The Importance of Caregiving
- Canadian actor and musician Keanu Reeves, 58, recently kicked off his tour with nineties band Dogstar and took a vacation to Italy with his younger sister Kim Reeves, who endured a 10-year battle with blood cancer.
- Seeing Reeves spending time with his sister Kim reminds us how he served as Kim’s primary caretaker during her cancer journeywhere Reeves put even put his career on hold to help her out.
- Leukemia is a blood cancer that develops when the body produces large quantities of abnormal white blood cells. These cells prevent the bone marrow from producing any other type of cell including, red blood cells and platelets.
- People like Kim Reeves can feel a wide range of emotions when confronted with a cancer diagnosis. Many may feel depressed, anxious, worried, overwhelmed, and even full of grief. Support your loved one as best you can, like Keanu Reeves did for his sister, by being a loving, listening ear and lending support.
- Dr. Scott Irwin, director of supportive care service at Cedars-Sinai, tells us about the grief that may accompany a cancer diagnosis. “Grief comes in waves,” he says. “It often gets better over time, but at certain days, it can look like depression. And other days, people look perfectly normal and can function.”
Reeves, a bassist in the American alternative rock band, performed with Dogstar for the first time in 20 years on August 10, in Hermosa Beach, California. And just days prior to that, he was spotted sailing around Capri with Kim.Read More
Prior to losing his newborn daughter Ava, who was stillborn, Kim was diagnosed with leukemia in 1991. Following the news of her diagnosis, Reeves put his upcoming Matrix sequels on hold to make more time for his sister.
Reeves cooked her meals, cleaned her house, and even prepped her medications.
“She was always there for me, you know. I will always be here for her,” Reeves said in an earlier interview.
Back in 1995, Kim told PEOPLE, “My brother is my prince. He listens to every word, to every comma after every word, that you are saying.”
In 1999, Kim also spoke with Australian magazine Woman's Day about how much her brother did for her during her cancer battle.
“Keanu helped me so much through my illness,” she told the news outlet. “When the pain got really bad, he would sit with me and hold my hand, and keep the ‘bad man’ from making me dance.”
She added, “He was supporting me and comforting me all the time, even when he was away.”
In addition to being so generous with his time during his sister’s fight with leukemia, Reeves donated 70% of his Matrix film earnings to cancer research.
After 10 years of treatment, Kim conquered the disease and inspired Reeves, also an older brother to his sisters Karina and half-sister Emma, to create a charity to help those facing cancer (but he did not link his name to the foundation).
He reportedly told Ladies Home Journal in 2009, “I have a private foundation that’s been running for five or six years, and it helps aid a couple of children’s hospitals and cancer research.
“I don’t like to attach my name to it, I just let the foundation do what it does.”
What Is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a blood cancer that develops when the body produces large quantities of abnormal white blood cells. These cells prevent the bone marrow from producing any other type of cell including, red blood cells and platelets.
"One cell got really selfish and decided that it needed to take up all the resources of everybody else, and, in doing so, took up space and energy from the rest of the body," Dr. Nina Shah, a hematologist at University of California San Francisco, explained.
There are four basic categories doctors use to identify the different types of this blood cancer:
- Acute leukemia grows very quickly.
- Chronic leukemia grows more slowly, over several years.
- Lymphoid leukemia grows from lymphoid cells, which produce antibodies and protect against viruses.
- Myeloid leukemia grows from myeloid cells, which is the body's first defense for bacteria.
In a more general sense, blood cancer means that your bone marrow is not functioning properly.
"And when your bone marrow doesn't function correctly, it means that you can have something happen to you like anemia," she said. "Or you can have low platelets, which makes it possible for you to bleed easily. Or your immune system is not functioning correctly."
Symptoms of leukemia can vary depending on the type of leukemia and can present as seemingly benign. Common signs and symptoms of the disease include:
- Fever or chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Frequent or severe infections
- Losing weight without trying
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Bone pain or tenderness
These signs and symptoms are not exclusive to leukemia, but if you notice them or any other changes to your health, you should see a doctor promptly.
