HONOLULU (Hawaii News Now) - Veteran TV Host Emme Tomimbang calls caregiving for husband Jim Burns her toughest assignment. In her words, "I have to say I thought TV was hard, but caregiving was absolutely a new world and territory for me. If you've never been in a caregiver's shoes, it's hard to imagine."
A mis-step, losing a shoe after speaking at the Cancer Survivorship Conference is a fitting metaphor for her role as caregiver. "I had to learn overnight how to set up a bag, set up a syringe. and you're talking to a TV person. My husband said you should know these things, you're Filipino. (laughs)"
With a wink, he added, "It's in her blood, her DNA."
Emme picks up from there, saying "My husband would joke, you're Filipino. It's in your DNA, but sorry. I could barely get his temperature at one time."
The rookie caregiver showed the same determination she did as a broadcast veteran chasing stories, saying "I learned, hit the ground running to find out about cancer, treatments, post treatments."
But the learning curve for a caregiver's steep, with the life of a loved one at stake. "My husband said I was a tyrant, but I had to be because you really don't know what you're doing at first."
Judge Burns adds, "You need nursing, cooks, apparatus, even tube feeding. Where do you get that? Where do you get the stuff to put in it? Most people don't know. We didn't know and you have to find out by tomorrow."
Emme got a crash course on caregiving, tube feeding Jim for 9 months. Until he graduated to smoothies and soft solids-- that a Chef Mike O'Connor from Drink Your Meals taught her how to cook for her husband, a recovering throat cancer patient.
As Chef O'Connor explains, "Emme although I know she can cook, wasn't specific for cooking to learn to swallow again."
The tables turned when Emme collapsed at home, nearly killed by an aneurysm. Instantly, Jim became Emme's caregiver. Jim describes their role reversal like this: "Caregiver she's like a First Sergeant, but patient she's very good."
The two shared do's and don'ts at the Cancer Survivorship Conference.
As Jim says, "Emme's caretaking of me was a major contributor to her near fatal medical problem."
For one, don't neglect your own health, and do stay positive.
Jim stresses positive energy. "Think of it as being a cheerleader and the fact that Emme was a cheerleader in high school at Farrington, that qualifies her!"
Their cheerleaders, Ron and Ann Ho, married cancer survivors turned caregivers. Ron talked Emme through Jim's cancer treatment.
"I could tell she was overwhelmed at times" explains Ron. "But I could tell she had a deep love and care and concern for caring for her husband."
Ron's wife and caregiver Ann adds, "There are days when the cancer patient will let the diagnosis get them down. As the caregiver, it's your job 24-7, you have to be optimistic you have to be cheerful. It's so important to reach out to people who have walked the walk."
Even if you occasionally stumble along the way.
Emme says she wanted to "share the things they've learned to do, but more importantly learned not to do because there is no manual, no textbook. It's a personal journey. Funny how we have a first aid kit in our bathroom closet. We need to develop a first aid caregiving kit as well."
Here are the Do's and Don'ts that Emme and Jim shared at the Cancer Survivorship Conference.
THINGS TO DO:
1) Keep all your Doctors phone numbers close by and make sure you have a number to call on weekends.
2) When you go to your Doctors appointments, take notes. Sometimes what the patient hears is different from what is being said. You need to clarify for both of you so there's no misinformation.
3) Plan your questions before you meet with the Doctor. Go over these questions with your loved one so you don't miss anything.
4) Keep a journal of dates/time when you are administering medications, or notice anything unusual with your loved one. This information is vital to the Doctors/Nurses to further help you in your loved ones' care.
5) Get nurse relief as often as you can. It might take a few nurses before you realize what works for you and your loved one.
6) Have your friends come and take you out, or take them out and be with people who can offer you comfort, positive reinforcement. You need to take this back to your patient.
7) Get a hair cut, do your nails, do something to make you feel good about yourself.
8) Make sure you are eating healthily and doing some form of exercise.
9) Don't forget to take your medication and monitor your blood pressure.
10)Don't feel badly about asking for help from family and friends. Our culture says not to bother anyone, no humbug. This time you can.
11) Get someone to drive your loved one to treatments as long as there's no meeting involved. These can be great breaks.
12) Ask family and friends to bring food, grocery shop and do errands.
13) Get to know your pharmacist and ask if all meds being given work together. They may not!
14) Join support groups. You share information and don't feel alone. We got our chef, who comes in twice a month. He cooks for cancer patients and has helped my husband go from tube feeding, to soft foods to as normal foods as possible. Nutrients, calories needed for him daily.
15) The Daily journal is also important because it can give the second caregiver, should anything happen to one of you, a chance to read and know what your routine and daily regimen is all about. It becomes a manual.
WHAT NOT TO DO:
1) Don't think caregiving is easy. No matter how much support you get, especially with a loved one, emotional investment here, and it can stress you out.
2) Don't think you can do it all. Find agencies, support groups, family, friends who can help with daily chores: cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, errands.
3) Don't overload your day. Pace yourself.
4) Don't get emotionally stressed. This can hurt you and your loved one.
5) Don't be afraid to ask questions, even if it sounds stupid. Especially about medications.
6) Don't lose hope. Be positive and think only good healthy thoughts. You're giving energy to your patient and to yourself.
Additional resources for Caregivers:
"DRINK Your Meals" specializes in liquid food for feeding bags for people who cannot eat normally. Chef Mike O'Connor helped Judge Burns graduate to smoothies and soft solids. You can reach Chef Mike O'Connor on his Facebook page,
Family Caregiving information and resources
Family Caregiving information and support group forums
Family Caregiving information and support group forums