Maria Mencia Cancer Caregiver Support Network
Founded by Caregiver
The Maria Mencia Cancer Caregiver Support Network, offered by MyMichigan Medical Center Midland and Cancer Services, links caregiver coaches with family and friends to help them cope and balance the demands of cancer treatment.
The idea for the support program network began with Luis Mencia of Midland, whose wife, Maria, passed away after a courageous battle with cancer at age 46. When she was diagnosed in September 2006, Mencia quickly inherited a new role – caregiver – in addition to his roles as husband, father and provider.
"My wife was very sick for six months until her death," Luis Mencia said. "She spent 50 days in the hospital and needed a tremendous amount of home care. I sometimes acted as a full-time nurse, providing oxygen, administering IVs or dressing wounds. Basically, caring for my wife was my full-time job for six months."
Mencia said he was incredibly fortunate to have the support of his employer, friends, neighbors and church members, and he built an effective support network. For example, a close friend of his wife acted as the food coordinator and recruited friends and neighbors to bring meals to his family. Another friend coordinated visits to the house. Someone would sit with Maria for a few hours while Mencia ran errands or exercised. However, Mencia said he was only able to coordinate this support after he realized he couldn’t do everything on his own.
"There’s a tendency, among men especially, to think ‘I can do this by myself. I don’t need help,’ " Mencia said. "It took me a while to understand that I couldn’t do it all."
"Caregivers tend not to worry about themselves. They don’t eat, they don’t exercise, and their well-being suffers. But if you don’t take care of yourself, you don’t have the capacity to take care of your loved one," he said.
About a year after his wife’s death, Mencia was looking for a way to honor his wife when he saw a newspaper article about a similar program in upstate New York. He approached MyMichigan and the Midland-based, non-profit Cancer Services with the idea of founding a similar program in Midland. Both parties were immediately supportive of the idea. With the help of a steering committee, Mencia secured funding for the network, which is supported by the Dow Corning Corporation, Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation, the Charles J. Strosacker Foundation, The Dow Chemical Company Foundation and MyMichigan Medical Center Midland.
Mencia’s daughters, Patricia and Cristina, are supportive of the project. Cristina, a graphics arts student at Michigan State University, designed the network’s logo. The design incorporates the tulip, her mother’s favorite flower.
"We had a great marriage – we were best friends," Mencia said of his wife of 24 years. "When something like this happens you ask yourself, ‘why?’ It was important to me to find some meaning and purpose behind Maria’s sickness and death. Hopefully the caregiver network will help provide others, who find themselves in the same situation, with the kind of support that I was fortunate to experience throughout my wife’s illness."
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