Supporting a Family Member Through Cancer
People like Kim Reeves can feel a wide range of emotions when confronted with a cancer diagnosis. Many may feel depressed, anxious, worried, overwhelmed, and even full of grief. Support your loved one as best you can, like Keanu Reeves did for his sister, by being a loving, listening ear and lending support.
Expert Caregiving Resources
- Caregiving Isn’t Easy; Recognize That You May Need Help
- Caregiving: An Opportunity for Healing
- “Be Proud Of What You’re Doing” — Justine Almada’s Ode to Cancer Caregivers
- “It Made All the Difference”: How Bruce Willis’ Wife Emma Willis Prioritizes Her Own Happiness While Being a Caregiver
- 'A Sacred And Blessed Calling': Managing Life As a Caregiver
- Here Are Top Tips For Cancer Caregivers To Help Them Through The Process
- How to Be a Better Caregiver for Your Loved One
- Patrick Dempsey’s Advice to Cancer Caregivers: Take Care of Yourself, Too
Dr. Scott Irwin, director of supportive care service at Cedars-Sinai, explains in an earlier interview the grief that may accompany a cancer diagnosis. “Grief comes in waves,” he says.
“It often gets better over time, but at certain days, it can look like depression. And other days, people look perfectly normal and can function.”
“They’re grieving the change in their life, the future they had imagined is now different,” says Dr. Irwin, of how a person may feel after getting a cancer diagnosis.
“In cancer care, sometimes, we’re actually forcing some body changes that are beyond what would be normal aging, and that can be even harder for people to deal with where they don’t feel like themselves.”
Five Ways You Can Support Someone with Cancer
No matter what role you play, it can be very tough to know what to do when someone you care about is diagnosed with cancer. To help get you started, below are some ways to offer support to your loved ones with cancer.
- Avoid asking, try doing. Although it's understandable to not know how to best support your loved one during their cancer journey, it can be equally as hard for them to voice exactly what they need or want from you. Instead of always asking, "How can I help you?" maybe try saying something more concrete like, "Hey, can I come over at 8? I'll bring Monopoly." If you offer specific ways to support rather than ask for things they need, it's likely to come across as more genuine and feel easier for them to accept the support or help.
- Stay in touch, but "don't say stupid things." You might never be able to truly understand the battle your loved one is facing, but being a person they feel comfortable talking through some of their negative emotions with can make a big difference. That being said, breast cancer survivor Catherine Gigante-Brown says there are some topics you might want to avoid. "Don't burden us with stories about your Great Aunt Harriet who had breast cancer," she previously told SurvivorNet. "And then you say, 'Oh how's she doing?' And then they'll say, 'Oh, she died.' We don't need to hear the horror stories."
- Offer to cook them a meal. Consider inviting them over for dinner, dropping off a special dish, or, if that's not possible, sending a gift basket with some pick-me-up goodies. If you're able to cook for them, perhaps try to make a healthy meal that will bring them joy. Remember that there's no specialized diet that has been found to fight cancer, but it's always a good idea to maintain a moderate diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as fats and proteins. No matter what, it's the simple gesture of providing a meal that will make them feel loved and supported.
- Try helping them find joy. There's no one right way to do it, but try to think of activities you can do with your loved one that will lift them up. It could be something as simple as watching a funny tv series together, having a wine and paint night, taking a drive to a beautiful place or starting a book club with them. We've seen in previous studies that patients with better emotional health have a better quality of life when going through treatment and actually tend to live longer than those with worse emotional well-being. Dr. Dana Chase, a gynecologic oncologist at Arizona Oncology, says "better quality of life is associated with better survival, better outcomesâ€¦ having a good social network can be very helpful."
- Be involved. If you've take on more of a full-time caregiving role, work to understand your loved one's diagnosis and help them follow the instructions from the cancer-care team. "I encourage caregivers to come in to visits with my patients, because in that way, the caregiver is also listening to the recommendations what should be done in between these visits, any changes in treatment plans, any toxicities [side effects] that we need to look out for, changes in dietary habits, exercise, etc.," Dr. Jayanthi Lea, a gynecologic oncologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff