Was I a Good Enough Cancer Caregiver?

As I enter my second year of grief and the shock and fog of the traumatic loss of my wife to cancer has waned a bit, sometimes I see things a little clearer. And one thing I do know, there was something that I did get right.

In my grief support groups, I often hear bereaved cancer caregivers painfully lament, “Did I do enough? I wish I would have done more for my loved one.”

And there are often other wistful expressions of remorse.

I know I have often felt regret and guilt over things I think I could have or should have done while I cared for my late wife as she struggled with metastatic hereditary breast cancer. Thinking that if I had somehow been smarter, had more energy, and showed even more love, things would have turned out differently.

I researched everything I could about my wife’s type of cancer. I went to every doctor and imaging appointment with her where I took notes, questioned doctors and advocated for the best treatment and care possible. I rushed her to the ER on numerous occasions and I did whatever I could do to ease her fears and pain.

Like many caregivers, I pretended to be superhuman even when I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. But was it enough?

As I enter my second year of grief and the shock and fog of the traumatic loss of my wife to cancer has waned a bit, sometimes I see things a little clearer. And one thing I do know, there was something that I did get right.

“We chase extraordinary moments instead of being grateful for ordinary moments until hard sh*t happens. And then in the face of really hard stuff — illness, death, loss — the only thing we're begging for is a normal moment,” Brené Brown, a bestselling author and research professor, previously said.

Long before I ever heard that quote, I embraced the idea of enjoying ordinary moments. So, as my wife’s caregiver I tried, although while not always easy, to provide as many ordinary moments amid the unbearably hard sh*t of dealing with metastatic cancer.

For us, it might have been making pancakes together on Sunday mornings, sitting in the backyard looking at the stars on moonless nights, a saunter in the desert at sunset, petting the cats, holding hands on the couch doing nothing, or just a quiet moment or simple activity with our daughter. All ordinary moments, but extraordinarily cherished. Then and now.

In the book “What Happened to You?”, Oprah Winfrey recounts a story of a mother with late-stage cancer and her young daughter having cereal together in the middle of the night and how that everyday moment was special and has stuck with the daughter over the years.

While the book is not about cancer or cancer caregiving, that anecdote really made me realize that maybe I was a good enough caregiver. That in the face of an indescribably horrible situation that I had never ever imagined I would be in; my heart was in the right place.

Even if the loved one you are caring for doesn’t have stage 4 cancer, as a caregiver, just being present and mindful while sharing simple everyday events is good enough. Sometimes more than good enough — for them and you. Those ordinary moments will continue to be precious for me.

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