In times of turmoil, a man often feels like he is supposed to be strong and know what to do. When his wife faces a breast cancer diagnosis, he instead may feel caught in a hurricane with no idea of what to do next.
Helping those men, and the women who love them, is what inspired Ken Churilla, of Highland, to write “No one said it would be easy: A husband’s journey through his wife’s battle with breast cancer.”
With its first person account, through a man’s eyes, the book has done just that by helping readers across the United States.
“This has always been a dream of mine,” Churilla said. “Not only to write a book but to do something really impactful to people...there’s no bigger reward.”
The book, which is based on a true story, is told through the eyes of Tommy, a man whose wife has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Readers experience everything with him, both medical and physical and see how he reacts to the various experiences and situations at home, at work, in his mind and in his private time.
“For guys who are reading this, whatever point they are in their own journey, it either can give them a heads up as to what’s coming down the road and how this guy handled that,” Churilla said. “Then they can make their own decisions. They have some kind of a situation to base what might be right, what might be wrong.
For guys who have already been through it, it’s a way to look back and measure up what they did vs. what Tommy did.”
While the character in the book tries to escape the situation by going to the bar, a friend of Churilla who read the book recognized he was doing the same thing by excessively visiting the gym.
“When you don’t know what’s coming, you just react. This gives them a guideline in a sense. It’s like watching game tape for a football player. You have the same opponent as Tommy does. Some things will be different but it will give you a general feel and how Tommy attacked it and handled it.”
Churilla said when it comes to breast cancer, the focus goes to the woman and rightfully so because she is the one fighting for her life. If there are kids involved, focus goes to them.
“No matter where you look, there’s really not a lot paid attention to the guy attached to them. And guys don’t like to talk. They’ll talk about football, baseball and the Blackhawks all day but when it comes to really talking about things, they don’t like to talk,” he said. They typically shy away from therapy and support groups. Reading the book has been a source of help for them.
Churilla said he’s surprised by the amount of women who have reached out to him regarding the book.
“It’s truly impacted women with their understanding of what their husband or boyfriend or children went through. These women who have told me about it, it’s altered the way they approach things. They make a more conscious effort to communicate everything.”
The book explores a man’s psyche and tackles topics such as loneliness, paying bills, intimacy, raising kids and the transformation of power in the house.
“In the book, they have well defined roles. He works. She takes care of kids,” Churilla said. “He had to take on more of that responsibility as she became more ill. There are things you don’t think about.”
Churilla, a 1990 Highland High School grad, currently works as the director of marketing for Balmoral Park Race Track in Crete. He was first published at age 16 and as a career journalist, his work has appeared in nationwide magazines and newspapers. He is also a Nashville songwriter and has authored media kit artist biographies for artists such as Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Martina McBride and more.
This is Churilla’s first book, and it took many years to write, he said. “Sometimes real life gets in the way, running around between work and being a single dad, running my son to football practice and school. It definitely took quite some time but it’s been worth every inch of it.”
The book can be ordered through any major online retailer, including amazon.com, booksamillion.com, barnesandnoble.com.
Churilla’s cousin Alan J. Carper recommended reading the book if you or someone you know is fighting cancer. Even as an outsider, it helps understand how it can affect a family’s everyday life. Carper, who is a 2001 Lake Central High School grad and a senior medical physicist, said not to be fooled by the book’s cover. It is for both men and women. “This book provides an excellent window into a man’s life as he experiences the highs and lows of his family’s journey throughout their battle with cancer.”
Want to set your home’s alarm system? There’s an app for that.
Want to track your movements fitness goals? There’s an app for that too.
Want to know what song is playing right now, wherever you are? There’s even an app for that.
But mental health maintenance? Can there be an app for that?
As it turns out, there is. In addition to professional apps, independent consumer apps such as Lift, Unstuck, Superbetter, Optimism and others are designed with mental health goals in mind.
