Caretakers of Patients With Cancer Make A Difference

An ovarian cancer survivor shares what it was like to be her late husband’s caregiver when he had prostate cancer, years before her own diagnosis.

I am an ovarian cancer survivor, so far. Part of the reason that I am is that the caregivers in my life, give me life! My family and friends know that I am very open about my illness. I have posted information about fighting ovarian cancer on social media to let my people know where I am in my treatment. Family and friends have been there with cards, calls, notes, books, food and most importantly, time. I feel very blessed in that regard. I know that many people may not have the wonderful support that I have. I feel for them. I hope that they will reach out to their family and friends to let them know that they need more support. So many cancer fighters are very private about their illness and the journeys that they are taking to combat this horrible disease. That is okay. But if you need more support, please reach for it, as it will help.

As I have mentioned before, those of you who have read some of my articles for CURE® know that I am very open about my illness. I would like to share in this article that I have also worn the shoes of the caretaker. I was married to a wonderful man. He was a widower, having lost his wife to a tragic accident. There are not enough words to describe this man as his integrity as a human being was unparalleled. He was loving husband, the best dad to his daughter, a wonderful stepfather to my sons, generous to his family and friends, and a man whose character was inspiring to all that knew him.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April of 1994, the year that our relationship began in June. His prognosis was not good – his doctor told him he had three months to a year and a half to live as the cancer had already metastasized to his bones. The fight was on, and time was ticking.

We decided to grab as much life as we could in such a limited time. He bought 25 tickets to the Cleveland Indians game in July so friends and family could enjoy the game and be together. We went to New York City in October, the Bahamas in December, a New Year’s Eve gala weekend and a cruise. It did not stop there! We did the beach during spring break and in the summer. Our lives were not going to be put on hold.

During his years with his illness, he fought very hard. He did two clinical trials at the Cleveland Clinic. They were phase 2 and phase 3 trials with drugs that showed promise with “activity” in his cancer cells. It gave us more time I believe; however, one trial was to check toxicity and side effects and he had to stop that trial. He also did radiation on his bones where the metastases showed in his scans. He fought very hard and ultimately died from the cancer. Long story short…we had nine and a half years together before he died. We lived a good life together despite the original diagnosis.

Being his caretaker was one of the hardest and most gratifying things that I have ever done. When you love someone, you are willing to do anything for them. While the trips we took were wonderful as they gave us some great memories, the time with him was the greatest gift he could have given me. The lessons about life and love that he shared impact my life still to this day. There were lots of days that were so hard, as he was ill or in so much pain. I was there for him on those days as a caretaker. Those of you who are caretakers know what I am talking about.

As I reflect back to those difficult days of being a caretaker, I think about how my husband, family and friends have now become my caretakers. Caretakers do so much. The tasks that were yours have now become your caretakers. They cook and clean up after you. They run to the drugstore or grocery. They come in and check on you when you are in bed. The hours they wait for you as you are in surgery are painstaking. My last surgery was over nine hours long. Friends have offered help and support to my husband bringing dinner, books and treats to us both. They say it takes a village to raise a child. When you have cancer, it takes the universe.

Since I have worn both shoes as a caretaker and patient with cancer, I offer these suggestions to you as caregivers: Be there for that person. It may be to fix a meal, call them every Tuesday, bring them treats, weed their garden or just give them time: time to listen, hold their hand, time to laugh, or write a letter. Love and time are the most precious gifts you can offer.

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