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[MINI-PODCAST] Ep 78: Jack's Caregiver Coalition

March 14, 2022

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At times, being a caregiver can be an isolating experience—and especially for men who may struggle to ask for help. CANCER BUZZ spoke to Mike McGarry who—following his wife’s cancer diagnosis—was introduced to Jack’s Caregiver Coalition, a non-profit dedicated to supporting men throughout the caregiver journey.

This supportive community meets monthly to engage in unique activities like ice sculpting and axe throwing and share their caregiver experiences. This creates a safe space for men to talk openly about their struggles, offer counsel to one another, and celebrate successes. Mike shares how Jack’s Caregiver Coalition became a valuable resource that supported him as he navigated the unfamiliar role of caregiver.




Mike McGarryMike McGarry
Caregiver to wife, Tracy
Jack’s Caregiver Coalition 2020 Volunteer of the Year, Jack-to-Jack Coach, and Blog Manager
Saint Paul, Minnesota

"Jack's [Caregiver Coalition] supports male caregivers...they have programs [like] Jack-to-Jack...and you can find other 'Jacks'...and just talk about whatever—if it's about your caregiving struggles that's great, but maybe it's just about getting out." 

Related Content:

This podcast is part of a special series with ACCC's Oncology Issues journal. For a deeper dive into this content, please read, “Supporting Caregivers Through Their Cancer Journey,” from V37 N2.




CANCER BUZZ: Welcome back to CANCER BUZZ. I'm your host Summer Johnson. Today, a special caregivers resource—just for men. Mike McGarry lives just outside of Saint Paul, Minnesota. He connected with Jack’s Caregiver Coalition following his wife's diagnosis with breast cancer in 2017. They have two young children.

Mike McGarry: So for about a year and a half, her cancer was in remission. She was not able to work. And after her cancer came out of remission, it was about a year and a half ago. She was told that she had run through all of the FDA approved drugs. So they identified a clinical trial at the Mayo that she started last March. So she was on that clinical trial until just this January, because that clinical trials stopped working and she's been approved for another clinical trial at a hospital in Milwaukee.

So we plan on—it would be a weekly trip to Milwaukee. So it's, you know, we live in the Twin Cities, so it's a five-hour drive. So on a weekly basis, I won't be going because I'll stay home with the kids. So we will have to get somebody to go, but she'll have to go once a week to get the treatment.

CANCER BUZZ: Tell us how you first got connected with Jack’s Caregiver Coalition.

Mike McGarry: I met Jack’s in October of 2017. Minnesota Oncology gave Tracey a pamphlet for Jack's Caregiver Coalition, which is a group in the Twin Cities that supports male caregivers. And they just talked about how they can support you, how you, they can help you through a lot of the trying times. So I contacted Kyle Woody, who's the Founder. Then he immediately called me, we had a talk and I got a lot of support. And since then, I've, you know, been able to do various activities with them. And I do get a lot of personal support from people that I know in Jack’s.

A lot of the men, I mean, there are women in the community too, and they also have monthly meetings that I go to. And that just helps me understand how to be a better caregiver. And you know that it's okay to ask for help and to struggle.

CANCER BUZZ: What do you think are the unique challenges for male caregivers?

Mike McGarry: Well, it is isolation generally. I don't think men like to ask for help. I don't like to ask for help. And I still don't like to ask for help. And many times, Kyle will get on me and say, “You have to ask for help.” And that's one of the nice things about Jack’s is you can bounce ideas off of people, but you will sit for the first five months. I never asked for help and I sat and I would work for 16 hours a day just taking care of the family, going, getting food and trying to cook food.

And I would say the biggest challenge is the men do not ask for help and they wait and it's too long. By the time they ask for help, they're behind in bills, they're burned-out, and they're in tough times.

CANCER BUZZ: Did your wife's oncology team see that you were struggling—or did that connection with Jack’s just happened by chance?

Mike McGarry: Well, I think it happened by chance because they were going to an oncologist that is a partner with Jack’s. They work together pretty closely. So they, I think the pamphlets are in the oncologists office and I'm not exactly sure. I just remember Tracy came home one day and gave me this pamphlet and I looked at it and it said you can do events that you would never do in your life. And since then I've driven an excavator. I did some ice sculpting. I did some ax throwing with the guys. So they have unique events that you can do.

You get together, you do the unique event and then you go to dinner, or lunch, and you just talk. But that was just about a couple of months, probably about three months after she had been diagnosed that I found out about Jack's.

CANCER BUZZ: It sounds like Jack's Caregiver Coalition is able to provide a space for guys to share the burdens they're going through, but also to let off some steam. What are some other ways that Jack’s helps men in your position?

Mike McGarry: They have programs, you know, they have something called Jack-to-Jack, which allows you to go in…it's, you know, it's almost like a dating service where you can go in, you would log in as a member and you can find, you know, other ‘Jacks’ who have signed up to be mentors or coaches who have been through it for years. And you can pick that person. You can say, all right, well, this guy has got a lot of similar interests. He likes to hunt. He likes to fish. He likes to write or read, and his wife has been going through this for a long time. And he's struggled with this.

So you connect with him and you call him and you go out for maybe a beer with him or go out to dinner and just talk and just talk about whatever, if it's about your caregiving struggles, that's great. But maybe it's just about getting out because it's hard to get out and you feel guilty when you get out.

CANCER BUZZ: What do you think oncology care providers need to understand about male caregivers?

Mike McGarry: Well, I don't have a lot of complaints about the care that we've gotten. I know a lot of times you're a caregiver, so you're not the primary person. I guess when the social workers, when you get together with social workers or you talk to the doctors, they focus on the patient themselves. But a lot of times it's the caregiver, who's, you know—bringing that patient to all the appointments, taking all the time, not taking care of themselves. So, you know, I would say if there was a way to get the caregiver involved in something that is related to what they're going through, like a support group for caregivers.

I used to go to Tracy support group through her oncologist. And it was for the patients. You know, I would go as a support and there were other caregivers, but it was for the patients. Where as with Jack's they also have an event called the ‘Klatch’, which is specifically for caregivers. So that's a co-ed event, we go out, we go to a restaurant. They Minnesota oncology, and there's a couple other sponsors, that pick up all the food and the drinks and everything. And you go and it's moderated by a professional and you go around and you talk about your issues. That's what needs to be done.

I think the caregivers need to immediately understand what they have to look forward to.

CANCER BUZZ: You can click on the show notes for more information about Jack's Caregiver Coalition, which is also featured in ACCC’s Oncology Issues journal, volume 37, number 2. Next week on CANCER BUZZ, how oncology care team members can get involved in advocacy to improve patient care. Until then, this is Summer Johnson.

CANCER BUZZ: CANCER BUZZ is a resource of the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC).

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s)/faculty member(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of their employer(s) or the Association of Community Cancer Centers.