Mar 08, 2022
There are side effects to caregiving, and Kristin Flanary wants a health care system that recognizes the people who support patients when they leave doctors’ offices and hospitals.
Before he had turned 35, Mrs. Flanary’s husband, Will Flanary, MD, had survived testicular cancer twice. She supported him through surgeries, recoveries, and connected him with a support group. Dr. Flanary also survived cardiac arrest; Mrs. Flanary gave him CPR to the tune of “Stayin’ Alive” while she waited for an ambulance to arrive at their home.
Relief, Mrs. Flanary shared as a guest on Conquer Cancer’s Your Stories podcast, is not instant for a caregiver simply because medical professionals take over.
“I wasn’t the primary patient, but this event was happening to me, too,” she said. “There’s stress. There’s lack of sleep. There are all these things that go along when you have a medical trauma.”
When asked by podcast cohost Mark Lewis, MD, if she felt acknowledged by her husband’s doctors, she said she did not.
“This stretches across the whole country, really,” Mrs. Flanary said, noting that her husband was treated in very good hospital systems in different regions of the United States. “I want to be very clear: I have zero complaints about his medical care. [His physicians] have all been very professional. They’ve saved his life three times.”
Still, Mrs. Flanary believes patients can be better served if health systems begin to recognize every caregiver as a “co-survivor” and consider their role and its value to the patient they support. She shares her family’s story and uses their growing social media audience—combined, she and her husband have more than half a million Twitter followers—to advocate for change within hospital systems and staffing.
“It shouldn’t just be on the physicians to do all of this for everybody,” Mrs. Flanary said. “There should be someone there to make sure that the other people attached to the patient are getting the information they need and the support that they need as well, so that patient outcomes can be better, and so that their outcomes can be better.”
Dr. Flanary credits his wife for helping their family reach co-survivor status. “I lucked out because she’s a superhero,” said Dr. Flanary, an ophthalmologist who moonlights as a stand-up comedian. “Make sure that whoever you get involved with is certified in CPR. It should be on every dating profile.”
Find Mrs. Flanary on Twitter at @LGlaucomflecken and Dr. Flanary at @DGlaucomflecken. Listen to “Co-Survivors” on Conquer Cancer's Your Stories Podcast.