Caregiving and Compassion: Kim Bernakevitch

“I think it’s a two-way street. Because I think Sam would be there for us just like we are for her family in a heartbeat.

When you find a true friend, it’s wise to hold on to them forever. As adults with hectic schedules, it’s hard enough carving out time for ourselves, let alone for others. So, when I spent an hour talking with Sam McKinnon about her cervical cancer journey and she began to tell me stories about how incredibly supportive her dear friend Kim has been throughout her entire cancer journey, I knew that I had to meet her for myself. Who is this incredible woman and what compels her to provide caregiving and compassion to others in a world that seems to lack it so deeply now?

Kim Bernakevitch, is exactly as Sam described — kind, generous, and likely to shed a few tears at the drop of a hat because of her deep compassion for others. She and Sam met at work as nuclear medicine technicians and with many friendships, their friendship grew so organically that she had trouble pinpointing an exact moment that solidified it for them. As she pieced their timeline together, she was surprised to even realize that their friendship had now spanned close to a decade.

“I don’t know how friendships and stuff happen, but you just end up spending more time with each other and the next thing you know, you’re really good friends. I know people show their friendship. Sam is very, very thoughtful.

What I admire the most about Sam and Kim’s friendship is the unwavering and unquestioning support that they show to each other. There was a quality of openness between them when they described how their friendship has impacted their lives as individuals. It’s inspiring and truly a gift because relationships like that, whether platonic or romantic don’t come by often.

When asked what she cherishes the most about their friendship, Kim said that she loves Sam’s honesty and that you can share your unfiltered feelings with her and, she will listen. And once you’re finished sharing, she’s able to provide honest feedback that is free of as much sugarcoating as possible. The honesty is reciprocal — a key step in being an effective and supportive caregiver.

I told Kim about the conversation that Sam and I had about the ways that adults offer generic words of encouragement or immediately go into solutions mode when sometimes what is needed most is the quality time together to sit in the messy reality of our circumstances.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever told her like, ‘Oh you’re strong! You’ve got this like blah blah blah.’ I’m like, ‘No this sucks what you’re going through and it’s not fair.’ I’m trying to take that approach more in life now, too. Just to be honest with people. Like that’s the elephant in the room so let’s just address it. Like, feel free to have some food and get some drinks, move on but just acknowledge that yeah, it really sucks.

In addition to unbridled honesty, Kim also offers Sam support by offering small doses of normalcy. When Sam’s doctor’s appointments are in the same hospital where they used to work together, many of their co-workers will sit with Sam for lunch to talk and catch up. While Sam spent two months in the hospital during the spring, Kim was quick to deliver snacks and quality time – no questions asked. And when Kim was out on maternity leave, they took it as an opportunity to go on a joint family vacation.

As our conversation came to an end, I asked her what she believes are qualities of a good caregiver or supporter for someone dealing with health issues. In summary, her advice was:

  1. Treat others how you would want to be treated. You get what you give.
  2. Surround yourself with people who share the same values, and then you’ll know that they’ve got your back and you’ve got their backs.
  3. Be there for them. Drop food off if they need food, or just go over and have a cup of tea and let them talk. And just let them cry and let it out if they need to.
  4. Instead of offering words, sometimes just a body being there is truly all that they need.