How The Grit Of Caregiving Creates Strength & Purpose

Jessica Zemple
Jessica Zemple

Jessica Zemple talks about caring for her partner, feeling lost afterward, and how to find meaning and depth again.

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Podcast Transcript

May 25, 2023
Note: This transcript was computer generated and might contain errors.

Jessica Zemple:  Yeah. So Jessica Zemple and I am actually a life coach. So when my caregiving journey started with my former partner, I thought I had all the tools I needed just because this is what I do. Every day. All day is help, people with self-care and self love. And boy, did I have a lot to learn? So my former partner he was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer and And his treatment was pretty intense, but it was very curable. So while it was stage four, his his diagnosis, and prognosis was really good. So it was just a matter of getting through the barbaric treatment and and he did and he's he's healthy and strong today, which I'm so grateful for. But I definitely learned a lot along the way.

Katie Wilkinson: Yeah. I mean that's a scary diagnosis to get. My mom was diagnosed with stage four, lung cancer. It was that phone call or you know that moment is is sort of scary and overwhelming. He talked a little bit about I'm glad he is.

Jessica Zemple: Yeah.

Katie Wilkinson: Well, now in your caregiving experience for you, you know, what was most challenging and also, what was most rewarding as a caregiver.

What was most challenging and most rewarding about the caregiving experience?

Jessica Zemple: I had no idea what I was getting into. I am a pretty high achieving person. I have been very independent and always taking care of people in my life. I'm a natural caregiver. And I had never really been exposed to caregiving and and the intensity of this journey.

Jessica Zemple:  Had a lot of surprises. So I mean, within the first week or two, I think I lost five pounds just because I was forgetting to eat because I was trying to research the best paths for his care and his treatment and and I do have a tendency of overachieving and so what I realized was whatever your patterns are in your normal life, your real life Carrie, right, on into caregiving. So of course, I had to research every possible thing I interviewed and found the best doctors and what I thought were the best care plans. And, of course, it was all his choice, but I wanted to arm him with the best information that we could find for for his plan and for what was going on. So, so yeah, so I didn't eat that first week or two and realized quick,

Jessica Zemple:  Was like, this is not going to work really well. I got to make sure I'm in balance, and Yeah. Wow. I mean, there was just so many unknowns in the beginning and I think for us that was harder than once we did get the actual diagnosis and the treatment plan was decided on But that time in between where you don't know where you're going to be and what, what you're going to be doing, and even when we first learned of the cancer, we didn't know how far it had spread. And so, really trying to stay in that center in the present moment. Was a continual practice. You know, different for me because it wasn't in my body, but also this is my partner, the person I loved and

Jessica Zemple:  so, I had my own journey with that trying to just Stay with the information. We knew at the time not to overreact not to

Jessica Zemple:  Yeah, go further than we needed to and worry about things that we weren't at yet and I know that. Through life. I've realized that as I move forward, I get more resources. So I always come back to the present moment too. And say, Okay, what do I need to solve today? What do I need to handle in this moment? Because tomorrow I'm going to meet new people, I'm gonna have more information, I'm gonna have new ideas and so I find going out into the future is actually not very helpful because I have less resources today than I will. In, in the future moment. So, so staying present was really important in the beginning. And yeah, so then and then we got the treatment plan and We were really blessed, we live in San Diego and some of the best doctors for that particular cancer are here.


Jessica Zemple:  And we had a 30 minute drive to one of the best cancer centers and and as, you know, from your own caregiving journey, there's so many variables and, and some people have to travel for care. So we were so grateful to have the ability to stay at home and go through the treatment while, you know, just 30 minutes away. And I shouldn't give it was UCSD. They were incredible, their team is incredible.

Jessica Zemple:  We really loved them because they were holistic in their care. So, not only did we have all the doctors that were appropriate for helping diagnose and treat his cancer. But we also had a spiritual team, we had a social worker, we had the palliative care team, like they gave us everything we needed. For him.

Jessica Zemple:  I will never take anything away from the person that's going through the journey. But what I realized as I moved through it, I was like, Wait a minute. I need a care team too, so So I pulled together, my own little team of angels, which included my mom and my stepdad, and one of my best friends, her names Alia and Um, yeah, the three of them were really my strength and how I got through it, because I realized I needed to be strong in order to show up for him and support him on his healing journey. So so many layers, so many complications and I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I am I'm grateful that I had that privilege really to walk.

