Vote for Your Conference Keynote


Vote for Your Conference Keynote

Update: Congratulations to our winner, Cathy Sikorski! Thanks so much to all who voted and especially to all who entered!

It's time to pick your keynote speaker for our Second Annual National Caregiving Conference.

We had too many great entries, which is why we had a hard time narrowing down the field. You'll find all the contestants, listed below in alphabetical order, who met the qualifying criteria.

Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on July 30. Vote for your favorite via the poll at the very bottom of this page. You can vote once. Our winner will be announced on July 31.

Before casting your vote:

1. Vote for the individual who you believe will kick off our conference with a bold message.
2. The individual who wins will receive a truly wonderful opportunity. Who do you believe is deserving?
3. We want a keynote presenter who will connect with the audience through an authentic and vulnerable story. A great keynote presenter isn't about self-promotion but about connecting with the audience in a profound, meaningful way.
4. Please watch all the videos before voting.

We are so very grateful for the support of the following sponsors of our National Caregiving Conference:

Gael Chiarella Alba

Gael is a Certified Caregiving Consultant who took care of grandparents, parents and a son with traumatic injury care. Presently she is in aftercare stage of supporting others.

Jodi Arndt

My caregiving story has taken many twists and turns. Prior to my Mom being diagnosed with ALZ, I drove into the burbs from the city to watch my Mom so my dad could go golfing, cut the grass, etc. Dad had A LOT of denial prior to her official diagnosis, but we all knew well before it got so bad that Dad could no longer look away. I picked up and left Chicago almost 8 years ago because I knew I needed to have my own life--as tough as that decision was. Dad supported me in this decision and for those years, Dad conituned to be the primary caregiver to Mom. Fast forward to last Thanksgiving when Dad was having a hard time breathing. It wasn't pneumonia, it was way worse. Almydosis. A fatal diagnosis. I attempt to live with no regrets and knew I had to be home. That I wanted to be home with him and Mom. I took FMLA in February to care for my father who could no longer do all the things he loved. From 3 pm-9 am each day/7 days a week, I cared for both he and Mom until Mom's help came. Li, who worked for us for the last 2 years, tag teamed care for Mom and Dad for those 6 hours. I sat quietly and cried on the couch and she hugged me and cajoled Mom back into the house. Dad, upstairs in bed, was unusual, so often Mom would make her way up the stairs and say, "You're my favorite friend. Is there anything I can do for you?"

While her mind was jumbled her heart understood something was off. His sudden diagnosis hit our family hard. He was always on the move, taking my Mom on field trips to Costco, spending days in the yard working on one project to another. Dad could no longer be Mom's helpmate, her parent, her guide, her advocate. He passed in May of this year. I resigned my position in education @ a network of schools in New Orleans and moved back home-unsure of my next adventure with Mom.The before, during, and after of caregiving has many blessings and challenges. As I am sitting in the "after" of Dad's caregiving, I am still in the midst of caring for Mom. I've made many mistakes-taking Mom to the grocery store at the wrong time of the day, which created quite the freak out. To, prying Mom off a fence in the golf course after she walked out in a huff-disaster averted!All of the experiences have made me a stronger, more compassionate person. These experiences have allowed me to tell my story-boldly. Without hesitation or apology.

Matt Beecher

I am a former caregiver--who offered care to my mom (who is really my grandma, but who raised me from infancy)... I had the most AMAZING --and heart-wrenching-- experience in that journey of caregiving, and it totally changed me. I love the theme "Our Boldest Hours. Before. During. After." I think that "boldness" is a quality of caregiving that we all have, but that we can nourish for great impact. In the video, I share a very very small slice of my experience and part of my message, which is aligned with the theme of the conference. I have spent the majority of my career in business leadership--including a lot of work with teaching and consulting on strategy and leadership, but I have recently left that career to work in advocacy of seniors and their caregivers--my experience is still so fresh in my mind, and I want to ease the path for those who are experiencing what I experienced. I'd love to join you in November in Chicago--and I'd also love to assist with your good work at in any way that I can--you are doing marvelous work. Please feel free to reach out and be in touch.

Julie Bigham

Life is short, and having served as a family and a professional caregiver, I have learned to never take one moment for granted. From caring for my dad's parents as a young wife and mother, to long distance caregiving for my mom, to my years of experience as an Activity Professional, I have seen my share of sadness, and cherish every smile and giggle I have helped to create out of that sadness. Once you begin intentionally creating little moments of joy, you will be addicted! It's not rocket science, but it does take some creativity and willingness to look a little silly. As the owner of Joy Filled Visits, LLC and creator of the Joy Filled Visits Kits, seeking to always find joy in the moment, I would love the opportunity to share my 'Joy Filled' experiences, to help motivate and encourage others.

