Are you prepared to care for your elderly loved ones as well as yourself when faced with terminal illnesses?

My sister, Aiko, passed away on April 25, 2015, five weeks after I took care of her needs, including 14 days in hospice care at my home. She died of the recurrence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the second of two cancers (breast cancer when she was 48).

In 2006, six months after my husband, George, passed away, Dr. Kenji Irie helped me put on five medical seminars, enlisting doctors from hospitals where he had privileges. These seminars were motivated by my concerns with what I saw as George’s liver cancer “falling through the cracks” because of lack of oversight on the part of the doctors he saw.

Iku Kiriyama (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
Iku Kiriyama will be one of the speakers on “Long-Term Care, Hospice and Caregivers” on Sept. 20 at GVJCI. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

In 2007, the first of the “Death Is a Sure Thing: Are You Prepared?” forums began with my document box organization presentation — later referred to as Iku’s Box. This particular presentation spanned eight years of programs at various churches and community centers.

With all the forums, I wanted to share my personal experiences to give attendees foresight from what I had learned to hopefully help them from going through the same situations – the premise being, “Had I known before, the outcome may have been different.”

The forums were never planned ahead – they just happened as I went through the grieving process and my personal health issues. Each time, I presented with professionals to give broader perspectives and information to augment and expand on my personal comments.

On Sunday, Sept. 20, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute Veterans Hall, 1964 W. 162nd St. in Gardena, with the sponsorship of the GVJCI, I will be presenting Forum #4 of “Death Is a Sure Thing: Are You Prepared? Long-Term Care, Hospice and Caregivers,” when I will share new personal experiences and insights of the five weeks of caring for my sister, with input from Michael Umamoto, a retirement specialist; Gretchen Schaeffer, executive director, Hospice Care of the West; and Alice Nehira, owner of Loving Care, a caregiver agency.

I will share my thoughts on the important parts of long term care insurance as well as its reliability, the wonderful hospice care Aiko received in contrast to the non-existent care for George ten years ago, and the experience of using private caregivers that I found personally invaluable as well as the care provided Aiko, for which I know she was most appreciative.

I also gained new insight on organizing documents as I went through a nightmare of papers, dating back 50 years, and never finding a few current documents. I will not cover this at the Sept. 20 program but will just strongly suggest here the importance of getting papers up-to-date for someone you are not living with and know little to nothing of their financial and other parts of their lives. You need to do this while he or she is still coherent to answer questions and locating papers if YOU are the likely one who will become the caregiver.

My experience with my sister’s papers motivated me to re-organize my own document box for the sake of my daughter, who will be the one handling my affairs. Since my brother is now living in New York, I was the only immediate family here to take care of my sister.

Medicare and its different parts — A, B, C, D — was another revelation for me. Aiko let her Medicare B payment lapse because she thought her doctors would “kick her out” because of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”). I don’t know where she got that idea, but I discovered she had difficulty understanding the communications she received from different companies. Mike Umamoto’s office helped get Aiko reinstated, but, unfortunately, it would not be effective until July 1.

She never did know the financial repercussions of her failure to pay for Medicare B as I was taking care of paying the bills. I made many calls to doctors and ambulance companies because of the big charges that normally are covered through Medicare B. I learned through this experience exactly what’s covered. This will not be a planned part of the program, but I will cover it during the Q&A if many in the audience are not quite sure and would like to know. Mike would also be able to give the details of what happened.

I’ve had a terrible experience dealing with the insurance company that Aiko and I (and our husbands) went with for long-term care insurance. This confirmed for me what I had heard — that these companies’ goal is to never pay out. They put obstacles in front of you stretching over months, making impossible demands — to the point where you give up. Alice Nehira will share her experiences as well as she has been going through this with me. Mike Umamoto will share his insight and offer suggestions.

If you would like to attend the forum, reservations are requested. Please call Michelle Yamashiro, JCI program manager, at (310) 324-6611, or email her at

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