Jessica Zemple:  Through somebody's health journey is is so intimate and so private and and it's really a special special experience.

How did you and your partner fund his care?

Katie Wilkinson: Yeah, thank you for sharing all that he was obviously lucky to have you as, as his caregiver. And I'm glad you had the, you know, wisdom to pull together your own care team because that's a really, you know, hard piece of the puzzle. Even you know, the story you shared about losing five pounds in that first week like having support for you is, you know, part of your own self-care. We like to talk on this podcast about sort of the financial picture of caregiving and what that looked like. You know, the couple questions but maybe you can just start sort of that large with. How are you guys? You know, funding his care and what that look like by way of out of pocket expenses insurance etc.

Jessica Zemple: Yeah, we were really blessed in that regard. Really incredible insurance. In fact, our insurance team, the Wood Brothers, Brian. And Ben would, they were instrumental in helping us find answers and, and really move through the system too because there's all these little

Jessica Zemple:  Paths that you're supposed to follow, which push out scans and stuff like that. So, um, so one thing I would love to share with the anybody listening is, we found that if we paid cash for some of the scans, we actually could move the dates up faster. So we got answers faster and then we back, we worked backwards in getting reimbursed for those. So it wasn't necessarily totally out of pocket because I know not many people in the world could do that. But but what that did for us, is it, it eliminated that waiting period and helped us get answers faster. And that was our insurance team that helped us with that plan.

Jessica Zemple:  So um, so we were very lucky to have good insurance and insurance brokers that cared for us that were like family and and then, fortunately, with his career, he still got his salary, so we didn't have to worry about that. Now, myself, I run my own business and I'm a coach, so, I get paid for the hours I work. And so, for me, I was personally impacted tremendously and that was a very conscious choice. I, I knew that whatever form I was Choosing to be the caregiver with was coming from choice and Even I find even when we think we don't have choices and in a lot of cases we don't and you know, we didn't have a choice whether we're going to deal with the cancer or not.


Jessica Zemple:  But you always have a choice of how you look at it and how you relate to what's going on. So so I was very mindful to make conscious choices about being the caregiver and what that was going to look like and and putting my business on hold. So I realized fast that I couldn't do both really well and so at that point he was my top priority and

Jessica Zemple:  And I had enough in savings and we shared some expenses, we were living together and you know, so some of that stuff was covered because of him and his salary and income and everything. So so I wasn't like put out on the street or anything, but but I did put my business on hold and that had a tremendous impact on me personally. So I sort of living out from my savings and fortunately, I'm a saver. So I had had a bucket to dig from I also could have asked for help. I'm just not very good at asking for help from anybody. So that's my own, my own opportunity. Let's say

Jessica Zemple:  What I didn't realize was the longer term effect that would have on my business. So what happened? Was. He got a healthy prognosis, right? As Covid came into the world and so my business had pretty much shut down.

Jessica Zemple:  For about nine months. And then we hit Covid and For my business to thrive. It's really helpful to be interacting and meeting people because I'm, you know, working with people and so it took me a long time to build my momentum backup and Also, what I didn't realize was, I needed to heal after the caregiving journey. I I put too much in, I think I he would have been just fine had. I given 50% of what I did. But that and that wasn't on him, that was on me. And so,

Jessica Zemple:  I found that once we got through everything I needed to rest and so it took that time for me to heal and then to build my practice back up and fortunately, it's back flowing and I'm having fun again. And but it but it really took I would say it was probably a good two years of impact to my business. And yeah, sometimes that stings a little bit. But but I also know that I made those choices and I wouldn't go back and change anything even knowing what I know today.

You and your partner parted ways once he was healthy. What was that transition like for you? What is life like now post-caregiving?

Katie Wilkinson: Yeah, I can I can see and hear the overachiever in you you know you you said you probably could have given 50 but that's that's not our way as Overachievers. I guess I want to jump around a little bit because I know you you've mentioned to me offline that your relationship was, you know, a little bit on the rocks before he was diagnosed but you chose to stay and care for him. I think that was position you guys made together and but you did part ways once he was healthy, can you talk just a little bit about like that decision making what that transition was like afterwards was obviously you needed time to rest and heal from this there was a financial component. They stop everything you just said, You know, can you just sort of talk about these decisions?

