Honor Thy Caregiver

May 3, 2011 Marci McNaghten

Providence Cancer Survivorship Blog Guest BloggerRecently another longtime cancer survivor responded to the blog entry I wrote called "Life After Cancer: 31 Years and Counting." He’s been a survivor for 51 years! First diagnosed with cancer in 1960, he’s also had to deal with two more cancer diagnoses, both in the past two years. (Life After Cancer 31 Years and Counting >>).

While sharing his story on the blog, he writes about his wife and how important she is to his “continued living” during his latest cancer challenges. He also praises all the people who are doing for others what his wife does for him: “I must take my hat off to all the caregivers out there. If it was not for you, a lot of us would have given up by now,” he writes.

I agree, and I don’t know how I would have made it through cancer without my own amazing caregivers. As a teenager, my parents filled that role – particularly my mom who handled the day-to-day responsibilities. She quit her job so she could come to the hospital with me for tests and procedures, and so she could be at home with me when the side effects of treatment kicked in. I know she was terrified about what was happening, but she kept up a strong front to protect me as well as her own sanity.

My dad grappled with his own set of emotions. He later told me about feeling scared silly; how every time I went in for a blood count, he couldn’t sleep the night before. He said his only relief, especially during the first few months of intense treatment, was to go to work each day and try not to think about my illness.

It wasn’t until I became a parent many years later that I started to understand what my mom and dad experienced. I don’t know what I would do if the same thing happened to one of my kids, and I will be forever grateful to my parents. Somehow they managed to get our family through and beyond that awful time in relatively decent shape.

In the years since then, I have dealt with a few emotional aftereffects of cancer. But I’ve been extremely lucky to end up with a wonderful husband who hasn’t shied away from me and my issues. My parents dealt head-on with what happened to me during treatment, but my husband has helped me cope with less tangible concerns – mood swings, worries about getting cancer again, weird physical reactions (like cringing if I’m touched on the hip bone where I used to have bone marrow tests) and other issues. None of these problems have been particularly fun for him, but he has supported me nonetheless.

And even though I’m not that great at showing it, I am so thankful to have him as my life partner and caregiver after treatment. I hope that all caregivers know – even when we forget to say it – how appreciated they are, how loved they are and how thankful we are to have them with us as we move together through different stages and strategies of coping with cancer.

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