Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Just Relax

In the days and weeks after Steve's diagnosis, we both had some anxiety.

It would often hit when we were the most still, when we weren't working, taking care of children, cooking, eating, cleaning, reading, driving, walking, talking, shopping.

The anxiety would pounce when we tried to sleep. Our bodies needed to sleep. Our minds had other ideas. We weren't experiencing anxiety or panic attacks that might require medication. We just couldn't seem to still our minds, to relax our bodies enough to let sleep take over.

I researched relaxation CDs and chose Just Relax: Relaxing to Sleep by Gail Seymour.

We both found benefits from the CD. In fact, I've never heard the entire disc. I would always fall asleep somewhere in the middle of the spoken-word track. Steve has heard the entire disc, including the soothing, wordless music.

I haven't needed to use the CD in many months. When I do finally get to bed, it takes no time for me to fall asleep. It's nice to know we have the option, though, in case anxiety creeps back in.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lotsa Helping Hands

In the first few weeks of what became Steve's cancer diagnosis, we were flooded with offers of help.

Under most circumstances, I can juggle multiple tasks and organize multiple events without even a calendar or notebook. I thrive when planning and executing big projects.

But I was at a loss on how to manage our needs and the folks who wanted to help. Our circles were colliding -- church, neighborhood, school, work, old friends, family. My most important priorities were to take care of Steve and the kids. Coordinating volunteers was more than I could handle.

Two friends suggested Lotsa Helping Hands, a free online calendar tool that allows a family in need to post requests that can then be filled by friends who are registered within that community.

After Julie and I established the Damm Family Helpers community, I felt an instant burden lifted. I didn't have to worry that maybe two different friends were delivering dinner for the same night. I didn't have to spend time e-mailing or calling for help for a specific task.

Within just a couple of days, more than 100 people had logged in. We had an immediate network of folks to help with meals, driving Steve to and from daily radiation treatments, driving Steve to and from work, light housework and more.

There are now 186 members who can log in at any time to see what help we might need.

There are some quirks with the site that can be frustrating for the administrator, but those complaints are minor compared with the greater benefits.

I can e-mail all the Helping Hands volunteers at once or choose just a few. I can set requests for weeks and months in advance. I can use the site to retrieve contact information for any volunteer. Some families use the site as a way to make announcements or updates on health conditions.

I can't imagine how we would have survived the past year without Lotsa Helping Hands, and we continue to rely on it weekly.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


While Steve was taking the chemotherapy Temodar, he was also taking five times the normal dose of Accutane.

Accutane is usually prescribed to treat severe acne. One of its off-label uses is in the fight against brain cancer. The theory is that the Accutane tricks cancer stem cells into behaving like regular cancer cells -- making them an easier target to be killed by chemotherapy.

All that Accutane gave Steve horribly dry skin. And even now, more than two months after the last Accutane pill, his hands are dry and cracked. (There's probably more than one reason for his continued dry skin -- winter, current chemotherapy, etc.)

He's been using Aquaphor to help his skin heal faster. The consistency is similar to Vaseline, but it's not as greasy, and it seems to work much better.

At night he rubs in the ointment and then wears gloves to hold the moisture in.

We also use Aquaphor on Katie's cheeks, which get chapped after just a few minutes playing outside in winter, and on her thumb (the one she sucks) when she'll tolerate it.

Aquaphor is available at every drugstore, grocery store and big-box discount store in the Dallas area. You can use this link to search for a location near you.

A 14-0z. tub costs about $15. A little goes a long way.