Jessica Zemple: yeah, it you said it perfectly. So before you got diagnosed, there were a couple of things that we were working through. And when the diagnosis came, it was really some thoughtful conversations about what's best for him? What's best for me, too? I I tend to put other people's needs over my own and then I've been working on that for years, but at this point, I had I had enough awareness to know that my Health. My wellness mattered, as well with this choice and what I came to was, That. I wouldn't be able to look in the mirror. At myself. Knowing, I walked away from somebody who needed my love and support.

Jessica Zemple:  And that's ultimately why I made the choice to stay. We had had such a loving relationship and I loved him dearly. So so there was a lot of Foundation already there. And so, it really came to thinking about the future and how I would feel. And I, you know, I considered what the judgments of people would be because they wouldn't have known the details and I'm sure there would have been some people saying, what an awful person for walking away. But but they don't know. And so for anybody that does choose to walk away and not be the caregiver. I support that choice too and not everybody's cut out to be a caregiver and none of us know all the details that somebody's going through. So my invitation is that we just don't judge anybody and that


Jessica Zemple:  Yeah, that we respect people's choices and get curious and, and use that as a connection point, more than a division. And there's so many different ways. Caregiving can look too. It doesn't have to be all in and both my former partner and I were overachievers and so together we we were, you know, I could quite the match in this journey. And we could have asked for more help, you know, he was very sensitive and we were afraid that more people would add more possibilities of him getting sick. And And so we we did choose to keep the circle pretty tight and and even that was judged by people outside thinking I was controlling it and you know keeping people away from him and

Jessica Zemple:  And I had to be his voice because he, he was focused on healing and he didn't, he actually didn't have a voice, literally because it was his throat. And so I was trying to represent what he wanted and it was interesting. What came at me in that space but but everybody is going through their own journeys because What I did learn is the fear. Everybody handles fear in a different way and I thought it would bring out the best in people but What it does is it just brings out the reality? I think it magnifies what's already there and so if somebody's

Jessica Zemple:  operating from a fear-based mentality, that is only amplified in in an experience like this. So, so yeah. So, we went through the journey and it was quite beautiful. We got so close, and We were hopeful that some of the things. Would be resolved. In the journey. We thought it would bring everything back together and and it didn't. And so at the end, we decided to part ways and that was that was hard for me because I had gotten so close to him. And facing death with somebody is nothing I've ever gone through before.

Jessica Zemple:  Yeah, so when we did part ways, it was pretty. Pretty hard on me. I I needed some time after that to Find my footing again and also to find my purpose again. Which was surprising because as a life coach every day, I'm helping people. Live the life of their dreams and go through really hard things and it's really a meaningful career and I've always been fulfilled by it. However, going that deep with somebody on their healing journey.

Jessica Zemple:  Was unlike anything I'd ever been through. So, it took me time to really find myself again in my work and that was unexpected because I thought, Oh, great, I'll just go back to coaching and that's fulfilling and and what it's done is It's deepened, my coaching. It's also giving me the motivation to take bigger risks in some of my work. And so, so there's been some beautiful results from from the journey as well. So, is that answer? What you're asking?

How did you reconnect with your purpose?

Katie Wilkinson: Yeah, 100%. Thank you. Thank you for sharing. So, openly about, you know, this experience, they can only imagine how hard all of these sort of compounding things, you know, must have been or complicated. I guess I should say. But, you know, you started to talk about it a little bit. Can you talk about how you You know, reconnected with your purpose, as you, you know, rested and then picked up business again and, and outside of that, you know, there's purpose outside of business. How did you actually go about finding that and reconnecting with that?


Jessica Zemple:  Yes, when it was time and space and grace. So really knowing that I needed to. Give myself Grace.

Jessica Zemple:  In some ways. My first purpose was healing myself and so, giving myself that permission Because of losing out on income for so long. I felt an urgency to build my business back up and you know start serving because also that fills my heart. So that was the first thing is realizing that taking care of me was good enough.