Karen Bromberg

As I a teenager, I helped my mother care for my grandmother who had had a stroke and all throughout my life, in one way or other I cared for my parents: when my father had a stroke that left him with aphasia, when my mother was hospitalized with an infection that almost killed her, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Additionally, I was my husband's caregiver when he had quadruple by-pass surgery approximately two years ago.

Lisa Beilstein Capp

I've been a transformation and change champion working with senior leaders, government agencies and non-profit organizations for years. I've worked across five continents, meeting with thousands of people focused on change. They wanted to change their vision, their business strategy, their business results and their very place in the world. Although I could help them, it was much more difficult to help myself on the journey of transformation that my mother and I shared through 18 years of dementia before her death in 2015. Today I blog to help others who are just beginning or still on the path of caregiving. My story is a simple one of survival - survival over the guilt, sadness and overwhelming responsibility we face when thrust into the role of dementia caregiver. I'm like you, a dementia caregiving survivor.

Teri Dreher

I come to this field from a unique perspective: as a career ICU nurse turned caregiver/advocate instantly while on a cruise ship off the coast of Belize in November of 2008 when my father in law had a life threatening medical crisis. As a nurse, I was able to assess the severity of his situation quickly and spring into action immediately as well as stand guard over the next six weeks. During that time he had a series of medical catastrophes and near death experiences that left me dumbfounded, shocked and appalled at all that can go wrong in hospitals today.

As a family member guarding our family’s beloved patriarch, I experienced first hand the fear, the anger, the grief, and the fatigue that many caregivers face on a regular basis. Supporting my mother in law and a large (at times very opinionated) extended family left me feeling a myriad of emotions daily. There were multiple times along the way that I had to summon up courage to speak up, stop something or initiate interventions that could either hurt or help him survive. When our family’s nightmare was over, it was obvious that I had been able to help save his life. What do families do who do not have a nurse or doctor in the family during a medical crisis? Sometimes they die.

Shortly after this experience, I left bedside nursing to pursue a career in private professional patient advocacy. Protection of patient rights and prevention of medical error and supporting family caregivers as they travel the journey of THE most stressful periods of their lives has become my calling, my passion and the focus of my life.

My company, NShore Patient Advocates has become an industry leader in the Midwest, employing advanced practice RN’s who professionally advocate for patients and work on behalf of caregivers. My book, Patient Advocacy Matters became a best seller on Amazon within weeks of publication in 2016. I am a public speaker, author, frequent local and national radio show guest. As a nationally recognized expert on patient advocacy, I was featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Crain’s Chicago Business. The theme of this year’s conference is one I have lived out the past nine years and it really makes a difference to our families and to our world! I hope my message will teach, equip and inspire others on their own caregiving journey.

Laura George

Currently I am a re-activated Caregiver for my 10 year old daughter with PANDAS a non-contagious autoimmune disorder striking approximately 1:200 children across the US. I became a G-dspeed caregiver in 2012 after being a caregiver for my husband who had tetraplegia, 2 shunts and 3 rare neurological spinal disorders.

Adrienne Gruberg

I was a caregiver for my husband who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005 and my mother-in-law, who was diagnosed with Lymphoma in 2007 at the age of 89 and came to live with us in NYC. Like most caregivers, it didn't take long before I needed support. I found that after looking online—the internet then was not what it is now—and support was hard to find. During the last days of their illnesses, I began formulating the idea of a site that would be Facebook for caregivers. Somewhere caregivers could find support, respite and important information. I also wanted a place caregivers could tell their stories. After caregiving has been interesting. Reinvention in my 60's. New growth. All of this has happened because I was a caregiver. I have learned so much from people on our site and on our Facebook pages (all 160,000+ of them) that caregiving is at the center of my life long after my caregiving for my husband and his mother passed.

Debra Hallisey

Seeing my dad through his congestive heart failure was the start of my caregiving journey. Dad was mom's caregiver, so when I knew we were on borrowed time, I would lie in bed at night and think "Where do I start?" which has turned into "What do I do next?" Mom is living in her home with 24/7 care except for every other weekends, doctor's appointments, vet appointment's and family functions when I am her hands on caregiver. Because mom is legally blind I have responsibility for her 60 year old home, finances, medications, transportation, figuring out caregiving and the most important of all, her dog.

