#17: How I Navigated the Cancer World and How You Can, with Rachel Engstrom

July 18, 2021

A loved one being diagnosed with a severe illness is one of the most horrendous experiences we may have to face. And eventually, losing someone you care about is even more devastating. These sorts of experiences turn our whole world upside down, and they sometimes decide heavily influence where we’re headed in our life. Our guest today is someone who has endured the devastating effects of a loved one going through a terminal illness and the grief of losing him. Rachel Engstrom, Certified Health Education Specialist and the author of the book “Wife, Widow, Now What?” joins us today to share her experiences that inspired her book.

We start the conversation with the story of how Rachel met Grayson in the year 2000 when she was 19. Three years later, Rached proposed to him, and soon after, they got married and were on the way to building their new life together. It wasn’t long before Rachel and Grayson saw signs of trouble. We talk about the acute lymphoblastic leukemia diagnosis of Grayson and how the emotions that come with the news influenced Rachel and Grayson’s lives. 

According to Rachel, one of the first challenges they faced was dealing with a plethora of new information, acronyms, and unfamiliar medical concepts related to Grayson’s condition. She shares with us some of the methods she used to try to understand and be educated about Grayson’s condition. While Grayson was under treatment, Rachel had to figure out lots of things in her life, including taking care of Grayson, maintaining finances, keeping her job, and taking care of herself. We dive deep into how she managed all these overwhelming tasks and some useful tips for caregivers.

After a long battle against the illness, eventually, Rachel had to say goodbye to Grayson. She talks about what that fateful day felt like, how her life, her relationships with her peers, her life trajectory, and how she looks at the world changed after Grayson was gone. Wrapping up the episode, we talk about the current chapter of Rachel’s life and the work she does to help other people who are fighting cancer.

One of the concepts Rachel focuses on in her book is widow logistics. We dive deep into this concept of managing the logistical aspect of a loved one passing away and figuring out life after the demise of a loved one. 

[01:13] Meeting Grayson – We start the conversation with the story of how Rachel met Grayson and how they grew together.

[04:46] Signs of Trouble – Rachel opens up about how she felt when Grayson showed signs that something is wrong and how things escalated from there.

[06:07] Feeling Emotions – A severe diagnosis always brings a plethora of emotions like fear, anger, and panic. We talk about how people can get in touch with these emotions and get them out of their bodies, so they’re not holding on to these emotions all the time.

[09:37] Handling Information – Dealing with a serious illness requires absorbing lots of unfamiliar  information for the person involved as well as their caregivers. Rachel shares with us some of the useful things she did that helped her understand Grayson’s situation and work with medical staff.

[20:53] Self-care for Caregivers – In this type of situation, if the caregivers aren’t taking care of themselves, it could lead to more problems in the long run. Rachel shared what caregivers should keep in mind about self-care.

[27:04] Support from Peers – How to communicate better with friends and family who offers their help in your time of need.

[30:00] Finances – One of the most important things Rachel covers in her book is managing financial burden when a loved one is fighting a serious illness. We talk about how financial matters brought tremendous stress to Rachel and Grayson and some of the things she did to keep their financial stability.

[34:00] Dealing with Hair Loss – Rachel shares with us some resources that help deal with hair loss associated with cancer.

[37:35] Remission – At one stage of his journey, Grayson was in remission and was able to come home, and Rachel’s parents moved in to help them out. We talk about some of Rachel’s experiences of adjusting to the new reality and memories from that era.

[47:12] Saying Goodbye – After some time, Grayson’s health complications came back. He had to be hospitalized again, and weeks later, Rachel had to say goodbye to the love of her life. Rachel talks about how it felt and how it changed her life.

[1:02:00] Widow Logistics – On top of the emotional impact from the passing of a loved one, it also brings up logistical challenges. Rachel calls this “widow logistics,” and we talk about what she did to overcome her challenges in this aspect.

[1:15:00] New Life – We talk about Rachel’s life trajectory after Grayson’s passing, writing her book, and how she became an advocate.


Rachel’s Book:

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