More Intentional in Life

Becoming More Intentional in Life

During many of my leadership lessons, my students and I often discuss how important creativity is. In most instances, students believe creativity is a skill they have lost. So, I recently began teaching a leadership unit focused solely on creativity.

I started planning many activities around not only embracing the creativity each student has, but challenging each student to further enhance their creativity as well. I have activities planned from seeing the world through shapes, doodling, researching personality traits, inspiring others, taking a gratitude walk and spending ten minutes in complete silence.

The Importance of Being Intentional

The whole purpose of the unit is being intentional in finding ways to enhance one’s creativity. As I started thinking, the word “intentional” kept creeping up in my mind. I decided I needed to take the challenge along with my students to be more intentional.

With the busyness of the winter season at both home and school, I decided I would model intentionality by spending 15 minutes in stillness for the next 30 days. I suggested to my students that they all pick out a notebook to write or doodle in. The ultimate goal of the project is to connect to our inner creativity.

Practicing What You Preach

I wanted something more than a doodle book, therefore I started searching for something as a visible reminder to be intentional about my time of quietness. The idea came to me quite quickly. Six years ago, I kept a little gratitude book that I carried with me at all times. I was intentional in writing down the little blessings, and I also added meaningful pictures and inspiring Bible verses.

Due to the number of times we looked through it, the pages were torn and the edges were bent. However, the book was filled with love. I made this little gratitude book for two years, but I stopped making my little gratitude books. Looking back, I realized the busyness of life just took over. It also just seemed natural to have pictures on my laptop and on an external hard drive. I told myself I would print them out someday. Someday turned into some month which ultimately turned into never.

Make a Visual Record of What You’ve Learned

The visual reminder of my intentionality is simple—create a little gratitude book. During those 15 minutes of intentional stillness, I am going to record in words and pictures the joys in my life. My little book with those torn pages and bent edges will be moments of joy and moments I do not want to forget.

Ultimately, I hope modeling intentionality for the next 30 days with a visible end product to share with my senior students will encourage them to unlock their creativity. These quiet moments, however, will go beyond enhancing my creativity skills. These moments will allow me to pause, reflect and be thankful for all of my blessings.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Just the phrase “parent-teacher conference” makes me anxious. However, this last experience was a positive one. Typically, parent-teacher conferences happen either right before or right after report cards. And with grades in the picture, the stakes are raised.

That means it’s worthwhile to make the most of the short time you have to meet with the teacher, and it’s also reasonable to expect that the teacher is prepared to discuss your child in a meaningful way.

Some have been more successful than others, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the preparation beforehand that makes the difference.

Worry Leads to Joy

Like most parent-teacher conferences I worry, as the last few experiences haven’t been positive. Going into this year, I was expecting the typical: Cohen’s reading isn’t grade level, he’s getting upset very easily, he’s becoming anxious, he’s needing to go the office, and so on. Those have been his critiques for the past three years.

But boy was I surprised during this year’s conference. Cohen’s teacher had nothing but good things to say about him. The way she described him and her attitude towards him gave me goosebumps. You could see her overall joy when talking about Cohen. She talked about his wonderful personality, his willingness to help, and his compassion towards others. She made the executive decision to stop the score sheet he had to bring home every day because he continuously got a perfect score. She was shocked that he needed to do those sheets for the last three years.

Sure, she addressed his reading and his anxiety when taking tests, but she was proud of his determination and his willingness to participate despite his lack of confidence when it comes to reading. Lastly, she hoped her son, who is 6 months old, will have Cohen’s characteristics when he’s that age. This comment brought tears to my eyes. I have never left a conference feeling so proud and excited for him like I have in this class with this teacher!

It’s All in the Preparation

This last conference made me realize that there are different ways to prepare. I’d like to offer a few tips on how you, as a parent, can get the most helpful information from your child’s parent-teacher conference.

I purposely choose the last conference of the night. That way if we go long, I’m not holding up anyone else. If I can, I don’t bring my children. That way I can bring up things that I want to say that I wouldn’t say in front my child and vice versa.

As hard as it is, I try and come with an open mind. As a parent, I have to remind myself of this often, but my children’s grades and behavior are not a reflection of who I am as a person. They have free will and will make mistakes and decisions that I don’t approve of, but It doesn’t make me a bad parent.

Ask the Teacher Questions

I also bring specific questions or concerns and not the typical, “So how’s my kid doing in your class?” Since we only have a few minutes to talk, I’d like to know right away which areas are of concern.

If your child is unhappy in school, you may be the emotional dump at home who hears about all the things that went wrong during the day. That’s what I hear from Cohen most days. I don’t get to witness my children having fun with their friends at lunch or answering a question that stumped everyone else in the class. I learned that we needed to focus and build on these little victories together.

Lastly, tell the teacher what works well at home and what you need help with. I often feel like I’m on my own once my children get home, but teachers often have tips that may help studying and getting organized at home go more smoothly too.

Now that I know a few tricks of the trade, I am less anxious for these conferences. I feel that Cohen is growing and learning in third grade. I love that his teacher was so open and honest with me, and I’m glad she is willing to work with him and for him. I trust in her and am so happy she is teaching my child because Cohen is starting hate school a little less.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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