Jolyon Hallows

My wife was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1996. She passed away this year. That was over twenty years that I was her primary caregiver. For at least the last five years, she needed help in all areas of her life: dressing, eating, hygiene, exercise, and socializing. I've learned a lot about caregiving and I've put a framework around it that I call a "roadmap," which I've described in a forthcoming book. One of my goals is to help caregivers wrestle with the demands they face.

April Koontz

I was the primary care manager for my younger brother, Jeremy who suffered from severe bipolar illness and polysubstance addiction until his untimely death from an unintentional overdose in 2010. I'm also the primary caregiver for my aunt who I moved across country in 2014 who is facing cognitive impairment and a host of other medical conditions (along with her husband, my uncle, who had Alzheimer's and died suddenly 3 months post their move.) I'm now entering the beginning phase of caring for my aging parents. In addition, I have a significant family history of mental illness and addiction in both my biological family (3 years post my brother's unintentional overdose, my dear friend and cousin committed suicide) and family by marriage (I've overseen the care of my nephew and brother-in-law who have both suffered almost to the point of death with depression and addiction).

Jeryn Laengrich

Where to begin... My name is Jeryn Laengrich and I am the Chief Service Officer at Cariloop in Dallas. As I mentioned in my video, I started to learn about the role of caregivers at a very young age. When I was just 5 years old my parents had foster children that I started to help take care of. I saw them take responsibility and care for these children. Growing up I also watched my parents care for their parents who were diagnosed with Dementia and Alzheimer's.

In college I studied Speech Pathology and got my Master's, so I started my career out as a professional caregiver. I wanted to help those who had swallowing, communication, language challenges, etc. I was also drawn not only to the patient’s going through their situation, but their families and watching them go through the journey with their loved ones. After graduation, I got married and started having children. My husband and I were only married for 6 years before I stepped into the role of a primary caregiver myself.

My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's and years he later passed away from a heart attack. My mother who was 5 years younger had a mild stroke shortly after he passed and a few years later she was diagnosed with Parkinson's too. We just recently had the discussion with her about moving her into assisted living. Throughout my whole life, and especially the last 16 years during my marriage, I have learned and am still learning what it means to be bold. Be bold and confident in the role you have been given. My boldest hours are found in hours of being lost and feeling alone. But I know as I step away from those lost feelings, I find the energy and strength that I've been given and also the gift of being a personal caregiver. None of us are perfect, but being bold and asking others for help when you need it shows tremendous signs of strength and courage.

Christine Meehan

I am new to this caregiver stuff. It's been three years since my husband was diagnosed with BVFTD.

My home life is pretty wacky, but I am adjusting. My husband is declining rapidly and everyday, week, month and year there's something new to learn. As a caregiver I am learning not to forget ME!

Here's my funny video. Not sure if this is what you were looking for but it was how I felt at the moment.

Debra Oliver

I cared from my husband for 42 months while he died of head and neck cancer. While I had 30 years of hospice administration and research experience, all focused on caregiving, it was not until I faced it myself that I really understood. Each day I faced the challenges, lucky enough to have walked the journey with others before, and I wandered how they did it. Despite all my education and my experience, I was unprepared. It was the hardest and most wonderful thing I have ever done. My husband and I were committed to educating others about the experience and made 26 you tube videos about it. We appeared on CBS this morning and we were keynote speakers at the Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine annual meeting. Since his death I have faced life alone, learning to manage grief and come to terms with widowhood. This is the other part of the journey. I would be honored to be selected.

Susan Oswick

I am currently caring for my significant other, Frank, who has Lewy Body Dementia. I retired 1.5 years ago to care for him full time. It is a challenging endeavor but I feel that I am where I am supposed to be. It is still doable to keep him at home, but additional concerns are becoming more evident. As the disease progresses, there are aspects to the condition that encompass more detailed care.

Amy Puryear

I spent 23 and a half years taking care of my disabled mother. We were hit by a drunk driver when we were on our way to church on a Sunday morning. I was 14 years old at the time. When my father died of cancer in 1991 I came home to take care of my mother. It was challenging yet rewarding and I would do it all over again. It's been a challenge finding a life for myself but I've found that has been rewarding helping people who are dealing with what I used to have to do.

Shirley Riga

Shirley Riga has been a caregiver for 32 years. She didn't know who she was before her daughter was born with liver disease. She didn't have time to find out who she was as she acted as nurse, advocate, parent, and problem solver for all those years. But she was determined to find tools that kept her sane. Some tools she found emboldened her beyond her wildest expectations.

Kim Roman

I was the caregiver for my mom for the last three years of her life. My main messages are preparing for your "new normal" after your loved one passes. I also cover the lack of support and feelings of isolation most caregivers experience and how, surprisingly, you can find a support system from strangers who are going through or have gone through the same journey. Finally I try to minimize guilt and provide some strategies for finding your "new normal".

