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FROM THE EDITOR'S PEN / Mr. Brokaw and the Sixth Principle / Editorial List

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Gary Barg

Mr. Brokaw and the Sixth Principle

I will fearlessly seek out other caregivers or care organizations and join an appropriate support group, I realize that there is strength in numbers and will not isolate myself from those who are also caring for their loved ones.
Fearless Caregiver Manifesto – Principle 6

For anyone who counsels family caregivers, it is important to understand that we can be hesitant to take advantage of support groups for a few reasons. First, it is difficult for many of us to face the issues of our own caregiving, so to tell us to sit in a room of people who are discussing their own caregiving challenges seems like the very last thing we would ever want to do. Also, many caregivers feel that support groups are just a room of people whining about their problems; of course, nothing is further from the truth. In fact, many caregivers learn to see their support groups as some of the only people who they can open up to—their family of choice.

My suggestion is to say to the questioning family caregiver, “If you trust me at all, I want you to take a ‘leap of faith.’” Go to an appropriate support group three times. Three times, because the first time it might just seem as if you are walking into a room of people whining about their situations; that is because you have stepped into an intimate setting of people talking about other people and situations that you know nothing about. The second time you go, it may still be a little uncomfortable for the caregiver. But I have never seen a caregiver go to an appropriate, well-led support group three times and not walk out telling all their friends about this new fantastic thing that they discovered called support groups.

We present a Fearless Caregiver Award to a family caregiver in every city where we host a conference. A few years ago in Los Angeles, the winner came up to accept her award and started to tell her personal story, which was unerringly similar to the “leap of faith” concept. She went three times and became so attached to her support group that she pointed to the table from where she had been sitting in the reception hall. Every other attendee seated at that table was a member of her support group.
My dad retired in 1990 at the age of 59, but soon afterward developed multiple myeloma cancer. Although he was a gregarious guy and was as comfortable talking with the guys on the line in his lumber plants as he was talking with the “suits” at corporate headquarters, convincing Dad that spending time in a support group of others also dealing with cancer would be of value to him seemed an unlikely prospect, unfortunately. Although a great guy, Dad was also a tough old Marine and he wouldn’t hear of such a thing.

One evening, about six months before Dad passed away in 1991, I was watching The NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. That night, Mr. Brokaw ended his program with a segment about a new study proving the value of support groups for people living with cancer. As he spoke, the visuals cut away to a support group in my home town of Miami, Florida, and you could only imagine my surprise when I saw my dad on my television screen, holding court in a lively discussion with his fellow support group members.

He hadn’t told me, but he had joined a local support group a few months earlier. Dad told me that he regretted not finding his support group sooner, because that little group had become such an important part of his life. And in fact, every member of his support group was at his funeral a few months later.

I wish Mr. Brokaw and his family much luck with his own journey with multiple myeloma. He will probably never know, but he made my dad’s journey with the same disease so much easier when Dad needed it most. And for that, I will be forever grateful.

Gary Barg

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