Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
November is National Family Caregiver month. Let's give the caregivers the shout out they deserve!
I didn't realize it, but November is National Family Caregivers Month. I saw the notification in my inbox today. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to give a shout out to those caregivers who have been there for us cancer survivors. They often get lost in the shuffle that is a cancer diagnosis.
Who are the caregivers? This confusing question is similar to another one people frequently ask, about when is the proper time to call someone a survivor. I am no expert by any means, so I don't know what the official answer is. I'll give you my responses and they are super simple: You are a cancer survivor when you decide you are one, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. As for who are the caregivers? Well, I give the same broad answer: Caregivers are anyone you want them to be. They can be your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, friend or family member. They are the people that are there for you when you need them.
My primary caregivers were my mom and dad. I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 32 years old, living on my own a state away. I was an adult with my own life and own responsibilities, yet I leaned on my parents’ support as if I was a 10-year-old little girl who fell off her bike and skinned her knee. These people were my rocks. If I didn't have them, I don't know what I would have done. I am not sure I told them that enough then, and I am sure I don't now. That’s why I wanted to write the shout out.
I wouldn't say the caregivers have it worse in the world of cancer. In fact, I am not going to go down that road of who has it better or worse between the caregivers and patients. It's not fair and not part of the story. What I have noticed, though, is that these caregivers are the first to get pushed aside. They are the first ones ushered out of the room if the doctor needs a private moment with the patient. They are the first to be forbidden to go back behind the curtain before a surgery procedure. They are the first to have their feelings brushed aside when cancer affects an individual other than them. That's a tough place to be.
When I was knee-deep in my cancer treatment, I honestly didn't care about any other people's feelings. I hate to say it now, but back then it was the truth. I was the one unsure if I was going to live through the end of the year. I was the one who had to walk around bald. I was the one who had everything taken from me — from my breasts to my peace of mind. Now, I know for sure that my caregivers got the short end of the emotional stick in my cancer journey. They had no one to talk to about how they felt because I didn't want to hear about their emotions. I'm not proud of feeling that way, but it is just the way it went for me. I talk a lot now with my parents about it. Lucky for me, they understood how I felt and they did have each other to talk to, but not every caregiver has that.
So, I look at November and see the recognition the caregivers are getting and I smile. Whether it's cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes or anything else, these caregivers are always there in the shadows, ready to jump in and help us, save us, comfort us and cry with us. Next time you see yours, give them a big hug and a thank you. They deserve that shout out.