Some of these apps, such as Unstuck, helps the user get to the root of their problem or negative mental state, and then allows the user to set a goal to move past it. Smaller goals, like making a habit of flossing every night, are covered within the Lift app, where users can track the number of days they accomplish their one small goal.
Other apps, such as Superbetter, use a game-like interface to present healthy challenges and allow the user to overcome mental health “bad guys,” such as laziness or negative self-talk.
Some healthcare groups are even creating custom apps for their patients, says Joseph G. Fanelli, Medical Director for Community Healthcare System Centers for Mental Wellness, whose organization is currently developing several tech tools, including apps.
“These apps are focused on assessing signs and symptoms of illness, on assessing response to treatment, and on enhancing mental wellness,” Fanelli says.
But how effective are independent apps for mental health maintenance?
“For people not dealing with any serious issues in their life and just looking to improve themselves, indeed, ‘there’s an app for that’—many good ones, too!” Says Jean Lubeckis, EAP Therapist with Franciscan Alliance.
“Apps such as Optimism, Inspirational Quotes, Hope Book or Atease, can help someone practice mindfulness, meditation, improve attitude, sleep, or reduce stress,” Lubeckis says.
For those looking for a better quality of life, these apps can be very helpful. However, Lubeckis cautions others to be careful.
“Just because there is an app, doesn't mean it is good or reliable,” Lubeckis says.
For those with more serious mental health goals, Lubeckis suggests using higher-level apps along with other treatment.
“Anyone seeking information, guidance or help regarding mental health issues like anxiety, depression or issues negatively impacting their life, would be wise to seek information from professional apps,” she says. “For instance, there are apps by Web MD, Psych Central, state and federal mental health groups and even the DSM-V. Some apps have been designed by professionals and some are designed to accompany self-help books.
“There are apps focusing on Depression and Anxiety. One has a screening tool called the ‘PH-Q 9’ which many professionals use to evaluate depression,” Lubeckis says. “Hopefully that clarity will provide direction to lead them to the help they need.”
Doctors are also embracing technology as a method of treatment, says Fanelli. “We also incorporate the WII gaming system as a part of our treatment programing, combining physical and mental fitness activities in a comprehensive wellness program.”
In addition to goal-oriented apps, Fanelli says smartphones have made communication between doctors and patients more accessible.
“As a psychiatrist, I have found smartphone technology to have been extremely helpful in communicating more effectively with my patients,” says Fanelli. “I have been able to address their issues much more quickly and efficiently than in the past. Texting alone has enabled me to start new medications and make the kind of crucial changes that can be key to successful treatment.”
But most importantly, Lubeckis advises those seeking treatment to speak with a qualified health care provider rather than relying on independent apps.
“If someone is using smart phone apps for diagnostic or screening purposes, that should be just the first step,” she says. “If the person learns they would benefit from professional assistance, the next step should be to contact a professional.”
Fanelli thinks technology brings a host of new opportunities to the mental health field.
“Rather than depend on technology, I think we are embracing technology as a means to enhance the quality of care we can provide to our patients,” Fanelli says. “Technology will never replace the person-to-person relationship that is the cornerstone of good health care, but technology can certainly provide better tools to make that relationship ever more productive, and that is a very exciting thing.”
A 10-second hug was all it took for a high school teacher to change the routine at work. David Russell , a retired Munster High School English teacher, says even if you may feel there’s no time for a break, it can be anything that helps you feel better.
“A lot of people get in a routine, get stuck in that routine and feel like no one cares about anything, them or anyone else,” he says.
When a former student suggested he try a hugging session in class, Russell did. Each day his creative writing students came in and gave each other hugs. They felt like they mattered and enjoyed coming to class every day, he says. “It was a break in their day from what the ordinary was.”
Inspired by that success, Russell decided to devote a week to hugging his co-workers during breaks. Each day he would hug two different people.
