Intro To Alternative

Alright, I believe it is time to get back to business. All Things Caregiver is about helpful advice for caregivers, and it seems to have morphed into a “Tory-pity-party” over the holidays and January. I suppose I could cut myself a break and allow grief and mourning to be a part of the care process (and it is), but I feel it is time to move on. Ahh…big breath…

As many of you are aware, I am a huge advocate for “quality over quantity” when referring to life. I was raised in a family that communicated their final wishes, and respected death. Most of my family members agreed that they preferred to pass when nature (or God, depending upon beliefs) took due course. As with most families, not everyone saw eye to eye, but most agreed ventilators and machines were not natural course, nor did they opt for treatments that limited their quality of life.

Before I continue, I would like to reiterate that I have no formal training in the medical field, only real-life experience. It is never my intention to offend someone’s treatment choices, unless of course you chose a treatment you are not comfortable with…then we may have words.  I also respect those individuals who do want life sustaining treatment and choose not to sign a DNI or a DNR; every patient should make the choices that suit their needs and beliefs.

That being said, I do believe that “integrative” or “alternative” modalities are beneficial and can work cohesively with western treatments, allowing any individual to establish a treatment correct for his or her particular needs and belief systems, as well as improving quality of life. I was introduced to alternative treatments shorty after it was detected my mom’s cancer had metastasized to her spine. The prognosis was not favorable, and more importantly, she was in a lot of pain; which takes me back to our family motto of “quality over quantity.” If the oncologists were unsure if the chemo and radiation would do anything to alleviate the pain in her back, unsure if the holes in her spine would heal, unsure if the cancer had metastasized to any “soft tissue,” and unsure of how long she had to live, what was the point?  The point was she had options. She could try the chemotherapy. She could try the radiation. She could pray to her God. She could do a rain dance with a voodoo doll. She could do whatever held her mind at ease, allowing her to sleep at night with her decision.

Initially, she opted to do a chemotherapy treatment as well as a 12 round course of radiation. The chemo left blisters in her mouth and the radiation burned her skin. She was uncomfortable and unhappy. With a “short” life expectancy, my mom decided it was “okay” to try something a “little out of the ordinary.” This is when things got good (wink, wink).

We contacted a local naturopath who had been recommended by a close friend. Having never been exposed to a naturopath before, the first time she was muscle tested was almost her last. She could never quite wrap her brain around the concept of polarity therapy and meridians, let alone understand how her fingers staying pinched or “going weak” had anything to do with her wellbeing.  She eventually gave in to the treatments and started taking the supplements recommended by her naturopath.

Not only did this naturopath muscle test and treat patients during the day, he had a small massage school at night. I quickly enrolled in his classes and proceeded to learn everything I thought I needed to know about helping manage mom’s pain via bodywork. As the years passed, mom’s quality of life improved. We were able to wean her off of several pain medications, some of the bone in her spine had rejuvenated, and all in all, she was happy and comfortable.

Many people are not aware of alternative treatments, which is why I would like to spend some time focusing on integrative options. I am currently working on people within my “alternative” circle to write posts for All Things Caregiver.  It is my hope to bring a better understanding of “alternative” modalities, including massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, naturopathic, dietary changes and many more.  Some modalities may seem awfully far out, while others may resonate with you.  Please, keep an open mind and explore options within yourself you may not have considered in the past.

It’s Been Three Years…

It’s January 23rd. Again. One more year has passed since Mom left. Another year of learning what it means to cope, to grieve, to thrive and to live. With each day that passes, the rawness of what has occurred dulls, but the pain never fully goes away.

It’s January 23rd! That means All Things Caregiver is officially one year old. I didn’t quite achieve my goal of posting one heartfelt, sincere and well thought-out post per week, but I came close. There were weeks when “life” won and the time slipped away from me, or (to be totally honest) I was in a funk and felt totally uninspired. The writing has been cathartic, and I thank those of you who take the time to read my ramblings. It means more to me than you know.

