Joan Lunden, former co-host of "Good Morning America" and longtime caregiver to a mother with dementia, recently admitted receiving a life-altering diagnosis of her own in a blog post titled: "I Have Breast Cancer." She was also interviewed on the subject by CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
While it can sometimes be hard to see ourselves reflected in the struggles of celebrities, there are several revelations from the 63-year-old Lunden's reveal that are universally resonant.
- Doing the "right" thing isn't always enough.
Diet, exercise and social interaction: this wellness trifecta is widely prescribed to help prevent and manage every ailment from diabetes to dementia.
But even those who eat their fruits and veggies, go for a daily run, and sneak in some quality time with their friends on the weekends can still succumb to disease. Lunden points this out in her blog post: "I considered myself fit and healthy, I get checked faithfully every year and I didn't have a history of breast cancer in my family. But of course after covering many stories about breast cancer over the years, I knew that none of us are exempt."
This doesn't mean that making healthy lifestyle choices is pointless—it just means that it's important to bear in mind that nothing can completely protect any of us from disease. This reality makes engaging in regular checkups and screening tests an important component of any personal wellness plan.
- Sharing our struggles helps.
There are stigmas attached to certain medical conditions—cancer, HIV and Alzheimer's, to name a few—that make affected individuals hesitant to share their stories. "Breast cancer is not something to be ashamed of or something that we should feel taboo to discuss," says Lunden on her blog. "I know I have a challenge ahead of me in this journey, however I have chosen to take it as an opportunity to fulfill my father's legacy and try to inspire others to protect their health."
Indeed, sharing our struggles with each other is one of the best (albeit intimidating) ways to find support. Every day, family caregivers connect with each other on the AgingCare.com forum to find information and inspiration to help them on their journey.
- Following your own advice is hard.
Lunden has a reputation for being incredibly open about her own life, giving viewers a glimpse into many aspects of her personal and professional experiences over the years. But that doesn't mean that the decision to go public with her breast cancer diagnosis was an easy one. "It took me some time to embrace the idea of coming forward with MY breast cancer journey," she writes.
We've all certainly had times when we've dished out well-meaning advice to others that we would be hesitant to take ourselves. For instance, when we urge a burnt out friend or family member to take a break that, if we were in their position, we would never feel comfortable taking ourselves.
- Living with a one-size-fits-all perspective won't work.
It's natural to wish for a simple solution to a complex problem; whether it's keeping a loved one with dementia calm in the evening, or managing your spouse's blood sugar levels. But the truth is that the idea of a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't apply to the majority of life's challenges, especially those associated with caregiving.
As Lunden discusses with Gupta in the context of her cancer treatment plan, "What I say I'm doing doesn't mean that's what you should be doing." Seeking the guidance of others is important when faced with multi-faceted issues, but trusting your own intuition and being willing to engage in a potentially painful process of trial and error is necessary for finding the solutions that work best for you and your loved one.
- Finding your own source of empowerment is essential.
During her interview with Gupta, Lunden talks about her decision to shave her head, prior to starting chemotherapy. "I thought it was going to be like the biggest deal in the world. And you know what? I felt I didn't have it done to me. I walked in and I said, ‘Do this.'"
When faced with a dire situation, such as a loved one's terminal illness, it can seem as though you'll never feel powerful and in control ever again. But trying to find those little actions that make you feel empowered can help lift your spirits, even in the midst of a trying battle.