Meet Heather Erickson, our Caregiver Klatch Champion
Heather Erickson plays a lot of roles, a primary cancer caregiver, a Mom, a wife, a teacher, an author, a blogger. The list goes on. And most recently she's assumed the role of our Caregiver Klatch Champion!
So Heather, what's one super interesting thing about you, and where's home?
Just one? I did recently take 1st place in a duck decoy carving competition. It was my first duck, too. Home for me is anywhere my family is. We live in Blaine, Minnesota.
So if cancer caregiving is a journey, where would you say you are on yours?
I don’t know if you ever get off of this journey once you get on. My husband was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012. We are beginning to see the end of his time with us approaching, but then I will be left to pick up the pieces and go on. We have kids that I am homeschooling right now, and one in college. So, we’ll all still be walking the road, trying to heal.
What drew you to your first Caregiver Klatch? How did you hear about it?
I met Kyle when you guys were first getting Jack’s going. I remember thinking how awesome it was that Jack's was doing something exclusively for men who were caregivers. I admit, I was also a little jealous, though. You guys seemed to have a pretty cool thing going on. So about a year ago, I learned through Angel Foundation that you were having a co-ed Caregiver Klatch, so I thought I’d check it out.
Can you describe the Klatch? How does it work? How is different from other "support group" conversations?
The first thing I noticed was there wasn’t anyone telling us what we were going to talk about. It was completely up to us what we discussed and for how long. Because of that, one Klatch can be totally different from the next, just because of who shows up.
What was your first Klatch experience like for you as a participant?
The food was great. What was even better was being able to talk to other caregivers exclusively. In other groups I’ve taken part in, there us usually someone there that you worry you might offend if you are completely honest about how you’re doing. When it’s just caregivers, you don’t have to censor yourself. There’s a shared experience that you all have. There’s something very comfortable about that. As I drove home, I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.
You accepted the challenge to lead the Klatch programming this year, can you talk about why? And how's it going?
From the very beginning, I completely believed in the Jack’s mission of being there for men who are cancer caregivers. The Klatch is such a phenomenal experience. I knew I would want to go every month, anyway. So why not support it by leading? It’s been a great experience. One of the things that has impressed me the most is how on top of things you guys are.
What are some of the most memorable moments or situations from the Klatches so far?
It’s not really one thing (at least not that I can talk about since we protect participant’s privacy). Every week, I am amazed at the way participants of the Klatch support one another. One participant described it as a safe place to share what’s on your mind.
The community partners that join us, can you talk about who we're partnering with and why?
Currently we have been partnering with Angel Foundation, an organization that supports families facing cancer. They also have an emergency financial assistance program. The great thing about having Angel Foundation in on some of the Klatches is the expertise they bring to the table when someone has kids and they are concerned about their well-being.
The Klatch is our only coed program, can you talk about any differences you see in the way that men and women engage as cancer caregivers?
Oh, yes. Whether people want to admit it or not, there are so many differences between men and women. And even with all of the changes in our roles in society, the truth is, we tend to fall into certain roles in our families. This is particularly true when it comes to who runs the home itself. That usually falls to women. So, when a man becomes a caregiver, they suddenly are thrust into this new role of caring for the kids and washing laundry. Plus, they still have to go to work every day. It’s a lot to take in. They want to be strong. Women seem to be more comfortable asking for help and advocating for themselves. That’s how I came to Jack’s. But they are also really scared.
At Jack's we strive to deliver world-class hospitality, can you talk about what hospitality means to you? And what sort of things do you do make sure you bring that hospitality to your Klatches?
Jack’s is there to care for men who are caregivers, by meeting them where they are, with no agenda, leaving them better off than they were before. That might be an ice-fishing trip where they can just kick back and have a good time with other men who are caregivers. Or it might mean sharing some great food and drinks while they talk about what’s happening in their lives, in a way they can’t do with people who aren’t caregivers. My goal is to enable everyone who wants to talk to be heard. I want to respect who they are and their story. I also want to make sure that everyone has plenty to eat and drink. So, I try to anticipate these things in advance. The great staff at the Common Roots Café is very attentive. It’s about seeing what can be done to better meet the needs of the people who show up.