So what does it mean to have lived three years without my mom? I don’t know much, but what I do know is that time flies by faster than the speed of light; it flies by at the speed of life. If you had asked me four years ago how I believed I would cope with my mother’s death, I wouldn’t have an answer for you. There is no answer. You don’t know until you have lived it. It’s like asking a preschooler to explain the physics of a black hole. No one truly understands a black hole. Those who study black holes have theories and make do, while a preschooler (probably) cannot even begin to imagine the basics of physics, let alone the physics of a black hole. If anything, I probably would have told you “I will die the day she dies. I will not be able to continue my life. It is unfathomable. Period.”

Although a piece of me did die that day, most of me is alive and well. The mind is a powerful being and has an amazing way of protecting itself…from itself. I am always happy to share my experiences with others, in hopes of helping ease their situation. In my particular instance, in the days after my mom’s passing, her memory quickly disappeared from my memory. I couldn’t remember the sound of her voice, what she smelled like, or even picture her face. Yes, I was in “go-mode,” trying to make final arrangements; I had a house closing in escrow, and I wanted more than anything to get the heck out of Chico, out of California and out of the country. I would have flown to Pluto had it been an option. In the months that followed, as I came to terms with what had happened, her memory slowly started coming back. I carried pictures of her in my diary, and looked at them daily. I cried often and tried to talk about her to anyone who was willing to listen.

Having an amazing support system has been the number one key to my successful recovery. I am, hands down, the luckiest girl in the world. I have the coolest dad on the planet, a thoughtful brother, the most patient boyfriend (someone should give him a medal, ‘cause I am not easy), clients who come in for their “hour off” who are genuinely concerned about me, aunts that still include me in “girl’s weekend” and friends that call or send cards “just because.” I had a mom who loved life, loved her family, loved music and left a legacy I am honored to carry on.

I remember moments after she passed away; we were all at a loss of what to do next. I had confirmed there was no pulse. My brother noted the time; 8:27am. My aunt, dad, brother and I all hugged each other and we stared at my mom’s lifeless, smiling body. She had gone relatively peacefully and she was smiling. In that moment, I remember not fearing death.

My dad walked to the living room and turned on Eric Clapton. My mom l-o-v-e-d Eric Clapton; more than any sane individual should love a rock star (excuse me, Rock God!) I remember hearing Layla play and how comforting the song was. I don’t remember any other tunes, until Motherless Children began playing. Instantly I was upset and the waterworks started again. I was almost frantic to stop the lyrics from pouring out of the speakers:

Motherless children have a hard time when mother is dead, lord.
Motherless children have a hard time when mother is dead, lord.
They don’t have anywhere to go;
Wandering around from door to door.
Nobody treats you like a mother will when your mother is dead, lord.

Father will do the best he can when your mother is dead, lord.
Father will do the best he can when your mother is dead, lord.
Father will do the best he can;
So many things a father can’t understand.
Nobody treats you like a mother will when your mother is dead, lord.

Sister will do the best she can when your mother is dead, lord.
Sister will do the best she can when your mother is dead, lord.
Sister will do the best she can;
So many things a sister can’t understand.
Nobody treats you like a mother will when your mother is dead.

When your mother is dead, when your mother is dead.
When your mother is dead, Lord, when your mother is dead.

 My aunt quickly pulled me away from the stereo set-up (which was the correct move, because I may have broken it to make it stop), looked me straight in the eyes and said “YOU are NOT a motherless child.”

She was 100% correct; I am not a motherless child. Every time I find myself in a self-pitty-party, moping about missing my mom, I hear my aunts words, “you are not a motherless child.” However, the song is correct about a few things:

Father will do the best he can; So many things a father can’t understand. Nobody treats you like a mother will, when mother is dead, lord.