“It was pretty amazing to see people’s reactions. It was a break but made me feel better every time I did it and made someone else feel better. For the 10 seconds, it caused so many smiles. It was well worth the time and effort and I enjoyed doing it more often.”
Experts and research agree that taking breaks is important and that even a few minutes away from your workload can help. It recharges you and actually increases productivity.
Some local workplaces have new ways to encourage employees to take that much needed break.
Jean Lubeckis, an Employee Assistance Program therapist with Franciscan Alliance, has been a therapist for 30 years.
As a mental health counselor, she deals with employees’ personal, family and work related issues.
“The top thing we see is stress related issues,” Lubeckis says. “People are anxious and stressed these days juggling families, work and the demands of life.”
One area she works on with the staff is the importance of taking a break. She works with nursing leadership in Michigan City to encourage nurses to take a lunch and get out of the office.
Taking a break may need to be a thoughtful process and purposeful breaks are especially important, she says. Eating lunch at your desk doesn’t count. If people plan a break, they are more likely to do it, Lubeckis says.
“A lot of it is just habits people have to create,” Lubeckis says. There are many reasons people may not leave their desk, among them workplace norms and the social issues involving eating lunch with others or sitting alone.
Lubeckis is working to change some of those issues to help employees.
“Just 10 minutes of quiet meditation can significantly reduce stress,” she says.
Some companies encourage breaks by giving employees access to mini fitness classes, massages or other stress reducers.
Debi Pillarella, the fitness manager at Fitness Pointe, develops all its fitness programs as well as outreach efforts, including worksite programs for employees.
Pillarella says the most common excuses for not taking a break at work include no time, not wanting to get sweaty, not liking to exercise and having a sporadic work day.
She says to be effective, “you have to meet the employee where they are, make the break convenient, free and easy to do.”
Fitness Pointe offers a program called Fitness at Work, where employees come to an area at their work during their break and spend 15 minutes engaging in mini-classes such as chair Zumba, chair yoga and sit and stretch.
At work massages are also offered by Fitness Pointe.
Toni Lozano, the SpaPointe supervisor at Fitness Pointe in Munster, says their on-site massage therapy program has been increasing in popularity.
Massage therapists visit local hospitals, where employees can get a 15-minute chair massage. Appointments are booked online and can be paid through payroll deduction.
With the addition of dim lighting and relaxing music, more employees are signing up.
“For this 15 minutes, it’s more like an escape,” Lozano says. “You’re really doing something healthy for yourself and turning your mind off work for a few minutes.”
Lozano, who’s been in the business 20 plus years, says breaks are good preventative maintenance, especially with so much computer and texting taking place during a work day.
Stretching muscles and getting their blood flowing can really help with preventing carpal tunnel, tendonitis, and issues with elbows and joints, she says.
“I think people get so caught up in what they’re doing that they feel like they’re going to get behind if they stop. But everything you ever read, it’s always better to get away for a little while than keep going, going, going, all day. You come back with a clearer perspective and it’s more clear after you’ve taken that little break.”
Once they experience the massage therapy one time, then they realize they need it. Some people still feel that massages are a luxury, she says, but nowadays it’s maintenance.
“It can help as much as a workout. It’s not just a pampering thing. We get more of a therapeutic clientele. I preach you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of other people. You have to feel good so you can pass it onto others.”
For those who work on their feet, a different kind of break can make their day.
Paula Ketcham, of Griffith, is a culinary specialist for kitchen and events at a hotel chain. She says that during breaks at her work, she and her coworkers like to relax together during down times. “My coworkers and I like to sit and eat our meals. We chat with each other about everything from work to home life.”
They also enjoy playing app games such as Family Feud, 4pics 1word and Candy Crush but the hotel’s Wi-Fi didn’t reach the break room. During an employee survey, they requested Wi-Fi and were surprised and happy when it was put in less than a month later. Now in addition to playing the games, they can watch TV and movies on Netflix.
“It's nice to get away mentally, letting our minds relax and have fun,” she says.
