Cancer Caregiving Is Like a ‘Full-Time Job,’ But One Couple Made It Work — Both Ways

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Rickey and Marla Briskman’s marriage has grown as both have navigated the roles of patient with cancer and caregiver.

After undergoing a stem cell transplant to treat myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), Marla Briskman was immunocompromised and had to limit her interactions with friends and family, spending all her time with her husband, Rickey. With three cancer diagnoses between them, the couple has learned how to support each other through the toughest days.

In a recent interview with CURE®, the couple explained how they had to be there for each other in different ways, and what advice they would offer to other cancer caregivers.

“She depends on me for everything. We’re basically together 24/7,” Rickey said. “Being with someone (all the time) for months on end, you’re going to have some friction.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic brought a new set of challenges, Marla and Rickey are no strangers to caring for one another. When they met in 2001, Marla had a mantle cell diagnosis, which relapsed three times between 2004 and 2010, when the couple married. In 2015, Rickey received a follicular lymphoma diagnosis before Marla’s most recent MDS diagnosis.

“For the same couple to both have (forms of) non-Hodgkin (lymphoma) was traumatic,” Rickey said.

Rickey responded well to treatments with minimal side effects, so during his journey with the disease, he looked to his wife for emotional support.

“The most I did as a caregiver was to reassure him that look what I had for all these years. And I don't know if it went in one ear and out the other, but I just kept trying to show him, you can still be fine, you can be fun,” Marla said in an interview with CURE®.

However, throughout Marla’s treatments — some which were received close to home and others that took her states away — she relied on her husband for many of the day-to-day tasks, from cooking and cleaning and taking care of the dog to laying out and organizing her many pills, which was “like a full-time job,” Rickey said.

To continue to take good care of his wife, Rickey said that it is crucial to take care of himself first — and urged other caregivers to do the same.

“The most important aspect of being a caregiver is you got to take care of yourself, you can't take of somebody else. If you're not in in somewhat good shape, you're depressed or you're unhappy, you won't be able to take care of anyone,” he said, “You got to take care of yourself, whatever it is going for walks, working out, being around some other people. … Take care of yourself because once you do that, you have the energy to take care of that person.”

Marla agreed and added that communication is also essential from both the patient and caregiver.

“Being able to communicate is really important,” she explained. “He did everything for me, he does everything for me. You know, it's like living two lives at the same time. … Letting the caregiver know how much you appreciate them and making sure the caregiver understands what the other person's going through.”

“I've been dealing with this with her for over 20 years,” Rickey explained. “I research everything that she goes through. Every medicine that she gets, I look up myself. … I can't appreciate it physically, but I can understand emotionally what she's going through. … I listen, I take notes all the time when I'm at the doctor's office (and) I take care of our medicines to this day.”

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