Vicki Salemi

I'm Vicki Salemi, a career expert, author, speaker and columnist based in New York City. I'm also a caregiver which as you can probably agree means, let's say it together now -- I'm exhausted.

For the past two years I've been thrust into this role as my mother's been hospitalized over 8 times in NJ. With zero help from a family member, I've been doing it alone. Daunting, overwhelmed, isolated and frustrated, I'm actually grateful for the situation to step up. We're selfless, compassionate and getting things done.

Channeling my inner New Yorker, I've been bold in many areas. Like the conversations I've had with a doctor she's seen for over 30 years, calling him out on fraud and negotiating to actually release her from the hospital since he blocked it (loooooong story). This was after flying home directly from Switzerland, still jet lagged, still on a cheese high (oh my!), and the social worker told me exactly what you *don't* want to hear: "In my 26 years as a social worker, I've never seen something like this before!" Insert crisis mode and conflict resolution.

I've been bold in asking for help and realizing that's not a weakness, but rather a strength. I've learned how important it is to just be vulnerable instead of fighting it, embrace it. And that as caregivers, this situation is typically never happy or fun nor is it something you can plan for, we're thrust into it and doing the best we can with what we have.

I'm still in this journey and as my mother is still on hers-- hopefully knock on wood will not be one thing after another as it was last fall (oh, did I mention the assisted living place where I witnessed verbal abuse? They billed us six months later -- $1,062 for ONE night! After several hours, a few emails and phone calls, yesterday they finally verbally agreed to remove it per our conversation last fall. My lawyer was happy for me, too. I feel like sending THEM a bill for all of the time I poured into getting this situation resolved. One of many.) and learned that people will often ask me how she's doing. And rarely ask about how I am doing. (So I tell them anyway!)

I'd love to share my story in helping other caregivers be bold and put our oxygen masks on first, something we rarely do when we're putting our loved ones on the top of our priorities.

From a work perspective since that's my space, one in six American workers are caregivers and that's only going to rise. According to data from Meridian LifeWorks, caregiving related costs result in $38 billion lost each year for employers encompassing absenteeism, lost productivity, increased health care costs (yeah, because we're typically in poorer health than non-caregiving employees) and higher turnover rates. I can only venture to guess what those numbers are for those of us who are self-employed and constantly consulting with a variety of clients. (As if having my own taxes done as well as my business taxes, suddenly having hers done as well landed in my big bucket of responsibilities.) Our lives and work aren't on hold even though it feels like they are as we do the best we can given the circumstances. Something's gotta slide (for me it was definitely my social life).

The plate, it has runneth over. I've picked some vices, some healthier than others (like Stop & Shop guac, not sure what it is about it, but I really dig it when I am in Jersey), handbags (have always loved 'em, but apparently about once a month I treat myself to a new one, yes -- I'm a Maxxinista. I made a spreadsheet to keep track and ensure I keep them in my rotation of usage, yes so Type A of me), my passport (oh, Canada! Even getting outta dodge for a quick, inexpensive weekend trip does the body and mind a world of good) and finally, after a year-long absence, returned to the tennis court last week. It was liberating. And in many ways, felt like a victory.

I've learned a lot during this journey and continue to learn, grow and prioritize -- that means saying no to more invites than I say yes to (especially here in Manhattan) which results in saying yes more to myself.

Thank you for the opportunity to be considered as the keynote. Hope to see you in Chicago!

Lorna Scott

I am currently a caregiver from a distance for my mom and step-dad who both turn 87 years old this year. My step-dad just had surgery for kidney cancer and I supported both of them through that journey. They live 7 hours from me and I took a term position to be closer to where they live so I was better able to support them, and to get a better idea of what needs they have. During this time I have been the main communicator with my siblings as we work together (sort of) to see that my mom and step dad have the care and support when they need it, now and in the future.

In the past, I was a caregiver for my husband during his 6 year journey with colorectal cancer. During that time we faced many befores, durings, and afters. This includes diagnosis, treatment, metastases which meant no hope for a cure, near death experience, and learning how to cope with relationships with medical professionals, employers, family and friends.

Prior to being a caregiver for my husband, I was a secondary caregiver for my dad. He was off on disability for a number of years, and I would visit often and support them in whatever way they needed. After he was hospitalized and waiting for a bed in long term care, I supported both my mom and dad by visiting my dad, and by giving her breaks so she could have time to do things for herself, including getting away for a few days. I was the person my dad would have run errands or look into things, including buying Christmas gifts.