“Sometimes I do think having access to fitness equipment would be nice too but our jobs are very physical and we are on our feet, hard floors, for our entire shift. A good sit down is just what we need.”
Caregivers, those tending someone who is ill, disabled, emotionally vulnerable or aged, are often at high risk themselves. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP in a study updated in November 2012, currently about 65.7 million caregivers make up 29% of the U.S. adult population providing care And those in what’s termed the Sandwich Generation often are juggling multiple demands—dealing with their parents as well as their children whether they’re under 18 and still at home or young adults struggling to find well paying jobs or the expense of college tuition. Add to that the stresses of everyday living, jobs and paying the bills and working and the combination can be detrimental.
That’s what a study by the National Caregiver Alliance indicates. As an example of how caretaking can impact health, the study shows that the risk for a caregiving spouse between the ages of 66 and 96 experiencing mental or emotional strain is 63 percent higher than those of the same age who are not caretakers. The combination of loss, prolonged stress, physical demands of caregiving and biological vulnerabilities that come with age place people at risk for significant health problems as well as, possibly, an earlier death.
According to Dr. Larry Brewerton, PhD, a professor of psychology at Indiana University Northwest who also has a part time private clinical practice, it isn’t only older caregivers who at risk. The Sandwich Generation also faces an increased risk for depression, chronic illness and a deterioration in their quality of life.
“Nervousness, grouchiness, constant fatigue, inability to sleep, lack of appetite or eating too much, can’t get the cared-for one off your mind, finding no happiness in everyday things, confusion, having no spare time or being too tired to enjoy it,” says Cynthia Fodness, MSN, CNS, Mental Health Nursing Instructor at the University of St. Francis and psychiatric consultant at St. Clare Clinic when asked what are some of the warning signs that a caregiver may need care too.
It’s important to recognize these symptoms not only in ourselves but also with friends.
“That’s when it’s important to talk to the person about it,” says Brewerton who warns against missing the signs of someone in distress.
Sometimes our friends are in a caring profession and can’t just vent to us and so we need to find other ways to help.
“If the person is a professional bound by patient confidentiality, encourage him or her to use resources available within his/her profession,” Fodness says. “
But no matter what, Fodness recommends asking what you can do to help.
“Don’t just say, let me know if I can do anything to help, Fodness recommends. “Offer specific help—bring food, take the person—with or without the cared-for one—out for coffee or a meal. Spend time with the cared-for one so the caregiver can have some time away.”
Stress and poor planning often lead to poor dietary choices and they can become chronic problems says Cathie Claysen MS, RD, LD, School of Nursing, College of Health and Human Services at Indiana University Northwest.
“It can help to keep a log of your food and exercise habits,” she says. “Then choose an area to improve, such as evening snacking in front of the television. Then formulate a plan to change your habit. This could be going for a walk after dinner, having a healthy snack prepared, or relaxing with a book instead. When you find a substitute that works for you, then repeat it until it becomes a habit.”
Fodness also lists getting enough sleep, drinking fluids, avoiding excess caffeine and alcohol, exercising, spending time with friends and family, doing things that have been fun in the past and seek support from people in your life.
Ask for things you need, and don’t take everything onto your shoulders—lots of people want to help but don’t want to intrude,” she says. “If you ask, they’ll help. See your doctor regularly and especially if you have signs of illness and seek counseling if things become overwhelming.”
Ssupport groups are also a good way to find support and help. Most communities offer a variety of groups, most of them free, such as Alzheimer’s Support Group as well as groups offering support for such diseases and issues as cancer, mentally ill children, grieving parents and more. Hospitals offer a range of groups and more information can often be found in local newspapers and on Websites.
“I forget who said it,” says Fodness, “but someone said, ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child.’ That’s so true. It’s also true that it takes more than a caregiver to care for someone who needs care. It takes the community, which includes family, friends, and everyone else, to care for the one needing care, as well as the one giving it.”