Jessica Zemple:  And important and that in itself had purpose in meaning and so I did that and then I did buy myself a camper van because it's so heartbroken with everything that was going on and I was like What's one thing that's gonna feed my soul. Um so I did that for myself and so that gave me a really positive distraction to plan and start start thinking about all those trips. And So that, that was one thing I did for myself. And then with my coaching, what I have found is I was always pretty bold in my coaching. But I found a new level of being bold, and just calling BS on things, because

Jessica Zemple:  It's almost like I didn't have time to hear the stories and like the excuses and everything. So I would just cut right in and I still do and which is great because then I can help the people open up in new ways, and and of course, I don't want to try to wound anybody and I I do it in what I feel is the right time for them, but I also have like just really been more direct, and I don't know if that's a result of just realizing time is limited. Or. Yeah, just realizing what actually matters more so than other things, you know, if I'm hearing somebody complain about And you know something that's more superficial. I'm like let's get to the real heart of it.

Jessica Zemple:  and and I found, you know, that the right people come in that are ready for that. So, and then the other thing that I've started is a documentary with my dad, and he is diagnosed with schizophrenia and so it's created a really complicated journey in that. I had a little bit of grit in my life and And it's been beautiful. So we started filming that in September of 2022. And what I'm doing is going to be bringing that around and opening up conversations about mental health and Really helping to reduce the stigmas, and the shame, and the guilt around mental health. So, so yeah. So it's been fun to

Jessica Zemple:  Dig deeper and use use that journey as a platform to serve more people. And as as we're doing here, talking to caregivers. So now I I mean so passionate about caregivers because I had no idea and I feel like I can help even if just one person. So I've been working with the YMCA and some of their caregiver communities and it's been just beautiful to reconnect and find more purpose. Thanks for asking about that.

You talk a lot about grit and how it helps people learn and grow. Can you elaborate on this?

Katie Wilkinson: Yeah, I mean he's just said so many things that could probably be their own podcast and very excited about this documentary that you're working on with your dad. My mom's mom was diagnosed schizophrenic also and and so mental health has been important to me and my family as well. And you mentioned that, you know, you've experienced some grit in your life with a couple things we've talked about and I'm sure many other things that we haven't and I know this is something that's important to you, you know at Lifechucker and your business and how grit can help people learn grow, can you elaborate on this a little bit like what does grit do for us?

Jessica Zemple: Yeah, well I acknowledge you for your journey and your family's journey. And we're gonna have to have many more conversations.

Jessica Zemple:  So for me, I feel like we teach What's important to us and we find purpose in our lives for what's meaningful for us. So for example, if a, if somebody didn't have a voice as a child, maybe they're advocate for children now in their world. And so for me, part of my journey was dealing with all this grit so I lived, In secrecy and in shame for so many years. And One of my best friends, his name is Brian, you know, in our gosh, early 40s which is right where I am now. So this is only a couple years ago. We've been friends since we were 10. And he was learning new things about what I had gone through as a child.


Jessica Zemple:  and was surprised he had no idea the extent of the trauma and the violence and And that was because I didn't share. And there was no way for him to know because I didn't let him in to my life. Because I was afraid of being judged. I was also afraid that I made, you know, end up with the schizophrenia as well. I now have very different feelings about that. I don't see schizophrenia as negative as I did, as a child. I Through my journey, I actually see the beauty of it. And that's I think what's so important in? In the work I'm doing with my dad, is to help people understand that. My dad is my dad, and the schizophrenia is just something he's experiencing and it doesn't define him.

Jessica Zemple:  Or me. And so, it took me a long time to actually Let people see me and so I use the metaphors. I was kind of living in my shell. Because I I was afraid and what that did though, is it really isolated me from the world and even though I've surrounded by all these magnificent people, I was never connected to them and I was so lonely. So, I think about my days. I used to live in Chicago and there's there was eight million people there and I had never been lonelier. In my life, than when I was there. Because I didn't allow people to see me and acknowledge me and connect with me.