Cathy Sikorski

I have been a significant caregiver for 7 different family members and friends for the last 25 years. It began with my "Sandwich Generation" experience when my 92-year-old grandmother came to live with me as I was raising my 2-year-old toddler. Over the years, I became the 'go-to'person for caregiving. I've cared for my mother-in-law, my own mother, two great aunts, my dear friend who suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury, and my brother-in-law who suffered from severe Multiple Sclerosis. Since my career was in law, I decided to wrap both my worlds together and I concentrated all my legal work in the field of Elder Law dealing with Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Powers of Attorney, Wills, etc. This prompted me to start a blog "You Just have to Laugh...where caregiving is comedy" as well as author two books: "Showering with Nana: Confessions of a Serial Caregiver" and "Who Moved My Teeth: Preparing for Self, Loved Ones and Caregiving." So I'm pretty steeped in caregiving!

Sharon Spector

Caring for my Mom turned into a crushing, all-consuming avalanche as I entered into what became a 10 year caregiver journey; overseeing her 35 (yes 35!) complex medical diagnoses; requiring moving her 14 times.

​Continually trying to make sense of what was happening, my former life slipped into a distant memory. Exhausted, there were many moments that I thought I could not go on. Then I remembered I only had to get through “this moment.” I then stepped back, breathed, grounded and chose a new response; again and again. Sometimes hard emotions, which seemed to be my companions, were reckoned with, but in other moments I became curious …could I really shift my mood and perspective and land on the best (not perfect) decision?

I struggled with the big “how to” to keep love alive when I wasn’t “feelin’ it”; how to balance both of our needs and be true to myself so I didn’t totally abandon my life. How to get to the heart of the matter and simply ask, ” what’s important in this moment?”

I did it very imperfectly. There were moments, I just let it all go and went for the gusto….rather than take Mom, wheelchair, etc to one of her (almost daily) doctor’s appointment; I cancelled it and whisked her off for ice cream hot fudge sundaes to her delighted surprise and laughter…creating a memory that warms my heart to this day.

​Committed to dig deeper as a caregiver “archaeologist,” I dug deep in mind/body/spirit. ​Caregiving touched and transformed every aspect of my life;

​After caregiving, I mined the learning pearls, and mapped out the doing and being of the caregiving journey and launched, Caregiving Journeys, where the family caregiver is not the forgotten person in the caregiving equation any longer!

Amanda Sturtz

I was a caregiver for four years to my husband before he passed away in 2014. My husband and I were high school sweethearts, we got married shortly after he joined the military. In 2010 he Ruptured his spleen. After a series of complications, he was diagnosed with short bowel syndrome after they had removed 75% of his small intestine and 50% of his large, I was his caregiver for four years of surgeries, hospitalizations and many, many complications. For us, what could go wrong went wrong. I like to say if I had a dollar for every doctor who told us they'd never seen that happen before I'd be rich! Being 23, living in a state far away from our family and friends it challenged us on so many levels. I feel that I have a unique story to share with you all and can't wait to do so. I really connected with the theme of this years conference, and I hope you enjoy my video. Thank you

Meagan Thomas

As a caregiver, I have cared for my son and now I care for my wife. My son developed a condition at age 9 that forecasted renal failure. As a senior in high school, he went from playing on the soccer team to being nearly bedridden. After receiving a kidney from me, he was able to resume an active life, which meant attending college and starting a career in the technology industry. Steve is now 23 and works as a software developer. During the years of Steven’s decline, my physician wife developed severe fatigue with shortness of breath. We went through scary times as she developed blood clots and a series of strokes. After several years of seeking a diagnosis, she was found to have blood cancer. With treatment, her symptoms have improved. In 2015, I left clinical medicine as a family doctor to care for her and to head a non-profit that teaches individuals how to access and amend their health record. I have found that to the degree the medical record is accurate, healthcare improves. I became a certified professional coder and medical auditor to better understand healthcare rules and regulations. I published a book in 2015 "Rise of the Patient Advocate – Healthcare in the Digital Age." Last February, I published a clinical research paper where patients were invited to co-author the History component of their medical record. Rather than ask the patient, “What brings you into the office today?â€, I was able to begin a medical encounter by reading the patient’s subjective story. Caregivers can feel helpless at times. Caregivers are generally the closest person to the patient. We see how they are doing. We can tell when the patient is doing better or worse. However, we shouldn’t feel helpless. I can show you how to become more involved and engaged in the medical system. I can show you how to read and understand a medical record. Best, I can show you how to contribute to what is written in the record so the patient's concerns can be heard and understood. Thank you for reviewing this application. I would be honored to be your 2017 Keynote Speaker.

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