Story by Laura Scherb | Staff Writer
When esteemed journalist Tom Brokaw was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow’s plasma cells, in 2013, he said he was “unprepared for the universe I was about to enter.”
But Brokaw’s daughter, Jennifer, a doctor and patient advocate, was a source of support for him, and she will be at his side when they speak at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.
The Brokaws will discuss the journey they undertook together, both as a father and daughter and a patient and advocate.
“I was way ahead of the game,” Tom said.
His time on the board of the Mayo Clinic, along with his natural, journalistic curiosity, already set him up to seek a lot of information and ask the questions that he needed to ask. But having his daughter keep him honest was essential.
“I would understate my conditions, but Jennifer would stand behind me and shake her head,” Tom said.
According to his doctors, she became the best gauge of his condition and an essential part of the team.
“[Jennifer] was invaluable in a way that I had not anticipated,” Tom said. “I love her and admire her skill, but it quickly occurred to me that this was a [resource] that every patient should have.”
His daughter agreed and said caregiving is something every family should discuss — and sooner rather than later.
“Caregiving is a very important role for people in our society, and it will become even more important in the next two decades because of the aging of the baby boomers,” Jennifer said. “America’s families have dispersed far and wide, making it so that long-term, long-distance caregiving is more and more important for people to understand how to navigate.”
Jennifer will present a list of steps patients and advocates alike should undertake to prepare for situations such as the one in which she and her father found themselves.
Outlining goals, needs and concerns of the patient, finalizing legal paperwork and affairs, and talking about finances and spending money are important things that should be done early, she said.
These conversations are not easy, but necessary so these decisions do not interrupt the family later on, Jennifer said.
“What people don’t realize is that when someone gets old and eventually dies or suffers from an illness, there’s often a lot of shock, and there’s a lot of hurt about decisions that are made or money issues that had to be dealt with under duress instead of in advance,” she said.
The Brokaws’ talk will include these important messages along with anecdotes about their own family and the steps they took to face Tom’s multiple myeloma.
“I have a very good perspective on how important it is to do this — not just important for the person who’s sick but for the families to remain intact and not have a lot of distress,” Jennifer said.
The conversation is “constructive and necessary,” Tom said.
The Brokaws believe this conversation should extend beyond just the patients and the advocates and extend into the world of the healthcare system.
While hospitals and other institutions often have a rough outline of how to deal with these situations, moments of trauma often end with a quick decision that hasn’t been thought out, either by the institution or the family, Jennifer said. With an aging population, America needs to confront the way long-term care is regarded.
“There’s no turning the clock back,” she said. “We’re all going to be living longer, and, in some instances, that’s going to be great. In some cases, we may just be prolonging debility in ourselves. We have to think creatively into the future about what our living situations are going to be like for caregiving and caring for one another.”
Tom said the message they plan to share will touch many, much like his book, A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope.
“This will resonate with the audience because sooner or later, cancer or something like it comes to every family,” he said.