A Clearer Understanding

I had the pleasure of reading an amazing blog last week. As I was perusing my Facebook newsfeed, a post titled Being Retarded had been “shared” on a girlfriend’s page. The title alone was shocking. Having a developmentally disabled aunt, the word “retarded” carries a different connotation with me and my family than it does with individuals who have no experience with a truly “retarded” individual. So I clicked the link; my curiosity had me and I needed to know where the author was going with this title.

After a quick read and a few tears, it was easy to determine that the author of this post knew exactly where she was going with this post…and nailed it! Her name is Phoebe Holmes and she is the mother of four children, one of whom is developmentally disabled. The post discusses what it does not mean to be retarded, and very bluntly names instances in which our society’s limited vocabulary allows for misuse of the word. Then Phoebe moves into what it truly means to be retarded. Some of my favorite lines:

 But what does it mean to be retarded?  Well, I know what it doesnt mean.

It doesnt mean not being able to choose something for lunch despite 100 choices in front of you.

It doesnt mean not being able to find your car keys.

Its not something to describe yourself as when youve spilled your coffee, or tripped on a crack in the  sidewalk.

In our household, being retarded means something different.

It means not being able to fully care for yourself.

It means not understanding what the doctor is going to do to you.

It means not being able to explain what hurts when something hurts.

It means not being able to ride a two wheeler.  Or read.  Or ever be able to live on your own.

The line that stuck out the most to me was “It doesnt mean saying the wrong thing to a person.”  As I previously stated, my aunt Kate (dad’s older sister) is developmentally disabled. She is capable of many things, unfortunately, living on her own and advanced tasks such as driving are not among them. However, someone many consider a handicapped or a disabled individual, I see as an enlightened soul. My aunt, who is unable to understand many of the “complicated” ways of adult life, is content and happy. She smiles and is always happy to see her nieces and nephews, watch the fire truck drive by and enjoy a matinée at the local movie theatre with Grandma. And more importantly, she feels emotions on a very basic level; like small children, who have not been corrupted or jaded by “life.”

I bring this up because there is one instance in my life, one communication between my brother, dad, Kate and I that I will never forget. When it was certain that my mom was going to be leaving this realm soon, we called the entire family and invited them to Chico to say their final goodbyes. Kate was not able to make it to Chico, but after Mom passed, she called us to check in. In a world where everyone else was not in control of their emotions, unable to grasp the situation or communicate properly, this “simple” soul was a calm eye in this violent storm. Her words were simple, sincere, honest and full of unconditional love.

It is important for me to remember those times, particularly as we get closer to Mom’s passing anniversary. I find myself becoming more manic as we move closer to the end of January. I wake up every morning, look at the calendar and remember what occurred this day, three years age; admit to ER, Mom’s going to be fine, Mom’s not going to be fine, Mom knows who we are, Mom doesn’t know who we are, call Hospice…you know how the rest of this story ends.

Thank you, Aunt Kate, for your ever-clear understanding of life and your unconditional love.

Reliving The Beginning Of My Own Personal Hell

Very rarely do I sit down at my computer to write without some sort of a plan of what I am going to put on paper. Today, I am just going to babel, because babbling seems to be what my life consist of from the beginning of January to January 23rd, every year now. I am exhausted all the time for no reason. The last two days, I have been done with my “office gig” early, and headed home with the intention of sending emails to prospective The Medical Day Planner reviewers. Unfortunately, I sat down to “close my eyes for a minute,” and wham!, it was 5pm.

Yesterday I drove down to the Sacramento International Airport to retrieve my brother and his buddy, who had been lounging on the beaches of Lanai the last ten days. Our family routine is to park at the gas station located on the airport grounds, and wait for the call that the luggage is collected and the travelers are waiting on the sidewalk, ready to be picked up. Usually, I make the hour-and-a-half commute by myself, but this time I asked my Dad to accompany me.

