Having been a caregiver to my late husband who died from cancer, I know first-hand the difficulties of caregiving — not to mention what it must be like for those trying to do it during a worldwide pandemic.
It’s been seven years since I’ve been a caregiver to my husband who died from a rare form of liver cancer in 2015. In 2013, when he was diagnosed, people with this cancer had less than a two-year survival rate. That is bleak enough — but combining that with the threat of COVID-19 is daunting, if not unimaginable.
Since I belong to a widow/widower support group in my area, I’ve met people whose spouses did not succumb to cancer, but to COVID-19 instead. The last time they saw their spouse was when they dropped him or her off at the hospital. There were no final goodbyes. Unable to even hold a proper memorial service, these caregivers and their families are in immense pain.
Most people do not understand how isolating it is for this particular group of caregivers. Their layers of grief are complicated. Hearing them makes me grateful that my family and I did not have to deal with this.
Now that the world has had some time to live through the COVID-19 pandemic, it is my opinion that special programs and advocates need to be put in place so families and caregivers can receive the counseling and support they need.
I met one of my dearest friends through a caregiver support group. Although my husband passed, hers continue to struggle with stage 4 melanoma. I asked if she had any advice for families who are battling cancer and COVID-19 together.
She said that often the patients have friends and family that regularly check-in on them. The doctor confers with the patient on treatments. It’s unusual for people to check in on the caregiver. That is why she encourages caregivers to join a support group because those are the people that understand the constant roller coaster of emotions.
Preparing for scan day, especially when it falls around the holidays, is highly stressful. She said that her and her husband deal with it by getting an early appointment and then picking up the scan report in the afternoon. “We get the results before the doctor even sees them! No matter what the outcome, it is so much better than waiting days for the results.” It is also appreciated when friends check in with her on scan day. I try to ask her when that is, and I make a mental note of the date or put it on my calendar, so I remember to give her a call.
What also helps caregivers is when the person with cancer has a positive outlook. It is all about perspective and where you are in the journey. She told me, “My husband’s positive outlook on his therapy, his disease and his life in general has been the most important motivator for me. If he can be positive after all he has been through, I can try my best to keep going.”
Her advice in respect to COVID-19 is simple: get vaccinated. Although both her and her husband still ended up getting COVID-19 (even after being boosted), she believes that it was milder because they made that decision.
She said that in addition to vaccinations with the booster shot, people also need smart management of exposure risks. “We tend to do many activities outside. In the winter it’s more challenging, but it’s important to do a few lower risk activities like going to a store when its first opens, wearing masks of course,” she commented.
I see her gracefully and competently deal with cancer, aging parents, a brother with a disability and a myriad of other issues — all that have been complicated by COVID-19. I have been there, kind of. I remember that although I might have looked like I was handling everything on the outside, I was struggling every day on the inside. I remember feeling like I was on a railroad track and could see a train in the distance coming at me in full speed. Then it was just a matter of time.
Now, the train has passed, but I still can sense its presence in the lives of these caregivers who bless me in ways I could have never imagined.
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