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In Cancer Caregiving, a Passion for Learning is Vital


Caregiving for a patient with cancer is an ongoing journey that also requires the caregiver to learn along the way. One couple discusses that process and more.

Cancer caregiving is more about taking a loved one to appointments or making sure they’re comfortable when they’re dealing with the effects of treatment. According to caregiver Rex Cowden, it’s about being interested in learning about your loved one’s disease and owning the experience with them. “You’re the one experiencing it,” he says, “but it’s our problem.”

Rex and his wife Janice recently sat down with CURE® to discuss what it was like to go through Janice’s two triple-negative breast cancer diagnoses, in 2011 and 2016, and how they worked as a team to learn about the disease, manage her treatment, and come through the other side to celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary.


Rex Cowden: I think learning, from a caregiver’s perspective, is so key. That you have to be interested in this. I can't imagine somebody going through cancer and having a spouse that is uninterested. They may be caring, you know, they may be doing their part as it relates to being a caregiver, but not fully understanding and learning as much as you possibly can.

Now, I'm fortunate because my learning came through her, because she researches, and so we were able to talk a lot about it at that time I was learning. Now, I forget half the stuff and I don't know some of the nuances. And she'll correct me on that. But it is difficult to figure it out.

My background is more engineering. So, I have this problem-solving mentality. So, I looked at it, you know, kind of like a problem. So, you're the one that's experienced it, but it's our problem. So what can I do to help you solve this problem?

I know that's not the right terminology. But that's basically it from an engineer's perspective.

Janice Cowden: I think to stay involved (is important too). One of the things that I've been very fortunate with is, he has attended every appointment with me, whether it's oncology labs, scans, he's even gone to conferences with me. I attend a lot of breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer conferences each year, and he's gone along with me to those which I think is a huge display of support for me because it does demonstrate to me that he is interested in learning.

And you know, at some of the conferences, they even have special sessions for caregivers, and he's learned a lot through those, too.

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