As we reached the gas station, I realized I better use the facilities before making the drive home. I parked the car, jokingly told my dad I had to use “the potty,” and ran into the convenient store. As I entered the not-so-sterile ladies room, my gut sank and my eyes began to fill with tears. I looked at myself in the mirror and asked myself “are you really crying? Why are you crying?” Then I looked at the yucky toilet and the handicap-rail next to it. All I could envision was my mom’s tiny, frail body; unable to prop herself up. Then it dawned on me; it was exactly three years ago to the day that my brother and I had made the same drive to collect mom and dad from their Mexico vacation.

Like I said before, I usually made the run to the airport by myself, but three years ago was different. Dad had called us from the resort in Mexico and told us mom wasn’t doing so well. In fact, she was completely out of her mind, and he was going to need a hand in Sacramento to carry all their luggage, and her. When we arrived at the airport, dad had set mom on a bench outside the luggage claim, and gone back in to retrieve the luggage. As we pulled up to her, she could barely hold her body up, but she recognized us and was ready to go home. She was in great spirits! Almost too great of spirits; like she was drunk…Instantly, I was not happy with her.

As we left the airport, mom requested we stop at the gas station so she could use the facilities (see a pattern with our family). I helped her into the ladies room, because there was no way she would have been able to escort herself. The entire time we were in the restroom, she babbled on and on about how kind the Hawaiians were at their resort.

“MOM! You were in Mexico! What is wrong with you?”

She laughed and struggled to rip a piece of toilet paper from the roll. I helped her over to the sink so she could wash her hands before heading back to the car. She didn’t wash her hands; she just stared at herself in the mirror. To this day I wonder what she was thinking. Did she know she was dying? Why couldn’t she explain to me what was going on? Was she upset that I was so upset with her? Or was she content being inside her own toxic, hypercalcemic brain?

As I left the restroom, three years later, I pulled myself together. I smiled at the woman waiting to use the room I was in. I smiled at the group of people congregated around the door as I left the convenient store and gave myself a pep talk as I walked back to the car.

“Hey Dad, you know that today is exactly three years since I picked you and Mom up…”

“Ohhh” was his somber reply.






Alright everyone, I’ve been reading the blogs and I am fully aware how opposed most are to New Year resolutions. I agree; 99.9 percent of the time, people find a excuse not to stick with it.  I have the perfect solution for those of you who have decided against the resolution part, but just want to get into better shape; after all, most of us are reading or writing blogs about health related topics.

I would like to introduce you all to, short for Everyday Paleo Life Fitness. Most of you can gather what “Life Fitness” means, but what the heck is Everyday Paleo? We will leave the Paleo chat for another blog; it is uber important and deserves its own spotlight. I digress… is your own personal trainer online. Really! I have had the pleasure of knowing Sarah and John Fragoso for several years. Sarah was an integral part of my healing process after my mom passed away, and John has been nothing but kind as I have built my sports massage business. I have only met Jason Seib a handful of times, but he, too, is a kind and knowledgeable individual. These three have put together an online community of support and guidance for working-out and kicking your own butt into shape.

When you join, you will receive a new workout every other day. Each workout will consist of a warm-up, heavy lift, metabolic conditioning and mobility set. There looks to be three standard warm-ups, tailored to the type of lifting and metabolic conditioning you will be doing that day. The heavy lift will rotate between four standard lifts, Shoulder Press, Back Squat, Bench and Dead Lift. The metabolic conditioning will (generally) take two to three standard movements, and have you (X) amount of reps, three to four times. Finally you will end with basic stretching or an advanced mobility series. An example workout would be:

High Knees – 20 total reps, 10 reps each leg
Butt Kickers – 40 total reps, 20 reps each leg
Toe Touches – 20 total reps, 10 reps each leg
Ice Skaters – 20 total reps, 10 to each side
Hacky Sacks – 20 total reps, 10 each side

Shoulder Press- 3 sets of 5

15 Kettlebell Swings-15 Squats-5 Times


Okay… I know what many of you are thinking; what is an ice skater? What if I know what a kettlebell looks like, but I have no idea how to swing it? What is the “death stretch” and why would I even contemplate doing it? Well, thank you for thinking those thoughts! The best part of is this; each movement you have written into your daily workout has a quick 15-30 second video blurb you can watch, should you be unsure of the movement. Feel free to video yourself doing the movements and upload it to your profile. Only the moderators can see your video, and they will personally critique you and help you improve!

