The Healing Power of Communication

Katie Couric speaking at Georgetown University. Photo credit: Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center

Jay Monahan was married to award-winning journalist, Katie Couric, for nearly 10 years and they had two daughters together. He died in 1998 at age 42 of colon cancer and, sadly, Katie’s sister, a Virginia state senator, also died of cancer three years later. Having been struck by cancer’s devastating toll not only with the loss of her husband but also the death of her sister, Couric was determined to honor their legacies through her advocacy for caregivers and cancer survivors. Since then, she has been very outspoken about caregiving and Cura Personalis, or “caring for the whole person” and the importance of self-care and mindfulness in caregiving.

Recently, Couric spoke* at the Inaugural Edward M. Kovach Cura Personalis Endowed Lecture at Georgetown University. Couric’s lecture, “The Healing Power of Communication,” focused on holistic caregiving that celebrates the principle of cura personalis.

What is Cura Personalis?

Cura Personalis is a Latin phrase that denotes care for all aspects of a person’s health, from the physical to the mental and the spiritual, encompassing our responsibility towards others. This mantra is Jesuit in origin, but is not restricted to any one religion, profession, or culture. It simply teaches that every person needs to be mindful of various aspects of his or her life, especially when faced with extraordinary stress.

Many caregivers are aware that taking care of one’s self improves the quality of care we give to others. In fact, it’s so crucial that the Georgetown University School of Medicine explicitly teaches the concept of cura personalis to future doctors, in addition to having speakers on the subject for the public, such as Couric.

Katie Couric Discusses Cura Personalis and Her Own Caregiving Experience

Since her husband and sister’s death, Couric has been speaking out about her past journey as a caregiver for someone with a terminal disease. Here are some of things she recalls, and things she would do differently if she had another opportunity and knew about cura personalis back then.

According to Couric:

• Caregivers often feel alone and isolated: Support groups were really just starting to form when her husband was sick. If she could go back, she said that “she wishes she had sought out other caregivers and other patients to compare notes with and to find support from and just be able to vent to people or to cry with people.”

• She felt like the only one in the world going through it, and that it was all consuming: She always felt like she was “in the cancer world” versus “the healthy world.” She remembers looking around and saying, “How can these people go shopping? How can they have lunch and laugh? How can they just be going about their daily lives when my life had been stopped in its tracks and my family would never be the same?” She describes caregiving as a very consuming experience, where you feel like you’re the only one going through it, but knows now that you are not.

• She wishes they had an end-of-life conversation: She also wishes that someone had helped her have an end-of-life conversation with her husband because she tried to protect him from a lot of the facts about his illness and the prognosis. According to Katie, “he was a bit of a glass half empty person and I was afraid that he would live the rest of his life waiting to die. And I just wanted him to spend whatever time he had left wanting to live. Having those really hard conversations is difficult, but necessary. So, I hope that people have advice on how to do that and there’s more attention paid to really helping a family with the emotional minefield of a very bad prognosis.”

• She recommends spending time with friends: Couric kept going to work every day, which was a welcome escape for her because she couldn’t think about what was going on with her husband. She tried to spend time when she could with friends. She went away for her birthday with some girlfriends to the Bahamas because her stress levels were off the charts. She felt guilty at the time that she did that, but she realizes now that she really needed that break and time with her friends.

• Go to those preventative doctor’s appointments: Couric recommends that you take time to get to those preventative doctor’s appointments and get screened. Screenings for cancer and other illnesses have saved a lot of people’s lives. She is very mindful of her family history. Even if a disease is not genetic, however, Couric believes that “no family history is never a guarantee and so people shouldn’t be lulled into this false sense of security.” It’s always wise to keep those doctor’s appointments and get screened!

• Take care of yourself: Couric believes in the importance of adapting to a more healthy lifestyle, taking care of your health, and urging your loved ones to exercise and eat right. According to Couric, “I’ve been always pretty health-conscious and try to exercise and stay in shape and eating right. There’s a real correlation between a healthy diet, not smoking, exercising and decreasing your risk of getting sick.”

Katie Couric learned through her own experience that we all have a choice. We can honor our whole person or move through the day feeling stressed and guilty for not doing enough for ourselves or for a loved one who is ill. We can do is to care for our whole person by taking the time to nourish our head, heart, emotions, and career. Cura personalis enables caregivers to sharpen their inner compass, to listen to their inner voice of reason, and to practice better self-care.

If you ever catch yourself thinking of self-care as selfish, shake off that thought and reframe it as a form of giving. Remember, the people in your life need you to be the best provider, parent, child, colleague, and leader you can be, and self-care is a way to accomplish that.

Are you a Caregiver Who Needs to Incorporate Cura Personalis into Your Life?

This week is Active Aging Week, which aligns perfectly with Cura Personalis for caregivers. This week, people of all ages are encouraged to celebrate active living, reminding us that well-being goes beyond exercise and a healthy diet – it includes mental, social, and emotional health, too.
The theme of this year’s Active Aging Week is “Redefining Active” because active aging is about so much more than just exercise. It’s about broader engagement — physically, socially, cognitively, spiritually, professionally, and civically. Active aging is about engaging with family, friends, and/or community; learning and trying new things; volunteering, mentoring, pursuing further professional development or entrepreneurial endeavors; traveling, maintaining an active spiritual/religious life, and leading a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition, exercise, mindfulness and other forms of stress-management.

Simply put, active aging is about staying positively engaged in all aspects of life (similar to cura personalis)—which ultimately benefits you and your loved ones!

Get the Peace of Mind of Being Prepared in Advance

As you are finding ways to incorporate cura personalis into your life, keep in mind that one of the greatest ways to gain peace of mind comes with planning for your future and for your loved ones. If you haven’t yet done your estate planning, if you don’t have a power of attorney with asset protection powers, or if a loved one is nearing the need for nursing home care, please call us at one of the numbers below to make an appointment for an initial no-cost consultation:

Elder Law Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Law Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Law Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Law DC: 202-587-2797

* Video is a Facebook live stream playback. Be sure to log into Facebook first if you’d like to view it!

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