Jessica Zemple:  I don't want anybody else to feel that way. And so that's why I do the work that I do is I really look at These times in my life that have been gritty, whether it was the journey with schizophrenia or caregiving. And I see how it's made me stronger, more resilient fearless, and a lot of ways it's added some fears in different ways but But that's just human nature and part of life, but

Jessica Zemple:  But I I now see that those challenges have just added such beauty and richness to my life. And so that's why my metaphor with coaching and really, with life is that? It's our grit that creates our pearl and that all of us are really these. Beautiful pearls all shapes and sizes. And yeah. And then we've got these shells around us that we close in times of fear, which is totally okay, inappropriate at times. But if you live in your shell, It's dark, it's constraining. It's confining it's isolating and you got to suck it, open with love. And so that's what I'm trying to do is help people shuck their shells open with love and if I can shuck up a few people along the way, it's it just makes the world better and brighter so so that's really it. So I guess it's a kind of a

Jessica Zemple:  Personal mission. So I don't feel guilt and shame and and then I'm hoping that others feel more open to sharing their journeys, and then that can reduce judgments and, you know, separation because all of that just leads to Such damaging effects on us. And so, that's really it. Trying to help people connect with each other with themselves and shine.

Katie Wilkinson: Yeah, I love that. I love that you've taken, you know, a piece of your personal story and and turn it into Are able to put that through life, shucker and help other people and understand this. Also, or find this also I want to bring us back to caregiving a little bit. You obviously do a lot of workaround self-care.

Jessica Zemple:  Yeah.

How does one find time for themself while they don't feel like they have enough time to make sure their LO’s needs are being met? 

Katie Wilkinson: I know that's important to. Can you talk a little bit about how someone finds time for themselves when they feel already like their time is constrained just trying to, you know, meet the needs of their loved one that they're caring for.


Jessica Zemple: Absolutely. So first one is ask for help. there's so much help out there and people want to help they just don't know how I imagine you felt this way too. Every caregiver I've talked to is you know somebody says Let me know what I can do to help and It's too broad and sometimes we don't know what we need. So for those of you that are supporting caregivers, just do something go and do their laundry, cut their grass, order them, some food, whatever it is. And then for the caregiver, You, you know, you get to ask for what you need. So for me, my parents would come into town and I would just go be outside and go for a walk and and just be surrounded with them.

Jessica Zemple:  And so, that's number one is, there's so much help out there and people want to help you just got to let them do it. The other thing was for me realizing I didn't need to be an overachiever with caregiving and so finding a little bit more balance and For me what that looked like. Was literally allowing myself to go to the coffee, shop in the morning, and get a chai tea and that was my joy. So I called them the coffee run cries. I would literally drive to the coffee shop which was like just a few minutes away. And I would just ball my eyes out because of the intensity and watching the pain and the suffering was just heartbreaking.

Jessica Zemple:  And so, we're just allow myself to cry. Get my chai tea, call my mom, who is my best friend, and she would just give me a little boost of support. And then I would start my day and I that was that was really helpful it, you know, it was only 10 15 minutes maybe 20 and I really slow drive, but But that was enough to reconnect. I also think grounding is really important, so if you can go outside and put, literally your feet on the ground, take in some of that energy from Mother Earth and let Mother Earth support you as you're supporting the caregiver and That is absolutely critical. And then it just took creativity. I

Jessica Zemple:  Would. You know, when he was in the radiation, I would walk around the hospital and just get a little movement for myself. It wasn't anything like my normal activity, but it was something And then the other thing I did for self-care was, I actually wrote a book while I was caregiving.

Jessica Zemple:  Because I needed something that didn't have a time urgency, a timeline or sensitivity. So I could like work on the book for two minutes and then, you know, take a break for a week or two and that was really helpful because it gave me something that wasn't the cancer and the healing to talk about. So so that was also just something. So is, Is there a little thing? You can do for yourself and maybe it's knitting, or painting or listening to a podcast. I I wasn't able to listen to Podcasts because part of his was about, he needed to breathe, and I need to make sure he was

Jessica Zemple:  Um, okay, but but I think in a lot of places you, you can, you know, just listen to a book or listen to a podcast. That's going to inspire you. Take a nap when they're napping. That is also a good one. But again, it if I could go back, I would just ask for a lot more help because there's so much out there.

Katie Wilkinson: Yeah, I mean, that can be hard. I love what you just said about self-care. And some of the examples you gave really bring it back to like the basics of self-care, like connecting with people, you care about getting rest, getting movement, nourishing yourself. I think sometimes we can over complicate self-care, but everything you just mentioned, really brings it back to the, you know, the basics. We like to wrap up these conversations with,…

Jessica Zemple: Yeah.