Also included in this membership is a 21 day “jump start” to your new Paleo diet, complete with a 21 day meal plan and an established forum, where you, along with other individuals who are mastering the same diet plan and exercise regime can discuss progress and questions. This is truly a one-stop-shop for those of you looking to get into shape, change your lifestyle and honestly, kick your own butts.


Click the EPLifeFit badge on the sidebar of AllThingsCaregiver to check the site out for yourself. Enjoy!

A Holiday to Remember

Happy New Year everyone! Sorry it has been a few weeks since I have checked in; I’ve been sidetracked with amazing food and fabulous people. Oh yeah…and a little book action as well. If you haven’t seen the video for The Medical Day Planner, check it out here.

Christmas was a much bigger success than Thanksgiving this year (thank goodness!). Dad, brother and boyfriend drove down to the Bay Area on Christmas Eve, after much shuffling about. I was under the impression we were going to open the one present we each purchased for each other with the rest of the family in the Bay. Incorrect. So we headed back to my house to do a Zellick-Stefanelli Christmas with the dogs, before running off to breakfast for pre-drive nourishment.

Once we reached my uncles house in Alameda, it was apparent we had a feast in store. As you walked through the front door, a waft of Mexican spices and aromas hit your palate. Let the drool begin! Dinner was served: homemade Chile Colorado, homemade carnitas and homemade flan…not bad for a family with no Mexican heritage! A dinner like that will send you straight to bed; and that is exactly where we all ended up.

The following day we took a leisurely cruise out to Livermore to see my Auntie, Uncle, and cousin. This being the sweet-tooth side of the family, the aromas that hit you while walking through the door were of sugar cookie goodness. I had been waiting forever to devour my aunts chocolate mousse pie. After a phenomenal dinner of meatballs, raviolis, rolled coppa and veggies, the pie was served. It didn’t take long for all of us to sink into a food coma and head back to bed.

New Years was the same. Ryan has just recently built himself a 55-gallon smoking barrel. The meat that comes out of that thing is fantastic. Surrounded by great friends and family, we toasted the New Year with six smoked tri-tips, three smoked chickens and too many pupus to count. Ah yes, as well as scrumptious red wine, vodka tonics and the traditional champagne toast at midnight. Followed by a polar bear swim the following morning…yikes!

I’m sure most of you had a similar holiday experience (at least I hope you did.) I started this blog with the intention of discussing traditions, as I am a huge advocate of keep traditions alive. It is apparent that good food is our family tradition, because I sure went off on a tangent or two. What I really wanted to discuss was the amazing gift my grandma (with the help of my cousin) put together for each family member (on the Zellick side) for Christmas.

After dinner, we collected our chairs in the living room and sat in a circle. Yes, the food coma was sinking in, but it was present time. Grandma promptly handed each family member a package; all looked strikingly similar. On the count of three, we all tore into our square package. Each one of us was holding a binder. Inside the binder was our family lineage, dating back to 1535. A pretty incredible gift, if I do say so myself.

I quickly dug into the binder, reading it from back to front, spending my time reading about my grandparents and great-grandparents. Then it hit me, the family tree on the last page had my aunt, dad and uncle, along with their significant others and children. Both my mom and my cousin’s mom had a deceased date next to their name. “Thank sucks”, I thought to myself, while I held my tears in.

I have said it before, and I will say it again; life is uncertain. The gift my grandma shared with us on Christmas is irreplaceable. If you are not sure of your family history, sit down with the ones you love and ask questions. Who was your great-great-grandfather? Where is your family originally from? When did they migrate, or did they migrate? What types of jobs did they work, languages they speak or hobbies they mastered? You never know when the time will come that someone will not be around to answer those questions.