Elizabeth Dole Foundation
Hidden Heroes
Caregiver Journey Map Campaign for Inclusive Care

Lisa Marie Sternke

I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had in the past three years.

What changes did you have to make in your life to adjust to being a military caregiver?

I had to start planning everything in advance. I was on my own for thirteen years as a single mother and was pretty used to doing things whenever I wanted. The loss of spontaneity was (and sometimes still is) a little disconcerting.

What does being a military caregiver mean to you?

I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had in the past three years as an active member of the caregiver community. When my husband was injured, we were military partners in the Army. I was there when it all happened; I knew what his injuries were. When we reconnected years later and our friendship grew into more, I married him without hesitation. I knew his limitations and what could happen. We’ve had our fair share of incidents, but to me, it’s normal.

How has being a military caregiver changed you?

I didn’t even realize I was considered a caregiver until I met others while volunteering for a veteran nonprofit. They invited me to a caregiver retreat and it changed my life forever.

Once I had that big “AHA” moment, it really made me want to be more involved and do more for caregivers. It was great that I found people I could communicate with, but it was also great to be able to help them back.

My Story

My husband Monte severely injured his back in 1987 on the last night we worked together as investigators in the U.S. Army. Medically discharged after 13 years of service, Monte endures chronic pain, progressively impaired mobility that varies daily, and short-term memory issues from two cardiac events. I have a unique perspective as not only as a caregiver, but also as a veteran, a registered nurse, and Ph.D. researcher focusing on women veterans’ health and gender differences in combat-related PTSD. Monte and I have four grown sons and six (soon to be seven) grandchildren.

As a Dole Fellow I advocate for caregivers who are in the same situation I once was – unaware a support community existed and feeling isolated and forgotten. I also hope to influence caregiver policies and improve caregiver and healthcare provider communication.