What do you wish you knew when you first started caregiving

Katie Wilkinson: you know, the same kind of question to people that have been caregivers and you know what do you know now? Or what did you know at the end of your caregiving journey that you wish you knew at the beginning?


Jessica Zemple: One thing that I was surprised about. Was how complicated? The ending was and what I mean by that is the day we learned that he was cancer-free.

Jessica Zemple:  Was not a straightforward joy. It was.

Jessica Zemple:  You know, there were like I'm gonna even cry now. Like there were people getting diagnosed that day. That weren't gonna have the same. Same outcome and there were people that had been on that journey for seven years and they weren't gonna have the same outcome.

Jessica Zemple:  That shared grief. was really hard for me because I felt guilty that we had made it and that we We tackle it and we won. He won and I just was the supporting mechanism. But

Jessica Zemple:  but that was surprising and really hard for me to handle because I had so much compassion and empathy for all the people that I had shared the time in the lobby with and or the people that didn't have the good doctors that we had, or the resources, the family support the insurance or whatever. So, so it's complicated. It wasn't just our journey, it was a shared journey and And and then also, what was interesting too is we had such rigid structure through the treatment. And we had the care team, you know looking after us and once they like they said that we're good. Like it was like wait. A little surprising of like What do you mean? Like, I have to plan my Monday now like

Jessica Zemple:  this is what my Monday was. It was meant that this time a lymphatic massage at this time. Meds again here trying to get him to drink water here like

Jessica Zemple:  It was almost lonely again because you had this team. We had this team that loved us and cared, so much for us, that When they weren't there on that Monday. It was shocking. So, um, so there's so many different things that I wish I would have known, you know, and also kind of the ignorance was bliss as well. It's like, in some ways it was great. I had no idea what I'm just getting into because I don't know if I would It's signed up for all that but but I would have because this he's such an incredible, incredible person and it's it's something we'll get to share for the rest of our lives. But But yeah, that complication was surprising. I thought it would just be pure joy knowing he was healthy and I thought it was just going to be relief and it wasn't, it wasn't that simple. So that's what I would offer.

Jessica Zemple:  Somebody who's in the middle of it or even if you're at the end of it. And And you're maybe you haven't touched on why it's so weird or strange. Just knowing that it's it's a shared journey.

Katie Wilkinson: yeah, I mean I don't think I had the same experience, but I do sort of understand the confusion where it should be relief, but there's this feeling of like when's the other shoe gonna drop or at least, that was my experience.

Katie Wilkinson:  I guess my, my fall of question, what you've just shared? Is there anything you? You could have done or wish you had done or known to have prepared for that? Or you know, you just said, ignorance is bliss, maybe maybe that's just part of the experience, but looking back. You know, could you or would you have prepared differently for that experience of the end?

Jessica Zemple: Yeah, I don't know if I could have changed that. and in some ways that's the beautiful part of being human is is having that compassion in that empathy and and gratitude so much gratitude, but Yeah, that's a great question. I Don't know if. There's, I don't think there's an Enough people that could have told me to expect that that would have prepared me for that and until I went through it. So yeah. Beautiful question,…

Katie Wilkinson: Yeah. Yeah,…

Jessica Zemple: though. After reflect more on that.

Katie Wilkinson: reward back. And thank you so much for sharing. I mean so much of your and your former partners story and your dad's story, you know, I, I think this has been very helpful and, you know, you keep coming back to to choice. That's obviously a value of yours you come back to Grant. And I think these are all really useful things for other care givers to hear. If people want to find you. And follow along your story or your work online, where can they find you?


Jessica Zemple: Yeah, I'm at my website is and And you can find me on YouTube, Jessica, Zemple and Instagram, and Facebook. It's all life shucker and Jessica zemple. Fortunately, there's no other shuckers in the world and there's no other Jessica Zemple. So I'm super easy to find and you can just email me. I I love hearing from people and if I can support you in any way, whether it's just cheering you on or giving you a resource or maybe even some time, I'm happy to do that. So please don't be afraid to ask for help and yeah I I want to support other people. So let me know how how I can.