By Mike McGarry
November is National Family Caregivers Month, and Caregiver Action Network is raising awareness of the important work these individuals take on—often in a moment’s notice—through its #CaregivingHappens campaign. Learn more about the goals of the campaign, including a social media toolkit and how to take part, on the network’s website.
Jack’s Caregiver Coalition was founded in 2014 by three men who were caring for their wives who had cancer: Kyle Woody, whose wife Sarah was battling colon cancer; Justin Nicolay, whose wife Michelle was in the final stages of melanoma; and Dustin Cesarek, whose wife Kim had metastatic breast cancer.
Caregiving was a lonely place for these men, even when they were surrounded by family and friends. Though their family and friends provided support, this support was directed toward their wives, who were receiving treatment for cancer. These men—and new caregivers—found themselves largely in the background, caring for their family and their children often alone, with few people who could relate to their experiences.
Without peers—other men who have been caregivers for their wives with cancer—these men had no one to relate to, no one to share their struggles with, and no one from whom to seek counsel. They found themselves alone in an unknown territory. This loneliness created a need to find others in similar circumstances. People these men could share their experiences with and talk through struggles. They wanted others with whom they could celebrate successes and those who could offer counsel and solace.
Woody, Nicolay, and Cesarek all found one another and discovered that talking with others about their situations often relieved them of the incredible stress and loneliness they each felt. They shared and learned from each other, and they became better caregivers and better men.
It was through Woody, Nicolay, and Cesarek’s initial meetings that Jack’s Caregiver Coalition was born, with a mission of improving the way guys think, feel, and act through every phase of their caregiving journey. Being a caregiver is one of the largest and most important challenges that a man will face in his lifetime. Jack’s helps men meet this challenge and bring their boldest and most confident selves to caregiving. The coalition helps members recognize the importance of taking care of their own health and well-being, while they are caring for their loved ones. If a caregiver isn’t taking care of himself, then their whole family can suffer.
Over the years, Jack’s has grown through its membership, as well as its offerings for caregivers. Programs and events are created to help caregivers on their journey and to improve their feelings of self-worth. The coalition’s member programming includes one-of-a-kind event offerings that bring members together to share a unique and often a character-building experience. (Details on Jack’s Caregiver Coalition’s member programming can be found in my Oncology Issues article.)
I have been a member of Jack’s Caregiver Coalition since November of 2017, just six months after my wife Tracy was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. This was six months after I had been a caregiver on my own, not asking anyone for help and just blindly moving my family through our day-to-day crises. In October 2017, I was given a brochure for Jack’s and quickly signed up to become a member. Within a day, I received a call from Kyle Woody—founder of Jack's Caregiver Coalition—to learn more about my situation and see how the coalition could help me.
Kyle talked to me about what I was going through and let me know that there are other people out there who are going through the same thing as me. He let me know that I wasn’t alone. There were so many others out there who knew what I was going through and who could help me in my caregiving journey.
Kyle became a trusted counsel and friend in my time of need. He encouraged me to reach out to other members, who were also caring for their loved ones with cancer. Kyle also encouraged me to attend coalition events. My first event was a great team building opportunity with other members. We met at a local ax throwing venue in Minneapolis, Minn., where we competed to be the “Bad Axe Champion.” It was the first time that I had gone out socially during the first year Tracy was diagnosed with cancer. For me, it was such a relief to be able to step away from the incredible and sometimes debilitating responsibility of being a caregiver. I was able to meet other men who, just like me, were struggling through their own family crises and cancer. I then began attending other Jack’s Caregiver Coalition events and was supported along my caregiver journey.
Over the years, I have leaned on the Jack’s community when times have gotten tough. They’ve never let me down. Tracey is now in remission after participating in a clinical trial, and I took over the coalition’s blog. I began writing caregiving stories for Jack’s in partnership with AARP to shine a light on the trials and challenges of being a caregiver. These insights continue to inspire me as I continue through my own caregiving journey.
Mike McGarry is a caregiver for his wife, Tracy, who has multiple myeloma. Mike and Tracy have two boys, Joseph, 16, and Jacob, 14. Mike has been a member of Jack’s Caregiver Coalition since 2017. You can hear him discuss more about Jack’s Caregiver Coalition and his caregiving experience on CANCER BUZZ.
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