How Joan Lunden’s Work as Caregiver Prepared Her to Battle Breast Cancer

Joan-lunden-people-magazine-horizontal-galleryA few weeks ago, I met Joan Lunden at a small group session at the AARP’s Idea’s at 50+ Conference in San Diego. At the time, I didn’t know she had breast cancer.

Joan was candid in talking about the disease and new challenges she faces daily. She talked about her upcoming article in People Magazine that made it to grocery store shelves today.

She shared her challenges as a family caregiver and responded without missing a beat to a question from a very emotional young woman who seemed overwhelmed by caregiving.

“It’s OK to be a little imperfect,” said Lunden.

Women really do worry about perfection – the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect caregiver.

It’s hard to grasp the thought that “good enough” may a better alternative than “perfect” when juggling family needs of your Mom living by herself at home and your kids, who need you 24/7. The emotional toll of juggling caregiving in the sandwich generation is one of the reasons the innovators at SafeinHome created this easy to use system.

Joan Lunden understands the stress of caregiving from first hand experience. She embraced the responsibility and wasn’t afraid to ask for help.

“It’s not the person who gets chosen – its the person who steps up to the plate.”

The woman who asked the question appreciated this advice. So did I, as someone who has been a family caregiver.

Lunden emphasized that you, as the caregiver, often need to ask family members – your husband, your children, your siblings, and your friends – for help when things get overwhelming. In her case, she sought the help of a friend who lived nearby her Mom –

“She got my Mom Kentucky Fried Chicken and a vanilla milkshake.”

Citing her own struggles with caregiving and the will to move forward, Lunden reminded the woman that the most important thing she could do is take care of herself.

“You can change the way you feel about caregiving by changing your mind.”

Joan Lunden-Chicken SoupJoan Lunden shared the lessons she learned as 101 stories of family caregiving in her book –  Chicken Soup for the Soul – Family Caregivers.

The book outlines ways to accept, find joy, laugh, and persevere. You can find the book here on Amazon.

Her experience caring for her Mom prepared Joan Lunden for this battle against an especially aggressive form of breast cancer. She had this advice for others.

“Utilize every minute that you can. Talk to your doctor about wellness, energy, options – everything.”

Lunden talked about the psychological implications of breast cancer – things like losing your hair. She said that while some things are hard, we should never lose our sense of humor. She told us a story about wearing several different wigs and that as a result, her husband can go to bed with a different woman each night.

Lunden did not reveal the secret we saw on grocery store shelves when People Magazine came out today – that she would appear on the cover without her hair.

“I had to make this big decision about whether or not to do the cover with no hair. It certainly isn’t the comfortable way to go, but I decided I was going to try and help others and show women that this isn’t the end of the world,” Lunden says. “You can go on – and that was hugely empowering.” 

Read the rest here.

Some might question Joan Lunden’s decision. But the small group who met with Lunden just 20 days ago won’t.

It takes courage to be a family caregiver. It takes guts to face aggressive cancers head-on. It takes love of others, self-worth and dignity to talk about it and show the world that its okay to be a little vulnerable and a little less perfect.

Joan Lunden has strength, stamina, and determination. She is a kind soul. Her hair is just an accessory.

Postscript: Joan’s daughter arranged for her to sign her caregiving book for me. It was wonderful to see her daughter at her side, helping Mom to persevere.

Joan Lunden-book signing


Photo Credit: PEOPLE Magazine

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